Culture and politics forum
Dressing as a tourist.
12th September, 2009
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I'm heading to Cambodia, Vietnam and Lous in December with 3 girls, 2 guys all around the age of 20. This will be my first time overseas and I'm very very excited!
I'm a little concerned about acceptable dress. I understand as girls we'll need to dress conservatively but just how conservative?
As I'm very fair I intend on wearing long sleeve light shirts alot. What is acceptable length for skirts/ shorts? - would just above the knee be okay?
When swimming are bikinis okay? (not a strappy one or anything like that)
I would love your help.
#1 Posted: 12/9/2009 - 08:37
5th September, 2009
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Although i've only been to Cambodia and Laos once each, i was accompanied by a female and she wore whatever she wanted. I don't believe its a problem in those countries to worry about dressing too conservatively...
You might get some looks of admiration, but you would get the same thing anywhere...
#2 Posted: 12/9/2009 - 09:05
Certainly in my experiences most travel pages tend to talk abotu dressing conservative in Thailand which in 2009 is pretty ridiculous. Twenty something women here do NOT tend towards the conservative in their dress of behavior.
#3 Posted: 12/9/2009 - 12:01
If you'll be staying only in places frequented by tourists/travellers then dress however you would in hot weather in your home country. You won't see many local women wearing bikinis at the beach, but the locals are used to seeing tourists wear them all the time. Vietnam is a little more conservative than Laos or Cambodia, but still tourists are tourists wherever you go, including Vietnam. Northern Vietnam is also more conservative than the south, so there you may want to wear something that covers your shoulders if you want to make an effort to be respectful. But if not, it's no big deal.
I should mention that if you're visiting Buddhist temples or sites in any country, it is very important to cover the shoulders and legs to below the knees for both men and women. Many temples that are also tourist hot spots will not allow you to enter with sleeveless shirts. If you will be temple sightseeing in somewhere like Angkor or Hue, it's smart to have a sarong or something to cover your shoulders when entering temples. Most Southeast Asians are used to seeing foreigners dressed sloppily and skimpilly, but if you do that in a temple you are sure to offend the them.
Southeast Asia's a wonderful place - have fun!
#4 Posted: 12/9/2009 - 12:27
DLuek sums it up well here. I mean, you probably wouldn't (or shouldn't) go into a church wearing skimpy attire either.
Also, if you go to something formal (very unlikely since you know no one there to invite you to such) then formal clothing is obviously expected, just like back home.
Basically from a clothing perspective, at least concerning Thailand, the differences are minimal to nonexistent.
#5 Posted: 12/9/2009 - 12:50
Locals will never say anything about what you wear. A long hard look at local women might tell you a little, not many shorts, especially short ones. They show some skin above the top of jeans but usually tshirts have sleaves, not much in the way of bare shoulders. Check out a beach outside bangkok like Koh Samet, often young Thai women wear shorts and a T shirt over their swimsuits: Crazy I know but I see it all the time.
Because tourists so often offend without meaning to the Lao Govt in cooperation with the award winning Ecotourism Lao: published a little guide of things to do or not do in Laos so as not to offend.
Look at how the Lao people are dressed and look at the tourists.dos and dont's #6:
Most of their suggestions could well go for other countries in the region. You'd be amazed how difficult or easy things can be when one just adapts to the local way. I've heard of foreign long stayers getting the run around from office to office for lack of knowing a few simple rules. Read story #7 here: you know those guys were just having a laugh sending him on one impossible mission after another.
#6 Posted: 15/9/2009 - 08:49
I can't speak for Laos, it generally appears more conservative. And when it comes to swimwear, yes, Thais tend toward the conservative. But otherwise, displaying cleavage, spaghetti straps, very short shorts... I see it all every day here. Also regarding behavior, the days when a Thai woman would not kiss her boyfriend where someone might see - they're over. It's not the same as back home, it's still a little more uptight, but nevertheless it's not something a visitor needs to be overly concerned about. At least not in Thailand. I've heard Saigon is also pretty loose on that front.
#7 Posted: 15/9/2009 - 16:34
I think a lot depends on where you are in each country -- they're big places with lots of localised scenes...
