Packing for a Winter in Thailand…What did we really need?
April 15, 2017
It was difficult packing for a winter in Thailand. What did we really need? Having never visited Asia before, we weren’t sure what was essential, what recommended and what would be nice to have. We only had 28 sq. m for living space so we couldn’t take too much. As we packed to come home, I made some notes for next time.
As almost every travel site will tell you, pack your bag and then take half of it out. I did that initially, but could have done it again. Thailand is hot and humid. It is also very casual. The only people dressed up were the tourists from China. I took dresses, shorts, skorts, and wicking t-shirts as well as some stretchy shorts and light t-shirts to use in the gym. I added a couple of swim suits and a cover up.
Here’s what I found. The laundry lady on our street washed, dried and folded our clothes about every 10 days for $7. She usually had them overnight. That meant I took too many t-shirts. I also preferred wearing dresses with the stretchy shorts underneath. The rayon dresses they sell in Thailand for $10 each are perfect for this climate. They hang loosely and were the coolest, most comfortable option for me. I had one nice sun dress I brought and a couple of other dresses that were also cool enough. I would recommend buying dresses on arrival and a long wrap-around skirt to keep packed to use as a skirt or a wrap to be respectful in the temples.
The skorts were useful as they are appropriate for any occasion. The black one was good when I needed black and white for a choir uniform. I had a white t-shirt but bought a dressier white top when we were performing. I rarely wore the shorts.
The most important item I took was a big white sun hat I purchased at MEC before we left. I wore it every day. The chin string seemed a bit uncool until I was riding in tuk-tuks and boats when it became essential.
Since we planned to visit the Great Wall of China during our Beijing layover on our flight there, we had a bag of clothes for layering. We wore zip off hiking pants that were also very practical for our visit to Nepal. I took a toque and mittens as well as a wind jacket and light fleece jacket. As it was just around freezing with a light breeze, these clothes were perfect for the stopover.
The coldest high temperature in Chiang Mai was 23, and only for a couple of days. I wore my hiking pants once, just because I had them. I wore a light sweater that I did buy there. It was also useful in the movie theaters when we sat in the air conditioning for a couple of hours. A scarf or skirt as a wrap would probably do. Most restaurants were open air with fans so we didn’t experience the chill I feel when sitting in A/C here. We brought umbrellas and rain jackets. It only rained twice and was too hot for a jacket. The umbrellas could have been purchased at 7-11 for a small amount and then left behind.
For footwear I took flip-flops for the pool, hiking shoes, runners and sandals with good support. I could have managed with just the runners and sandals but they both were pretty new and I wasn’t sure if they would feel good with all the walking we were going to do. We had planned to do some hiking, but we didn’t, so I would take the same choices again another time. There is plenty of footwear for sale, but with my feet I wanted to be sure I had what I needed ahead of time.
As far as toiletries are concerned, you can buy most of what you need. There are many recognizable brands in the drug stores and grocery stores. There were a few challenges. Peter found the toothpaste tubes looked the same as at home, but the taste of Colgate was not the same. Deodorant is either spray or roll on and contains whitener, as does almost every skin product in Thailand. They want their skin lighter and we are all trying to make ours darker! If you like solids, take lots because you will need it in the heat.
I wasn’t able to find 3 products. I use a hydrogen peroxide solution to clean my contacts. It is considered “dangerous” and is not sold in Thailand. I had to have some brought from England and Canada. Blonde hair colour is also not available, which is to be expected in a country where everyone has beautiful black hair. I also had difficulty identifying antacids like Tums in the stores so my sister brought me some from home.
We took towels, but our apartment provided towels for the bathroom and for the pool. I found some beach size quick dry towels that pack very small. They were good when we went to the beaches in Krabi. We also bought full face snorkel masks for the ocean, but there were places to rent them if we had wanted.
Games and Activities
I took a crib board, some cards and a couple of puzzle games. We did use them, but there was lots to do in the evenings, or we were too exhausted to do much besides watch a little Nat Geo channel. I took a couple of books with me, but there was a book exchange in our building and a couple of used book stores where I could find lots to read in English. Peter took his guitar and golf clubs.
My computer got lots of use. I bought an ASUS zenbook because it runs on a solid state drive so it is fast and is more durable if (when) it gets bumped around. It is also powerful enough to run photo editing software. I used it to write my blog, edit photos, watch movies on Netflix, call home on Google hangouts and video call on occasion. I also had a couple of external drives that I used for picture storage. Pete took his laptop and our tablet. We also took along a small Bluetooth speaker that we used quite often. We did have a TV in our room that had many English channels, including a movie channel, National Geographic, History, and CNN International.
