Thailand is hot and humid for most of the year, so packing clothes and accessories that provide protection from the sun is vital to your comfort. Stick with longer-length items of clothing that provide more coverage for your skin and don’t forget to pack a sun hat and shades.
To avoid getting too hot, leave heavy fabric items like jeans at home and pack more lightweight and versatile pieces made from breathable fabrics like cotton or linen. Evenings are cooler so pack some warmer sweaters or outerwear to layer up once the sun’s gone down.
A traditional, conservative country, Thailand has high standards in terms of dress. To avoid causing offense it’s wise to prioritize modesty when choosing what to wear for your volunteer vacation. Avoid really short shorts and skimpy swimwear, and stick with skirts longer than knee-length.
It’s especially important to dress modestly when visiting sacred places like temples, where visitors are expected to maintain a certain standard of decency. Bare shoulders are a no-no but there are usually sarongs visitors can borrow to cover up.
What to wear, when
When you volunteer in Thailand you’ll encounter scenarios that require different ways of dressing, just as you would back home. If you visited a church in your hometown, you’d probably smarten up, while a night out with friends is often an opportunity to wear something stylish with a touch of glamor.
There’s no need to forgo your own unique style when you volunteer abroad, or to invest in an entirely new wardrobe simply need to make a few tweaks. You here and there to ensure you’re always dressed for the occasion.
Here’s how to dress for the following scenarios:
Visiting temples and palaces
Temples are sacred places to Thai people and they call for respect and reverence. Palaces, meanwhile, have strict dress codes, and visitors are expected to conform if they want to enter royal grounds. Both require modest clothing that provides moderate coverage – visitors wearing shorts will either not be permitted to enter or will cause offence if they do gain access to the premises.
Full-length trousers and long-sleeved tops are ideal for both men and women. Ladies wearing skirts should ensure they choose something past the knee and avoid tops with spaghetti straps – if you’ve packed a shawl or sarong, you can use this to cover your shoulders. Alternatively, most major temples and palaces have a stock of sarongs that visitors can borrow.
Working at your volunteer placement
What you wear to your volunteer placement will depend on what sort of work you’ll be completing; uVolunteer offers a range of volunteer projects including teaching English to Buddhist monks, sports education and daycare center supervision. In our Thailand program guide, we outline the dress code for each of our projects to help volunteers make the right decisions when packing for their trip.
If you’re working in a school, you’ll be expected to maintain a smart-casual code of dress to reflect your role but ensure you’re comfortable. Sports education volunteers usually dress in modest sportswear like full-length tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts with capped sleeves. If you join our project teaching English to Buddhist monks, you’ll need to bring along conservative clothing appropriate for the sacred setting.
Hitting the beach
Back home, hitting the beach might have been the perfect excuse to strip off and top up your tan – not so in Thailand. While it’s acceptable to dress down for the beach, a certain level of modesty is expected among Thai people; longer-length shorts are acceptable but proceed with caution when it comes to swimwear and avoid bikinis at all costs or risk causing offense.
A quirk local to Thailand is swimming in the ocean fully clothed and this is something you’ll probably encounter if you visit the beach during your volunteer vacation. Many Thai people keep their clothes in the water to protect their modesty but also to serve another purpose – protecting their skin from the hot sun and providing a means of cooling off once they emerge from the ocean.
Evening social events
After a long day at your volunteer placement you might be ready to let your hair down and get together with your newfound friends for a night out socializing or a dinner party. Don’t forget to pack something that makes you feel great, bearing in mind that you won’t to bare too much skin in accordance with the national standards of decency.
If you’ve made friends with locals, you can ask them for recommendations on great night spots and they should also be able to offer advice on dress codes too. Alternatively, your volunteer coordinator should be able to point you in the direction of reputable restaurants and bars and advise you on what to wear, depending on the restaurant you select.
Exploring towns and villages
Thailand’s small towns and villages are ideal for gaining a glimpse into the traditional Thai way of life. When exploring these places you’ll discover that Thai culture and customs are very much still steeped in tradition compared with the more urban areas, which have absorbed Western influences.
There’s much to gain from exploring traditional Thai towns but remember to dress conservatively, in-keeping with local dress. The age-old culture and customs that makes these towns so fascinating calls for respectful fashions from locals and visitors alike.
Thailand’s rich culture and warm climate calls for lightweight, modest clothing that adheres to the country’s national standard of modest dress, regardless of the time of year. When volunteering in Thailand, bring along comfortable clothing and layers, so you can cover up in sacred spots. Don’t forget to pack a rain mac if you’re visiting Thailand during the rainy season – it can also help keep the mosquitos at bay in the evening! You can find out more about the different dress codes for volunteer projects by downloading our Thailand program guide.