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What to Wear in Thailand

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I’ve been to Thailand four times now, and, overall, have spent about three months in the country. It’s one of my favourite places in the world – from the beaches to the mountains, the calm to the crazy, Thailand is one of those destinations that can appeal to many people for many different reasons. Whether it’s scuba diving, sailing, meditating, teaching English, volunteering, hiking, festivals, doing yoga, healthy eating, shopping, and just about everything in between, I’ve had such diverse experiences while in Thailand.

And while the internet is saturated with these “what to wear” posts, I always enjoy putting them together, and I like having go-to resources for people who write to me about certain topics. I get a lot of emails about what to wear in countries I’ve been to, and I’m slowly but surely trying to get them all done. So far I’ve covered what to wear in Nepal, what to wear in India, what to wear in Bhutan, and what to wear in Russia… so that’s four. OK then. I may as well keep going with what to wear in Thailand. As always, most of the clothing you’ll see in this post was bought locally in Thailand. Please note that there are a couple of affiliate links in this post; as always, I only recommend products I use and love!

First of all, Thailand is hot. Really hot. Depending on where you go and when (check out this link for more information), you’ll most likely experience very warm weather and possibly some intense humidity and rain. It’s always important to dress comfortably while still being culturally appropriate. The key is, then, to wear clothing that doesn’t show too much skin but still allows you to stay as cool as possible. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I wish that women could just wear whatever the damn hell they wanted, wherever they are in the world, but it’s always important to take note of cultural norms and act respectfully.

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In keeping with that note, a scarf is the best investment you can make in your travel wardrobe. Seriously, I can’t sing the praises of scarves enough on this blog. I bought this thin white one as soon as I landed in Bangkok and it was (and has been) a great benefit to my wardrobe. I carried it pretty much everywhere I went in Thailand, using it as a scarf (duh), as a wrap, as a belt, and as a headscarf. They’re especially helpful if you want to enter a temple and need something to cover up with.

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Similarly, a sarong is a terrific thing to have while in the country. Not only can you use it as a towel/beach accessory, but you can also turn it into a skirt or even a dress (as seen above). Just make sure to knot it well, and/or use safety pins to keep it in place!

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Adventurous Kate using her sarong as a wrap at the beach in Koh Lanta

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If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I usually favour dresses and skirts to trousers or shorts (but more on that in a minute). Dresses are especially useful in Thailand, as choosing loose, cotton ones will allow you to keep cool. There are tons of cheap dresses for sale in markets across Thailand, the best I’ve found being in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

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And as I just stated, I’m also a huge fan of skirts. When I travel in Thailand, I tend to bring a mix of long and short skirts, but always go for looser, lighter fabrics to keep cool.

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The only photo I have wearing a maxi skirt in Thailand and it’s me imitating a turtle… wonderful

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So remember what I said about not liking trousers that much? Full confession – I love harem pants, or genie pants. A lot of people knock them for being too “backpacker-y” (glad my MA in creative writing is paying off right now), but I think they can look really fashionable. They’re also incredibly comfortable and great for staying cool, so what’s not to love? I do recommend having at least one pair of trousers or something to cover your legs (I usually travel with a pair of leggings on longer trips to layer under skirts if necessary). Jeans are not the best option in Thailand – not only are they not very breathable, they’ll take a long time to dry in the humid weather.

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And as much as I bemoan shorts, I do admit that a good pair of denim shorts is a great investment to have in your travel wardrobe (though keep in mind, as mentioned above, they’ll take a while to dry in the humidity). If I could find a cotton pair that I liked, I may be tempted to come to the dark side. A good pair of shorts is obviously needed if you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking in Thailand.

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As it’s most likely going to be roasting hot when you visit, t-shirts and tank tops are pretty vital items in your travel wardrobe for Thailand. Again, choose light, loose materials – I’m a huge fan of white cotton blouses, which you can easily purchase in Thai markets.

You’ll quickly see the same shirts over and over again – think tank tops/singlets with beer logos, popular band imagery, or the infamous “same same but different” tagline – and hey, if you want to wear them, go right ahead. They’ll definitely peg you as a backpacker, but in my eyes there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Blouse, dress, earrings, and bag all bought in Thailand. Sceptical face from Canada. 

