Elephant Pants: A Love Story
Take a stroll through any popular tourist destination in Thailand and you’re bound to encounter a farang or two unabashedly rocking a pair of the infamous elephant pants…
Elephant pants are just what you’d imagine - a colorful pair of drawstring pants embellished with patterns of serene looking elephants. You won’t spot these bad boys on the runways of New York City Fashion Week (although you never really know with that Kanye...), but you will see them lining clothing racks for about 100 - 150 baht a pop at popular night markets and walking streets across Thailand.
The allure of elephant pants (apart from their subtle design, that is) is their comfort and practicality. These uber comfortable pants not only provide coverage from the sun, but also offer the wearer a degree of breathability on account of their billowy style - a very desirable pant attribute, given Thailand’s wide range of temperatures throughout the day. In my experience, the weather in Thailand is most comparable to desert weather (think Arizona). The mornings and the evenings are deceivingly cool and there is little to no humidity. But by 11AM, as the sun takes her rightful place in the sky, you start to feel beads of sweat trickle down your back and the heat wraps around you in an unrequited hug, much like your third cousin once removed during the annual family holiday gathering.
On our first “field trip” at our CIEE teacher orientation in Bangkok, we visited the stunning former home to the Thai royal family, fittingly known as the Grand Palace. It was on this day that I learned the true value of the infamous elephant pants. Earlier that morning, I had made the fatal mistake of donning my favorite pair of thick, denim Gap jeans. The weather quickly rose to a dry 90-something degrees as I fantasized about chucking these favorite jeans of mine into the trash. Now, If you’re wondering whether I’m certifiable (TBD for the moment…) or why I didn’t just wear shorts from the get-go, let me read you in on another interesting aspect of Thai culture.
In my observation, Thai locals dress quite conservatively. You won’t find any booty shorts, high waisted cutoffs, or bodycon dresses around these parts (except maybe in Phuket). At temples and other sites of reverence, visitors, especially women, are expected to dress modestly. As a sign of respect in official and holy places, it is firmly encouraged that women cover their shoulders, midriffs, and knees. As you can imagine, wearing winter clothes in the 90 degree Thailand sun would be quite uncomfortable. Therefore, most temples and other official sites rent scarves and pashminas to tourists for 20 baht (or sometimes for free!) to wrap around themselves as needed. Elephant pants are also incredibly handy in these situations, as they can easily be tucked away in your bag and pulled over your shorts in a hot second. And so it was shortly after my visit to the Grand Palace, that I became the proud owner of a glorious pair of green elephant pants.
Once I forayed into the land of shopping in Thailand, my eyes were opened to the limitless fashion possibilities awaiting me at night markets, local stores, and even online boutiques (with the guidance of the esteemed Piggy Gang). In addition to the aforementioned, beloved elephant pants, over the past two months I have added several unique accessories and clothes to my wardrobe:
Teal Dangle Earrings (50 baht) - Anyone who knows my personal style, knows that I love a good dangle earring. I fell in love with the color of these earrings that I purchased at a street market outside of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai.
Thai Silk Scarf (100 baht) - We often visit the Chiang Rai night bazaar on the weekends, so that Dave can get his weekly rolled ice cream fix. Next to the ice cream stand there is a merchant selling beautiful silk and cashmere scarves for 100 baht a piece. This tan, pink, and blue beauty caught my eye and promptly made its way back home to Phu Sang with me the next day. Scarves are a wardrobe staple for me. I love pairing a colorful scarf, like this one, with a neutral outfit. An added bonus of this scarf is that it’s super soft and doubles as a blanket when traveling!
Beaded “Happiness” Bracelet (150 baht) - I guess you could say that I was on a roll after scoring the above earrings in Chiang Mai. A few minutes later, I went on to buy this earth toned, beaded bracelet which symbolizes happiness. This bracelet has become an everyday adornment and serves as a reminder to intentionally choose happiness whenever I glance down at my wrist.
Silver Turquoise Bracelet (200 baht) - I’m pretty sure I overpaid for this bracelet that I bought from a random street vendor in Chiang Mai. Later on, when we were walking through the Chiang Mai night market, I saw this same bracelet at about 10 other stalls. Even though it’s clearly not a unique piece (and honestly probably not even real turquoise) I love it anyways and rock it almost everyday.
Orange Thai Shirt (150 baht) - This was the first Thai fashion purchase I made in Phu Sang! One Saturday morning, Dave and I took a motorcycle ride to visit the local Phu Sang waterfall. The waterfall was really cool, but this bright orange, Thai style shirt I bought at a nearby clothing stall was even cooler. Plus, when I wore it to school the next week, the Piggy Gang informed me that I got a good deal on it. Now, when I wear this shirt it not only brings a splash of color to my outfit, but also a sense of accomplishment.
Northern Thai Outfit (900 baht) - In early November our school celebrated a Buddhist ceremony that welcomed nearly 30 monks to bless the teachers and students, as they made merit for their loved ones who had passed away. In preparation for this event, our friends took us to a local clothing shop in Phu Sang to buy traditional Northern Thailand style clothing. I bought a black Thai style wrap shirt and long skirt for about 900 baht. Dave bought a white shirt that he wore with khaki pants for about 1000 baht. On the day of the ceremony, we dressed in our new outfits, witnessed a beautiful ceremony, and celebrated with delicious food (#PiggyGangStyle).
Hill Tribe Embroidered Clutch (150 baht) - Northern Thailand is home to several different hill tribes who live in forested, mountainous areas near the borders of Myanmar and Laos. Many of the tribal people specialize in making beautifully handcrafted bags with bright colors and woven designs, which are sold at markets and bazaars in Northern Thailand. I fell in love with these eye catching bags the moment I saw them on display. It was simply a matter of finding the right one. I ended up purchasing the beautiful clutch below at the night bazaar in Chiang Rai. I’m looking forward to styling it with a white flowy top and my distressed jeans for a girls night out in the future!
Red Pencil Skirt (89 baht) - One random day, my dear friend Jinnapat was ordering skirts from an online boutique and she asked me if I wanted one. Jinnapat is someone whose opinion I trust entirely, so if she’s doing it, you can usually count me in too. I was a little unsure of what size to go with. I ended up getting a medium and it luckily worked out, although I would suggest going up at least one size if you find yourself ordering clothes in Asia. Even though there is definitely some size confusion when shopping online in Thailand, for the mere price of 89 baht ($2.73), you really can’t beat it!
I’ve no doubt that my Thai shopping adventures will continue for as long as my suitcase allows. If you have any tips/tricks for negotiating the best prices, choosing meaningful souvenirs and gifts, or finding the coolest markets/bazaars while abroad, please share your wisdom below in the comments! I would love to hear about your experience shopping abroad - in Asia or elsewhere!