Tourism is fun! But there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Though it’s uncomfortable to think about, it’s possible that your vacation could support violence and oppression in ways that you might not see at first glance. The following is a guide to how you can leverage your privilege as a tourist to create cultural exchange and mutual benefit, and avoid participating in exploitation.
Thailand is a country of many contradictions. It has the richest royal family in the world, and some of its poorest citizens. It has remote rural mountain villages where communities live by subsistence farming, thriving cities, and blissful island beaches. It has so much to offer to travellers, but it can be overwhelming, and you’ll find that the stereotypes about Thailand are hopelessly one dimensional and flawed.
To help you enjoy your time here to the maximum, here are some handy tips, practical and cultural. After all, a little homework never hurts…
Buddhism is deeply ingrained in Thai culture, and the most visible signs of its prominence are the glittering temples that are to be found in every settlement.
No holiday in Thailand is complete without a visit to these important holy places. But unless you are well versed in Buddhist practices and principles, it can be hard to be sure if you are avoiding offence.
Follow these simple steps to ensure that you are being a culturally aware and respectful visitor…
You won’t want to lug your big backpack around with you all day – bring a day bag that’ll hold your essentials, water bottle and street market finds.
We love Baggu’s simple, foldable totes that come in every pattern and color.
Stash your credit cards and passport, especially on long-distance transit and at border crossings.
We love breathable & storage-smart Eagle Creek Undercover Money Belt.
Weather tropical storms and ditch the sweaty raingear. Great for shading from that blazing midday sun, too. Ponchos for drizzly motorbike rides can be picked up at most corner shops and 7-Elevens.
We love ShedRain Flatware Super Mini – made of super lightweight material and folds down to 5.5”.
In tropical temps and humidity, you’ll feel the poly in that cotton-poly blend. Go for lightweight clothing in 100% cotton and stick with basics that can be mixed and matched, dressed up or down.
We love Alternative Apparel’s affordable basics and sportswear collections.
Pro tip: A statement accessory can go a long way in dressing up your outfits without adding bulk to your backpack. Check out Daughters Rising’s RISE UP SHOP for unique ethnic pieces that support anti-sex trafficking initiatives in Thailand.
Forgoing creature comforts doesn’t mean you have to give up your girliness. While you won’t want to be fully done (skip liquid foundation, it’s too greasy), stow a few workhorses that will go a long way in boosting your natural beauty.
We love Laura Mercier Mineral Pressed Powder with SPF 15 – moderate coverage, shine-free and compact.
Cover Girl Professional Natural Lash keeps brows in place and shapes eyelashes without the risk of running.
Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm conditions, protects and comes in 9 natural-looking shades.
Specially designed undies make it convenient to change in cracker-box bathrooms (think overnight bus rides and sleeping in airports) or wash & go on laundry day.
Pop&Go Knickers feature snaps that let you pop off panties without stepping your leg through.
Exofficio’s product technologies include bug protection, sun protection and quick-drying, like their Give-N-Go Lacy Low-rise Bikini Brief.
Laundry service can add up, but it’s easy to find a coin-op washing machine or wash out a few items in the sink. Just keep in mind that line-drying can take a whole day if it’s not sunny out, so don’t wash too much at once if you’re moving the next day or you’ll wind up with a backpack full of damp clothes. And of course, be mindful if your hotel’s laundry rules.
This travel clothesline’s Velcro loops make attaching it to hotel furniture a breeze.
Leave the bikini at home and opt for culturally appropriate swimwear, or take a tip from the locals and swim in shorts and a tee.
We love this retro floral one-piece swimsuit by Esther Williams.
Pop up Sneakers
Forget lugging around soggy, heavy hiking boots. Go for ultra-lightweight shoes that are easy on your feet and your back.
We love Hellyer Slipper by Cushe with its ultra-lightweight sole and breathable upper.
Inline Filtration Water Bottle
Nothing is less glamorous than leaving loads of plastic waste in your wake. Personal water bottles with high-grade filtration systems allow you to fill your bottle with water from any source and sip it safely through a straw. They save a pretty penny, too.
These allow you to organize your stuff, find it easily and save space in your pack. No more digging through dirty laundry to find your phone charger.
eBags stocks packing cubes in a variety of shapes and sizes.
These multitask as shampoo, face wash, body wash, and laundry detergent, cutting your toiletry bag in half.
This clean, mean, tampon-obsoleting machine will make you wonder why you’ve gone all your life up until this point without one. Perfect for traveling in countries where tampons are uncommonly available or expensive (ahem, everywhere), the Diva Cup is a 100% silicone cup that’s safe for your body and reduces waste caused by disposable feminine hygiene products.
Natural Mosquito Repellent
Keeping the bites at bay doesn’t mean you have to suffer DEET’s scary side-effects. Lemongrass or citronella repellent is not only equally effective, it smells great (we here at Chai Lai always joke that it’s our new fragrance).
We love Badger Anti-bug Balm’s organic ingredients and compact packaging.
A sarong is a girl’s best friend: a shawl at a temple, a headwrap on a bad hair day, a light blanket on a cold bus, a bath or beach towel, you name it. No packing required – this is a great reason to buy something beautiful and purposeful to remember your Southeast Asian getaway by.
Check out some of our favorite bloggers for more tips on traveling in style: