I’m probably the wrong person to write about what to pack for a holiday to Thailand, or Koh Chang in particular, as my wardrobe consists of pretty much just shorts & t-shirts. But here are some ideas if you haven’t visited a tropical country before or are trying to figure out how much (or how little) you actually need.
Some people prefer to pack a 30Kg suitcase for all eventualities, others just bring the bare essentials in a carry on bag and figure on buying anything else they need whilst here. There’s no right or wrong way to decide what to bring. It’s more about your personal style of travelling.
For example, dressing smartly for dinner is nice, but unless you’re dining in very fancy restaurants, it isn’t necessary – especially in beach areas. Some bars and most nightclubs in cities will have a dress code, but you can wear shorts, sandals and a sleeveless t-shirt at just about any bar on any island in Thailand.
There are laundries in Thailand. Bear that in mind when deciding whether you really to pack a dozen pairs of shorts. Good, inexpensive laundries can be found pretty much everywhere you go. They’ll charge from around 30- 50 Baht / kilo. The majority will have tumble driers, so you don’t have to worry about getting your clothes dried on a rainy day. Avoid hotel laundry services as they’re a crazy price.
So as far as clothes go. You can get away with just bringing enough summer clothes to last you a week. If you’re staying longer than that just take them to a laundry or buy a cheap t-shirt or two when you are here. A lightweight raincoat plus a warm sweater (for use in extreme air-conditioning) will also be handy for occasional use.
Practical Items to Pack for Thailand
Insect repellent and sunscreen
You’re going to burn. You’ll need sunscreen. And you can buy it in any pharmacy here. But it is much cheaper to buy it in Europe / US etc and bring it with you. You’ll also get a far bigger choice. Ideally you want a very high factor. Eg SPF 50. And for it to be waterproof. As even if you aren’t going swimming you will probably be sweating profusely if you are outdoors.
It’s the same situation for mosquito repellent, you’ll get more choice and (usually) cheaper prices at home than you will in shops here. If there’s a brand you know works well, bring it with you.
A Reusable Water Bottle
Saving the planet and foregoing single use plastics is a big thing now. Thailand is slowly catching up and trying to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles and bags. Therefore, you’ll find that it is easy to refill water bottles for free as there are an increasing number of environmentally conscious businesses offering this for customers and guests.
Plus you’ll need to get into the habit of drinking far more water here than you do back home. If you think that drinking a couple of bottles of water a day is enough, it isn’t. You should at least double that. Dehydration is very common. The symptoms are similar to food poisoning.
Also, if parents have water bottles then it’s easier to get young kids to drink plenty of water too. They’ll want a bottle to carry too and will naturally copy their Mum and Dad.
Slip on Shoes
Not necessarily sandals. Although you should also bring a pair of those too. But comfortable lightweight shoes that you can easily slip on and off. For example Sketchers Go Walk. ( These are my preferred town shoes. I wear them when I go to Bangkok and need something as bit posher, but just as comfortable, as sandals. )
Why should you have these? Because, depending on where you are visiting , you’ll probably be taking your shoes on and off several times a day. Not only for visiting a temple or person’s home, but also when entering many shops, restaurants or cafes. Especially those with wooden floors. So it can become a hassle to spend time unlacing and lacing boots or shoes.
Sweatshirt or equivalent
Yes it will be a minimum of 30C outdoors pretty much everywhere you go . It’ll only be cooler if you’re going to the to mountain tops, in which case you’ve probably already thought of bringing suitable clothing for a hike. The sweatshirt isn’t for wearing outdoors, it;s for indoors where AC can be icily cold. Some shopping malls, offices, movie theaters can be too cold for comfort. Likewise the air-con on buses or minibuses tends to have two settings, lukewarm and sub-zero.
It doesn’t have to be any particular type of hat but ideally it should have a wide brim. And although a baseball cap looks cool, a type of wide brimmed boonie hat or jungle hat is much better. It packs down small, can easily be washed and will certainly help keep you cool if you plan on being out in the sun for hours. Not necessarily just for on the beach or when you’re kayaking or trekking. A hat like this is indispensable if you’re visiting temples in places such as Sukhothai, Ayuttaya or Siem Reap where’s there’s no shade from the scorching sun.
