Every trip has its own set of packing requirements. For short weekend trips it’s easy to throw stuff in a bag last minute, long backpacking treks require more planning ahead and items that can serve different duties, and moving to a new country is too overwhelming to to think about.
How can you pack for all seasons at once? What household items should you bring to help set up your new life? While you be able to find the correct medicines you need? What about cheese?
When I was getting ready to first move to Thailand I was stressing out about what to take with me, particularly what clothing I should have for working as a teacher in Thai schools. I had no idea what to expect and all the information or advice I came across was either vague (I read teachers are supposed to wear ‘polite clothes’ over and over — what does that even mean??) or contradictory (one girl told me she wore modest dresses from Urban Outfitters and cardigans – sweaters in tropical Thailand?! – and an owner of a language school said she expected her female teachers to wear nylons and heels). I also wasn’t sure what I would be able to buy once I was in Thailand. Of course I knew there would be plenty of clothes, but would I be able to find items that I actually liked and that fit me? I still have never even tried to buy shoes in Thailand figuring my feet are just too big.
While you can get practically anything you need in Thailand, and throughout much of Southeast Asia, certain things are definitely more difficult to find, more expensive than they would be at home or just not quite…right. Many things also seem to break, tear, stretch, fall apart quickly, so purchasing something is always a gamble.
The items below do not make up an exhaustive list of what to pack when you’re moving to Southeast Asia, but they do help eliminate some uncertainty about what to bring and what to not worry about. While many of the suggestions are geared toward women, there are also several items that are just as relevant to men – the skin whitening craze over here isn’t limited to just girls…
(If you’re just traveling through Southeast Asia, check out this post for what to pack and what to leave behind.)
It’s quick and easy to get medications, many over the counter, throughout Southeast Asia. In fact, for most minor ailments people simply go to the pharmacy and pick up what the pharmacist recommends instead of visiting the doctor – you can even buy birth control pills without a prescription. However, it’s always important to stock up on any prescription medications before you travel. While you may be able to find what you need while abroad, make the move with plenty of refills to give you time to figure out your next source.
Depending on your size (and style preferences) you’ll want to bring pants and shoes from home. Since it’s hot all the time, people often wear sandals and flip flops but it’s good to have a couple pairs of closed toed shoes, sneakers, or dress shoes too, especially for working. Also, while you may have just worn shorts and flowy Aladdin-style harem pants traveling through Southeast Asia, living over here is slightly different. You get more used to the heat…and realize how ridiculous most of the travelers look. You will wear real pants and jeans (I now wear skinny jeans through most of the year) and have occasions where you need to look nicer than when you were traveling, particularly for work.
Yes, there’s deodorant here. However, it seems like places only sell the liquid kind with a roller ball (which is not commonly used in America), and the women’s deodorant almost always has whitening agents in them. You can find non-whitening deodorant in larger stores or shopping centers (like the large Tesco Lotuses in Thailand), but you often won’t even get the option in smaller shops.
There are plenty of skin products available – and many of them have whitening agents. Cleansers, lotions (for men and women), and make up all have whitening effects. Also, if you have space, I’d bring sunscreen from home too. You can get it here, but it’s only for foreigners and the prices are jacked up.
Bring any must-have make up items with you. I tend to bring foundation, powder and bronzer from home (bronzer doesn’t exist in Asia since all the girls want to be whiter) from home but buy eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow etc. here.
Bra shopping is rarely fun. It’s even less enjoyable when you’re in a foreign country, don’t know where to go, and many of the grown local women still wear an A-cup. Sizes are also sometimes listed differently which just adds to the frustration and confusion. Stock up on good quality bras and underwear when you’re at home that will last you a while – it’s just easier.
For some reason, tampons are not widely used here which means they’re much more difficult to find, if you find them there are few options, and they’re pricier than sanitary pads. All the women I know living in Thailand buy extras when they’re home or request them when people visit.
Considering how long you’ll be away from home, and how much space you have in your luggage, think about some small, random things that you either can’t live without or that would be a nice reminder of home. For non necessities, I tend to bring back chocolate chips, big jars of peanut butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and splurge on some good smelling candles that remind me of being back in Seattle. Other common things I’ve heard of people bringing are wine, vitamins, and socks.
What did I miss? Do you live in Southeast Asia? What do you bring or miss from home? Let me know in the comments below!
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
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What about insect repellent? I really like Off Family Care Unscented Spritz. It worked great for me while I was in Asia and doesn’t reek like some of the others. Sunscreen is also a must. Other items I was glad to have with me were a hat and linen pants.
Insect repellent is good – though you can find it over here. If you want something particular of course bring it from home. That said, I brought several things of repellant over when I first came a couple years ago and don’t think I went through them all.
Great tips for packing. I second your tip about packing underwear. I don’t even have big boobs but trying to find a bra in Asia is a nightmare!
Such a hassle! In Thailand you can either buy a cheap small (small) one on the street just by looking at it, or go to department store…and at the store the sales girls hover around you while you don’t know what you doing or looking for…I hate it!!
