Many travellers and backpackers can be concerned about their health when travelling to Thailand. Having lived here for 3 and a half years I thought I would pass on some of my knowledge. Here is an assortment of health advice, travel tips and things to be careful about in Thailand.
Mosquitos in Thailand
Generally speaking Thailand is not a malaria area and there are risks only around the borders of Thailand with other countries. Most people do not need to take malaria tablets when visiting. However, dengue fever has been on the rise in recent years so I recommend covering up in the evening and using a strong DEET repellent. Buy before you travel here as it is hard to find strong DEET. I recommend this 50% one from Amazon.
Street food is one of Thailand’s pleasures and I have never been sick from eating street food. It is cooked hot and fresh right in front of you. There are some stalls where cooked food sits around for a hours and I would definitely avoid these places, particularly if eating meat. If you get a bad stomach in Thailand, before reaching for the Immodium, I recommend trying charcoal pills from 7/11. They are not as strong and I find work much more effectively. I think it feels more natural and is less likely to bung you up for 3 days and then you continue to have the same problem later on. This is what the packet looks like and you can usually find them near the till in any 7/11. If you contract diarrhea in Thailand you will most likely become very dehydrated so I always use electrolytes from 7/11 and I swear by coconut water too. (Also useful for hangovers from buckets…see below!)
Having Ice in your Drinks in Thailand
I never had an issue for this, until it came to drinking 50 baht mojitos in Phuket…and then I was pretty ill for a week afterwards. Lesson learnt: if the alcohol is unreasonably cheap, so is the ice! Avoid things like this in Phuket. That said, I have been sick once from ice in 3 years here so I don’t think it is something to go fretting over.
Drinking Buckets in Thailand
From Khaosan Road to the Islands you will always find a cheap bucket of alcohol to drink. While some people might recommend avoiding drinking buckets in Thailand, if you want to lesson the hangover, stick with a spirit and a mixer in the bucket rather than any of the mysterious cocktail mixes that end up with you and your sister vomiting on the journey back to Bangkok (true story.)
Drinking Tap Water in Thailand
The tap water in Thailand is not drinkable. You can buy plastic bottles from 7/11 and refill them at drinking water stations for 1 baht. You can often find these on streets and in residential areas. That said, I always use the tap water to brush my teeth in Thailand and elsewhere and have never had any problems because of this. I’m probably wrong but I feel maybe it builds up some immunity??
Travel Sick in Thailand
If you are unfortunate enough to get travel sick like me, then I cannot recommend strongly enough these travel bands. I am not even sure how they work, I think they have a bead that presses on a pressure point that is linked with nausea, but they really work. Whether travel sick in mountain roads like from Chiang Mai to Pai or seasick on a boat, these have really helped me. It might just be psychological but who cares if they stop you from vomiting right? Buy yours here. You can also buy seasick pills from most pharmacies in Thailand very cheaply as an extra back up.
Travel Thailand Tip: Ask to sit in the front of the minivan on long journeys. I also find I tend to get less travel sick on the big buses so I try to book them instead of a minivan if possible. You can book travel tickets using this website.
Colds in Thailand
Due to various establishments that blast the AC freezing cold in Thailand, I often find myself with a cold after staying in hostels or sleeping on night buses. Normally this isn’t a problem unless you want to go scuba diving and you cannot dive with a cold because you’ll be unable to equalize properly. Enter TIFFY tablets you can buy from any pharmacy or some 7/11s. They cost around 7 baht for 4 tablets and as these are not a strong tablet it’s no problem to combine with diving.
Do you need vaccinations to travel in Thailand? Before I came here, I was recommended to get Hep A, Hep B and typhoid. Every clinic seems to recommend different things but these are the ones that I got. I decided not to bother with the expensive rabies vaccine because if you get bitten you still have to go to the hospital, it just gives you more time and I figured I was never going to be that far away from an available clinic. I usually use the NHS website for advice about vaccinations in Asia.
Stray dogs can cause alarm in Thailand and my best advice is to just stay calm and steer clear. Most dogs here I have found extremely chilled out and not remotely interested in humans. However, you always hear a few stories. I read it is best to not look threatening, to yawn and look relaxed and calmly walk past them. If you do get bitten by a stray dog, rabies is a concern here so immediately find a clinic. Even small islands like Koh Lan or Koh Lipe have doctor’s clinics who can administer the first round of PEP injections. After that you will need 5 more injections over the course of 6 weeks.
