It is often difficult to know what to load into your backpack when travelling to a destination where the climate and culture are vastly different to your own. It can be tempting to ram all kinds of everything in ‘just in case’. What if I can’t get proper toothpaste there? What about insect repellent/sun protection/first aid items? Had I better take a spare pair of flip-flops in case they don’t do them in my size out there?
But every single thing you put in has to be carried around on your back, on occasion for foot sloggingly long distances and in tropical temperatures. A heap of items that are unnecessary will gradually seem heavier and heavier.
The following is designed as a guide to help you decide what to take and what to discard, ensuring you travel as lightly as possible – the desire of every backpacker.
Before discussing this in full consider this – the markets of Thailand are full of beautiful clothes with price tags which make Primark look expensive. If you land in Bangkok, as most international flights do, you are going to wish you had much more space in your rucksack so you can make the most of the mega-bargains. Whatever you need in the way of clothing you can find it in Thailand with the following exceptions –
– Extra large sizes – contrary to popular belief Thais do cater for Western body and shoe sizes but if you are extra large you may struggle a little more.
– Extra warm clothing – there are several mountain regions in Thailand where the altitude can make the temperatures on the nippy side, especially at night. There are places you can buy warmer items but they are not everywhere.
Items you will need in the way of clothing are t-shirts that cover your shoulder and over the knee length shorts or trousers. You can’t get into temples without these cover-ups. There may also be places you visit in the more rural or less touristy parts of Thailand where a more modest standard of dress is less offensive to your hosts.
Another all purpose mega-useful item is a sarong. It can be used as a towel, modesty wrap, skirt, dress, blanket, head-wrap, money belt, bandage etc etc.
BUT – all of these items you can buy easily and cheaply everywhere in Thailand so it’s your call.
Sleeping bag liner
If you plan on keeping your accommodation costs as low as possible many of the budget sleeping options don’t supply anything other than a sheet and pillow. Additionally, these same budget options aren’t always the cleanest so you may be glad of your own sleeping cocoon. Sleeping bag liners are available in a range of materials, including cotton and silk – perfect for warmer climates when a sleeping bag would be too warm. Anti-bacterial sleeping bag liners are also available, protecting against odours and mould and often with anti-mosquito protection to keep insects at bay.
if you plan to spend all your time at the beach move this item to the ‘don’t take’ section. However, if you plan on getting back to nature, visiting waterfalls and natural features or hiking into the jungle you are going to need a sturdy pair of quality trainers or even walking boots depending on the level of trekking you want to do. The going is slippery and treacherous after a downpour (this can occur regularly even in the dry season) and you may be scaling sheer ups and downs as a matter of course.
These can be hard to come by, outside of the large modern mega-malls, once you are in Thailand. Most Thai plugs are of the round two-pin variety but there are a few which are square two-pin so you will need both.
This is a tricky one and only you can decide here. Most hostels/guesthouses etc seem to have a traveller book exchange but the English language choices are often small unless you are into ‘chick lit’ or crime thrillers.
Forget those bulky beach towels from home, a travel towel is the only way to go! Most travel towels are made from microfibre material are highly absorbent and quick drying, they’re also a fraction of the size of a standard towel, saving you valuable packing space. For tropical climates like Thailand, choosing a towel with anti-bacterial protection is wise as this protects against unpleasant odours and mould developing.
Also if your Swedish, Dutch or German is good then you’ll have a larger selection to choose from. Second-hand books are ridiculously expensive in Thailand (something has to be I guess) and you will be ripped off if you want to part exchange.
As a traditional book snob I hate to say it but if you possess a ‘Kindle’ and reading matter is important to you, then seriously consider taking it with you.
A guide book
There are destinations where a guide book is invaluable and Thailand is one of them.
Thailand doesn’t use the Roman alphabet. Outside of the main tourist destinations everything will be written in spaghetti-like, unintelligible Thai script – road signs, bus station destinations, shop signs, maps and so forth. English isn’t spoken at all in many places, so trying to get from A to B can be problematic without some help.
There are tourist offices (known as TAT offices) but the staff often don’t speak English and most of the tourist literature is in Thai.
You can pick up used guide books once you are in Thailand but they are often well out of date and as already mentioned, very expensive. Travellers do leave them behind at hostels and guesthouses but second-hand guidebooks are big currency and often the owners will want to sell them to you rather than exchange.
Another ‘may be, maybe not’ item depending on the type of travelling you plan on doing. If you will be staying in decent hotels and guesthouses then in most cases, where necessary, you will be provided with a mosquito net. However, if you want to make the most of slinging a hammock between trees at a beach (and this mega-budget option is possible in many places including some guesthouses) then unless you have your own mosquito net you will spend a very uncomfortable and sleepless night as you fight off mosquitoes. Additionally, malaria is present at a few places in Thailand.
To Leave Behind…
I have read some weird stuff –‘white toothpaste isn’t available in Thailand’, ‘the insect repellent you buy in Thailand doesn’t work’, ‘deodorant is hard to come by’ and ‘Thais don’t use conditioner’. Whoever wrote these things must have taken a wrong turning somewhere because it certainly doesn’t describe Thailand.
Every single toiletry item, first aid item and medication item you can think of is available. Many of them come with extra ‘skin whitening’ properties (which actually just means they have UV protection) because Thais think white skin is highly desirable.
As a matter of fact, if you shop at ‘Boots’ you can also find them here in larger towns and cities, stocking exactly the same items as back in the UK.
We Brits may think we understand rain but until you have been in a tropical downpour you know nothing! This means Thais understand rain too and as a result you can buy very cheap rain macs everywhere from hip length to ankle length (which will save you packing a potentially bulky waterproof). They aren’t especially durable and they aren’t made to look pretty but it hardly matters when they cost the equivalent of 50p.
A Lot of Clothing …
But see the ‘to take’ section for what clothing you should pack!