The key to packing for a two-week holiday to a Thai island, be it Phuket or Koh Lanta, is to travel as light as possible. You want your bag to be almost empty when you go so you can come back with a whopload of shopping, especially if you’re going via Bangkok. Just trust me on this. You are going to discover things you didn’t know you wanted to buy, be it ten million bags of tom yum-flavoured cashews or heavy Soap & Glory margarita-scented body scrubs from Boots.
Believe me when I say that, when you’re suddenly back at the airport and realise you’re overweight and having to either turf or pay for every extra kilogram you’re going to be grateful to have heeded my ‘pack as lightly as possible’ advice. The stupid wedge sandals you brought along, never wore and now have to lug back could’ve been a faux Marc Jacobs handbag. The bluetooth speakers you dragged across the globe and didn’t touch could’ve been a whopload of aphrodisiac bubble bath.
So, let’s get cracking, starting with tech and elec! Being a freelancer, my MacBook and cell are glued to my side and, as they both use two-prong plugs to charge, they fit into a Thai plug without the need for a travel adapter so leave that bad boy at home. You’ll only need an adapter if you want to use something sporting a South African three-prong plug. What you will most definitely need, however, is a power bank. Maybe even two! You’ll use your phone a lot while you’re over here (read this on how to get a Thai SIM) so a power bank is important, especially if you’re on foot and using your phone like a GPS. You don’t want to end up stranded! Don’t bother with a hair dryer if you don’t really need it. Most hotels have them and if not your hair will dry in a flash. It’s so hot!
As far as clothes go, don’t pack long pants, jeans or ANYTHING long-sleeved. Again, it’s simply too hot. You’ll need a warm outfit for the plane but the moment you hit the ground you won’t touch it again until you leave. The most important items in your suitcase will be a bunch of bikinis. My top tip here is to buy them in multiple styles – ones that tie around the neck as well as fit like a normal bra – as you will get burned and having straps that sit in different positions will be a Godsend. Trust me on this. Also, those that tie around the neck can start to hurt after a while if you’ve got big boobs like me.
You’ll also need two pairs of shorts, five casual beach dresses, three or four vests and one T-shirt. The latter is to snorkel in so you don’t burn your back and to cover your shoulders when you enter temples (more on that later). When you dirty them up simply wash them in your hotel sink using the mini washing powder sachets you can buy from any 7Eleven for less than R5. Sure, there’s a place on every corner that will do your laundry for around 40 to 50 Baht per kilo (R16 to R21a) but there’s a good chance they’ll shrink everything ‘cos they wash at such a crazy high temperature despite you specifying otherwise.
Underwear is a given but for what it’s worth I always only take one bra (the one I wear on the plane) and end up wearing it about twice with a vest. Believe me when I say you live in your bikini, even at night. (The first thing you’ll do when you get back from a hot, sweaty dinner or bar is jump into your hotel’s pool!)
Now, this might sound crazy, but I never pack a towel. It’s a total space muncher! I simply use my hotel’s towels (I’ve never encountered one that wouldn’t let me take them to the beach) and, if I really come short, I use a sarong that lives in my beach bag. I don’t need it to dry off – anything wet dries in a flash here, including you – just to protect my butt from boiling hot sand if it’s midday. Also, if you decide you simply have to have a bloody towel, you can buy one for R80. They’re sold pretty much wherever you’ll find a beach and most have a map of Phuket on them so at least you end up with a souvenir. But let’s get back to that sarong – it’s a good item to have if you plan on visiting a temple as you can’t enter unless your knees and shoulders are covered. I’ve visited some temples where they’ve handed out wraps and shawls at the door (for free, nogal, but obviously you have to hand them back as you exit) but if I know I’m temple hopping I pop my tee and sarong in my bag to pull on over whatever I’m wearing.
Shoe-wise, I always bring just three pairs – trainers that I wear on the plane, brown leather sandals (a pair you don’t mind walking to death and throwing away before you go home) and a pair of rubber flip-flops for the beach. That’s it. Nothing else! You can go to the busiest night bar in Bangla road and you’ll see that nobody is wearing heels. Just the girls on the pole. The attire in situations like this is always bikini, dress and flops.
As far as bags are concerned, I bring a casual brown leather hobo-bag that matches everything and a large beach bag that doubles as my carry on bag on the plane to save space.
Accessories? Leave your statement jewellery at home. I travel with a pair of sunnies, my fitbit that I use as a watch and have been wearing an unnecessary necklace that I’ll throw away soon because its lost it’s shine thanks to too much saltwater and chlorine. Like I said, nobody dresses up here. Like, nobody.
Aside from the items I’ve mentioned plus the toiletries I take there’s very little else in my suitcase. So much so I can list them in less than two lines – wallet, passport, house and car keys (for when I get home) neck pillow for the plane, flash drive, two hair bands, medicine, earphones, a suitcase lock and book.
I bring one physical book with me as it’s handy to read when you’re on a plane and they make you turn off your cell for take off and landing. My other books all exist within e-book or audio book format which is an awesome space saver. I like to listen to them when I’m stuck in an airport, sitting by the pool or travelling on a bus, boat or ferry. I love a good fast-paced thriller and am currently really enjoying Stillhouse Lake and The Dry. The former is about a woman who discovers her husband is a serial killer (‘Gina, did you really never look in the garage?!’) and the latter is murder mystery set in the Aussie outback during the middle of a crazy drought. Apparently Reese Witherspoon’s bought the movie rights.
The first time you copy my spartan packing plan you will feel truly freaked out. (I’ve shared this plan with friends often.) But just trust me on this. You’re going to be grateful for all that space on your return. Also, when it comes to toiletries, whatever you need – be it Veet hair remover, sunscreen or a nail clipper – you can buy here at a 7Eleven in a perfect-for-travel mini size at a snip of what it would’ve cost you back home.
4 thoughts on “A guide for South African’s wanting a Thai island holiday: Here’s what to pack”
You are the best!!
This was great, thank you! Any suggestions on time of year to travel here and also who would be best to book with?
Hi hun! When you say ‘book’ what do you mean? Flights? Hotels? Read my previous pieces for all the info relating to that. You definitely don’t need a travel agent.
Hi Leigh, I love your Blog in general because I live for beauty and body products but I have been going crazy for these Thailand posts, they are amazing! I have always wanted to go to Thailand and it looked like I was going East in December/January and so your posts decided me on Thailand to add to my trip. Now that specific trip isn’t happening but I would still love to go to Thailand. I think Thailand is in my plans for 2018. You say you are possibly going back to Thailand in March/April, which do you think is better March/April or September? I think Low Season is a great idea because of the savings and a little rain is fine to me, the cooler the better. What is your suggestion for the best time to go to Thailand for a fellow Capetonian who doesn’t particularly like the heat?
Thanks for an incredible Blog and wonderful advice!