What to Wear in Thailand

Thailand’s climate is hot and tropical (think Miami in August), so bear that in mind as you pack for your trip. Whether you’re seeing the sights, exploring neighborhoods, or house hunting for a move abroad, bring clothes that are loose, lightweight, and breathable.

A woman walks down Khao San Street in Bangkok.

Bring clothes that are loose, lightweight, and breathable, and consider a wide hat to protect from the sun. Photo © loganban/123rf.

Tank tops and shorts are tempting, but in addition to looking a little too casual, they don’t offer enough protection from the sun.Tank tops and shorts are tempting, but in addition to looking a little too casual, they don’t offer enough protection from the sun. Covering up your skin, so long as you do so with loose, light fabrics, can actually keep you cooler in the long run. If you’ll be spending a lot of time walking around outdoors, take a clue from the Thais who work outside on a daily basis, and consider bringing or picking up a lightweight broad-brimmed hat. If you are walking around a lot in the heat, your feet will sweat and swell, and you are far more likely to have blisters, so comfortable shoes are essential.

Laundry services are available at all levels of accommodations, from guesthouses to five-star hotels, so unless you’ll be moving around a lot, three or four changes of clothing should be sufficient for your trip. But bring extra underwear, as you’ll most likely be showering more than once a day.

In major cities in Thailand, people generally dress nicely, and even those just running errands or hanging out at the mall on a Saturday will seldom be seen looking too sloppy or unkempt (if you walk around most residential areas in the evening, you’ll see folks hanging around or running to the store in their pajamas, but that’s a different story).

Piles of straw hats at Damnoen Saduak floating market, Thailand.

Piles of straw hats for sale at Damnoen Saduak floating market, Thailand. Photo © xiquinhosilva, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

People will also generally make assumptions about you based on the way you’re dressed, so unless you want to be treated like a backpacking tourist when you’re house hunting or looking at schools for your kids, ditch the flip-flops and ratty cargo shorts. Like most other places in the world, you’ll almost always be treated better if you’re dressed well. It almost goes without saying that any meetings with government officials, even if you’re just stopping into the immigration office to extend your tourist visa, will go more smoothly if you are dressed more formally. For men, khakis and polo shirts are acceptable if you’re just walking around, or even for casual meetings with real estate agents. Women have more options but you should avoid looking like you’re going to the beach. If you are going to the beach, or exploring Thailand’s beaches as possible places to move, don’t worry about the flip flops or shorts; those are fine in beach areas.

Professional Dress in Thailand

If you’re traveling to Thailand for meetings with other professionals or you’ll be networking, or interviewing for jobs, you’ll most likely be expected to dress in business attire.

For men this really depends on your line of work. For some industries, this means suits, ties, and dress shoes, even though the thermometer could be in the 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit) while you’re in town. Depending on the types of meetings you’ll be having and the people you’ll be meeting with, you may be able to get away with not wearing a tie, and you can even take your jacket off quickly after you’ve arrived, but you should gauge the level of formality carefully and err on the side of being overdressed. Some professionals, such as teachers, are a little more casual, but you’ll still be expected to wear a button-down shirt and long pants.

Women have a little more leeway in that they don’t absolutely have to wear business suits, but you will still be expected to wear professional-looking clothing (i.e., a button-down blouse and skirt or slacks, or a dress) if you are in business meetings or interviewing. Although many professional women do wear pantyhose in Thailand, it is not considered taboo to skip them. Women can also get away with open-toed shoes and even sandals in all but the highest positions or the most formal offices. In the past, women in Thailand did not wear sleeveless tops in professional environments, but this isn’t true anymore, though spaghetti straps, halter tops, and tube tops are still a no-no. Bring a light cardigan with you in case you are meeting with more formal people, as well as to protect you from icy-cold air-conditioning.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad Thailand.

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