This guide was written after my time spent in Thailand & Cambodia but is generally useful for most of South-East Asia. This one is more for the ladies as men don’t have much to worry about but I have included some notes for men.
What to wear?
One of my friends who frequents Thailand annually had advised me not to pack anything at all and to purchase all of my clothing and luggage when I arrived. Being a tall and curvy North American chick I panicked at the thought of not being able to find any clothing that fit. I was also on a strict budget and clothing was not something I planned to spend on. In hindsight I wish I had followed that advice. I ended up having to ditch a lot of my stuff in favor of thinner and in some cases more respectable clothing.
First timers generally are not going to get a sense of what they should prioritize until they’ve been there for a week or so. Depending on your size bathing suits, bras, underwear, and socks may be difficult to find. Large busted women especially will struggle to able to find bras or bathing suits that offer support. If you are plus sized man or woman your choices for pants and shorts will be minimal. You can purchase tailored clothing but be careful as there are many scams. I recommend buying a pair like these on Amazon in advance. Socks are the same everywhere so you might as well just bring them. A sweatshirt or jacket is typically unnecessary unless you are going in monsoon season and want to bring a thin raincoat. Trekking sandals are ideal footwear. They are easily removed when you need to enter establishments and are ideal for casual walking and hikes in tropical climates.
What Should you buy in Southeast Asia?
- Pants – Harem, Fisherman, whatever the style they are lightweight and comfortable. I initially brought some yoga pants to cover my legs in temples. I can’t tell you how happy I was when I finally ditched the yoga pants and gave in to looking like a tourist. Do not pay more than 150 baht Thailand or $5.00 USD in Cambodia.
- Tops – A standard cotton T-shirt is fine but you will sweat a lot less if you invest in some T-shirts in the local markets. Tank tops, muscle shirts, and the like are fine if you are in a major city. See more about this below.
- Sarong – Sarongs are awesome! They have so many uses and can easily triple as a beach wrap, temple cover, and an on the go towel.
- A temple appropriate dress – I was reluctant to grab one at first but it made for a great keepsake and took away the stress of finding matching layers.
Going to a temple? If you are a woman You must cover your knees, shoulders, and no cleavage showing. Period. It used to be standard that many Wats had loaner robes. This practice is changing. The Grand Palace in Bangkok stopped providing loaners the very morning I visited in April of 2017. There are shops outside the gate in which you can purchase respectable garments. As I said above I highly recommend purchasing a temple dress if you will be visiting several places of worship. They are extremely lightweight, will take the worry out of any future visits, and make great gifts or souvenirs. If you’re only planning on visiting one or two then you can wear a sarong and a t-shirt, or a scarf over a tank top, really just any layering of items that provide coverage will do.
Before and after I arrived in Thailand I was really confused about what was socially acceptable for a woman to wear. Was it okay if my shoulders were showing? Did I need to cover my knees? The bottom line is this. To the locals you’re a tourist no matter what your opinion is, even if you are spending several months traveling. You can wear whatever you want but if you want to be respected (especially in a smaller town) and non offensive to the older generations then opt for outfits that cover your shoulders and do not show cleavage. No one is going to look twice at you in Bangkok for having a tank top on but Bangkok isn’t all of South-East Asia.
And if you’re a man tempted to walk around bare chested in the hot weather the same advice goes to you. Depending on what country you are in you might want to cover your knees as well. And when in the islands or at a beach town do cover up when walking around town after a swim.
Have something to add? Want to share your opinion? Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments section.
Part five is the final installment of my Guide to Southeast Asia. If you didn’t catch parts one through 4 start here: http://lostonpurposetravel.com/etiquettesafetyandscamsinsoutheastasia/