Let’s kick this off with the general every-day wear that you’ll need, then we’ll get into the various etiquettes that you need to be aware of.
Whilst you’ll be certain to see many Thai locals wandering around in jeans (and sometimes hooded jumpers), we would strongly advise against sporting this kind of attire when travelling throughout Thailand. The fact is, it’s ridiculously hot and so you’re going to want to pack the appropriate summer-wear.
During the evenings, the weather does tend to cool down, so you can get away with covering up a bit more, it really depends on the time of year! That and the attire that you can get away with wearing largely depends on the areas that you plan to be visiting. For go-go bars and clubs in Bangkok and other “party” associated locations, you tend to get away with a bit more. However, if you want to remain respectful and wear something a little more appropriate, then take heed of the following:
Of course, flip-flops are a favourite in this part of the world as you allow your feet to breathe. That said, flat, slipper-like shoes are much more convenient (there’s nothing worse than your flip-flops breaking when you’re in the middle of Bangkok)! It’s also important to note that it does rain a lot, so if you’re caught in flip flops, you’ll be much more likely to slip off your sandals and hurt yourself. In that case, rubber/plastic composite shoes are ideal.
Don’t walk around barefoot! Sometimes it can be tempting when you’re in the spirit of travelling, however, you’ll be putting yourself at great risk. Whether in Bangkok on the streets or travelling on a dirt road on one of the many islands, there could be broken glass and debris that will cause you great discomfort. That, and if you bring all of the dirt and grime from the streets into someone’s home, you’ll be causing great offence!
At the beach, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear swimsuits, including Speedo’s and Bikinis. However, when you leave the beach and head to the nearby towns for a spot of shopping or lunch, you should definitely cover-up. Walking around topless can make people feel very uncomfortable, especially with a revealing bikini. Simply throw on a sarong or wrap, or a t-shirt/vest for the gentlemen—that said, some people believe that a sleeveless top can cause offence to some people so if you want to be extra careful, then you need to be wary of that and wrap up properly.
Pay attention to the clothing that can be found in the markets: elephant sarongs, for example, are a perfect fit for ladies covering up at the beach—they’re perfect for drying off, protecting yourself from the sun and even stretching out on the sand.
The further south you go, the closer you get to Malaysia. In this region you will find a number of conservatively dressed Muslim communities, so you must be extra conscientious about what you wear when exploring this region. It is incredibly disrespectful to walk around in a bikini or a pair of speedos, so this is an absolute no-no!
One of the best things about going to Thailand is the fact that there are thousands of glorious temples to see and explore. That said, you must be incredibly respectful with what you wear when going to a temple. Remember, the large majority of Thailand is of the Buddhist faith, and it is something that they take very seriously. Walking around a temple with your shoulders and knees exposed is completely unacceptable.
T-shirts are acceptable, but a smarter long-sleeve shirt is preferred, especially if you’re sporting tattoos. Women must not have their cleavage on display: our advice would be to pack a sarong/wrap so that you can keep yourself modestly dressed when entering these sacred places.
On a final note, it is completely unacceptable for women to sunbathe topless in Thailand. If you find yourself a private and secluded beach with no one in sight, you can do what you want. However, you must be incredibly mindful of what you do in the more populated areas.