What to Wear: Thailand

what to wear thailand

Around this time last year I was wading in the water on the beaches of Thailand. Now that summer is slowly slipping away, and the whole world is planning their winter escape, I figured it was fine time to put together the necessities for any Thai vacation. Below are a few rules for packing that I found helpful when traveling to the Land of Smiles.

Keep it easy breezy. While this goes without saying, it is smart to reiterate to importance comfy, loose fitting clothing. Imagine getting a sun burn and having to wear tight jean shorts. Eek! Also, it does get hot and sticky during the day, so any help you can get to keep the breeze flowing will make a big difference.

Pack your maxi. If you plan on visiting any temples at all bear in mind that you need to be covered up in order to enter. At more popular temples in Bangkok, they will provide clothing for a retainer fee, but you’re better off avoiding the lines and showing up prepared. As long as your shoulders and shins are coverd, you’re good to go.

Stop the sun. Don’t hesitate to pack multiple beach cover ups and a hat. Sun burns are no fun and you’re better off shielding yourself from the rays for most of the day. Your skin is the ultiamte accessory and the last thing you want is to look like a lobster in Koh Samui.

Ditch the stilettos. More times than not, walking in heels is going to be incredibly difficult in Thailand. If you crave shoes with some height, swap out your stilettos for a cute pair of wedges. Not only will they be more comfortable, but you won’t have to worry about sinking in the sand.

Be selective with your jewelry. There are going to be plenty of cute little shops to grab jewelry, so I recommend just packing a few statement pieces. Thailand is full of color and glitter, so don’t be afraid to go big! Costume jewelry is a better option than your favorite treasured pieces. I always say, when you travel, don’t bring anything you would be afraid to lose, so leave the family heirlooms at home.

These tips are a good jumping off point, but be sure to check the weather conditions during your visit.

Leave any of your favorite Thailand packing suggestions in the comments below!

Go Big or Go Home

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From surf to statues, Thailand definitely goes big. On the last full day in Phuket, I journeyed with my mom to the top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata to take in one of Thailand’s most recognizable landmarks, the Big Buddha. It’s pricey, but those in the know suggested that it’s best to charter a car or taxi for the trip to view Buddha. Originally, we planned to hike, but were advised against it, probably because the cars and taxis along the route travel at breakneck speed. The summit offered breathtaking views of the whole island and as an added bonus, we learned a little about the history of the ongoing construction and renovations of the Buddha.

Interestingly, funding for the renovation is provided solely through donations. One of the most popular ways to donate is to purchase a white marble slab for roughly 300 baht ($9.31 U.S.) and write a personal message on it. The marble slab is then used somewhere on the statue as part of the current renovation.  Visitors can also purchase small prayer bells for 250 baht ($7.75 U.S.) to be hung on the trees surrounding the area. The bells typically have prayers of peace and good fortune written on them and create a charming tinkling sound every time the wind blows.

After an enjoyable day taking in the sights, it seemed fitting to spend the last few hours of daylight on Kata beach to watch the waves wash the shore. A gentle entertainment and beautiful image to carry back with us as the sun went down. It was the perfect way to end my time in Thailand.

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Market Madness

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 9.00.05 PMWhen someone mentioned going to one of the largest seafood markets in all of Thailand, I was somewhat intrigued. Then, when they told me a train runs right through the middle of it every hour, I knew I had to go. The Maeklong Railway Market  is a big draw for tourists and for good reason. There is a ‘anything goes’ mentality that is quite entertaining, and the characters you’ll find strewn throughout the market bring the experience full circle. My favorite was the woman yelling “You die!!” to the tourists who weren’t backing up far enough off of the tracks when the train was approaching. And that woman wasn’t kidding!

Five or so minutes before the train is due to come through the market, there is a loud horn over the speakers warning the shopkeepers and shoppers. I definitely suggest, at that time, scoping out a place that you are going to be able to stand when the train arrives. My best tip is to find a tour guide who is leading his or her group to somewhere safe. Soon the awnings will be pulled back and the train will be on its final approach. Be prepared to squeeze!!

