Learning how to avoid mosquitos in Thailand will dramatically improve your trip. While most mosquito bites will just leave you a little grumpy, a rare few can cause life-threatening diseases!
To stop you becoming an insect feeding ground, you’ll need to separate fact from fiction to find out what actually works. Read on to discover the most effective repellents, common mosquito myths and exactly what diseases you are opening yourself up to if you fail to take bite avoidance seriously!
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How to Avoid Mosquitos in Thailand 🚫🦟 🇹🇭
The first time I visited Thailand in 2015, I was blasé about the bitey blighters. But thankfully, my girlfriend was not. Under her supervision, we diligently researched everything there was to know about Southeast Asian mosquitos, the risks associated with them, and how to avoid getting bitten. On my first night in the country, I was elated to see my new-found hostel buddies swatting away mosquitos while simultaneously applying anti-itch cream to bites. Not because I’m a monster who enjoys watching people slap themselves out of mosquito borne frustration, I was just delightedI wasn’t being bitten and didn’t need to waste my evening googling “how do I stop mosquitos biting me in Thailand?” Instead, I just sat back enjoying my first bottle of Chang and tried not to fall asleep after a long day of travelling. And it turns out watching people slap themselves is actually pretty funny too…
The Best Mosquito Repellent for Thailand 🧴
Chemical-based repellents like DEET, Picaridin or Permethrin (not actually a repellent but will get to that), are the most effective way to prevent mosquito bites in Thailand.
While you can find good DEET-based repellents in Thailand – especially in towns and cities where 7/11 is ubiquitous, it’s worth taking at least a travel-size bottle with you before you leave home. This way, you won’t need to run to a shop the moment you get off the plane!
Best Travel Size Mosquito Repellent For Thailand
- 30% DEET Concentration
- Travel Sized Bottles – multipack of three!
- Pump Nozel
- 20% Picaridin Concentration
- Travel Sized – multipack of two!
- Pump Nozzle
Mosquito-Borne Diseases in Thailand – Do I Need to Worry? 😰
Mosquitos are widely regarded as the world’s most deadly animal, killing more than 700,000 people every year. While the mosquitos themselves aren’t deadly, they carry a range of diseases, which when passed onto humans, can be life-threatening. Eeek!
Before reading too much about these mosquito-borne diseases in Thailand, it’s worth noting that they are rare – and almost unheard of if you practice proper bite avoidance – but they can, and do, affect travellers every year.
Malaria in Thailand
Caused by a parasite passed on by mosquitos, malaria is a serious and potentially deadly disease that is responsible for more than 600,000 human deaths annually. While only 13 people officially died of malaria in Thailand in 2019, more than 3000 cases were reported in the country. Most of these were around Thailand’s borders with Myanmar and Malaysia but there are also reported cases from parts of the eastern borders with Laos and Cambodia.
👉 Read More: Do I Need Antimalarials in Thailand?
Symptoms of malaria include 🤒:
- High fever
- Muscle pain
Dengue Fever (Break-Bone Fever)
Most people who contract dengue will never even know it, as is evidenced by the estimated 100-400 million cases globally every year. Of these, an estimated 21,000 are fatal. This is just 0.05-0.2 percent of cases, so don’t panic just yet!
While very rarely deadly, dengue can be super painful – hence the moniker ‘break-bone fever’ 😱. There has been a rise in dengue infections in Thailand in recent years, with over 24,000 cases reported in the first six months of 2023. This is more than four times higher than in 2022. Most of these cases are concentrated in Central Thailand but there is an alarming rise in numbers close to Bangkok and to the Malaysian border.
Unlike malaria-carrying mosquitos, those that transmit dengue predominantly bite during the day. Make sure to always practice good bite avoidance!
Symptoms of dengue include 🤧:
- High fever
- Severe headaches
- Muscle and joint pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swollen glands
If you’ve had Dengue once and contract it again, you’re more likely to suffer from severe Dengue.
Symptoms of severe dengue include 🤮:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Fast breathing
- Bleeding nose and gums
- Blood in stool or vomit
- Pale and cold skin
- Severe fatigue
Japanese encephalitis is endemic to Thailand but thanks to a wide-scale rollout of vaccines, there have only been 500 reported cases since the 1990s. As with other vector-borne diseases though, many people don’t show symptoms and some will never report having contracted the disease.
