Need a packing list for Thailand? Here’s some packing tips about what you can leave at home and what you should make sure you bring to the Land of Smiles
Trying to work out what you should put in your backpack before you travel to Thailand can be a bit daunting. Here’s a list of what I found to be most useful during my own Thailand backpacking days, before I wound up living in Bangkok.
Before You Begin To Start Packing Stuff For Thailand…
Some of the most important things you will need for your trip to Thailand won’t actually be in your backpack. Make sure you’ve got these essentials for your trip sorted out – they all need a bit of time before you plan to travel to sort out.
- Vaccinations – Check what injections you need to get or renew at least 8 weeks before you go to Thailand (usually Hepatitis A and B, tetanus, typhoid and possibly rabies, plus maybe malaria tablets, although they are usually not required)
- Travel Insurance – Make sure you have travel insurance that covers your full range of activities e.g. scuba diving (World Nomads backpacker travel insurance is recommended by Lonely Planet amongst others and can be bought immediately online)
- Flight Ticket – It pays to start looking well in advance for flights because sadly they only seem to get more expensive the closer you book to your flying time. Three months before you are due to fly is apparently the sweet spot for finding cheap flights – any earlier or later and it gets more expensive. Check flight comparison sites like Skyscanner, as well as consulting your local travel agent
- Passport – Ensure your passport is valid for at least a year and has plenty of blank pages. Also get a passport cover – they’re cheap, and will protect your passport from damage plus provide a handy place to stash tickets etc whilst in transit.
- Prescription Medicines – Have a full supply of any prescription medicines you require
- Credit Cards and Debit Cards – Have credit cards and a debit card that will work in international ATMs and won’t block you due to being accessed from Thailand.
- Document Scans – Take cellphone photos of your passport, driving license and all your credit cards, insurance info and any other important documents and save them as JPEGs to your online email account like Gmail or Yahoo Mail. That way if you lose any of your documents, you have copies of them available anywhere with an internet connection – and on your phone too. Also keep a list of the numbers of your banks etc that you need to call to cancel your cards in your internet email account.A quick way to do this is lay out all your cards on a table face down and take a photo with your cellphone. Every card has the emergency contact number written on the back so you now have an instant record of all those numbers – just make sure your photo is not out of focus!
- A Well Made Backpack – Invest in a decent backpack brand like MacPac or similar that can hold all your stuff comfortably without crippling you. See Amazon for bargain priced backpacks, although you may well want to go to your local store and actually try different models on rather than ordering unseen online.
- Thailand Guidebook – while there is a plethora of great info about Thailand online, if it’s your first time to Thailand, a guidebook is probably still the easiest way to rapidly get an idea of all the options available to you. It’s worth getting a guidebook a few months before your trip so you can really thumb through it and highlight the stuff you’re really interested in. Lonely Planet Thailand would be my personal preference, but there are numerous other guidebooks too.
- Bangkok Map If you are planning to spend more than a couple of days in Bangkok, investing in a map will save you a huge amount of time and frustration. I’ve written before how Groovy Map is hands-down the best map of Bangkok which helps you swiftly understand the sprawling metropolis and where all the good stuff is. It’s definitely worth getting a copy before you arrive in Bangkok and study it on the plane as you come in to land.
It’s also worth noting that Google Maps have detailed maps of Bangkok, and it can be hugely helpful to use GPS on your cellphone to let the map guide you. I would still recommend the Groovy Map as a general overview and use your phone maps to guide you to specific destinations. Also be aware that Google Maps are not 100% accurate – quite a few places are incorrectly located so watch out for that.
What Do You Need To Pack For Thailand?
The golden rule is always pack less. Don’t buy half of the local camping shop in an attempt to be prepared for every situation – simply buy it when you need it while you’re travelling. In Thailand this is particularly true, because, assuming you’re starting your journey in Bangkok, pretty much every Western thing you could need is available and is often cheaper too.
Stuff You Don’t Need To Bring Lots Of Because You Can Buy It In Thailand
- Toiletries – Brand name toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, soap, razors, tampons, pain relievers (eg Tylenol or Panadol), toilet paper and deodorant are all plentifully available in every 7-11 which are almost everywhere in Thailand. Obviously you want to bring some of this stuff while you travel, otherwise you’ll honk on arrival. My point is that you don’t need to bring a suitcase full of it.
- Tshirts – Don’t bother buying expensive tshirts at home as you can pick them up for cheap (100 Baht or less if you bargain well) in Bangkok.
Stuff You Should Bring To Thailand
- Fleece – It may seem crazy to bring a fleece jacket to a tropical country, but Thai buses and cinemas – and indeed, many other indoor spaces like shopping malls – are notoriously chilly due to arctic air conditioning. Plane journeys can also be cold. A lightweight fleece can make all the difference for your comfort. Check Amazon for cheap womens fleeces and men’s fleeces – you don’t want anything too expensive in case you lose it.