Pharmacies in Thailand
I have found many pharmacies in Thailand to be full of helpful, English speaking staff. You can generally find what you need and for very cheap prices. You can also buy antibiotics over the counter in Thailand but this is obviously a fairly controversial thing to do so read up about it first.
Hospitals and Healthcare in Thailand
Thailand has some fantastic international hospitals…and some less fantastic hospitals. As long as you have health insurance, I would always use an expensive international hospital. The staff there speak English (or will find you a translator) and have always dealt with me efficiently and swiftly.
Disclaimer 1: I’m a teacher, not a doctor.
Disclaimer 2: This page may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase I may receive commission at no extra cost to you.
When researching a trip I always love to plan outfits and look for recommendations for what I need to pack for backpacking. My first backpacking trip was around South-East Asia and I made many rookie packing errors. I overpacked, everything was far too heavy, it was a nightmare finding things and I didn’t have much room to buy more stuff. Having lived in Thailand and travelled a lot of South East Asia over the last three years I have definitely improved my packing skills.
First things first….A backpack – while suitcases might appear easier with wheels and you don’t have to carry them, in reality a backpack is a better idea. South East Asian cities have mostly uneven pavements blocked by street food vendors, restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalks, clothing stalls and people haggling and queuing which makes trying to get a suitcase down the road very tough work. Sand and suitcases also rarely mix and hopping on and off boats and ferries is much easier with a backpack. I currently use a 40L Dry Bag as my backpack, really similar to this Aquafree Dry Bag, 40L – Blue from Amazon. I love that it rolls down so if I have less items I can make it even smaller and I’ve also used this as hand luggage for various trips too.
What to Pack for South East Asia: Clothing- Women’s Packing List
Dresses – I love short summery beach ones like this and long maxis like this Floral Print Split Maxi Party Dress for classier nights to sky bars and covering up for temple visits.
Denim Shorts – my summer staple and they go with everything
Elephant/Baggy Trousers – if you want to go backpacking then you have to buy a pair to fit in with the backpacking crowd. I prefer to look less like a backpacker and love styles like these Floral Printed Trousers . They are great for temple visits and bus and train travel when you don’t want to stick to cheap leather seats.
Leggings and a hoody – because it does get cold! I’ve been on many buses, trains and planes where they blast the air con and it is not fun. Come prepared. I also pack socks.
Cover Ups – I love pretty crochet cover ups like this Cover Up Crochet Dress (Off White) for looking good on the beach and a sarong is really useful as a beach towel, covering your shoulders to be respectful or to stay out of the sun and even as a lightweight blanket like this great value Cover Up Sarong.
Maxi skirts – great to mix and match with various tops and good for covering legs to protect from evening mosquito bites and for temples, like this one here Summer High Waisted Coral Print Maxi
Chinos – preferably Khaki coloured so you look the part on those jungle treks! Don’t think about doing it in shorts – one word – Leeches.Buy ones similar to these Belted Casual Chino
Bikinis/swimwear – so these may be my downfall and I definitely have way more than I need. I love sporty styles for water sports like this and strapless styles for avoiding tan lines. I also don’t recommend wearing thong/g-string style bikinis around South East Asia as there are still conservative areas and you could offend people.
Playsuits – I love these casual styles to throw on over bikinis or to wear out at night to party. I like styles like this Bohemian Romper
What to Pack for South East Asia: Footwear
Flipflops – easy to get in and out of as in many places you should remove your shoes before entering people’s homes, temples and even some shops where people live above it. These Summer Beach FlipFlops are right up my street.
Walking boots – jungles, mountains, national parks, don’t be the muppet wearing converse and falling over when hiking.
Sandals – I personally dislike wearing flipflops all the time and feel it cannot be good for your ankles. If you want to visit posh skybars or clubs in cities like Bangkok then a dress code applies and you will be turned away for wearing flipflops or even Birkenstocks.
Tom-style pumps – I think these are great if you think walking boots are a little extreme. I always wear these for activities like white water rafting, visiting waterfalls and I prefer to use these when driving a scooter as well.Mine are a similar style to these TOMS Women’s Slip Ons
What to Pack for South East Asia: Accessories/Extras
Jewellery – I wouldn’t recommend taking anything valuable or sentimental as you may lose it or risk it getting stolen. I take a lot of stud earrings like these Women’s Stud Earring (6 Pairs) and a couple of bigger pairs for a night out. I usually buy some cheap rings or bracelets for some party nights. There are some great cheap earrings in markets out here so definitely come planning to buy.