Only 1 in 300 people with Japanese encephalitis show any symptoms. Of these, 15-30% never survive the disease.
The mosquitos that transmit Japanese encephalitis in Thailand are most commonly found around rice paddies – especially if there are pig farms in the vicinity. They generally only bite around dusk but can be present at any time. Stay vigilant.
Symptoms of Japanese encephalitis include 🤢:
- High fever
Chikungunya outbreaks are rare in Thailand but they’re not unheard of. 2023 saw an increase in cases and in 2018/19 there was a big outbreak. While very rarely deadly, chikungunya can cause debilitating pain!
It’s possible to contract chikungunya anywhere with mosquitos in Thailand but outbreaks are usually clustered around specific regions. Chikungunya is transmitted by the same mosquitos that pass on dengue, so they tend to bite during the day. Always wear repellent.
Symptoms of Chikungunya Include 🤕:
- Debilitating joint pain
- Muscle pain
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Best Mosquito Repellents for Thailand 🧴🚫🦟
When it comes to choosing the right mosquito repellent for Thailand, there is an incredible amount of misinformation and wild theories about what works. The most dangerous of these theories is that man-made repellents are toxic to people and that natural methods are more effective – this is patently not true!
As long as you use repellents as directed, they’re all safe and those containing chemicals such as DEET or Icaridin (AKA Picaridin), are more effective than almost all natural repellents.
Mosquito repellents work by creating a protective barrier on the skin that deters insects from landing or biting. This is why you need to make sure all exposed skin is covered – mosquitos are very good at finding that one sliver of skin untreated by repellent!
Famously potent, DEET stinks. It’s a smell I now associate with travel, so what was once an unpleasant experience always brings back fond memories of exploring Southeast Asia!
Developed in the 1940s for use by the US military, DEET (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide), is one of the most used insect repellents in the world. It’s effective against a wide range of insects, including mosquitos, ticks, fleas, chiggers, and various flies.
DEET comes in many forms, including sprays, lotions, roll-ons and wipes. You can also get ‘mosquito repelling bracelets’ that are infused with DEET but these don’t work to prevent bites because the DEET only covers the area around the bracelet, leaving the rest of your body a feast for mosquitos!
In my experience, aerosol-based repellents run out very quickly, leaving you needing to buy them more often. Pump nozzles and lotions tend to last the longest but require you to get your hands covered in repellent!
DEET can ruin clothes, so be careful if you’re applying it while wearing your favourite pair of shorts! Do a patch test on them before completely covering them in a DEET repellent to avoid the risk.
As long as you use DEET as directed, it’s perfectly safe. Some travellers report skin irritation from using DEET but this is usually mild and better than getting bitten by mosquitos!
When choosing the right DEET repellent for you, it’s worth noting that DEET is most effective at concentrations between 10-50%. The efficacy of different concentrations doesn’t really change but the length of protection does. However, the stronger the concentration, the more likely you are to experience some skin irritation. For children under 12, you should stick to repellents with 10% DEET.
DEET is safe to use as long as you follow the directions for use properly. The Environmental Protection Agency report that the vast majority of bad reactions to DEET are due to ingestion or not following the manufacturer’s instructions. The most commonly touted negative neurological effect from using DEET is seizures – but this effects 1 in every 100 million DEET users. When you consider 1 in 200 adults are allergic to peanuts, shouldn’t we focus more time on removing peanuts from Pad Thai?! 🥜🍜 That’s a joke btw – we’re not starting an anti-peanut in Thai food movement.
Known under various names; Picaridin, Icaridin and KBR 3023, this repellent was developed as an alternative to DEET. It gained popularity thanks to being odourless and less greasy than DEET. It’s also less likely to cause skin irritation. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying Picaridin for maximum mosquito protection.
While not quite as common as DEET, Picaridin comes in multiple forms, including sprays, lotions, soaps, wipes and roll-ons. It’s available in concentrations of 5-20% with the higher end of this being comparable to DEET in efficacy. Protection lasts 3-10 hours depending on concentration.
Picaridin is also safer to use on clothes than DEET but you should still patch-test anything you plan to wear while wearing a Picaridin-based repellent.