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But even if temperatures will soar when you’re there, there’s still the chance of a rainy, cooler day (especially if you’re up north or there for rainy season). I love long-sleeve tops and blouses for layering when it’s not as warm. Striped t-shirts are a huge favourite of mine, as I find they always make me feel fashionable even if I’m living out of a backpack or suitcase.

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Long-sleeved cotton blouse

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Similarly, I’d recommend bringing a long cardigan (early mornings, late nights, ferries, and buses can all be really chilly) for warmth. I also always travel with a denim jacket, no matter where I go.

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It’s always important to have a comfortable handbag or daypack when you travel, one that’s big enough to hold everything you’ll need for the day. I personally go for locally-bought bags, but they have failed me in the past by ripping easily, so it may be better to bring something more reliable. I think the key thing is a long strap that can be looped over your body; unfortunately bag snatching and pickpocketing does occur in Thailand, so always be mindful of your belongings.

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You’ll need sunglasses, obviously. I say obviously but I always seem to forget to pack them myself. You can buy plenty of cheap knock-off pairs in Thailand, but be warned that you get what you pay for.

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And, of course, if you’re planning on going to the beach you’ll need a bathing suit. I recommend bringing two pairs if you’re spending a lot of time near the water, just in case something happens to one (case in point, I had that same bikini in purple until a ladyboy stole it from me… very long story), one is still wet from the day before, and so on. I’m about a size 8-10 in Canada (12-14 in the UK), and I found it difficult to buy a bathing suit that fit me in Thailand, so keep that in mind.

Also, one note about bathing suits… don’t go topless in Thailand. Again… I’m all for women doing what they want to do – #freethenipple and all that – but it goes against cultural norms in Thailand, and is seen as disrespectful. Similarly, wearing a bikini top into town with nothing else covering you can also be seen as disrespectful.

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You’re obviously going to need shoes in Thailand, and I recommend having a minimum of three pairs: a pair of trainers (I travelled with Keds in 2011 and Nikes in 2015), a pair of sandals that you can wear on a night out if need be, and a pair of flip flops (see above for why… if you’re on a beach or travelling in rainy season they’re a necessity). I’d also recommend bringing a pair of flats if you’re so inclined, and good hiking boots if you plan on spending a lot of time trekking. You’ll need to take your shoes off when you go inside most buildings, including temples, hostels, and even some restaurants, so don’t bring anything too complicated to take on and off.

Now I swear by Naot sandals when I travel; they’re pretty cute, and they’re super comfortable, so you can wear them as both a walking shoe and when you go out at night. I really wish I’d had these sandals when I was in Thailand previously.

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Earrings bought in Chiang Mai

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Yeah, that guy’s totally staring at the necklace I was wearing on my head. Keep in mind this was in 2011, before it became normal to dress like you’re always on your way to Coachella. Hey, at least I tried. 

You didn’t think I’d write a post without mentioning accessories, did you? If you know me you know I’m like some super-hybrid of a magpie, Mr. T, and a fortune teller from the turn of the century. I LOVE accessories, from earrings to necklaces to bracelets to rings, and I swear half my carry-on’s weight is due to my jewellery. If you’re like me, Thailand is a dream come true… there are TONS of market stalls that sell cheap jewellery, whether you’re after beads, silver, brass, and so on.

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Another thing that I’m asked about from time to time is makeup. I personally bring a full make-up bag when I travel, including lots of shades of bright lipstick. While you probably don’t want to wear anything too heavy on your face while in a hot climate (I would sweat that off in a heartbeat), I personally felt great in waterproof mascara and eyeliner, bronzer, and lipstick. It’s amazing what a bright lipstick can do for your travel wardrobe, especially if you’ve been wearing the same clothes for weeks or months.

In other words, if you wear makeup at home, it’s totally fine to wear makeup in Thailand, too.

My biggest makeup tip? Get a great eyeshadow primer so that your eye makeup lasts all day and doesn’t sweat off. Seriously, finding this stuff was a game-changer. My favourite is Urban Decay’s eyeshadow primer, and one tube tends to last a full year, so it’s a worthwhile purchase.

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And of course, if you’re riding a motorbike, make sure to wear a helmet! Far too many people get injured while riding motorbikes in Thailand (I actually cringe at the fact that I was wearing a tank top on this particular journey) and so it’s important to be as safe as possible.