Hair bands and kirby grips– anything to keep long hair off your sweaty neck in hot humid temperatures, I always bulk buy 40 Pack Black Hair Ties as out here buying individual ones in markets can add up!
Towel – Invest in a tiny travel towel that dries quickly. I recommend a cheap one as you will probably have to throw it away because of the smell by end of trip. Buy yours RainLeaf Microfiber Towel before you travel as I have rarely seen them for sale over here in South East Asia
Smallzipped bag to wear across the shoulder like this one Crossbody Travel Bag and/or a small day backpack– protect your items from thieves and big enough to keep a bottle of water in too , like this Casual Travel Daypack
Dry bag– like this 5L one Dry Bag Sack is great for monsoon seasons, boat trips, desert island swimming…
Toothbrush/toothpaste – and gum for when all else fails and you end up without sinks in off-the-beaten-track areas of Indonesia
Baby wipes– these are incredibly useful and very cheap. I use them to remove make-up,sun cream, sweat, dirt and cleaning bags or shoes, buy yours here Wipes Travel Pack
Hand Sanitizer – For those train/bus toilets where they often don’t provide soap, come prepared with Original Hand Sanitizer
Suntan Cream– I never like to go lower than SPF 30. The sun is extremely strong here.
First Aid Kit – after-bite for stings – once out there buy Golden Cup balm – local cure for insect bites!, plasters, antiseptic cream, diarrhoea tablets (and lots), painkillers, the Pill, nail scissors, string (you never know)
What to Pack for South East Asia: Extras and Essentials
Insurance Details (just in case) and visas
Gopro I love my GoPro Hero 4 for all my adventure activities and especially diving. Check out Amazon’s range here GoPro HERO4 BLACK.
“Who actually likes packing?” an incredulous friend said to me recently. I do. I love packing. There, the nerd in me is out. It taps into my organisational and planning skills and it helps me get really excited for wherever I am visiting! In the past I’ve had a few friends ask me what they should bring backpacking, whether for themselves or buying presents for a friend or family member who is about to leave on their first backpacking trip. The following are all items I actually use or wish I had used the first time I went backpacking. I pack all these items when I have travelled around Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and India. The first time I went backpacking around South East Asia, I completely over packed. My backpack was enormous, I complained all the time and often threw a few tantrums and made my travel buddy carry my backpack more times than I would like to admit.
What to Pack in your Backpack: Backpacking Essentials for South East Asia
Here’s how to NOT be a royal pain in the arse when backpacking, avoid complaining and pack these 20 useful and practical items:
Dry bag – These are so incredible useful when you are on and off boats and in monsoon or rainy seasons around Asia. I have a 3L and a 5L and I prefer the larger size as I can fit more stuff in! I bought mine in Thailand but if you are after one before you leave check out Amazon for Dry Bag Sack, Waterproof
Small backpack – I only recently converted to be a day backpack kind of person! Before I was always resistant as I thought cross-shoulder bags went better with my outfit (so vain). Since travelling to India, I am a total convert – you can fit a bottle of water in it and it makes everything feel lighter and more manageable! I bought mine at a market in India, it’s not too big and the perfect size for me!
Kindle – As a complete bookworm, I was always slightly wary of the famous Kindle or e-reader. I love the smell of real books, turning the pages and swapping with friends. However, they are also fairly unpractical for travelling light and the glue melts in the sun or hot countries and the pages fall out. So now I have learnt to embrace the Kindle and I wouldn’t travel anywhere without it! The battery lasts forever (even when I frequently forget to turn it off) and any classic literature is free to download and read! Even better when I am on a budget and want to spend money on travel activities and not books! Check out my list of inspiring travel reads here. Get yours from Amazon Kindle Paperwhite E-reader
Travel journal – I love writing and like me, so many travellers I know love to document their journeys in a notebook so that they can return to the memories of how they felt at that time. It’s also a great present for anyone setting off on their trip. Just make sure it’s a light one like these from Amazon…
First aid kit – I am by no means a medical expert but the following are a few things I include and have used in my first aid kit, plasters, anti-histamines, immodium, charcoal tablets, seasick pills, scissors…
Sleeping bag liner – This one I find so so useful. When backpacking you might not always be staying in the nicest accommodation and you might not always find the sleeper trains or buses the height of cleanliness. This is where your sleeping bag liner can be used, it’s light so perfect for hot countries and means you don’t have to touch that questionable material underneath you! I have one with a ‘mummy’ hood meaning my hair doesn’t have to touch anything and when being stared at on Indian trains I can just pull the whole thing over my head – Sleeping Bag Liner Travel
Tiger balm – I swear by this stuff and so does most of Thailand. I use it for mosquito bites, for warding off bugs, for muscle aches and even to put under my nose if I end up sleeping near a smelly bus toilet! It’s generally more expensive in the UK so wait until you get to South East Asia and buy from a local convenience store like 7/11 in Thailand.