Another repellent developed as an alternative to DEET, IR3535 (also known as ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate – but that’s a bit of a mouthful!), is effective against a range of insects including mosquitos, ticks and flies. IR3535 is gaining popularity because it’s even less likely to cause irritation or skin reactions than DEET or Picaridin.
While more effective than ‘natural remedies’ IR3535 isn’t as effective in repelling mosquitos as DEET or Picaridin, and its protection isn’t as long-lasting. However, it’s still a good repellent to use in Thailand – you’ll just need to reapply it more frequently.
Top Tip! 💡
PMD is an example of a natural mosquito repellent that actually works. It stands for ‘p-menthane-3,8-diol’ and occurs in certain plants. The PMD used in mosquito repellents is derived from oil of the lemon eucalyptus tree (OLE). After being extracted from the plant, the oil is refined to increase the concentration of PMD.
Repellents with 30% PMD concentration offer comparable protection to 10% DEET repellents for 4-6 hours and PMD-based repellents are recommended by the CDC for protection against mosquito bites.
It’s worth noting that pure oil from the lemon eucalyptus tree isn’t anywhere near as effective as refined PMD. While it does offer some protection, this only lasts a very short amount of time.
Citronella is another ‘natural’ repellent that’s often used by travellers in Thailand who want to avoid lathering themselves in chemicals. Evidence shows that some citronella-based repellents work for short periods. However, the compounds break down quickly, meaning protection lasts anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours depending on the solution.
If no other repellent is available, citronella-based products are an adequate option but don’t rely on it in the same way as more effective repellents.
Permethrin isn’t a repellent and shouldn’t be applied directly to your skin. It’s an insecticide that when applied to clothes, kills mosquitos on contact. It’s a powerful weapon in your bite avoidance armoury.
To use Permethrin, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply it to your clothes, backpacks and other soft items before travelling to Thailand. It works very well on sleeping bags and tents too, making it an excellent choice for those staying in hostels or camping – it also kills bed bugs and ticks!
What Doesn’t Repel Mosquitos in Thailand? 🤔
B Vitamins 💊
B vitamins are one of the most cited natural mosquito repellents available, especially by backpackers desperately wanting to avoid chemical repellents. However, as nice as the idea of being able to pop a cheeky vitamin pill and walking through a cloud of mosquitos like you’re invisible is, studies have shown B vitamins offer no protection against mosquito bites.
Sure, eating a bunch of garlic may make you less attractive to your latest love interest and lessen the chances of a love bite, but garlic doesn’t make you less attractive to mosquitos or protect you from their blood-sucking advances.
But hey, it tastes great, so chomp away – just don’t do it instead of using repellent!
The consumption of yeast extract such as Brewer’s Yeast, Marmite or Vegemite is another often-touted natural mosquito repellent. However, there is very little evidence backing this up. Reliable medical sources recommend not using yeast extract as a bite avoidance method. However, some very small studies have noted a drop in bites for people who consume yeast extract every day for multiple days.
Best Mosquito Repellents Available in Thailand
If you’re already in Thailand and are looking for mosquito repellent to keep the vampiric insects away, there are plenty of effective options available from pharmacies and shops like 7/11.
Soffel repellent is available with various concentrations of DEET – the most common being 12%. This is effective for a few hours, so keep a bottle in your bag to reapply when needed.
OFF repellent is also common in Thailand and relies on Picaridin as the active ingredient. It’s available in a range of strengths and concentrations, as well as in various forms such as aerosol sprays, pump nozzle sprays, wipes and lotions.
Sketolene is another popular brand of mosquito repellent in Thailand. It’s widely available in both DEET and citronella formulations. We recommend the DEET version for maximum protection but the citronella version is reasonably effective for very short durations – you’ll just need to apply it more often!
What Attracts Mosquitos?
There are a bunch of methods mosquitos employ to find their prey. They’re attracted to CO2, which we emit by breathing. If you’re exercising and breathing heavily, you’re likely to find yourself a mosquito magnet!
But even if you could hold your breath indefinitely, the pesky insects would still find you. They pick up on chemicals released as you sweat, meaning in Thailand where you’re likely to be sweating profusely, you’re a beacon alerting them to their next meal!
And if that wasn’t enough, they also pick up on movement – like dinosaurs in the famous Jurassic Park saga… Dark clothes are attractive to mosquitos because the colours contrast with most surroundings, making it easier for them to notice movement from further away.