Nothing big and heavy , just something you can keep in case you encounter a grey day. In the high season on Koh Chang, rainy days are rare. But for example, if you were planning on visiting Koh Chang and the south of Thailand in December, you probably wouldn’t need it here, but down south would almost certainly get some rain. Samui and Phuket have very different weather patterns to Koh Chang. If you forget your raincoat then you can easily find shops selling thin plastic ponchos and jackets for 50 – 100 Baht. These will keep the rain out but also all your perspiration in, so aren’t ideal for regular use in hot humid, rainy conditions.
Log on to Amazon or Aliexpress and spend a few Euros on an inexpensive dry bag. A 5 Litre bag is large enough to keep a phone, sunglasses, wallet & camera in. 10 Litres if you want to carry a water bottle and towel as well. Useful not only if it rains, but if you’re going anywhere near a swimming pool, the sea or the beach.
A good power bank is very handy to have, especially if you are planning for long days travelling or going on full day trips where you’ll need to use your phone a lot (for example on a snorkelling trip) Most good phones can now last a day without being charged. But people often forget to charge them fully. Or start to worry about using them too much during a day trip and the battery running out before you’ve taken all the videos and photos you want to take. Anxiety about dying batteries is the major trigger for ‘nomophobia’ – the fear of being without a smartphone.
A power bank takes up little space and saves you a lot of headaches. You can buy cheap ones from most mini-marts in Thailand – 7-eleven sells them. But it’s better to spend a bit more on a good quality power bank that will keep it’s capacity through hundreds of charging cycles.
Airlines have different rules and regulations about the size of powerbanks that passengers can take on a plane. But anything 20,000mAh or less is fine. This is enough power to charge your phone battery, which is probably 3,500 – 4,000mAh a few times.
I’ve used a lot of power banks and have found that Anker make the best ones at the best price. They also seem to charge much faster than other ones I’ve used. I personally prefer the flat, slim ones that have a profile similar to a phone since that’s what you’ll usually be charging and you can just keep them together back to back. A 6,000mAh will charge a phone about one time, but it’s nice to be able to help a friend as well, so I always go for a 10,000mAh power bank. I’m currently using the Anker PowerCore II Slim 10000 which I love.
The better hotels will have those fancy plug sockets that can take a plug from pretty much any country. Cheaper places won’t. Therefore it’s worth bringing an adapter suitable for Thai plug sockets with you. Or, you can buy an adapter at any local electronics store or builders merchant on your travels. it will be about 20 – 30 Baht. Thailand runs on 220 Volts. But even if you’re coming from the US, where appliances are 120 Volts you almost certainly won’t need a converter. The chargers for modern laptops, Ipads, phones etc can all handle voltages from 110 – 240V.
Lonely Planet Guide
A Lonely Planet guide is essential for travel anywhere in the world. On second thoughts, no it isn’t. This isn’t the 1990’s. Leave it at home. The guides are now mostly updated by writers who never leave their air-conditioned offices and just Google and rewrite stuff. The days or authors spending months checking places out have long gone.
They were good but have now largely fallen by the wayside. If you’re travelling in South East Asia a combination of using a regularly updated site such as Travelfish plus locally made travel websites, like the one you are reading now, plus location specific Facebook groups will give you more than enough information.
However, a fold out paper map is always useful to carry. And in almost all tourist areas you will visit have these available for free. Either produced by a local tourism authority or privately printed and funded by advertisers. Koh-Chang-Guide.com produce the best free printed maps of the island.
If you head out for the day exploring you’re going to want to take a camera, phone, water bottle, towel, guidebook, raincoat, snacks etc with you. A small day pack is ideal for this. It will leave your hands free and can easily be worn when riding a scooter, going on a trek, visiting a temple, in a shopping mall etc. No real need for a pack larger than 20 litres.
But you can buy sunglasses for 100 Baht everywhere in Thailand. That’s true. But the quality is crap and they’ll do your eyes more harm than good. The cheap shades for sale in the markets and souvenir shops don’t offer any UV protection. Despite what the sticker on them says.
It’s well worth investing in a good quality pair of sunglasses. Cheap knockoffs are everywhere in Thailand, but wearing sunglasses that don’t have UV protection is really bad for your eyes. Good quality eye wear isn’t cheap here, so buy good quality sunglasses from Amazon or a department store at home.
(As a disclaimer, I don’t wear sunglasses as my regular glasses have photochromic lenses and a UV coating. But I have a pair of 10 year old Maui Jim’s for when I’m wearing contact lenses on a snorkelling trip or on holiday.)