Clothes line – this was a present from a friend before I went on my first long backpacking trip and it was so incredible useful. Nice hotels often provide towel rails or drying clothes horses, budget accommodation does not! You can hook the clothes line between two wall fittings in the bathroom or outside and put your clothes in between the twists to stop them flying away in the wind. Mine was similar to this Adjustable Bungee Clothesline
Gopro Hero – The first time I went backpacking I didn’t have a GoPro and only discovered them later in life – however I feel I am now making up for lost time. I recently bought a new one, the Gopro 4 as it has a screen and you can use down to 40m for diving. The new gopro 5 can only be used to 10m for diving so you need to buy something extra if you want to take it diving. I bought mine from the Amazon equivalent in Thailand – GoPro HERO4 Silver.
Deet mosquito spray – once you are in South East Asia, the strongest DEET mosquito spray I have been able to find is 15% compared with 50% at home and I know which one I would want when faced with those jungle mozzies. This is one item I definitely recommend buying in advance, try Repel Max Insect Repellent
Ear plugs – Again, an item it took me a while to discover but now I won’t travel without mine (and am constantly buying more as I lose them!) So useful for noisy train journeys and to block out the noise of crying babies, hawkers and the rest. These are not always easy to find in Thailand and the airport shops are way overprices so try ordering some from Amazon before you go. I recommend buying a pack with a few pairs! Protection Noise Cancelling Disposable Foam Earplugs
Eye Mask – Another fantastic travelling item that I used constantly on flights, night trains and buses. I find it difficult to sleep and if you do too then definitely invest in a cheap eye mask. Mine is a cheap one from a Thai market but I love the ones that have a space around the eyes like Star Moon Deep Molded Sleep Mask
Baby wipes – I never like spending a lot of money on those expensive make-up remover wipes and so I decided to go for tax-free baby wipes instead! They are so useful for sweaty moments, cleaning hands, shoes, backpacks, to use as toilet paper…the list goes on.
Sarong – I think this is such a useful item. You can use it to cover your shoulders for visiting religious places, to cover up for warmth, to use as a towel on the beach, to lie on on the dirty ground. I also recommend waiting until you arrive in South East Asia – so many pretty sarongs and scarves to choose from at the markets.
Handwash for clothes – While you can get laundry done on mass cheaply in most of South East Asia, there is always the occasional time when you just want to wash the odd item so I recommend carrying a small handwash liquid around with you for when you really just want to wear that favourite top! (or you’ve suddenly realised that you’ve run out of underwear!) A friend bought me some like these and they were very useful! Travel Hand Wash Soap Sheets
Selfie stick – In Thailand there is no shame in using a selfie stick and I honestly think you can get some great photos from using one. There is this gopro selfie stick on Amazon Waterproof GoPro Selfie Stick. I have bought before in Thailand but it broke fairly quickly and I think it’s better to go with a real shop than a dodgy market in this case!
Toilet bags to separate items – I usually get frustrated at how long it takes to find things in my backpack so I’ve recently started separating items using toilet bags or soft linen bags so I know what is in each one. I don’t recommend millions of plastic bags as no-one likes to be woken up in their dorm room by the noisy plastic bag person rummaging around for something!
Travel towel – The first time I travelled I took a beach towel – What was I thinking? It was enormous, took up so much space and just collected sand for the duration of my trip. Fool. Try one of these small and quick-drying travel towels instead like RainLeaf Towel GreenI don’t think it’s worth spending a lot as after a few months it will smell and you will probably throw it away!
Pack of cards – for those long, delayed train journeys, and for those wild drinking game nights you won’t remember. Everyone loves the person who brings a pack of cards for entertainment! Alternatively I received Dobble for Christmas (great present from my sister!) and this livens up any dull journey too! I know even use it to teach in my English classes, it’s easy to play, fast paced and so much fun. Amazon sells them Doburu (spot it) / Dobble (japan import)
Anti-bacterial gel – because travelling as a backpacker is not always the most hygienic way of travelling. Use liberally after toilets, staircases, night trains and buses! Check out more travel in Thailand advice here
This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase an item I will receive a small commission with no extra charge to you. These are all genuinely things that I use all the time when I travel.
Everything you need to know about Thailand and Asia