There is also some speculation that blood type plays a role in attracting mosquitos, with type O blood being the most satisfying for them.
Practice Bite Avoidance – How Not to Get Bitten by Mosquitos in Thailand
As well as using effective repellents in Thailand, you should follow these tips to minimise your chances of getting bitten.
While it’s not necessary to travel with your own mosquito net unless you’re off on some true expedition into the jungle, you should always use the nets provided in accommodation in Thailand.
A good bug net prevents mosquitos getting to you by creating a barrier between your body and the outside world – just make sure no part of you is touching the net. Mosquitos can’t get through the tiny holes but their mouthparts are small enough to poke in!
It’s also worth travelling with some duct tape, so you can patch any holes in the netting.
Use the Fan
If you have a fan in your room, aim it at your bed. Even a gentle breeze can make life difficult for mosquitos searching for their next meal – they can’t fly very well in a breeze! You should use this in conjunction with your mosquito net, not instead of.
You’re bound to see mosquito coils burning, candles flickering away and diffusers plugged in or sitting in the corner of rooms in Thailand. Some of these are effective at protecting an indoor space from mosquitos. Others are essentially useless – citronella candles, for example, show no better repellent-effect than regular candles!
It’s all about the active ingredients used to create these products. If they use well-known and proven repellents such as DEET, PDM, OLE or another well-understood repellent, they will work in an enclosed space. But outdoors, where a gentle breeze removes the repellent from the vicinity, they have very little effect. The candles look nice though, so there’s that…
Wearing long trousers and t-shirts reduces your chances of getting bitten by reducing the amount of skin available to mosquitos. I know it’s hot in Thailand but keeping yourself covered (especially if your clothes are treated with Permethrin) can prevent a large number of bites!
Loose-fitting clothing is recommended so pull on your elephant pants! As with mosquito nets, if your skin is in contact with your clothes, some bugs will be able to bite through.
What Doesn’t Prevent Mosquito Bites in Thailand?
It doesn’t matter whether the mosquito patch is treated with a natural product or chemical repellent, they flat out don’t work to protect anything except the area they’re directly applied to. So, unless you plan on covering your entire body with patches – which would be a bold and expensive look – you’re much better off using a repellent you can coat on your skin.
As with patches, mosquito bracelets only protect the area they’re in contact with. If you want to keep your wrists bite-free but the rest of you covered in itchy lumps, bracelets are the answer. But if you want proper protection, stick to something you can apply everywhere!
Some people believe extreme exfoliating prevents mosquito bites because it changes the smell of your skin. Even if this is true, it would only work for very short periods and as we know, mosquitos are attracted to more than just the smell of your skin anyway! But heck, exfoliating does leave your skin silky smooth, so exfoliate if you want – just don’t expect it to keep the mozzies away!
Mosquito Bite Relief – Stop That Itch!
Even after all your efforts to avoid getting bitten, a particularly desperate mosquito or two will find a way through your defences. When you do get bitten, it will be itchy and irritating but there are a few things you can do to elevate the symptoms.
- Clean the Area – Cleaning the bite is sensible to avoid any infection appearing. Plus, it’s just good practice to clean any wound.
- Apply ice – Cooling the area down for ten minutes reduces itching and as a welcome side effect, will cool you down in Thailand’s steamy climate! Repeat as necessary.
- Baking soda – If you have access to baking soda, create a paste using one tablespoon of powder and a small amount of water. Rub this into the bite and wash it off after ten minutes. This reduces the itching. Just make sure you keep your bite baking soda separate from your cake making supplies!
- Anti-histamines – The itching created from a mosquito bite is an immune response. By treating a bite with an anti-histamine cream, you reduce the itching.
- Tiger Balm – The old Thai favourite Tiger Balm, reduces itching thanks to the strong menthol sensation. It’s not as good as anti-histamines but it feels kinda nice.Anti-histamines – The itching created from a mosquito bite is an immune response. By treating a bite with an anti-histamine cream, you reduce the itching.
Mosquitos in Thailand – A Round-Up
Don’t let mosquitos ruin your trip to Thailand. By being sensible, using insect repellent and practising good bite avoidance, you can save yourself from entering an itchy hellscape or even worse, contracting an awful mosquito borne disease!
When using repellents, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and always remember to apply suncream first.
Have anything you want to add? Let us know in the comments!