For instance, it's probably considered "acceptable" for tourists to walk the main drag in Vang Vieng wearing sarongs and bikini tops, or for the guys just in boardies, but probably less so in Sekong or Salavan.
Likewise I never saw many Thai women getting around in spagetti gear in the far far south -- the waterfalls in Narathiwat and Pattani were all "full shirt affairs" -- or even the backside of Ko Jum for that matter.
It's all about the local sensibilities -- people should be able to pick it up pretty quick -- look at what the locals are wearing... and act accordingly.
Regarding public affection, I'd say it's a funny situation where (broad strokes here) public snogging is frowned upon while same sex hand holding is no issue what so ever. In Sydney, I'd say it's the opposite you can snog all you want but whatever you do don't hold another fella's hand!
When a cousin from country Oz came to visit us in Bangkok, he was gobsmacked that so many of the women were gay -- we had to point out that just because they were holding hands didn't actually mean they were sleeping together.
#8 Posted: 15/9/2009 - 18:28
"Likewise I never saw many Thai women getting around in spagetti gear in the far far south -- the waterfalls in Narathiwat and Pattani were all "full shirt affairs" -- or even the backside of Ko Jum for that matter.
It's all about the local sensibilities -- people should be able to pick it up pretty quick -- look at what the locals are wearing... and act accordingly."
This is a good point - I spend all my time in Isaan, and so tend to see things from that perspective. I am sure that Pattani is very different.
#9 Posted: 16/9/2009 - 00:37
17th April, 2007
I've noticed that the locals too, are keeping up with the times (and TV). It's fairly easy to tell what class people belong to by their dress. In Hanoi, I've noticed, the young middle class dress almost exactly as their Western counterparts. It's a totally different story when it comes to a poor food vendor.
#10 Posted: 11/9/2010 - 00:47
18th August, 2008
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PLEASE PLEASE STOP DRESSING LIKE YOU FOUND YOUR PANTS AND SHIRTS IN THE TRASH CAN. HAVE NEVER SEEN SO MANY SLOBS AS I HAVE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA. THE THAIS THINK WE ARE TOTAL WHITE TRASH DRUNKS. CAN,T SAY I BLAME THEM.
#11 Posted: 18/10/2010 - 11:58
I second your vote.
#12 Posted: 18/10/2010 - 16:02
9th November, 2010
...........Whilst Cambodians won't say anything about the way you dress, for sure your choice of outfit will be noticed.
I see so many backpacker girls wearing very little wandering around Phnom Penh - maybe I've been here too long, but is it really necessary to go out in tiny tight shorts and halternecks, boob tubes or spaghetti strap Ts showing bra straps? It doesn't make you cooler, exposes you to sunburn and it won't earn you respect. Local girls wearing similar attire are assumed to be taxi-girls (call girls/bar hostesses).
Evening attire is a bit different, but for daytime markets or museum visits, what's wrong with a T-shirt that goes over your shoulders and shorts that actually cover all your buttocks? I have plenty of Khmer girl friends who like to dress it up at night, but they would still wear vest top with jeans, or short shorts with a shirt. A little flesh, rather than all they can possibly show.
Even the backpacker guys manage to look under-dressed in muscle tops (often with the Tubing In The Vang Vien legend on them). Most local men wear shirts and shorts or trousers. Sure you'll see some old dudes hanging out wearing just a sarong, but it's not usual to flash so much flesh outside of your home.
Personally, I love playing spot-the-tourist from my balcony, trying to find the most inappropriate outfit. Obviously, if you don't look Asian, you're never going to blend into the crowd, but avoiding "dressing sexy" will earn you some appreciation for your respect for the culture.
#13 Posted: 5/3/2011 - 13:37
That's interesting Abi. Around here, the bigger issue (such as it is - we don't have hardly any tourists) is dressing like a bum. The tourists I do see come in basically two colors - men who married Thai women and are here to visit the family, and backpackers. Of the backpackers, at least half are poorly groomed and poorly dressed. They seem to think the SEA is the place to be this way, but I don't know why. We get a fair number of drunken expats who fit this description as well.