After you narrowly escape your death on the train tracks, it’s time to make your way to the floating market for another unorthodox and popular market. Tell your driver to bring you to a less expensive area to get on a boat, preferably one that you share with other people, otherwise it is roughly $30/person to float around through the market. In my opinion, that’s a little on the steep side. After you’ve plopped your bum down in your water taxi, just sit back relax and enjoy. Be prepared to be pulled to both sides of the river by eager shop owners hoping to sell you a cheesy trinket. Penis shaped salt and pepper shakers aren’t your thing? No worries, just tell your trusty captain that you want handmade pieces instead of the tacky souveniers that are usually pushed at tourists. One of my favorites was this shop with really beautiful paintings.

Another great thing about the market, it’s full of food! These ladies literally pull up next to you and prepare a delicious creation to snack while you shop. My personal favorite: mango and sticky rice. Yum!  And you thought ordering takeout was easy…

On your way back to the car, tell your driver to put the pedal to the metal for a fun ride to your final destination (no, not like the movie, I promise). You will whiz past houses on stilts, through the narrow channels of the river all the way back to the car with goodies in tow. What could be better?

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Island Hopping

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 9.27.22 PMAfter Bangkok it was time to head down to switch gears and head to the beach. You can get to Phuket on just about any budget, but in my opinion, to make your stay truly enjoyable, it’s important that you pick a clean, friendly, well-located resort. For an extra $40-$60/night, you see a big difference. Katathani Resort on Kata Beach was a perfect choice. It is located a few minutes off of the main road, but it’s downtown Kata is perfectly walkable. With several pools, restaurants, and a great beach front location, I would highly recommend this spot for your next stay in Phuket.

While in Phuket, taking a day trip out to see the famous Phi Phi Islands is a must. The hotel recommended the Tropical Andaman Marine Tour, which ended up being a great choice. The tour costs 3,100 baht (roughly $100) and includes hotel pickup, lunch, and stops at five different islands.

One compliant that you will hear a lot regarding speedboat tours is that they are usually very crowded, and there is not a lot of time to enjoy on each of the islands. Unfortunately, for one day trips this is almost always unavoidable. The crew on our tour made a considerable effort to get to different islands and lagoons quickly, as to beat the crowds, but there were some spots that were likely crowded all day. If you are looking for an experience a little less crowded, it’s worth it to look into an overnight option on the islands.

One of the great parts about my stay in Thailand is that my mother was able to join me! After 7 weeks of travel, it was definitely nice to see a familiar face. Aside from relaxing, she was also breaking in one of her bags that she decided to bring with her on the trip. Her company, Hoist Away Bags, repurposes old, retired sails into functional tote bags that are perfect for any vacation. Everything we needed for the day fit comfortably, and thanks to the sail cloth, stayed dry all day.

After a long day of island hopping, it was nice to head back to the resort, order some room service, and watch the sun set from the beach with a mango daiquiri in hand. This day trip was a good first step on the way to relaxation for the rest of the trip, and is a must-do for anyone visiting the Phuket area.

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Gentle Giants

Elephants in Southeast Asia are often abused, overworked, and abandoned. So, when I traveled to Thailand, it was really important that I visited an elephant sanctuary as opposed to just riding an elephant at some camp on the side of the road. After some research and talking with the concierge, I decided that a journey to Elephant’s World would do just the trick. Elephant’s World is a non-profit organization getting all of their funding from donations and visitors. Most of the elephants at the sanctuary are older, or as they like to say “retired”. The goal is to offer these elephants a safe haven where they can live out the rest of their lives as pleasantly as possible. In addition to the older elephants, they also treat ones who were abused, sick, or handicapped. When I visited they were currently trying to raise money to be able to buy a young elephant out of, what most would consider, questionable care. It is clear that their efforts have not gone unnoticed within the Thai community, and Elephant’s World is often one of the top recommend sights to see in the Bangkok area.

   

    

Throughout the day you get to care for the elephants in numerous ways. The volunteers don’t force the elephants to interact if they don’t want to, and most of contact with them is on their own terms. If they are hungry or curious they will likely come up to you, and at the end of the day, you get really up close and personally by swimming with them in the River Kwai. The mahouts are very helpful in showing you the best way to approach, feed, and bathe them, which makes for an amazing, well-rounded experience.

    

For 2,000 baht (roughly $60), this is an amazing opportunity to spend the day with elephants and to also give back. If you book directly through their website, you will avoid exorbitant transportation fees through an outside agency. If you want, you can also book an overnight visit for 4,500 baht. To learn more about Elephant’s World, you can check out their Facebook page here.