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So there you have it – what to wear in Thailand. Although I was often on a backpacker budget, I like to think that I was still able to dress with a semblance of style (cue laughter from everyone reading). If you’re going to be living and working in Thailand, I’d obviously recommend bringing more work-appropriate clothing, depending on what you’ll be doing, but this is a rough guide for those who will be visiting as tourists. Also, if you’re going to be attending Songkran (the new year water festival), I recommend bringing or buying cotton clothing that can dry quickly, and that you won’t mind getting ruined. The same goes for attending a full-moon party – don’t wear something you would hate getting destroyed. Beach + buckets of alcohol + day-glo paint is a recipe for a ruined dress (take it from me).

For more tips from someone who actually lives in Thailand, check out Alana’s post on what to wear in Thailand.

What to wear in Thailand

So, what do you think? Have you been to Thailand? What did you wear there?

For all of the what to wear posts, click here

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42 Responses to What to Wear in Thailand

  1. Helen March 29, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

    I love these posts!!! You always look so gorgeous and stylish in very picture. While I tend to live up to my old nickname ‘netball mum’! 🙂 Help!

    ps. I love harem pants too!!!!


    • Brenna Holeman March 29, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

      Oh HELEN… be quiet! You are stunning. 🙂

      You’ll have to help me with my “what to wear in Kenya” post later this year! 😉 xxx

  2. Cara-Mia March 30, 2016 at 1:10 am #

    I love your style and love these posts! 🙂

    • Brenna Holeman March 30, 2016 at 1:53 am #

      Aw, thank you so much Cara-Mia! I hope you’re well. 🙂

  3. Christine March 30, 2016 at 2:08 am #

    I always love your what-to-wear posts! You always manage to look stylish in every location 🙂

    • Brenna Holeman March 30, 2016 at 2:44 am #

      Aw, thank you very much Christine!

  4. Jolene March 30, 2016 at 2:10 am #

    Love this post! Your outfits all through SE Asia were amazing and inspiring!
    I really feel the need to go to Thailand more now!

    • Brenna Holeman March 30, 2016 at 2:45 am #

      Thank you so much, Jolene! Thailand really is a fantastic place.

  5. Sarah March 30, 2016 at 3:32 am #

    I always love your “what to wear” posts. You have a very beautiful travel style! I hope that I will look as nice as you do when traveling.

    • Brenna Holeman March 30, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

      Aw, thank you very much, Sarah! You’re too kind.

  6. kuheli March 30, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    I have now become a regular reader of your blog. Although I don’t get to comment all the time. #lazybumalert I love reading your posts. And you look so lively and fun in all your pics. The energy is contagious.
    Thailand is a go-to foreign destination for most middle to upper class Indians. However I have not been there. Yet. I heard it’s a shoppers’ paradise. When it comes to accessories, I too am just like you. I pack so many jewellery that my bags get too heavy. 😛
    Please do write a post on your jewellery collection that you have picked up on your trips. I know you have done one. But more is always better when it comes to jewellery. 😀 I love your neckpiece in the 7th pic. And that coin armband. Wow!

    p.s. Went on a Bhutan trip last month. Your tips were a great help.

    • Brenna Holeman March 30, 2016 at 11:30 pm #

      Thank you so much for your comment – I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog and that’s amazing that you went to Bhutan! And I will definitely try to do a post on my favourite jewellery, that’s a great idea!

  7. Laura March 30, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    So, this is a bit of a weird/random question – I haven’t traveled much (yet) outside of big European cities and Costa Rica and Israel with organized trips – when you’re traveling around, and you buy a pair of earrings, what do you clean them with? Do you carry around a little thing of rubbing alcohol in your suitcase to disinfect before putting them in your ears? Or something? Totally random (hopefully not stupid?) question, but I love buying earrings and jewelry whenever I travel, I try to buy a kind of trinket like that wherever I go…
    Is my question making any sense whatsoever? Anyways, love this post, Thailand is somewhere I’d REALLY love to go!

    • Brenna Holeman March 30, 2016 at 11:27 pm #

      Not a stupid question at all! I try to always wash the bit that actually goes through your ear with hot water and soap, and I also use hand sanitiser to sterilise them as best I can (which I always travel with). Rubbing alcohol would probably be best, but I don’t travel with it, so have to make do. Hope that helps!

