Far away from the bustling streets of Bangkok and the picture-perfect beaches of Phuket, set among the lush jungle of Northern Thailand, is Chiang Mai. A welcoming city where the locals are friendly, the food is delicious and the streets are alive with colours, sights and sounds. What Ubud is to Bali, Chiang Mai is to Thailand. A haven for artists and creatives, designers and wanderers, it’s a playground of history, culture and fun, a melting pot of culture and history. If you’re planning an adventure and aren’t quite sure what you need to take with you, here are all my tips on what to pack for a trip to Chiang Mai.
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What to pack
It’s most likely going to be hot in Chiang Mai so make sure you pack tops that are made from lightweight or breathable fabric. Matt prefers to wear sweat-wicking t-shirts as they keep him dry and cool, especially if we’re out doing activities. I like to wear t-shirts or singlet/vest tops. You might like to pack things that are strappy, loose fitting and breathable, the type of clothes that allow you to catch a cool breeze and don’t weigh you down. If you are visiting in the cooler months a jumper, jacket and scarf for your shoulders may be needed. Keep in mind, it can get quite cool in Northern Thailand during the cool season.
Again, you want to opt for a material that is either quick dry or extremely lightweight and breathable. This is not the time to pack jeans or other thick material unless you’re visiting during the cool season, then you may like to pop a few pairs of warmer pants in your luggage. Matt spends most of his time in board shorts and I tend to wear shorts or skirts that are nice and light. You want to stay away from material that will trap your sweat or not allow you to breathe – things like rayon or polyester aren’t a good idea.
Keep in mind, if you plan on doing outdoor activities like hiking or zip lining, you’re going to need appropriate clothes. You’ll want to pack activewear or gym-style clothes that dry quickly are lightweight and breathe well. You may also like to consider packing a quick-dry towel and a refillable water bottle.
Some light summer dresses are perfect for Chiang Mai, anything that allows your skin to breathe but doesn’t cling to you too tightly. A cotton dress with spaghetti straps would be ideal or some boho-style flowy dresses would be amazing too.
You may like to throw a cotton scarf or something similar into your bag, just in case, it gets a little cool in the evening (depending on the time of year you visit). A scarf will also come in handy if you’re inside a restaurant with super cold air conditioning. I tend to use scarves when I’m out in the sun for a long time or whizzing along on the back of a scooter.
Thailand is pretty laid back so you won’t need to pack anything over the top however, there are quite a few nice restaurants and bars so, if you do want to dress up a little, you absolutely can! A nice dress with cute sandals would be perfect and, for guys, just a decent pair of shorts with a nice shirt t-shirt or breathable button-up shirt is more than fancy enough.
Those wearing board shorts are pretty lucky as the material is quick-dry whereas bikini material takes longer to dry out. I recommend packing two swimsuits so one can be drying one set out while you’re wearing the other one (no soggy bikini bits!). You might also like to pack a sarong or kaftan, something easy you can slip over your swimmers to and from the pool or beach.
One other tip with clothing, pretty much every hotel room has air-conditioning that will keep you really cool when you sleep at night. I tend to get really cold, so if you’re like me, it could be worth your time to pack a warmer set of jammies. Otherwise, a pair of cotton pyjama shorts and top will be perfect. If you’re visiting in the hot season and staying at super-budget accommodation without air conditioning, you won’t be needing warm jammies.
Most people get around in their flip-flops or flat sandals. If you plan to hike a mountain or trek into the jungle you will need appropriate closed-in shoes. If you plan to sprawl out by the hotel pool for ten days straight, one pair of flip-flops or sandals will do. The club/bar scene is very laid back so you won’t need high heels. I usually pack two pairs of sandals and one pair of closed-in shoes.
If you’re planning to visit temples in Chiang Mai you will need a temple outfit. In most places, this just means clothes that cover your knees, cleavage, midriff and shoulders. You could go with a long skirt and t-shirt or a long dress with a scarf to cover the shoulders. If you arrive and find your outfit isn’t acceptable or forget to pack a temple outfit, you can hire wraps at the entry to the larger temples like Wat Chedi Luang. But, you will have to pay for them and it seems like a waste of money. I would recommend packing two temple outfits, so you have a backup if one is dirty/being laundered.
Always keep a pocket pack of tissues with you, just in case you forget to grab some toilet paper off the communal roll before you go into a toilet stall at a public place. You should make sure you always have some change on you as some places will charge you to use the toilet. I also recommend carrying hand sanitiser at all times and be prepared to use a squat toilet.
Good quality luggage
Bags tend to get thrown around quite a bit and it’s worth investing in good quality luggage that can stand a good punch and lock securely. A good quality suitcase with a strong lock should be good enough. Matt and I always lock our valuables in the safe when we go out and, anything that doesn’t fit in the safe gets locked inside the suitcase or goes out with us for the day. Be sure to check all the windows and doors of your hotel room are securely locked before you go out for the day.
You’ll need a power outlet converter to ensure you can recharge your camera, phone and other electronics. In Thailand, it can either be the one with two round or two straight prongs. I always pack a power outlet board with me or a multi-USB. It means I can charge my iPhone and cameras while using my laptop and only need one converter. Yep, I’m a technology addict. If you forget a converter you can buy one there pretty cheap, so don’t stress.