Our phones were old when we took them. After a few weeks of trying to keep them charged or plugged into external batteries to enable Google Maps to keep working to help us find a location, we started looking for something more efficient. Once Uber became an option, it was essential to have a working phone. We ended up buying the first new phone in Laos. It was 2.25 million kip! This is only $350. Peter bought another of the Huawei gr5 2017 phones when we returned to Chiang Mai. They last about 1 1/2 days on a charge. What a relief.
Chargers and Adaptors
Thailand works on 220V and North America on 110V. We took a plug-in adaptor with us as well as a small power bar. We found that our phone and computer chargers work on multiple voltages. This is printed right on them. Even my camera battery charger worked.
The cords in Thailand have 2 round pegs and no grounding plugs, however the slot plugs from home would fit into the outlets which had an extra slot for the third peg. They often had to propped up to stay since the plugs had to be inserted sideways, and they weren’t gripped as tightly as we are used to. The power bar was useful but we didn’t need the adaptor for our plugs. I didn’t take any other appliances. I bought a small blow dryer when I arrived.
Thailand, and most of South-East Asia for that matter, is a cash economy. We rarely used our credit cards, and if we did there was at least a 3% fee added on. The ATM worked well for taking money from our Canadian account and giving it to us in Thai Baht. There was a $7 fee for the withdrawal on that end and a $5 fee from our account at home. We always took the maximum amount possible to minimize the fees. Next time we would be sure to have a larger limit for withdrawals. We also needed American dollars to pay for our visas in other countries. It would probably be cheaper to take some of that currency with us.
We paid our rent with a global e transfer from our bank to the hotel account. This had a smaller fee than 2 withdrawals would have and worked easily.
Air China allows 2 free checked bags of 23 kg on their international flights. When we came, we brought 2 large rolling duffel bags, 1 smaller duffel bag and Pete’s golf clubs. I had a 40L daypack for my camera/computer equipment and Pete had a similar daypack for carry on as well as his guitar. We also used the daypacks as luggage for our trip to Laos.
To return, we were doing well with only buying a few small items for gifts and had decided to replace the smaller duffel with a larger pack from the market. Luckily we sent the golf clubs and few other items home with our daughter, Melissa, in March before we went to Nepal. The “made in Nepal” outdoor gear was too tempting. In the end we brought home our 2 big duffel bags and 2 large North Face waterproof bags full of outdoor clothing that will be great additions to our truck camping supplies.
Things We Left Behind-maybe for next year?!
Thank you for all your interest in our travels. I will share a few more pictures and shorter stories now that we are home and have time to look through them before we head off on whatever comes next. I appreciated being welcomed back to church last Sunday with, “We thought you were in Nepal!” since that is where my last post referred to. It let’s me know people were following us closely. We never felt lonely on this trip. Let me know if I can help if you decide to just go to see the world.
Pokhara, Nepal…Some views are good, and others not so much
March 31, 2017
Road to Pokhara
We had 10 days in Nepal and after 4 days in Kathmandu, we decided to take several people’s advice and go to Pokhara. It’s a city about 200 km to the west. I was told it was pristine and tranquil. There is a big lake and the International Mountain Museum to visit. After the noise, pollution and energy of Kathmandu, it sounded like a perfect trip.
Our hotel, the Tibet Peace Inn, organized it all for us. We decided to book a car and driver so we could see some of the countryside. He would also be available to take us to all the sites once we got there. His hotel costs would be covered by us, but it would be less expensive than flying there. In all it cost us about $300 for the transportation for 3 days.
At home, 200 km would take about 2 hours on a calm, organized highway. In the mountains, it might take 3 hours with traffic. Our trip to Pokhara took 6 hours with a half hour lunch stop! The road travelled down into the valley and then mostly curved along the agricultural land and through small villages. Where mud or rocks slid onto the toad, they were left and traffic just had to go around.
Hundreds of buses and large, brightly decorated trucks all tried to pass each other on every curve. The honking was constant, but along with flashing light signals, everyone seemed to know how to make it through. I was going to say safely, but there were many close calls. I stopped watching. Our driver knew the road and didn’t drive as aggressively as he could have.
The villages obviously did not expect to have that much traffic as they built there homes along old trade routes. Houses were built close to the roads with terraced fields taking up most of the land along the valley floor and up the sides. There were a few suspension bridges that crossed the river to allow access to more homes up on the slopes. There didn’t appear to be any roads on the other side so most people would have to walk up and down steep slopes to get to their homes.
Water standpipes were in front of about every 6th house. Women gathered here to wash clothes and children. Men played games of chance on tables with cards or throwing coins at a target. Families sat in the shade outside small shops. Children kicked tattered soccer balls around. Farmers were already planting rice in the fields using cattle to pull a plow. We saw one mechanical plow in our travels in Nepal.