The same one you use to go to the supermarket at home, now that they don’t give plastic bags. Single use plastic bags in shops are becoming rarer in Thailand. In fact, on Koh Chang, the 7-elevens, Tesco-Lotus mini-marts and all supermarkets no longer give them out to customers. It was the first island in Thailand where this happened. This action was mainly thanks to the efforts of the local Trash Hero group. So, you’ll need to pretend you’re at home and take your own bag with you when you go out shopping.
If you’re more adventurous and look forward to doing some trekking in the jungle or in National Parks then you’ll need suitable footwear. There’s no need for clunky boots. However, on the face of it walking sandals would be suitable, as it’s always hot here and you want your feet to breathe. And if you’re just walking around on the flat normally, then good sandals are ideal to have. But, if you’re planning on anything more strenuous, it’s far better to have footwear with closed toes.
Some reasons. Firstly, leaches. They can leave your feet a bloody mess if your walking near rivers or in damp, humid conditions.
Secondly, unlike a pleasant hike up an alpine hill. In Thailand you’ll be walking through undergrowth full of spiny plants and inhabited by bugs that sting and bite.
Thirdly, if you’re going up a hill, the chances are it will be dry and dusty. Coming down your feet will slip far less in something like lightweight hiking shoes or trail running shoes compared to hiking sandals. They allow dirt inside which then mixes with sweat and the result is your feet sliding around inside your sandals.
Travel Diarrhoea Medication
Stomach problems are the bane of many travellers. You can get bad guts even if you are super careful about what you eat and drink. Nowadays, pretty much everyone heeds the sensible advice to avoid drinking non-bottled water and eating anything that hasn’t been cooked properly. But a big cause of stomach problems is also just due to your stomach not being used to handling anything with a little bit different bacteria in it. Nothing really harmful, just the types of bacteria you don’t ingest in normal daily life back home.
Most symptoms will pass within 24 – 48 hours. Sufferers should just have a couple of lazy days out of the sun and avoiding strenuous activity. There are pharmacies wherever you travel, it’s handy to have some Imodium or another travel diarrhea remedy in your bag in case of emergencies. Pack some activated charcoal tablets too, they’re good for relieving stomach pain caused by gas.
Download these Smartphone Apps for Thailand
Grab — This is the southeast Asian equivalent of Uber. They took over Uber’s Thailand business a couple of years ago. One difference is that you can also use it to book a regular taxi as well as a private driver with their own vehicle. They only operate in the cities though. You won;t find a Grab car within 100km of Koh Chang.
Maps.me – Free offline maps. So even if you don’t have a phone signal or don’t want to use data, you can still see where you are.
Line – If you are planning on staying here for several weeks or months then most Thais you befriend will want to know if you have Line. This is a Japanese messaging service people here use instead of WhatsApp – which no one uses. Line is more fun and by the time you leave Southeast Asia you will be proficient in displaying your emotions using the use Cony and Brown ( a cute bear and rabbit) stickers.
Eatigo – Ideal for use in the cities if you have big appetite. Discounts of up to 50% at well known restaurants if you eat outside of their peak hours.
Wongnai – This is basically the Thai equivalent of Yelp. Full of restaurant reviews. Handy, for example, if you want to compare whether the locals rate a Thai restaurant the same as Tripadvisor readers do. Or if you want to find an inexpensive eatery near your hotel but don’t know where to look. You can set it to English, but most content is in Thai. Fortunately, Thais love to take photos of their food. And if you can follow a Googlemap, then it’s easy enough to discover places that the locals love but many foreign visitors won’t know.
Google Translate – Always handy and can translate speech. The Thai translations of speech aren’t as accurate as those from European languages to English, for example. But they’re good enough that you can have a simple conversation with someone who doesn’t speak a word of your language. (One of our staff uses this, she finds it invaluable for communicating with Chinese and Russian guests.)
Lazada – There’s no Amazon in Thailand but there is Lazada. It can be useful, for example . . . you’re on Koh Chang and you lose your Macbook Pro charger, which you can’t buy in a shop here. Or maybe you need a specific item, a huge inflatable unicorn for using in the hotel pool. You can buy one here but you’ll be paying a high price for it.
So, use Lazada. Order online and you’ll get it delivered, usually within 48 hours, from Bangkok. Opt to pay cash on delivery. Leave the money at hotel reception. Easy.