- Quick Dry Towel– Super lightweight and non-bulky, one of these towels is a real godsend for minimising your travel load. They’re also pretty inexpensive – check Amazon for a good variety of quick dry towel options.
- Water Carrier – You’ll need to drink a lot of water while travelling in Thailand. A hands-free hydration pack (Camelbak are popular) is worth considering if you are going to be active – it’s a lot easier than dragging a 2 litre bottle of water around everywhere. Incidentally, safe to drink bottled water is available pretty much everywhere in Thailand – you’ll only need water purification tablets if you plan to go camping etc for more than a couple of days.
- Sunscreen and Mosquito Repellent – I can’t stress this enough: make sure you put on sunscreen and mosquito repellent every morning before you head out for the day, and definitely reapply mosquito repellent around 5pm before dusk, when mozzies tend to be most active. It’s very unlikely you’ll catch malaria in Thailand unless you’re spending a lot of time in deep jungle (which is also unlikely) – however, mosquito bites can be extremely irritating and just generally take the edge off your enjoyment.
Preventing them ever getting near you is the best way to go – covering up in the evening with loose fitting trousers or long skirts is also a good idea, as mosquitos seem to love ankles, and obviously a hat, sunglasses and long sleeves are great for blocking the sun. There are plenty of mosquito repellent and sunscreen brands on Amazon, and you can buy most major international brands in Bangkok too. My personal favourite is Banana Boat, which is super quick to apply and absorb. Sunscreen sticks are also great for rapidly applying to the face.
- Antihistamine tablets – If you suffer from any kind of pollen allergy or have a generally sensitive nose, I highly recommend you take antihistamines, not particularly for your Thailand trip but specifically for the long flight there. I’ve found popping an antihistamine at the beginning of a flight stops sneeziness and general miserable allergy symptoms brought on by breathing dry, canned air. They are very cheap and available without prescription.
- Tissues – a few packs of travel tissues easily accessible in your carry-on bag (and in your back pocket) is definitely worth keeping handy in case you get the aforementioned sneezes or just have to mop up some random spilt gunk and wipe your hands
- Ear plugs – if you’re a light sleeper, ear plugs are an essential for plane, train and bus journeys and, perhaps most of all, if you’re sharing a dorm room with a snorer. Moldex ear plugs are an excellent brand and very cheap too.
- Pen – keep a pen in your carry-on luggage too to fill in immigration forms on the plane before you land – saves you time doing it when you get into the airport. Also useful in endless random situations. If you plan to travel on from Thailand to Cambodia, Laos etc it’s also worth making sure you have several passport-size photos of yourself to attach to visa applications – again, it saves you running around looking for a photo machine at the last minute
- Luggage Locks – an inexpensive purchase, but very worthwhile to keep your bags firmly zipped shut and away from opportunistic tampering. If you are travelling to and from the USA, you want to make sure they are TSA-approved locks.
- Tshirts, shorts, skirts – Tshirts are easy to find in Thailand, but if you veer towards a larger frame, remember that it will be difficult to find bigger sized clothing in Thailand. Therefore it’s worth having decent quality shorts and skirts that will deal with everyday travel and getting washed a lot. Sturdy zipper pockets on your shorts are also invaluable for storing passports and other valuables. Try and get pure cotton wherever possible – it’s much better for your skin as it lets it breathe more easily. Linen is even better than cotton although more expensive. Also make sure you have a light top and trousers that will cover your arms and legs – you might need it at dusk when the mosquitos come out. You’ll be able to find this easily in Bangkok – Thai fishermen’s pants are cheap and all over Khao San Road.
- Underwear – For underwear, it’s really worth investing in something that withstand the heat and your body’s sweat. I’ve found that Underarmour underwear, while expensive, has been invaluable for staying cool in the Bangkok heat and also avoiding chafing if you’re doing a lot of walking or cycling. (NB – a workaround to avoid chafing is to apply some lubricant jelly, like KY Jelly, to your Zones Of Potential Pain. If you’re planning a hike or long day of walking, it could really help maintain your comfort levels. Just don’t ask me how I worked that out).
- Footwear – shoes tend to be poor quality in Thailand, unless they’re expensive imports, and hard to find in bigger sizes. You will be doing a lot of walking so it pays to have good footwear to keep you comfortable and your feet in good condition. Check Amazon for cheap men’s sandals and women’s sandals. After years of wearing sandals, I recently switched to very lightweight, breathable Keen CNX hiking shoes which I find far superior (and protects your feet from ground ickiness in case you step in a swamp puddle etc). If you go with trainers (or sneakers) as your preferred footwear, make sure they have plenty of ventilation otherwise you will cause yourself blisters, heat rash and other issues.
You should also bring a spare pair of lightweight “formal” shoes if you plan on going clubbing or any of the more posh bars in Bangkok (like Vertigo). It’s a bit overkill to wear massive mountain hiking boots in most of Thailand. Even if you are going trekking, unless you’re going to be really hardcore about it and spend more than a couple of nights away from civilisation, it’s not really worth bringing them. Sneakers will probably do fine.
- Condoms – International brands like Durex are common in Thailand, but Thai condoms are built for – how do I say this? – the smaller frame. They also have a reputation of not being especially good quality. All sniggering aside, it’s very important you look after yourself by making sure you take responsibility and use protection if you’re going to be sexually active. Best bring your own if you think you’ll need them. If you’re too shy to buy them in person, Amazon can help.
- Sunglasses – you’ll be able to find plenty of cheap sunglasses in Thailand, but you might want to invest in a decent pair that will properly screen out harmful ultra-violet rays. The sun in Thailand can be savagely hot and if you plan on travelling for a while, it’s wise to protect your eyes. You can find quality sunglasses listed on Amazon if you want to avoid paying top dollar.
- Cellphone – it used to be that you’d have a separate digital camera and an MP3 player, but nowadays your cellphone can do all of that. (It’s easy to get a Thai SIM card when you arrive in Thailand, which is much cheaper for data and making calls home).
As your cellphone will likely be the single most valuable and most fragile item you are carrying on your travels, a few things to consider:
Make sure you have a suitably rugged case for you cellphone which means it can withstand being dropped and splashed with water. Otterbox provide some excellent Defender cases which, while not that stylish, turn your cellphone into a tank. I’ve dropped my iPhone numerous times and the Otterbox Defender saved it from even getting a scratch every time.
(If you are coming to Thailand during Songkran, the annual nationwide week-long water fight, you will want to either leave your cellphone at home or wrap it in several ziploc bags. Even the most rugged case won’t be able to protect it from the inevitable soaking it (and you) will get).
If you use your phone a lot, you’ll probably want to get a backup power source – there are some excellent cheap power banks to give your phone an energy boost. This is definitely worth bearing in mind if you plan to use GPS and Google or Apple Maps on your phone which burn power quite fast, as does uploading photos to Facebook, Instagram et al.
One key issue with a phone being a Swiss knife is that if you lose it, you lose a lot of stuff in one go. Make sure that you have cloud access to upload your photos so you have a separate copy – or download them onto a laptop if you’re bringing one with you. It’s a hassle, but you’ll be heartbroken if you lose all your photos without a backup.
Also, given cellphones are expensive, make sure your travel insurance covers it as a specific item – World Nomads, for example, let’s you pay a bit extra and insure your phone, laptop or other expensive item for its full value so if you lose it, your insurance will cover the full cost of replacing it. A lot of travel insurance, by default, only pays out a certain limit for high value items so check the policy carefully if you’re travelling with a lot of gadgets.
Don’t forget to bring your phone charger! It’s relatively easy to find replacement chargers in Bangkok (try any major shopping mall or Fortune Town IT mall at Phra Ram 9 MRT station) but it’s an inconvenience to trudge around to get it when you could be doing more interesting stuff.
If music is important to you, consider investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. They are more expensive than normal earbuds but can be worth their weight in gold on a long flight or bus journey blocking out your surrounds.
You may still want to invest in a camera if you’re looking to take a lot of photos – I’d recommend the Canon Powershot range which are super compact, easy to use and quite cheap.
- Torch – you’ll have a torch function on your cellphone, but having a dedicated torch if you’re going to be outside cities is a good idea. Nitecore Tube torches are small, cheap, incredibly powerful and fit on your keyring.
- Kindle – if you like books, a Kindle reading device is an absolute godsend while travelling. You can store thousands of books on an extremely lightweight device and avoid straining your eyes as you would if you were looking at a phone or tablet screen for a prolonged period. There’s always inevitably downtime while travelling – waiting in airports etc – and a good book is the ideal way to occupy yourself, especially if you’ve got some books about your destination to inspire you. You can get the Lonely Planet Thailand for Kindle, and a few classic Thailand books include Alex Garland’s The Beach, Jerry Hopkins’ Thailand Confidential, Stephen Leather’s Private Dancer and John Burdett’s Bangkok Eight
. Don’t forget your Kindle charger and mini-USB cable to power up.
There are plenty of other great packing tips and lists around on the Web – see HolidayPackingList.com, and useful articles like Nomadic Matt’s What To Pack On Your Trip and IndieTravelPodcast.com’s What Clothes To Pack.
If you have any tips about what else you think is indispensable for bringing to Thailand, please leave a comment so other travellers can benefit from your knowledge. Thanks!