  8. Katie March 30, 2016 at 5:14 pm #

    Ugh. My dog ate my favorite travel flats (super comfy and open-toed, which are surprisingly hard to find right now!) just before WITS, and my feet STILL ache from wearing the wrong sandals for my entire trip to L.A. Every time I think I get a hold of the travel packing game, something sends me back a step. 🙂 (I’m still trying to get used to using scarves, and I’d definitely like to find more skirts that I like for my summer wardrobe, but I always feel like I look funny in everything! Ah well… I’m 33 now. Maybe I’ll figure it out and lose my denim shorts by the time I’m 40?)

    • Brenna Holeman March 30, 2016 at 11:28 pm #

      I am always searching for the perfect pair of flats, so I’m sorry for your loss!! I’m sure you look great in everything. 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Katie!

  9. Christine March 30, 2016 at 10:05 pm #

    I love all of these outfits so much! So inspired by your sense of style! And based on my experience in Thailand, all of this advice is on point. Solid series, keep it up 🙂

    • Brenna Holeman March 30, 2016 at 11:24 pm #

      Aw, thank you Christine! Means so much coming from such a fashionable person. 🙂

  10. Zena March 31, 2016 at 11:41 pm #

    Your blog is great! I travelled to Thailand last year and after reading a million blogs on the Thai dress code, I can say that your post is spot on! Most other blogs just scare women into covering up from head to toe. Yours is much more accurate and realistic.

    • Brenna Holeman April 4, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

      Thank you very much! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

  11. Ella April 2, 2016 at 11:08 am #

    I love your style and that you’re able to express yourself through your clothes, while still being culturally respectful. I think it’s awesome that you’ve managed to strike a good balance between the two and that you’ve not sacrificed one for the other. On a separate note… I love genie pants!! I bought a pair at the Maasai Markets in Nairobi, Kenya and I wore them loads while travelling. I still do actually. I love wandering around my neighbourhood with them because it makes me feel like I’m still a ‘traveller’ even though I’m at home haha 🙂

    • Brenna Holeman April 4, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

      Thank you very much, Ella! I like to wear mine at home, too. 🙂

  12. Jacquie April 4, 2016 at 6:48 pm #

    Ahaha every time you mention the Keds I laugh. I see you upgraded to Nikes, so proud. Actually the thought of wearing my hiking boots in Thailand makes my feet feel hot and claustrophobic already!

    I love your hair in the pictures where you have bangs and it’s really long and wavy. Super beautiful.

    About one year until Thailand for me! I’ve been OD-ing on coconut curries lately….so good…

  13. Isabelle April 8, 2016 at 1:15 pm #

    Very interesting blog. Very well written.
    I have sort of weird question: what kind of luggage should I bring for a six months travel? Size, dimension… I mean I’ll probably take local flies (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia…), trains, buses… And I’m not a backpacker. I need comfort. Rimowa luggages are very vey light. Seem a good choice or not? Or with this kind of trip, I should forget “comfort” and travel like a backpacker?
    And also, even if your bag or your camera is firmly looped over your body, there is still a risk of bag snatching and pickpocketing? What can I do with my camera? I love to take pictures!
    Thanks for your advices!

  14. Zalie April 16, 2016 at 3:45 am #

    Ok…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…you always look SO good when you travel sister! Thanks for the great tips on clothing/accessories! Considering I was in Thailand 16 years ago( shudder), I am sure these tips will come in handy when I finally get back there! Hopefully you can join me 🙂 xoxo

  15. Chrissy May 11, 2016 at 10:18 am #

    Hi Brenna!

    I’ve just discovered your blog, and like you, I have always had an innate need to see as much of the world as I possibly can. My current circumstances don’t fully allow for this right now, but I hope with time, that I will be able to travel some more and explore 🙂 I love your What to Wear posts, Last Time I Saw You posts and the one you wrote about how travelling easily is a privilege.

    Good luck finishing your book, I will definitely buy a copy when it comes out.

    Stay safe and happy travels,

  16. bridget July 31, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    What clothing stores do you recommend for shopping? I am going to be working in thailand as part of an eight month trip i am planning, and am finding that the nice light weight clothes seem to be more expensive, any recommendations?