Palaces and Pagodas

After checking out Wat Phra Kaew, it was on to other parts of the compound. The Grand Palace used to be the living quarters to the King, but is now only used for ceremonial purposes. Our tour guide alluded to the fact that the residence was vacated due to a lack of air conditioning. Instead of installing air con, they just built an entirely new palace… totally reasonable. Aside from the roof, the palace is a very classical European design, which is an interesting contrast to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha that is right next door. Like all historical sites in Bangkok, the devil is in the details, so take your time to check out all of the intricate handiwork.

     

Another site you should see is Wat Pho, which is a temple famous for housing the Reclining Buddha. This is located only a ten minute walk from the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. The entrance fee is about 100 baht and for a guided tour about another 200-400 baht. The Reclining Buddha is a massive 46 meters long and is the most popular site within Wat Pho. It is also worth taking a look at the rest of the temple, where you can see hundreds of other gilded Buddhas, beautifully decorated chedis, and even grab a traditional Thai massage as well.

     

If you would like a little luck, you can purchase a bowl of 108 coins. For those who don’t know, 108 is a very important number which refers to the 108 positive actions that led Buddha to perfection. You drop one coin in each bucket all while making a few wishes. Even if they don’t come true, the 108 pennies goes to the monks who are constantly restoring and preserving the temple.

All That Glitters

My first stop in Thailand was Bangkok, where I stayed at Hotel Muse.  Located right near Siam Paragon, and within walking distance to Lumphini Park, this is a great spot to stay while in Bangkok if you are looking for something a little different from the traditional backpacking experience. The service was great and the concierge was very helpful in arranging trips and tours. In addition, the rooftop bar is also top-notch and gives you a great view of the city right around sunset.

That first evening I headed down to Khao San Road to meet up with some friends who had just arrived the day before. Khao San is the main drag for all of the backpackers coming through town. With its ‘anything goes’ vibe, it was a perfect introduction to the city. After indulging in an obnoxious amount of pad thai and curry, we hopped around from bar to bar until it was time to hit the hay.

The next morning, I headed to Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). The admissions fee was 400 Baht, or roughly $13 (US), which also grants entry into the Grand Palace and a few other monuments worth seeing. I suggest getting a guide, and if you can mange it, try to split the cost with a few other people. In addition to making it a little cheaper, I have always found that strangers ask all the questions that you think of an hour after you receive a tour. So, its nice to have a few people there to keep the information flowing.

The temples in Thailand adhere to a very strict dress code. Men must wear long pants, and keep their shoulders covered. Apparently at times, men will be asked to wear long sleeves, but I saw plenty just wearing a t-shirt. Women must wear long pants or skirt as well. Below the knees seemed to be sufficient for skirts, but I recommend going with a maxi just to stay on the safe side. Women also have to keep their shoulders covered, and ladies, it’s important to keep your cleavage to a minimum as well. If you forget, don’t worry, there are clothes for rent that you can pick up at the entrance. Whenever entering the temple, it is also important to remember to remove your shoes. Throughout Thailand, you will either find shelves for your shoes, or bags will be provided to carry them. I found it really helpful to wear shoes that you can just slip off and on. You don’t want to be bothered having to tie and untie your shoes all day.

All of the architecture, once  you get inside, is amazing. Everything is hand done, and yes, all of that gold is real. Just remember to be respectful of your surroundings, especially when going into the temple. Too many times I saw people pointing their feet at the Buddha, taking pictures of the Buddha, and bumping into people who were in the midst of prayer. All three of those things are big no-no’s. Just because you are dressed appropriately, doesn’t mean you are being a good tourist.

    

If you do get a tour, remember to take your time taking photographs. Once you leave Wat Phra Kaew to head to the Grand Palace, you cannot go back inside. I didn’t know this until the end, so I asked my tour guide for some time to walk around and take some photos before we moved on.

Your guide will likely want to move onto the Grand Palace as soon as possible, but don’t rush! Take time to appreciate the little details from the hand painted porcelain tiles used for the roof, to the individually placed gold tiles and the hundreds of intricate statues. This by far was one of my favorite sites in Bangkok. When you go, make sure you have your camera charged and that you are on your best tourist behavior. After all, I think here is as good a place as any to remember the “Golden Rule”.