Having moved to the island of Koh Samui to live and teach English, we discovered that there are some items we could have left at home and others which should have taken priority in our backpack. To say that Samui is hot is an understatement and unless you hail from a country with a tropical climate, the temperature, humidity and monsoon rains may catch you unawares. So here’s a must-pack list for the islands:
1. Quality backpack
Unless you’re moving here, there is no need on earth why you should bring a suitcase. To get to the islands you will need to take at least one flight from your home country, one more flight or bus ride to the ferry port, a ferry to your island of choice and yet another transfer by taxi or minibus to get to your resort/backpackers. And route above is one of the simplest routes, often there’ll be additional flights or 8 hour bus rides you’ll need to take to get to islands like Phi Phi or Koh Samui. A backpack is the most convenient way to travel through Thailand. All you need can fit in it and I can promise you that lugging a massive suitcase from one ferry to the next is not fun especially in the sweltering heat. It’s also a safer option when travelling on long-distance buses as you can keep it with you. When your luggage is stored somewhere far away from you, it’s out of your control who opens and grabs your belongings at bus stops (it has been known to happen.)
2. Swimming costume
Due to the humid and extremely warm temperatures averaging around 28 degrees Celsius, you will find yourself swimming everyday a few times a day. The perfect turquoise ocean will lure you constantly and if you’re lucky you’ll find a side of the island where the water is slightly cooler than the actual air temperature. You’ll want to pack at least two swimming costumes as to allow one to dry (which takes exceptionally long given the moist air).
3. Effective mosquito repellent
I would say that this is even more important than bringing clothes. T-shirts and dresses are cheap on the island and can be found on each street corner. Good mosquito repellent that actually stops mosquitoes biting every part of your body; not as common and can be rather expensive. So whatever products you can find at home, fill your backpack with i.e.: citronella candles, lotions, sprays etc.
4. Long thin pants & sweater.
Each day at sunset I thank God for my long pants made of light material. I dare not imagine what my legs would look like if they were bare during this hour when mosquitoes seem to go crazy. Guys, as much as you can’t bear to put anymore than a vest on and girls, a pair of shorts; you’ll thank me for telling you about the long pants and sweater. These circumstances may change when Monsoon season is well and truly over, but bring them anyway as there are evenings when you’ll feel a lot cooler on the scooter at night and may need a bit more than a few bits of material covering your sun-kissed self.
5. Sunscreen and sunglasses
This goes without saying really and if you plan to travelling to an island without sunscreen, this makes me wonder if you’re welcoming skin cancer. I’m from Africa so I’m no stranger to strong rays of sun, but Thailand’s is no joke either. I pass lobster red tourists each day and wonder how they will be able to shower let alone sleep due to the amount of burn they’ve incurred. You may not intentionally tanning in direct sunlight, but you burn a lot whilst swimming as the sun reflects off the water’s surface and also whilst zooming around on the scooter. On the scooter don your sunglasses ( the sunglasses I bought here, albeit cheap only lasted one week), put on sunscreen and cover your shoulders if you plan to spend all day on the scooter. If not the cool passing air will deceive you and you’ll return with an unintentional, painful tan.
6. Slip slops
These are must when travelling around Thailand but especially the islands where you’ll be inclined to shower three times a day. Wear slip slops when showering to prevent picking up any bacterial infections left behind by the last user. You won’t want to step into some public toilets barefoot, so these come in handy. The only time I longer to have more on my feet than slip slops was during monsoon season when my feet were constantly wet; otherwise they’re your perfect everyday shoe.
7. Comfy cotton underwear.
So it’s your honeymoon and I understand the need to pack an entire drawer’s worth of lacy lingerie. But you’re actually sleeping in bed and traipsing around the island, lace is about the worst thing you can have on your skin and you’ll need comfortable undies which are going to stay as dry as possible. Ladies especially, in these humid conditions make sure you have underwear that breathes and cotton is usually best and the lightest possible material to ensure you stay healthy done there.
8. As few items of clothing as possible.
If you’re just coming on holiday, don’t bother buying summer dresses or vests that show off your great arms (guys). Even for South Africans, whose money doesn’t go as far as the Dollar, Pound or Euro, board shorts, t-shirts, vests, dresses and tops are way cheaper than at home. We bogged our bags down with way too much clothing as we’re here for a long time, but I would definitely encourage you to do your shopping here at these bargain prices.
9. For teachers: Smart shirts and pants.
If you are planning to teach on the islands, you will have to dress smartly and for the guys: yes that means wearing pants in the heat. Some schools and language centres are ok with golf shirts as they still have a collar. For the ladies tank tops and dresses that expose your shoulders are not seen as polite, so buy a light short sleeve jacket, shrug or a dress with sleeves else you may see yourself not getting any classes to teach. (Yes, it happened to me). We’ve found that we haven’t needed smart shoes as we have to remove them before entering the school anyway.
10. A hard core rain jacket.
During monsoon season, when it rains, it stings- literally. On the scooter, the rain is ruthless and beats down stinging your face, legs and any other exposed area. When we first arrived on the island it rained non-stop for five days and we were not prepared. We used the thin, plastic rain sheet bought from 7/11. It was effective at first but tore after multiple uses and the hood didn’t stay on. Best you buy a hard wearing rain jacket that resembles a wet suit and keep that inside the scooter for those sudden unleashing of wrath from the clouds.