#14 Posted: 5/3/2011 - 15:07
i hope i fell on the better half!
#15 Posted: 5/3/2011 - 16:12
Casey, you did. And you were cool.
Can you believe they didn't renew Jeff's contract. I know full well it's because he's black, as Jim, a teacher there for six years and whose opinion I highly respect, told me Jeff is a good teacher.
#16 Posted: 5/3/2011 - 17:12
9th November, 2010
............. must admit when I arrived in Thailand from India I probably wasn't the best groomed backpacker on the block! However, with manicures, pedicures and markets aplenty it didn't take long to get spruced. And in Cambodia, with hand-made shoes made to my measurements for $16 and tailors galore, I scrub up pretty well ...
#17 Posted: 5/3/2011 - 23:14
that's terrible man - i could tell by talking to him that he's passionate about teaching as well. i hope he finds something better. here in china we have the same problem, a lot of discrimination against africans, african-americans don't have as much of a problem. one reason i like my school is that we hire based on merit - not skin color.
sorry in advance for hijacking the thread a little
#18 Posted: 6/3/2011 - 10:38
22nd April, 2011
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Dress like the locals. Dress like one you are more likely to be treated like one. Can open up many different experiences if you look approachable by a local.
Vests, sunglasses, designer gear can make people look unapproachable. Copy the locals, get down to the market when you arrive and get some clothes the locals are wearing, especially in Laos and Cambodia.
#19 Posted: 25/4/2011 - 13:20
Taking Abigail's point.
For girls, visiting Cambodia, nothing untoward will happen to you if you dress in short shorts, revealing tops etc but you will receive a lot of lewd remarks from the motodops hanging around.I suppose it doesn't really matter if you can't understand what they say but you might notice the lascivious grins.
Overall,it's a matter of respect; the tidier you look the better your treatment.
T-shirts are OK as are shorts (in the day) but not if they are scruffy and/or dirty. The guys in Cambodia tend to prefer shirts but that is because the long sleeves protect from the sun.
It perplexes the locals no end that people with money (and all Westerners are perceived that way-mainly because of the leisure time we have to travel) don't want to show their status and like to dress down) at the moment the Khmer are still in awe of us but be careful it used to be the same in Thailand but now they just look down on us.
#20 Posted: 25/4/2011 - 14:03
"It perplexes the locals no end that people with money (and all Westerners are perceived that way-mainly because of the leisure time we have to travel) don't want to show their status and like to dress down)"
It perplexes me too.
"at the moment the Khmer are still in awe of us but be careful it used to be the same in Thailand but now they just look down on us."
Sayadian, I am still invited to a lot of social events here in Mukdahan because I am a Farang. Outside the tourist track, being a farang is still a plus. I also get ZERO traffic tickets for any offense because I'm a farang who's friendly. I am always let off the hook. Never paid a bribe, never paid a fine. Some Thai's certainly look down on white people here, and given the large number of animals running around in white skin, I can't say as I blame them. But it's definitely a minority. Everywhere I go I am treated WAY better than when I lived in Germany. WAY.
#21 Posted: 25/4/2011 - 14:30
I should have made it clear that I WAS referring to tourist areas.I had a couple of bad experiences in KS area in Bangkok with staff treating me like dirt (and I was relatively well-dressed) for no reason (very UnThai) it dawned on me that we were all being labelled with the same brush.I steer clear of these areas now.
In Isan it's much the same as Cambodia, we are still seen as something special, god-knows why.
#22 Posted: 25/4/2011 - 14:51
Can't believe I mixed my metaphors there.
'tarred with the same brush.'
#23 Posted: 25/4/2011 - 14:55
"In Isan it's much the same as Cambodia, we are still seen as something special, god-knows why."
#24 Posted: 25/4/2011 - 15:02
#25 Posted: 25/4/2011 - 15:12
So dressing like the locals - in many areas i've visited that would be some odd and decrepit logo cap, a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl Champions T-shirt, and some plastic flip-flops . . tied together with dirty slacks. Unless you're in a nice part of town where a fake Polo t-shirt and some chinos are in order.
