Dress Codes in Asia

Dress Codes in Asia: From Myanmar to Thailand and Beyond

Before planning any trip, completing some basic research is a must! It’s risky to show up in a different country without any idea of the customs, language, or culture. Without a little bit of background knowledge, you’ll find yourself experiencing some serious culture shock.

One of the biggest mistakes a traveller can make is arriving in a country with no idea of the dress or clothing etiquette. While you might think shorts and a t-shirt are a good idea, you could find yourself feeling very uncomfortable when you realize a little too much cleavage or leg is frowned upon.

If you’re booking a tour to Asia, here are the top 12 countries and dress codes you should be wary of before packing your bags. Read them all or skip to the country you’re most interested in now:

Travel to: Myanmar (Burma)

1. India

If India is on your radar, chances are you’re going to need a different wardrobe than anticipated, especially if you’re visiting southern India. Warm weather aside, most cities in India practice a rather strict dress code. While shorts and tank tops are seen every now and then, it is frowned upon and might get you some unwanted attention.

Most of India’s larger cities have quickly become budding tourist destinations, so while traditional dress codes are still favoured, it’s definitely less strict thanks to the Western influence. You won’t be breaking any rules by showing some skin, but it might make some people uncomfortable. Temple and religious landmarks typically require a very modest dress code. Consider bringing a scarf for your shoulders and head, and always make sure knees and cleavage is covered.

2. China

If you’re lucky enough to be attending a tour in China, you’re in for a real treat! This beautiful country has it all, from sprawling mountain ranges to ancient monuments and temples. And if you’re worried about what to wear, have no fear. A huge percentage of China has adopted Western fashion as their own, making it an easy trip to pack for. However, there are always some exceptions you should be aware of.

Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai make up the Golden Triangle of China – one of the most popular itineraries in the entire country. These cities are very accustomed to Western tourism and a practical dress code. Here, people are more concerned about dressing for the weather than being modest.

On the opposite spectrum, Tibet has maintained its own unique culture and traditions for generations. Outfits for Tibet should be modest…long pants and shirts at all times, especially if you’re visiting religious temples.

3. Thailand

Thanks to its beautiful beaches and party atmosphere, Thailand has quickly become a popular tourist destination for many college graduates and young backpackers. But when you put that image aside, it’s important to remember it’s still a fairly modest country that values cleanliness, grooming, and cultural respect.

To get the locals on your good side and avoid tourist traps, considering dressing nicer than a typical tourist. Groom your hair, tuck in your shirt, press your pants, and avoid scandalous attire. At the beach, bring a bikini cover-up, a one-piece bathing suit, or a t-shirt to wear with your swim trunks. And at temples, covering your shoulders and knees at all times is highly suggested.

Ideally, your ankles are covered too. As for your feet, many temples don’t allow shoes and you’ll be asked to leave them at the gates, so packing a pair of extra socks is a good idea.

4. Myanmar

Home to some of the most beautiful temples and landscapes in the world, Myanmar is one tour destination you don’t want to miss. However, you’ll want to treat your packing list with extra care because the country leans on the conservative side. Locals tend to cover as much skin as possible, especially in public, so it would be wise to follow their customs, so you don’t stand out for the wrong reasons.

When you first arrive in Myanmar, you’ll notice the men wearing long skirts, similar to a kilt, while the women wear a brightly coloured outfit from head to toe. It’s called a longyi, and it’s the country’s traditional attire for both men and women. Tourists aren’t expected to follow this trend; however, it is respectful to cover up more than you typically would.

Sarongs and pashminas are a great way to stay covered, especially for the ladies, and men really only have to worry about not wearing shorts at religious sites.

5. Japan

From the peaks of Mount Fuji to the temples of ancient Kyoto, Japan is truly one of Asia’s most magical countries. While it’s still conservative from the outside looking in, it’s still clear that Western countries have played a pretty big role in the development of the country. Most people dress conservatively, but you’ll definitely see some mad outfits on the more daring youngsters in Tokyo.

To keep things simple, dress as you normally would with a tiny conservative twist. One thing to avoid would be worn or tattered clothes. Ripped jeans and sweaters with holes might be a trend in North America, but it’s not a good look in Japan. Try to keep things clean and crisp.

It’s also important to note that tattoos are associated with the mafia in Japan, so keep them covered or you might be refused entry to some stores and restaurants.

6. Singapore

Known for out of this world tourist sites like the Singapore Zoo and Universal Studios, Singapore is an island city-state tucked at the southernmost tip of Malaysia. This tropical, multicultural, and modern country is booming – both in tourism and culture, making it one of the most desirable places to visit in all of Asia. And thanks to its modern edge, your wardrobe will be the least of your concerns.

As one of the safest places in Asia, Singapore is more concerned with its citizen’s safety than outfit selections. So, when deciding what to wear, all you have to remember is that it’s hot… Anywhere from 26 to 34 degrees Celsius on average. Skirts, shorts, tank tops, whatever – it’s all fair game.

Instead of worrying about your clothes, try to be a great tourist and follow the rules. Spitting in the street or spitting out chewing gum is against the law, so just use common sense and be respectful.

