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What I Wish I’d Brought to Thailand

What I Wish I'd Brought to Thailand

The following is a guest submission from Nichole Baldino.

Before I left home to teach English for a year in Thailand, I did my research. I consulted many travel blogs, packing websites, expat forums, guide books, maps, and google searches. I felt so prepared as I made my initial packing list, edited it many times, and checked off what was going in my bags.

I filled my small red suitcase and my 45L Gregory Sage backpack as much as I could, determined to let go of my possessions and bring only the necessities. As I left for the airport, I thought I had accomplished just that. Yet, here I am two months into my semester missing some things I left in the states, and wishing that I brought some additional things with me.

Sunscreen – While it’s not so hard to find, it is very expensive! You’ll pay upwards to $20 for it. My advice is to bring as much as your suitcase can hold, or plan to have someone ship it to you. Plus, even some of the sunscreen contains whitener, so it’s best to bring a brand you know.

Bug spray – I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t even leave my room without being bit! I brought a bottle of Deet-Free Bug spray with me from home, but its emptying fast. Although you’ll find OFF here, it’s also very expensive! I also haven’t seen any natural remedies, yet.

Tampons – Tampons are elusive in Thailand! They are hard to find, cost a fair amount of money, and not what you’d expect. I’ve only found tampons here sans-applicator, in quantities of about 10. I often find the shelves at the supermarket empty, and they won’t be re-stocked for days. Come as prepared as possible!

>> The ladies of Her Packing List recommend going with a Diva Cup.

Maxi skirts – The one maxi skirt I brought with me to Thailand has been a miracle. For example, when the Supreme Patriarch of the Monks died and our school was in mourning for a month, not allowed to wear colors, my black and white maxi saved me. It’s cute, casual and comfortable, yet professional enough to wear to school and any temple. I wish I brought all of mine with me! They’re around, but hard to find… I’m surprised at how much I wear mine, but have never seen a Thai in one.

My Laptop – I am currently typing this on my tablet (which I do love). I wanted to bring the tablet in place of a laptop for its size, honestly. I have a keyboard for it, and can use a USB and a wireless mouse, which I thought was all I’d need. Sure, I’m surviving without it, but a laptop would’ve been much more useful! I can’t download any web plug-ins to watch American television, I can’t watch DVDs, I can’t download music or software, and it can be a pain to use in school.

Daypack – For shorter trips and walking/hiking adventures. I didn’t really think of this when packing, but it would be so helpful when I start doing more treks. I plan to invest in one here, but I have two at home waiting for me, and knowing that can be frustrating at times.

Shoes – Luckily for me I am a 7.5 and have no problem finding shoes that fit me, but some friends aren’t so lucky. So if you have larger feet, you might want to be sure you have enough footwear to last you the length of your stay.

Stickers, candy, photographs, postcards, notes, etc. from home – I didn’t bring too many “souvenirs” from home with me, as I didn’t expect I’d be homesick or miss anything at all, but I wish I did. Not only do I love coming home to pictures of my family on my walls, and some small gifts from friends, but I would have loved to share some of these things with my classes; I am always asked about my family and where I’m from. It would have been so great to have tangible things to show.

Teaching and living in Thailand is a constant adventure and a daily challenge, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. I’m getting by just fine on what I brought from home and purchased here, but there are always those time’s where I find myself wishing I had just added those extra flip-flops.

nichole baldinoAbout the Author: Nichole is a 22 year old American expat living in Thailand. After graduating in May from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA with a journalism degree, and desperately seeking a change of pace, Nichole decided the best decision would be to pack her bags and move across the world. She is currently teaching English at Kasetsart University Laboratory School in Chon Buri, loving every minute of it (even when she wants to scream and pull her hair out), and traveling throughout the country whenever she can. She writes about her experiences on her blog.

** Post updated on Jan 31, 2014 to correct spelling of “Thais” and to remove an extra remark about skin whitening.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Karisa says

    Nice list! When I moved to Thailand to teach English I forget some important things too. I packed boring work clothes but ended up working at a cool language school with much more dress freedoms than I thought I’d have. I pretty much had to buy a new wardrobe. I also forget going out clothes and shoes-living in BKK I needed those!

    It’s hard to know ahead of time what you’ll need, what you’ll be able to find and what’s super expensive in Thailand. Hopefully this article will help other future teachers 🙂

    • Trish says

      I have a background in education. How does one go about looking for/finding a teaching job in Thailand? What are the qualifications and pay like?