  17. Brittany August 26, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

    I’m so enthralled by your blog and your fashion! Absolutely love your belts, too 🙂

  18. Cynthia October 5, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    Your post was extremely useful! I’m stressing soo much about what to pack for my upcoming trip cause the research I’ve been doing basically says nothing is acceptable unless your completely covered up :S
    I’m more concerned about what to wear during the day while site seeing … I was going to pack mainly shorts (Jean and workout type shorts so airy and thin) and tank tops / spaghetti strap tops . Do you think I will be okay dressed like that ?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Brenna Holeman October 5, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

      Hi Cynthia, I hope you have fun in Thailand! You’ll definitely see a lot of tourists wearing shorts and tank tops, however I would make sure to also pack items in your bag that do allow you to cover up. For example, you won’t be allowed in most temples or religious sites if you have exposed shoulders or knees, so bring a long skirt or loose trousers for your legs and a few t-shirts to make sure your shoulders are covered. I recommend bringing some light scarves/sarongs (they’re also very cheap to buy once in Thailand) that you can wrap around your shoulders or tie at your waist if you’re in situations where you are expected to be covered up. If you’re just walking down the beach or going out for street food, however, I believe it’s acceptable for tourists to wear shorts and t-shirts/tank tops. Hope that helps!

      • cynthia October 5, 2016 at 5:33 pm #

        Thanks soo much for your help! Do you think leggings are acceptable for walking around the city?

        • Brenna Holeman October 5, 2016 at 6:14 pm #

          Yes, I don’t see why not!

  19. Tracy February 6, 2017 at 3:22 am #

    Hi Brenna

    Fantastic blog! I love this post, your clothes, hair and accessories are amazing!
    I will be traveling to Thailand and Cambodia at the end of March for 2 weeks. I’ll be in Bangkok for 2 days then Siem Reap for 4 then we’ll be heading down to the Phuket area for some Island hopping. Where do you recommend shopping in Bangkok? I love your style with the skortd, blouses and harems pants, so places where I can find all of the above. I adore your earrings but I see you got those in Chiang Mai ????. Any shopping tips are greatly appreciated!!

    • Brenna Holeman February 6, 2017 at 10:46 pm #

      You can actually find quite a bit along Khao San Road, even though it is very touristy/full of backpackers. There’s also the giant Chatuchak market, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of it. To be honest, the best shopping in Thailand is indeed in Chiang Mai, in my opinion, but there’s still lots of great stuff to be found in Bangkok. Have fun!

      • Tracy Beverley February 6, 2017 at 11:08 pm #

        Thanks for your reply Brenna, thats awesome! I will defintely check out the markets there. I think there are some in Siem Reap as well. I have been to Chiang Mai back in 2005 but this time we are not going up there as it will be during their smokey season. Its a shame it was one of my favourite places. I wanted to ask your opinion of where I should shop as it has been quite a few year and I hardly remember where the good markets were. I am super excited to be going back to Thailand.

  20. Melissa April 19, 2017 at 7:24 pm #

    I am going in July and have saved your post. I am so excited to travel to Thailand. Your post is very helpful and I love all the pictures. You are beautiful! Thank you

    • Brenna Holeman April 20, 2017 at 1:29 am #

      Thanks, Melissa! I’m glad the post could help 🙂

  21. Rona April 27, 2017 at 12:29 am #

    Love your post , I am going to Thailand next month, it’s going to be scorching hot !!! I’ve read on several posts not to have your shoulders bear at all, but yet I see multiple pictures of people wearing whatever they wish. Did you get any dirty looks or snotty comments at all? I’m just curious how far they take that rule? I like the part in your post about buying a scarf, maybe I will just use it as a belt accessory just in case I need to cover up for a temple. Did you have any trouble finding your size in clothing, you look about my size. I was just curious Thai women seem to be so tiny. Keep up the great work and have fun doing it. Can’t wait to hear back from you. Thank you

  22. Lorraine May 28, 2017 at 10:37 pm #

    I am going to Thailand tomorrow and your guide was very helpful!! Especially the scarf tip. Also you look so cute in all the photos and I love your earrings and necklaces 🙂

  23. Hilda Andrade October 8, 2017 at 6:55 pm #

    Leaving in less than 3 weeks for Thailand! I have this printed and re reading it again!!!. Although I am an older woman,its still quite helpful. And for people that don’t know, that there are colours for each day of the week for the day you are born and you are supposed to wear that colour on that particular day. Mine is Saturday – and Purple is my colour. I will be in Chiang Mai for Loi Krathong and Yee Peng Festivals and I just cant wait. Thank you honey for the amazing tips. I’ve enjoyed your blog and follow you on Facebook. I will message you when I return 🙂


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