7. Vietnam

Rice fields, tropical beaches, and bustling cities: Vietnam has a little bit of everything for everyone. As one of Asia’s more traditional countries, Vietnam tends to be more conservative – but it’s nothing you can’t handle. When it’s time to start packing for your tour, there are a few things to take into consideration when it comes to your wardrobe.

Like many of the cities in Asia, the cities of Vietnam tend to be a bit more relaxed on the dress code perspective. It would be wise to keep cleavage and shoulders covered, but aside from that, the cities aren’t as strict as you’d think. On the other hand, places of worship, historical sites, and ancient villages tend to be more reserved.

In fact, if you plan on visiting a Pagoda, you won’t be allowed in if you’re wearing a tattered shirt, shorts, or revealing clothes. Dress and act respectfully and you’ll run into no problems.

8. South Korea

South Korea is likely on your tour checklist for a number of reasons. From Seoraksan mountain in Gangwon to the ancient palaces and villages of Seoul, South Korea is filled with enough history and adventure for a lifetime. And if you push stereotypes and assumptions aside, South Korea isn’t actually all that conservative. It’s more or less just a matter of dressing and behaving respectfully.

South Korea has adopted most of its fashion do’s and don’ts from Western culture and less so from their Northern counterpart. While you don’t need to cover every inch of your skin, it’s still wise to cover the cleavage and keep shorts or skirts down to the knee.

In cities, locals do tend to dress on the fancier side, so you might stand out in jeans and a t-shirt. Also, as a friendly reminder, pack clothes that allow you to sit comfortably on the floor, as many meals are eaten as such.

9. Nepal

If you’re planning on trekking up Mount Everest, Nepal will likely be the first stop on your trip. But mountains aside, Nepal is filled with dozens of other sites and landmarks that make it a budding destination for many travellers, especially if you have an interest in history and Buddhism. Packing for Nepal can be a bit tricky but follow the rules of the locals and you’ll have no problems on your tour.

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For the most part, Nepal is a conservative country. Covering your shoulders and cleavage is highly recommended, simply to show respect to the locals and their culture. Similar to India, tight-fitting clothes are a big no-no. So tight shirts, tank tops, and leggings should be avoided. Stick to very loose and breathable clothes if you want to be comfortable. You won’t get in trouble for breaking the dress code, but the locals will feel uncomfortable and might become annoyed, especially if you’re in a spiritual or religious setting.

10. Sri Lanka

Find India on a map and go as far South as possible. That’s where you’ll find the island nation that is beautiful Sri Lanka. Covered in wonderfully diverse landscapes, Sri Lanka is home to tropical rainforests, sandy beaches, arid plains, and some unbelievable wildlife. If you’ve always wanted to see elephants up close and personal, this is the place to be. As a cherry on top, the dress code is really easy to work with.

The local dress in Sri Lanka is very basic: t-shirts and jeans are the norm. While it wouldn’t be appropriate to pull out short-shorts and crop tops, a simple and modest attire should do just fine. At beaches, sundresses and swim trunks are always okay, but try to cover up a bit as you wander back toward cities. Again, like nearly every other temple in Asia, cover up your shoulders and knees. Aside from that, loose pants and t-shirts will be your best friend in this balmy paradise.

11. Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a colourful country filled with waterways that mimic highways and some of the greenest valleys on Earth. Home to the largest Bengal Tiger population in the world and dozens of boating opportunities, Bangladesh is one destination that’s off the beaten track and isolated from most tourism. That being said, the lack of Western influence makes the country a bit stricter when it comes to your dress code.

When packing for Bangladesh, remember that you’re touring a majority Muslim country. The key is to dress modestly, especially in women. Pack long skirts or pants, and long-sleeved shirts – they’re ideal for the culture, the sun, and the mosquitos. Visitors often purchase a local “shalwar kameez” which is well suited for the heat and humidity. Bangladeshi women often wear saris and while that may not be your style, you should still cover up at all times.

12. Cambodia

Chances are the second you saw photos of Angkor Wat, you started planning your trip to Cambodia – who can blame you? Cambodia is filled with ancient ruins, breathtaking palaces, and wildlife you can’t find anywhere else. Having endured brutal wars, colonization, and everyday hardships, it’s one country that has remained resilient and faithful, making it a life-changing experience for any traveller.  

In terms of dress code, modesty is the policy, especially for the ladies. Although tourists do tend to wear shorts to deal with the heat, the locals cover as much skin as possible. It’s both respectful and wise to follow their standard. To combat the heat while still dressing modestly, pack loose and airy clothes, such as baggy t-shirts and long pants. Avoid clothes with images of Buddha or Hindu deities or anything that references violence.

The key takeaways for visiting Asian countries are synonymous – do your research, follow the locals, and be respectful. If you take into consideration those three simple tips of travel, you’ll enjoy your tours in Asia with no problems at all!

Jesse is a blogger and content creator who loves travel, the outdoors, and her dog, Molly. When she isn't planning her next trip, she can be found watching Netflix documentaries, enjoying time by the water, or eating soft-serve ice cream. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or check out her blog.

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