Shoeless In Siam

By Rachel Ofo

Woman walking barefoot in street


Shops along Sukhumvit are shutting doors to protect themselves from the stomps of larger-than-average feet on the hunt. By “bigfoot” I mean women whose feet stretch just past a size 40 or are slightly wider. For us, stares of awe, shock, and maybe even fear may follow as we wander roadside shops and Bangkok shopping malls. Those cute sandals? Nope. Want something sleek for a date night? Forget about it. We’ve received enough “no have big size” to understand one of the biggest issues with living in a country not your own is walking in a country that is not your own. 

I’ll never forget my first month in Thailand, nearly seven years ago. I arrived with one pair of custommade leather sandals and two pairs of flats. I’d unknowingly arrived during peak rainy season. From motorbike rides through flooded roads to a damp, moldy condo, I soon found myself shoeless in the city. Fortunately, there are now several American stores where I’ve managed to snag a few new pairs. However, my choices are still very limited. Besides unisex shoes like running shoes and some flip flops, finding something to fit a longer, wider, but not men’s-foot style has proven to be a challenge.

Black woman looking confused while opening a box

What are your options?

Fortunately, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Meaning, if we really want and need a new pair of shoes, we can find them. Some have opted for the less desirable option of wearing ill-fitting shoes, whether too big or too small. I’ll admit to buying a pair of men’s flip-flops simply because they were the only pair I could find, and they more or less got the job done. Besides making sure they didn’t slip off, one of the main issues was that my husband would snatch them when he needed to step out.

I’m less inclined to suggest the other option of just shoving your foot into shoes that are too small. This is not Cinderella. There will not be a prince waiting for you; just a doctor, and not in the romantic way you may want. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, wearing shoes that fit too small or too tight can lead to a world of problems, like bunions and ingrown toenails (1). Some of these problems can lead to surgeries and potentially lifelong struggles. So, if the shoe doesn’t fit, let it sit, even if it means letting it sit in your closet.

Online shopping has introduced a level of convenience we all benefit from. However, it comes with its own set of aches, less physical and more mental. First, you have to find reputable stores. This means stores you’ve shopped at or received recommendations from before. Or, you can choose to rely on reviews, but heel, I mean heed, my words, reviews aren’t always trustworthy. I’ve learned this lesson many times before, where the item that everybody was raving about was no more sophisticated than a primary school project. How to avoid this altogether? By sticking to in-person shopping. Peep the peep-toes with your own eyes. Slide the slides over your actual foot. Nothing beats physical shopping. However, when your current country of residence doesn’t offer a variety of options, you might just have to slip your ruby red shoes on, tap your heels together three times, and head back home.

Myself and many others admit to stocking up whenever we get the chance to go home: a pair of heels, a pair of flats, and maybe even something sturdy to survive a rainy season. Walking into a familiar store, wandering over to the precise aisle you know will have what you need, is enough to bring tears of joy to desperate eyes and relief to despairing feet. So, if you have the means to do so, plan a trip back home, convince family and old friends

it’s because you miss them, and strategically plan every meet up near a shoe store. And for those who can’t make it home, if you know what you need, order and ship them to a family or friend’s house. They could bring it for you when they inevitably visit, or send it over with other goodies you may miss—Snickers and sneakers. However, when all else fails, the simplest and most underrated route to walk is to just ask.

Simply ask a taller or larger-footed Thai woman. Learn a few relevant words and phrases in Thai, like “big”, “foot”, “shoe”, and “where to buy”, and you may be pointed in the direction of slingbacks and stilettos. I once tried this and was recommended to head over to the ladyboy stores, specifically in Platinum mall. I did visit, and I did find a great array of large women’s-style shoes. However, I ran into heels that were slightly too wide or slightly too bulky. I remain hopeful though, as I didn’t check out that many stores. The thing with shopping in a mega mall like Platinum is that you must be prepared to search and put in the hours and energy needed to traverse every single shoe aisle on every single floor. Make sure to have comfortable feet as you tackle this considerable feat.

Despite my humorous take on a semi-serious issue, we should always remember that preparation and comfort are key. Thanks to the amazing world of search engines and online shops with reviews, there is plenty of information out there. So do your research, make a day trip, if needed, and find yourself a new pair of pumps that allows you to feel as though you’re gliding through a bed of clouds as you trek through the City of Angels.

Variety of shoes

Photos from Canva.

About the Author

Rachel Ofo moved from the US to Bangkok in 2016 and spent six and a half years there. She has a daughter, whom she loves dragging around on various adventures like hikes and fishing trips. In her free time, she enjoys reading, watching movies, and trying new restaurants. She also enjoys being out in nature.