How to dress appropriately in Thailand

Beach attire is for the beach only!

Okay, so you've just stepped off the plane from bitterly cold Europe and want to start right away on that all-over body tan, or show off all the hard work from the gym. But before you start flexing your muscles in public or going topless at the beach, pay attention to some local etiquette.

Despite its reputation for naughty fun, Thailand is actually quite conservative with its values. Never mind all the in-your-face girlies hanging out of go go bars; most Thais are fairly shy and modest. Don't be deceived by their friendliness or lack of complaint as inwardly they generally have some very strict protocols for behaviour, but their culture limits them from telling you directly when you are being offensive.

It may be okay to wander around in your bikini or Speedos on the beach, but please cover up when you head inland. Frequently we see guys riding around topless, or songthaews full of scantily-clad people returning from a day of sunbathing. For goodness sake, cover yourself up properly, we're all guests in a predominantly-Buddhist country!

Now imagine this; Thais don't sunbathe topless. In fact, they don't sunbathe at all; but if they did, you can bet it wouldn't be topless. Imagine what they would think seeing you with your breasts exposed to the world, or worse still, going for a skinny dip! You are in their country.

Thais judge you by the way you dress, and status is very important to them. Sure, they've seen loads of scruffy backpackers passing through so they're used to it; however, they won't be terribly friendly or respectful of you. If you need something from an official, such as visa extension, then you'd better get your Sunday best on - well, not quite, but a collared shirt, long pants or knee-length dress/skirt with covered shoulders will stand you in much better stead.

Of course, temples are places of worship and held in high regard by all Thais, so please, carry a pair of long pants and sleeved shirt and pop them on when you want to enter these sanctuaries.

Phuket is pretty casual, but by dressing well when meeting with Thais (particularly important ones) you are demonstrating that you are taking them seriously and they'll more willingly help you. Silk tunics are a popular accessory for men, and you'll always get smiles of approval from the locals for wearing their unique costume.

In general, people in Phuket dress for the weather, which can be searing hot in April and torrential storms are common in the rainy season (early July until mid-November). Footwear is particularly casual and slip-ons or flip-flops work best because you'll frequently be removing them when you go indoors. Thais wear them to work, climb mountains in them, go running, ride bicycles; you name it.

Since most Asian girls feel a little short, they usually pump themselves up on heels. They also hate getting suntanned, so they tend to cover themselves from head to toe. In general, urban Thais dress well; in the rural areas, they dress in what they have.

As in every county in the world, certain traditions seem to peter out, and rules and strictures gradually hold less of a grip over the people. Twenty years ago you would not have seen young Thai girls dressed in miniskirts and tank tops wandering around with their belly buttons hanging out. When it comes to fashion, these days scant dressing is accepted, although you may be frowned at if you venture out in the streets wearing nothing but your hot pants and bra. Well, when in Rome, do as the... anyway, you get the message, but keep your eye out for the way the locals dress and copy them.

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