South East Asia, and Thailand in particular, is fast becoming one of the top destinations for adventure seeking backpackers across the globe. With the vast jungles of Chiang Mai, the bustling city of Bangkok and the exotic southern beaches,Thailand has something for everyone. One of the best ways to appreciate all of the differing aspects of this amazing country is to backpack across it – an experience made even easier by the ludicrously low travel and accommodation costs. However, having trekked around Thailand for three months last summer, I can officially say the only negative thing about visiting such a diverse country is knowing what to pack! In a country where the landscape is as interchangeable as the weather and your entire life has to fit into a backpack small enough to haul around, you have to pack light but pack right, just like on the Europe trip. Here are some of the most important things you’ll need on your memorable journey to the Land of Smiles.
Forget rubber flip flops, you need to invest in a pair of good quality, sandals. These are great for the hot, humid temperatures as they allow your feet to breathe thus reducing bad smells. They are also diverse enough to wear to the beach and dress up with a light summer sun dress for the evening. Cheap sandals are available on just about every street stall going in Bangkok but for good quality footwear you should buy before you fly. You will also want a pair of closed shoes for the cooler evenings or wet weather. Light running shoes, sneakers or even canvas flats will give you more support than a sandal for long treks and are more protective against the elements (and mosquitoes). However much hiking you think you’ll be doing, do not take hiking boots. They are heavy, clumpy and far too hot to wear in the humid Thai temperatures. Unless you are hiking over particularly rocky terrain you will not feel much benefit from them and will be uncomfortable both wearing and carrying them. Stick to light, breathable footwear.
In the humid conditions it is important to pack clothing that allows your skin to breathe. Cotton is good but moisture wicking materials and man made synthetics are perfect as they are light, cool and dry easily so can be regularly washed. Another popular item of clothing for travelers is baggy harem pants which can be picked up from market stalls and shops in all of the major tourist areas. Comfortable and cool, these loose pants will become your best friend, particularly on overnight coaches when you want to feel relaxed. OK, so we know that backpacking isn’t the most glamorous of vacations. There are times when you will admittedly need to ‘slum it’ and your clothing is allowed to reflect this. But there will inevitably be the occasional party/night out and you will constantly be meeting new people so it’s important to pack something that you can at least feel a little special in. A cotton summer dress with a pretty pattern is perfect and can be dressed up with accessories then dressed down for the beach. Bring a couple of light cotton t-shirts but remember that these can be picked up for pennies on market stalls and in shops.
As you wander down Khao San Road in the baking heat or sunbathe on the Phi Phi beach you may think the need for a jumper, micro fleece or cover up of any kind is absurd. But come night time you will feel the chill, particularly if you are travelling on draughty buses or planes/trains with air con. Even if you think you can handle the cold, bear in mind that many of the temples on the major tourist routes require you to dress modestly before you enter so a long sleeved top or micro fleece will come in useful for that too. I saw people refused entry because they were wearing skimpy shorts and vest tops – they were majorly disappointed.
Kind of an obvious one but you will definitely need swimwear to make the most of the waterfalls, beaches or even just your hostel’s pool. A sarong is also a great investment and can be picked up for pennies in any beach resort. As well as its original purpose of being a beach cover up, you will find lots of surprising uses for this light weight, easy-drying garment. It could become a makeshift trekking towel or a headscarf – the possibilities are endless. A baseball hat is great for the beach but also helps protect your face on breezy transportation like a tuk tuk or open top bus.
Waist wallet, fanny pack, money belt – whatever you want to call it: get one! Muggings and robberies are no more common in Thailand as they are in America but they do occur – more so to obvious tourists who are likely to be carrying valuable documents and large quantities of cash. A waist wallet is harder to grab than an over-the-shoulder bag, thus more secure and makes all of your important belongings more accessible. A travel washing line is also a great purchase; not necessarily something that would be top of your list to remember, but definitely something you will appreciate when your clothes start to smell a little funky. If you are planning on travelling during rainy season (June to October) then you should also take an umbrella. A waterproof jacket isn’t generally recommended in the humid conditions as although it will save you from the rain water, it will make you sweat.
Above all remember that this is the trip of a life time and try not to get too hung up on what’s in your back pack. As long as you have the essentials, the rest can be picked up along the way.
Some Thai Style: