Sunday, 11 August 2013

What to pack - and what to buy - in Thailand

So, it's been a little while since I returned from Thailand, but I've been dealing with a delightful inner ear infection, which meant that it's taken me a while to get back to normal. This means I've been a little late in filling you in on bright and bold Thai style, but I figured it would be better to wait until the room stopped spinning... call me old fashioned and all.

Beachgoers playing ping pong next to boat on Chaweng Beach
 Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui, at midday.

Wicker lounger overlooking green view at Charm Churee
 The eco-friendly and fabulous Charm Churee Resort, Koh Tao.

Tiger petting at Namuang Safari Park
Meeting a tiger for the first time.

Without further ado, this is what I'd advise for you to pack and to buy in order to make the most of a Thailand holiday, whether you're at the beach or in the temples.

Koh Nangyuan eco island view
 Looking out over Koh Nangyuan Island during a snorkelling stop-off.
Swimwear by Tu, sunglasses by Bromptons Opticians, Brighton.

Wannabe chefs at Chef Tummy's Cookery Class, Koh Pha Ngan
With three members of my Contiki tour group, after tackling a cookery class.
Primark maxi dress to combat the heat.

Dressed for the heat in Green Mango club, Koh Samui
Hitting up Green Mango, one of the best clubs in Koh Samui.
Skull print skirt and sheer vest, both by H&M.

Fill the suitcase with...

  • Sleeveless blouses from H&M. In an array of colours and prints, and typically at just £7.99 to £12.99 a pop, they're a real bargain, and you won't find anything quite as versatile here. I teamed mine with a skull print skirt, candy striped shorts and tile print silk trousers.
  • Patterned dresses from Primark, Topshop, H&M or New Look, in lightweight fabrics. I found that many of the dresses on sale in the Eastern Islands were either designed for lithe size 8 figures, a bit mumsy and plain, or very synthetic, which seemed odd for a hot country, as the last thing I wanted was a ton of viscose to help me work up a sweat. The most useful dress I took was a very thin strapless paisley number from Primark.
  • A couple of scarves or pashminas that can be used to cover up in a temple, wrap around your swimwear, protect your body from the hot sand on the beach or to tie around your hair. The ones you can buy in resorts tend to be heavily tie-dyed, which isn't everyone's cup of tea.
  • One or two pairs of shorts, especially if you're going to be in very touristy areas, as everyone will be wearing them and you'd be mad to get stuck in trousers the entire time. Hotpants were pretty ubiquitous in the resorts I visited, especially Koh Pha Ngan, so there's no need to play it safe with city shorts unless you want to.
  • Sun cream. Whilst it is obviously available in Thailand, you'll be paying over the odds for anything beyond Factor 15, so save your money and pack a decent supply of cream in your case.
  • Supportive swimwear from La Senza and Bravissimo, if you're blessed with curves. Thai bikinis tend to flatter smaller chested girls, often lacking underwiring and only using minimal padding, but going to town on the embellishments and patterns instead.
  • Lipstains, tinted lipbalms or liquid lipstick. You do not want to be carrying normal waxy bullet lipsticks in a hot country, unless you enjoy dealing with a hot mess in your handbag. I took Rimmel's Apocalips and also a dark berry stain and found that they were really useful.
  • Blotting paper and mineral powder foundation for mopping up your face. Even the smallest movement can work up a sweat in the Thai heat!
  • Canvas trainers, simple sandals and the odd pair of flip flops. Heels aren't necessary, not even wedges, unless you're going somewhere really up-market. Most people wear flip flops in bars and clubs, though you can buy some more when you're out here if you want to stock up on particular colours or designs.
Vests with band logos and graphic prints near Chaweng Beach
Pop culture is alive and well in the markets of Koh Samui.

Fake designer purses and bags at Koh Samui market
 Take your pick, from 'Prada' purses to 'Chanel' handbags.

Chilling out at a waterfall in Thai harem pants
Elephant print harem pants being put through their paces on a waterfall.

Hit the shops for...

  • Harem pants in vibrant colours and patterns. They're ten a penny here and they honestly do fit all sizes, so you can just pick your favourites and get haggling. I got mine for 250 baht, which is about £5; the stallholder wanted 400 baht originally, so this was a pretty good deal. If I'd bought them beforehand on Ebay, they would have cost about £15.
  • Kaftans. Yes, I could have gone to Florence & Fred at Tesco before I left, but the Thai designs are livelier and the fabrics are more lightweight, which is what you really need on the beach.
  • Crochet string bikinis, if they're your thing - personally I'm not a fan, but they seemed to be in plentiful supply and were reasonably priced.
  • Edgy vest tops with pop culture logos and slogans, from Heineken Beer and Jack Daniel's to Run DMC and Rihanna, many of which can be seen in markets back home for about £10 each. I opted for those advertising Chang and Singha, two local beers, plus a Damien Hirst skull print, and paid about 150-180 baht per top.
  • Not quite legitimate designer bags and purses. Whilst I wouldn't normally advocate buying fakes, there are some really good imitations here, as well as some hilariously bad ones. When my H&M day bag broke in Koh Samui, I rushed out to buy something - anything - that was small, waterproof and stylish. I ended up with a tomato red 'Mulberry' bag, negotiated down from 1,800 baht to 1,100, which subsequently lasted a few days before the stitching started to unravel on one side of the strap. It's at the cobbler's as I type, so make of that what you will, but I hope to get some use out of it once it's fixed.
  • Last minute duty free bargains that you can make use of during the flight and on the trip; my choice was Lancome's Hydra Zen Neurocalm moisturiser (£32.50), which calms stressed skin, and the special edition Alber Elbaz for Lancome Hypnose Doll Eyes mascara (£19.50).
  • Something neon for the Half Moon or Full Moon Party, if you happen to be in Koh Pha Ngan at the right time. Whatever you wear will get wrecked, so don't rock up in your best clothes.
If you're lucky enough to go to Thailand, I hope these tips will help you to pack economically and save some space for the things that matter in your suitcase - both the staples from home and the souvenirs you bring back.

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