Beach bag and backpack
Pack a light tote you can put your beach essentials in, this will make it easier to pack up your towel, hat, sunglasses, book, camera and sunscreen when you head down to the water or go for a walk around town. If you plan on spending a few days out exploring or hiking, you might like to bring a backpack instead. It can be a better way to carry heavy gear like cameras. Make sure you have a plan to keep your valuables dry if it rains suddenly, which it can in Chiang Mai. A waterproof bag, umbrella or even just a spare plastic bag can be a lifesaver.
Be sure to pack a good amount of bug spray! You’ll want to cover yourself in bug spray if you’re staying anywhere where it seems like there are a lot of mosquitos hanging around. When I’m in Thailand, I tend to apply bug spray every morning. I’ll also apply a liberal amount of bug spray if we’re going out for dinner. Be sure to buy a good quality brand.
It can be really hot in Chiang Mai and I usually find it easiest to put my hair in two plaits when the weather gets sticky. It’s easy to put a hat on top and my hair stays out of my face and frizz-free. I pack my hairbrush, a few little hair bands, bobby pins plus one or two big hair ties so I can pop my hair up in a ponytail or bun. If you like your hair to be slick, throw in some gel or hairspray as you will find it frizzes up with all the humidity. If you’re swimming a lot, you might like to pack something to put moisture back in your hair, like a treatment or leave-in conditioner.
I was really surprised by how dry it was in Northern Thailand and found great relief in the moisturiser and rosehip oil I had packed! A few of the girls we travelled with commented on how dry their hands, arms and legs and even their cuticles were. I’d definitely recommend slipping some good quality, thick moisturiser in your bag, at least for your face and hands.
Sun protection gear
Be sure to pack sunscreen from home as it’s quite expensive overseas if you forget it. When you go out for the day be sure to slather it on to protect against the harsh sun or you will get sunburnt (it happened to me at a resort and it was the worst!) I don’t leave the hotel without putting this on my face and this on my body. Remember, sunscreen is only as good as its user and it’s up to you to reapply during the day to ensure you don’t get burned. Similarly, a rash shirt or sun-shirt is a good idea too for those long days by the pool. Remember, cloudy days mean UV rays! Don’t be deceived if there’s no sun, you can still burn.
Something for bug bites
Despite the vast amounts of bug spray we spray on ourselves we’re usually still bitten by bugs at some point. I would recommend packing something to put on your bug bites to stop the itching or annoying you. Personally, I like to keep a tube of Lucas’ Paw Paw Ointment on me when I travel as it’s a great cure-all.
This one may seem a little extra but hear me out! With all that sunscreen and bug spray you’re covering yourself with, you’re going to find it mixes with the sweat from the humidity and the dust and dirt in the air, caking your body with a film of scunge. Trust me, scrubbing your body with a pair of loofah gloves is going to feel amazing! They’ll scrub all the sunscreen out of your pores and leave you feeling fresh and clean.
I pack a little medicine bag which includes Imodium/something for an upset tummy, paracetamol and ibuprofen for headaches or injuries, loads of band-aids, hayfever/allergy medication, asthma inhaler, a very strong antihistamine, sleeping pills, valium in-case of a bad anxiety/panic attack, eye drops, cold and flu medicine, throat lozenges, travel sickness medicine, hand sanitiser and ginger tablets.
Feminine hygiene products
Ladies may like to pack their own tampons, pads etc as the brand or type you prefer may not be available in Chiang Mai. You will absolutely need to pack hand sanitiser and might like to bring a small pack of anti-bacterial wipes and/or a pack of baby wipes, just in case! You may like to tuck a few plastic bags into your day bag, just in case there’s nowhere for you to dispose of your products and be sure to always have tissues on you as there may not be toilet paper where you go. Bear in mind, the toilets in Thailand do not flush very well and you’re usually discouraged from putting toilet paper in the toilets and placing it in a bin instead.
You might like to bring a few separate bags to put your dirty shoes, clothes and underwear in to keep your bag from stinking out and making your fresh clothes smell bad. Laundry is cheap to have done on the streets of Chiang Mai so don’t pay ridiculous hotel prices, just take your laundry out onto the street and you’ll find someone offering a laundry service at a good rate. If you have any delicate clothing, you may like to hand wash it at the hotel.
Packing hacks and tips
A few tips and tricks to help you hack your packing!
Stash some eco-friendly bags and reusable sandwich bags in your luggage, they come in so very handy for storing dirty shoes and clothes as well as bars of soap, wet swimwear or leaky toothpaste tubes!
Stop leaky bottles
If you’re worried about your shampoo, conditioner or body wash leaking in your bag simply unscrew the lid, place some cling wrap over the top and screw the lid back on. It’ll stop everything from leaking and potentially ruining your clean clothes.
I use Tupperware or similar hard plastic containers to put all my toiletries in. This ensures no leaks will destroy my clean clothes and makes it really easy for me to grab my toiletries in one easy swoop, keep them together in the hotel and makes re-packing easier too. I also use a small container for all my jewellery and another one for electronics like adaptors, cords and chargers. It keeps me organised and stops me from losing things!
Put dryer sheets in your suitcase to keep your clothes smelling good throughout the whole trip. If you don’t have dryer sheets, a few drops of essential oil on a tissue, laid flat in-between layers of clothes, works wonders. I also have a little bottle of spray that instantly freshens up clothes, it’s from The Laundress and it’s amazing! No musty-smelling clothes for you, my friend.
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