  2. Kiley says

    I’m pretty disappointed with the tone of this post. I know it’s meant to be humorous but that crack about the Thais (spelt it right for you) lightening their skin was just mean-spirited. I’m not an apologist for that whole light skin shizz, but there is not a lot of general awareness in SE Asia about sunscreen. So yes, people don’t usually see sunblock or sunscreen as a skin protectant or means to keep their skin from developing more pigmentation. And yes, they do have a thing about achieving light skin. Like the rest of this piece, it seems like you’re presenting Thailand almost like a backward country that doesn’t even understand the correlation between sunblock and tanning/deeper pigmentation. Check your privilege please.

    Secondly, yes there are a lot of moisturisers and creams that tout skin lightening properties. I stick to Nivea in the blue tin and that’s pretty available in Thailand. If you’re worried, pay extra for the imported stuff like Cetaphil at Boots or at a local pharmacy.

    I’ve lived and traveling places like Chang Mai to BKK to Songkhla, and the only thing I’ve had a problem was with tampons. Bug spray is available in pharmacy, and can be mixed with sunscreen (Soltan) or by itself in spray or cream form. Or you can ask for lemongrass/citronella spray, which is a natural alternative to deet. I usually stock up across the border in Malaysia for sunblock, tampons, moisturisers before heading back.

    Maxi skirts are available, and yes Thais do wear them. For a fun shopping excursion, head to Hat Yai’s markets for super affordable pairs. Then there’s the usual tat of maxi dresses on sale at the beaches. Like you said, it’s hard to find but it’s still available.

    I’m a new reader to HPL, and I really wished I hadn’t read this post. Guys, do think about your audience. They are global. Making dumb asides about a country’s people is not going to endear you, especially if they are readers of this blog. This could have been approached so so much better.

    • Brooke says

      Hi Kiley – thanks for your comments and point of view. I don’t think the writer here was intending to be mean-spirited in the least and was merely commenting on her experiences of lack of easy/cheap sunscreen and more whitening creams than what she knew from back home. I, too, have had many Thai people comment on how white my skin was in my brief travels there. It’s just another cultural difference, across many parts of Asia actually, and something that non-locals should be aware of in advance if planning to buy toiletries. Thank you so much for your tips – they will be very useful for future travelers! 🙂

      • Kiley says

        Brooke, I appreciate you responding to me but I have a few more words to say. If the writer intends to just comment on lack of cheap sunscreen in Thailand, do so and leave the social commentary out of it. I’m not Thai, but I have family and friends who are Thai. I don’t think they appreciate anyone snarkily commenting about not using sunscreen (I’ve tried to get my family and friends to use it, but they’d rather use parasols or cover up than purchase sunscreen) or that whitening creams exist. If the writer cares enough to mention it, then do something about it like talk to the students in school about the debate of lightening skin colour.

        As the luk khrueng (mixed kid) I also get the ‘Oh your skin is so white’ from Asian family members and also strangers. Yes, it’s a cultural thing. But it has nothing to do with the post. The white skin thing is not the issue, it’s that the writer went to Thailand experienced culture shock and wrote about her experience in an immature way. But in doing so, inadvertently wrote something that could be construed as mean-spirited about a whole country’s people. There is no need to bring your prejudices into a post that’s meant to be helpful.

        • Brooke says

          Hi Kiley – I’ve edited the post to reflect correct spelling of Thais and have removed the sentence commenting on skin whitening (except that it’s found in some sunscreen). Thanks for the feedback. If you have some insight into traveling/living in Thailand, we’d love to have a piece from your perspective (where to shop to get this and that). HPL is a resource built by travelers so the more info and perspectives we have, the better.

          • Kiley says

            Thanks Brooke, you’ve been nothing but gracious in hearing out my complaints and keeping it up on the post. As I travel a lot for work in the region (Malaysia/Philippines/Thailand), there are some things I’ve learnt and wouldn’t mind to share. I can send a note when I next leave for a business trip 🙂

    • Nichole says

      Hi Kiley – I appreciate your feedback. I’ve lived in Thailand for only 4 months, and on first arrival, this is what I’ve noticed. I don’t live in a major city, and so I only have my local supermarket and 7-11 to shop at. I have been complimented on my light skin by many people here, including my students. I’ve been told that they rarely wear sunscreen. Almost every product I pick up while I am grocery shopping has whitening in it. Yes, other things are available… like I mentioned. However, like I also said, they are just more expensive. So, if you’re not willing to spend the extra money it may be in your best interest to bring things with you from home. These are some things I wish I was aware of before I left the states.