My partner and I are travelling to SEA in March for quite a while and we will be teaching English in an orphanage while we are in Chiang Mai. Such a helpful list! Thanks for the tip about underwear & tampons, will make sure I stock up before we leave. 🙂
So glad it helped and do bring extras!
If you don’t want to bring hundreds of tampons with you a menstrual cup is so much less hassle! A friend reccomended it to me for travelling and its brilliant. There are a few different brands but I’ve tried ‘Diva cup’.
I agree! My Diva Cup has been a godsend on my travels.
I am sending you the BIGGEST hug for writing this! It is exactly what I needed to read.
Thanks for reading, Andrea – appreciate it!
I recently stayed in Chiang Mai, Thailand for 4 months. While I would be in agreement with the majority of your article, I would only disagree with the clothing issue. Everyone mixes and matches over there. The Thais, at least, have a very free sense of style. An office job or similar employ would call for Western style dressing, but most of the Thais I lived with working the exact same fashions as was sold in their markets, including the harem pants, they just don’t limit themselves to either or. I think it might be more how you rock them, then the fact that you ARE rocking them.
Haha – I like ‘a very free sense of style’, it’s true – you’ll see people at the same place in club attire and pajamas. That said, they do focus a lot on clothing and appearance, especially in certain situations, and while they probably wouldn’t point out to a foreigner that they’re clothing is inappropriate, there are definitely expectations. Also just depends on the situation though – at the high school I worked at we had a pretty strict dress code we had to adhere to – down to the color we wore on which day – but at a day care center I could wear wear jeans and be okay.
This article is just what I was looking for! I have a one way ticket to Bangkok in 2 days and plan on backpacking for around 6 months! I am 20 years old and have never left America before and my dream is finally coming true! So shout out to all you solo female travelers out there scared to death but finding the courage to just go!!! I can’t even count how many of my friends have said “There’s no way I could ever do that- I’d be way too scared”. My response- “SO AM I! And I love it, that’s why I have to do this!” Sending love and positive vibes to all you girls (and guys) taking the adventure! Looking before you leap is over-rated! 🙂
Have a WONDERFUL trip and let me low if you have any questions about Thailand!
Nikki, I am Intrigued- how did it go?? Thank you for your positive vibes, and I’m sending some right back at you! 🙂 I finally found the courage to go to Thailand for a TEFL course, purchased a 1 way ticket, only to realize I need an exit ticket to obtain a visa. Any advice regarding this would be appreciated.
This article was so helpful!!
So great and helpful! Thanks!
I love your line about realizing how ridiculous travellers look! The harem pants are pretty popular in India as well – especially in the north – and I used to always feel like an ass walking around with friends who were wearing them. I’m sure they’re comfortable, but some of the patterns and colours you get here are just outrageous.
And I totally feel you on the bras and underwear! The quality of women’s undergarments in India is atrocious, and that is always one of my staples whenever I return to the States. I feel so bad for my friends here sometimes, because the quality and comfort levels are just so bad.
Great list and suggestions!
The harem pants are super comfortable especially when traveling in hot places – I definitely wore them throughout India. But I would like to think I at least chose had more ‘tasteful’ ones 😉 I think I’ve bought one bra in Thailand…never again.
Really useful information. I was very confident that I know what I need to pack for my trip to Asia, but apparently I have no idea! I am so happy that I stumbled upon this blog! I love this post. I will definitely bring 2 deodorants and enough bras with me! 🙂 Thanks!
Glad it was helpful, Marguerite!
Thank you for your post! I’m planning my move to Thailand for the beginning of the next year and I’m already organizing some aspects of my journey. It’s still too early for packing, but I’ve already done some lists, and your advices and information at all are of a great help for me. I can now figure out what I will really need for my travel like clothes, cosmetics, shoes and which items are going to be completely unnecessary. Greets!
Let me know if you have any other questions!
Hey! This was very helpful. I’m moving to Thailand to teach English also. I was just going to bring a check in and a carry on roller and day pack I already own but I’m rethinking. Should I get a large backpack and ditch the carry on roller?
Thanks for advice
Hey Becca – how exciting! It’s always tricky figuring out what luggage to take on an extra-big trip or move… What I’ve usually done is have a big backpacking backpack and collapsible duffel bag that I check, then have brought a small rolling bag as my carry on item, that way I have a big bag to use for longer trips and the carry one to use for shorter. The duffel I can fold down so it doesn’t take up any space when I’m not using it. Hope that helps..? Good luck!
I have been advised to just find a tailor to custom make bras for me while there. What do you think?
That sounds like a lot of work to be honest 😉
This article (although you may have written it awhile back) has came just at the right time for me and my family. We are planning a nice trip here and there’s always that wonder of what to bring and what to expect. Thanks for filling in the blanks for me!
Oh good! (Now I need to go back and see what I wrote 😅) Good luck with the move!
28 Comments on What to Pack When You’re Moving to Southeast Asia