Phuket and Koh Samui – two paradise islands where the living is easy and summer is eternal. But what to wear in Thailand? It’s important to stay comfortable in the tropical weather, but also to respect the local culture. Check out our guide for tackling everything from dressing for the beach to proper temple attire – and how to avoid those nasty mosquito bites!
What to Wear in Thailand – The Basics
Though it’s easy to forget when dancing the night away at a rowdy Full Moon Party, Thailand is in fact a modest country with a dress code to match. Showing cleavage is considered to be in bad taste and locals generally dress to cover their knees and shoulders. No strict dress code is imposed, but you’re likely to enjoy better service if you dress with respect towards the local culture.
On the other hand, Thailand lies close to the equator and the weather stays very humid and hot throughout the year. When considering what to wear in Thailand, you’re basically walking a tight rope between being respectful and staying somewhat comfortable in the tropical heat.
The southern islands, including Phuket and Koh Samui, are much more relaxed when it comes to dressing compared to Bangkok and elsewhere in mainland Thailand. The islands have seen many a foreign tourist, a lot of them dressed in very skimpy clothing, but again – respecting the local way of life will make your stay in Thailand more pleasant.
What to Wear to the Beach
Most people head for the Thai islands to enjoy the beach. Any form of normal swimwear, including bikinis, swimsuits and swim trunks are totally fine on Phuket and Koh Samui beaches. Topless sunbathing, on the other hand, while not explicitly forbidden, is considered a major cultural taboo and won’t score you any points with the locals. Just don’t do it.
Walking around town or visiting a restaurant in your bathing suit is also a no-no. Instead, bring a light cover up that you can easily throw over your swimwear.
Dressing for the Sun
Besides respecting local customs on the beach, protecting your skin from the tropical sun is crucial. One of the most important things to wear in Thailand is high SFP sunscreen. Dressing in light layers of natural fibres like light cotton or linen whenever possible is also a good idea. Heading home with a golden tan might be a priority, but it’s good to remember that the World Health Organization rates Thailand’s UV index between very high and extreme throughout the year. This means getting a nasty sun burn is very easy. If you’re planning to walk about town during the hottest midday hours, wearing a hat is also a good idea.
As wells as protecting your skin from sun exposure, it’s very important to remember to drink a lot of water throughout the day. To avoid producing unnecessary plastic waste, it’s good to carry a reusable water bottle with you.
What to Wear in Temples
When planning what to wear in Thailand, dressing for temple visits is probably the most important thing to consider. Buddhist faith is very important to Thais, so you really don’t want to cause offence by dressing disrespectfully. Always follow the advised dress code when visiting a temple. Both men and women are expected to cover their knees and shoulders. You can use a sarong in a pinch to cover your shoulders or tie it around your waist to cover your knees.
Another thing to consider when visiting a temple is your footwear. Rather than basic flip flops, it’s considered polite to wear shoes with closed toes. When entering a temple, you’ll have to take your shoes off, so wear a pair that you can slip on and off easily.
Watch out for Mosquitoes
Warding off mosquitoes is another important thing to consider when planning what to wear in Thailand. In addition to the itchy bites, mosquitoes in Thailand carry both malaria and dengue fever, so staying bite-free is very important. Malaria is more common in areas like Krabi and Phang Nga, but some cases are also recorded in Phuket and Koh Samui.
Dressing in light layers and applying mosquito spray diligently are key. Most people associate mosquitoes with nightfall, but dengue fever is usually contracted from mosquitoes which fly during the day. It’s important to use mosquito repellent at all times. To get the best protection against dengue, use repellents with 20-30% DEET. Experts recommend applying bug spray only after you’ve applied sunscreen.
Dressing for a Night Out
Generally speaking, the clubs and restaurants in Phuket and Koh Samui don’t impose a strict dress code, so you don’t need to worry about being under dressed. That being said, if you’re planning a special dinner in an upscale venue, it’s good to dress up a bit. A summer dress and smart sandals works for women, whereas men might feel comfortable in light long pant (linen works great) and a collared shirt. If you’re heading out for a casual drink at a beach bar or anywhere around Patong in Phuket, casual attire is more than OK. It’s good to remember, though, that wearing swimwear outside the beach or pool is doesn’t really go with the local culture.
What to Wear for Hikes and Trekking
In addition to the beautiful beaches, Thai islands offers scenic treks and hiking trails. If you’re planning to visit Phuket’s waterfalls, it’s good to plan your attire beforehand. Hiking through the tropics is a sweaty affair, so wearing athletic wear in quick-dry fabrics is smart. Again, wearing skimpy clothing is not advised as it goes against the local culture (especially if you’re visiting the hill tribes in northern Thailand) and leaves you very vulnerable to sun exposure. Remember to wear sturdy, closed shoes and drink lots of water.
So… What Should I Wear in Thailand?
When stuffing your suitcase for Thailand, there’s no need to psych yourself out. Bringing along breezy summer clothes that make you feel comfortable in the tropics, but cover enough skin to respect the local culture will go a long way.
It’s also a good idea to cover up during the hottest midday hours to avoid sunburn. Slathering on sun screen and mosquito spray should be a part of your daily routine in Thailand. Always follow the dress code when visiting a temple and if you’re planning to do some trekking, bring along comfortable walking shoes.
Most importantly, you should always wear a smile. After all, Thailand is known as the land of… well, you know what.