Can I just wear my t-shirt and clean(ish depending) shorts and call it a day?
#26 Posted: 25/4/2011 - 22:09
My rule of thumb is, if I wouldn't wear it back home, I don't wear it here. Sure, some people dress poorly (because they are poor), but there is no need to imitate that. Imagine a Laotian going to Germany and he sees a wino under the bridge and decides to immitate this form of "local dress".
#27 Posted: 29/4/2011 - 08:39
Ah the pleasure of wearing a sarong around the house.So cooling.
Seriously,the worst clothing faux pas I've seen has got to be those travellers who have clearly just arrived from India walking around KhaoSan Rd dressed like an Indian sadhu.Cringeworthy!
I've got two sons who spend a fortune on jeans which are called 'distressed' in other words you pay a lot of money for someone to wear them out for you with plenty of holes and rips.I don't know if this fashion has hit Thailand yet.
#28 Posted: 29/4/2011 - 20:25
Actually this fashion turned was popular in the 70s back in the States too. I don't have to pay someone to do it for me - it occurs naturally over time.
I was in Bangkok this week and saw a whole host of people dressed, well, frankly, ridiculously. I don't get it. My Thai teacher calls them "impolite" (he actually means overly casual). Some people don't seem to understand that at this point in time, western fashion is Thai fashion.
#29 Posted: 29/4/2011 - 22:02
MADMAC I think you hit the nail on the head with that one - my point is that the whole idea of 'dressing like a local' is what makes people end up 'dressing like a tourist'. People in SE Asia dress pretty much the same as everyone else around the world these days. The only way you could dress like a local in China is if you really wanted to make a fashion statement involving climbing Huang Mountain in black dress shoes (or high-heels for the ladies). The idea that 'the locals' have some dress you can immulate to fit in better is a bit rediculous to me - A more appropriate description would be if the Laotian in Germany donned some lederhosen.
#30 Posted: 30/4/2011 - 09:51
"A more appropriate description would be if the Laotian in Germany donned some lederhosen."
My son wants to take his rathy busty girlfriend back to Germany and dress her up in a Dirndl! But his motivations are different.
#31 Posted: 30/4/2011 - 09:58
11th May, 2011
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Just pick comfortable weather appropriate clothing (that doesn't have any special washing requirements) not too tight fitting and natural fibres will be the most comfortable. The same common sense as to whats appropriate where applies the same as at home and be dressed respectfully when visiting temples.
#32 Posted: 16/5/2011 - 19:50
I've just read this threat from start to finish and it's a shame I missed it first time round.
It seems to me that most local men, at least in Northern Laos and Isaan, wear shirts. Obviously there are exceptions but I can't remember that many fully grown men or even young men wearing t-shirts. The Lahu male villagers (outside Muang Long) all wore shirts apart from the children. Shirts, trousers (or jeans) often slightly rolled to accommodate a flip flop or sandal.
Thats the look I'm going for this time, at least on days I'm not spending 8 hours walking. Interesting to see if it makes any difference. I can't say I noticed any issue last time in Isaan or N.Laos...
I also realized, everybody sweats, often profusely. You see some locals waiting for a bus by the side of the road in the blazing sun, they get on dripping but they're in trousers and a shirt. You just have to accept that you are going to sweat more than you ever have and (hopefully) change your shirt more often. The other route is to wear absolutely nothing a la Vang Vieng.
Mac - you mentioned how the old rules don't seem to apply for young Thais these days... I read somewhere else that the old rules apply less for young Thais but still apply for farang. What do you think?
#33 Posted: 8/8/2011 - 00:08
19th October, 2011
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I think you'd be ok avoiding conservative dress. You'd probably stand out more in socks and sandals.