      Everybody has different experiences when traveling, and this has been mine. I think that the purpose of this website is for all of us women travelers to share our different experiences, so future travelers can feel a bit more prepared when embarking on their journey. There’s no right or wrong here, just variations of opinions.

      • Kiley says

        Nichole, thank you for replying to me. I do agree and appreciate that HSL is for all women travelers to share their experiences.

        But I hope you understand where I’m coming from. There was no need to write about Thais in a way which caused offence. It’s not censorship or being PC, it’s about whether your choice of words was necessary.

    • Elsa says

      Kiley, I’m not sure we read the same blog. As another teacher in Thailand, I read this as informative without being too boring. And, I do agree with all of the comments. As an older teacher, I have had a hard time finding clothing, and I live in a city. I am not fat…. but the average Thai woman is far more petite than I am. I also find the moisturizer/sunscreen issue a challenge. This is no “dis” to the Thai people, the fact is that most sunscreens (yes they are available) have whitener in them, and contrary to your belief, Thai people are aware of sun damage and do use sunscreen.

      I struggled to find the misspelling of “Thais”, yet the word spelt glared at me… shouldn’t you have used spelled?

      Nichole clearly expresses her love of living in Thailand and suggests that those missing items would be helpful, but “she’s getting by just fine”.

      Nichole sounds like a promising writer, it’s a shame to discourage great talent.

      • Kiley says

        Elsa, I have to correct you. I did not state that Thais do not use sunscreen Nichole implied so. It is not my belief, I stated ‘people don’t usually see sunblock or sunscreen as a skin protectant or means to keep their skin from developing more pigmentation’. I also mentioned I had troubled convincing family and friends to use sunscreen, who would rather cover up than purchase sunscreen. For the face, yes they’ll use a BB cream but sunscreen on the body is a no.

        If this sounds like I’m basing my opinion on a small sample, no not really. I work with colleagues in different SE Asia countries at the branch level to the executive levels, and it’s a surprise to hear that sunscreen is ‘only’ for the beach when I slather myself in it from head to toe every morning and midday.

        And yes, most sunscreen have whitening properties but there are plenty that don’t either. You can purchase the Neutrogena dry touch sunblock, or physical sunblock in Watsons.

        The spelling corrections have been pointed out, so I won’t make further mention. Yes, I am British-educated though I had lived for a dozen years in California.

        In retrospect I may have come down quite harsh on Nichole, and this shouldn’t discourage her from writing further. But as I mentioned earlier, the writing is coming from a place where it can be construed as mean-spirited. Especially when it comes to speaking about another culture, you should always aim not to seem prejudiced or judgmental.

        • Summer says

          I’m a new reader here so perhaps the tone of the original sounded negative… The amended one reads fine.

          I do agree with Nichole about the price of sunblock and insect repellent being expensive.

          I travel to Thailand a lot, and I remember one particular trip to Phuket where I forgot my sunblock, repellent and contact lens case & solution.
          I almost cried at the Phuket airport coz nobody sells contact lens case & solution there! Maybe they do now, but there was none available when I was there after scouring the airport a dozen times T_T

          Also, the price of sunblock and insect repellent was waaaaay more expensive than if I had bought in my home country.
          {I’m from Singapore (the recently voted most expensive city to live in). }

          Its like the locals know that you can’t survive without these hence the ‘you either buy from us or you shall burn and be stung to death’ lol~

    • Sones says

      Kiley, I think you meant to type “I’ve lived and travelled to places like Chiang Mai” (corrected that for you). I think the writer does a fair job of mentioning items are available in Thailand, just difficult to find and pricey.

  3. Chelsea says

    Nichole, great piece – thank you so much for writing this!! I will be heading to Thailand for the first time in April and I did not know a few of these things. Very helpful 🙂

  4. Mary says

    I’m glad some changes were made to this article. I read it before it was edited, and I felt that the tone was negative.

    There was another article on this site that had a lot of good information for someone moving to Thailand.

  5. Sheen says

    OMG, Can’t a person just write without Criticism?! Some people. Great article girl! I hope you don’t worry what others think so much.

  6. samantha says

    How did you find a job in Thailand? I’m in school for special education and Id like to work in thailand when I’m done.


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