#34 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 21:06
A lot of people come here and dress down. It's not a question of conservative or not, it's a question of dressing like a bum or not. Yesterday I was playing chess on the river and this guy came by. He had long, unkept hair. He was wearing goofy clothes with a rope tied around his waist as a belt. And of course the obligatory sandals. He had a bandana on. It was like he was trying too hard to be a hippy. And it wasn't working. My Thai friends playing chess with me - not exactly a high society group of guys - asked me what the deal was. I shrugged my shoulders. You got me. Now you can pretty much dress how you want, it's a free country, but if you dress like a dork, that's how people will regard you. It's true in the US, it's true in Germany, and it's true here. It's pretty much universal.
#35 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 00:12
No, can't agree. Thailand may be changing but a girl can wear a million dollar outfit in Cambodia but if she dare have a skirt 6 inches above the knee or wear shorts, heaven forbid or in one case a couple of weeks ago my friend wore a dress with a low back-yes dreadful isn't it, a low back.She was hissed at and jeered at by the local women.Makes you feel right at home, doesn't it.
Maybe she should go native and wear those cute pyjamas with teddy bears on them which are quite fashionable amongst the local women.
#36 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 02:15
I can't speak to Cambodia. Women here dress pretty risque, just as much or more as back home. It doesn't mean a thing. Maybe Cambodia is a different ball game.
#37 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 02:23
Cambodia is Thailand 50 years ago
#38 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 14:31
That doesn't sound good...
#39 Posted: 22/10/2011 - 14:10
27th January, 2007
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Sorry this is a late post, but should this and had to comment on this post.
''Dress like the locals. Dress like one you are more likely to be treated like one.''
No, don't dress like the locals.
Most locals are dressing in Western attire nowadays.
If you bum around in fishermen pants and you're not a fisherman, the locals will look down on you.
Just wear something that covers the shoulders (boys and girls), and is not too short on the leg length.
Oh and shower sometimes, that's it.
#40 Posted: 23/9/2012 - 14:12
The "locals", for the most part, do not dress in a homogeneous manner any more than the rest of us. But Bedu is correct, they are now mostly wearing the same attire as we do. In Issan, where I live, it's not even any more conservative than Germany where I used to live. In fact, it might be less conservative at this point.
#41 Posted: 23/9/2012 - 22:49
8th November, 2013
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If you are really concerned about the dress code, simply wear long pants and a shirt. I don't think they are restricted to a foreigner.
#42 Posted: 8/11/2013 - 02:33
18th November, 2013
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Hi, I'm in Vietnam now. Evertbody there wear clothes freely. You can wear skirt, short or anything to feel comfortable. Surely, when you swim, you can wear bikini. It is very popular in Vietnam.
#43 Posted: 18/11/2013 - 09:10
A Vietnamese friend of mine just came back from Sapa with a bunch of pictures and the western tourists there all must have gone to the same tailor... it was funny.
#44 Posted: 25/11/2013 - 12:03
"Likewise I never saw many Thai women getting around in spagetti gear in the far far south"
Thai women pretty much cover up all over the country. It's not so much a religious thing but largely due to Thai women not wanting their skin to be any darker. Most Thai women want pale skin and avoid the sun which can be hard in a hot country but generally they dont like the beach and will wear shirts when snorkelling. Some Issan women are already really dum so don't bother covering up.
20yo Thai women wear small shorts and skirts in shopping centres.
Topless is a big no no at the beach or around pools.
#45 Posted: 28/11/2013 - 10:45
Nothing says tourist more than a Thai beer shirt and fisherman pants. Thais wear fisherman pants but normally around the house or in a massage shop. They aren't going shopping in clothes like that like farangs do. I see farangs getting on planes with the fisherman pants and beer t-shirts and they look like total knobs.
#46 Posted: 28/11/2013 - 10:50
"I see farangs getting on planes with the fisherman pants and beer t-shirts and they look like total knobs."
I just wonder where it comes from. And all of the "travellers" seem to be doing it. It's comical.
#47 Posted: 29/11/2013 - 02:35
They think they look cool.
#48 Posted: 3/12/2013 - 09:14
You could be right Leonard. I was playing chess on the mekong not so long ago and this guy, who looked like he just walked out of Height Ashbury in 1968, comes strolling down the street. The guys I was playing with asked me "Why is he dressed like that?" What could I say? It was over the top.
#49 Posted: 3/12/2013 - 10:39
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