We went to Pokhara on a Thursday and saw many children waiting with their parents for the school bus to pick them up. Their traditional British uniforms seemed so out of place in these tiny, dusty villages. Most of the women here dress in pants and Indian tunics in beautiful colours. They really contrasted against the mostly blues and greys of the children’s clothing. These bright sweaters were unusual.
Our arrival in Pokhara was quite disappointing. It was cloudy and smoggy. It is a large city (250 000) but the tourist area of Lakeside was admittedly tranquil, but certainly not pristine. We checked into the Family Home Hotel which had been booked by our hotel in Kathmandu. The room was large and even had a balcony to sit on and watch the goings-on of the community. The hotels in Nepal advertise 24 hour hot water and we would agree that this shower had the best heat and pressure of any in Asia. At breakfast the manager told us to ask for anything we wanted because we were to feel like we were at home. From our experience, they “get” customer service here.
We walked by the lake. I had my second surprise to see a scrum of photographers on the shore snapping pics of a woman standing in one of the boats, dressed in a lovely saree. There was a fog machine nearby trying to create a misty scene. I don’t know the story, but I took a picture too. While Peter was waiting, he met a family from India who were visiting. After a short conversation, they wanted to take our picture with their little girl. As India is close to Nepal, there were mostly Indians and Caucasians in Pokhara. We didn’t see many Asian visitors.
Our driver picked us up at 5 am and drove us to the top of a sunrise lookout. People were waiting to be hired to show us the best place to stand. We declined. As I was the first there, I had to choose the best place to set up my tripod. The spot was great, but was difficult to protect once all the tour vans and buses began to arrive. We did meet a very nice man from South Korea who was well-travelled and showed us some of his incredible mountain pictures.
The hills were still shrouded in mist and a few clouds had formed. The sunrise looked nice and you could see several terraced fields. Suddenly the top of a mountain appeared, way above the surrounding hills. It had snow on the top and was barely pink in the sunrise. This was Annapurna. This is why people come to Pokhara. It is the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit, a trek up the mountain. Now I knew what all the excitement was about. The tip of Fishtail Mountain also appeared for a few moments. The smog and clouds soon covered all the spectacular views and left us with just hills.
We spent the rest of the day touring the area. We saw the White Pagoda on another viewpoint. It was built by a Japanese Buddhist who wanted there to be 100 of these built around the world to honor the birth of Buddha in Nepal. It was begun in 1974, but when it reached 35 feet high it was torn down by the government of the time but was finally completed in 1998. The 4 Buddhas face the cardinal directions and were donated by countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka. If you are not sure the expectations at a temple, look for signs. They will usually tell you. There was a great little coffee shop with views on the way down.
In the town itself is Devi’s Falls. It is the dry season, and you have to pay to get in to see the falls. There are fences and walkways all around this area that is a little bigger than our back yard. However, there is only on spot you can actually see the falls so it was a little underwhelming.
Across the street is Gupteshwor Mahadev cave. These were much better. The river from the falls flows under the street and runs through a cave. You enter through a newly (as in the cement was still being shaped) renovated entrance, past a shrine, and down many steps to see a waterfall entering the cave. There is an opening in the rock behind the water so it was quite beautiful.
International Mountain Museum
After lunch we visited the International Mountain Museum. It is a large, modern building. We saw photographs and statistics on all the important mountains and when they had been climbed, including quotes from those who were the first to ascend to the peak. There were profiles on some of the most prolific climbers and samples of some of the gear used in the past. Descriptions of the culture of the tribes of the mountains were displayed. Pictures comparing the glaciers in the mountains from 50 years ago to know show that the climate is changing.
There was also a display of photographs taken by Toni Hagen in the 1950’s. He was a Swiss geologist who came to Nepal with the United Nations to survey and map the area. His pictures show Pokhara and the mountains at a time when there were no roads to this area. Supplies were delivered by a DC-3 plane in those days. There is an interesting documentary about his time in Nepal that would be easier to watch with English subtitles, but the pictures and views are still worth seeing.
After breakfast, we watched the neighbors across the street remove a tin addition to their small house and begin digging the dirt out from that area. When we returned in the afternoon, the dirt had all been bagged and replaced with large stones and smaller rocks and bricks as a foundation. A load of large cement blocks had been delivered and was waiting on the street.
The workers were resting, but 2 men on bicycles arrived. They bagged up all the metal pieces and loaded them onto the bikes. Even the tin walls and roof were balanced onto the bike using good knowledge of levers and balance. They pushed the loaded bikes away from the site.
After being led astray by Google Maps to the wrong, but okay restaurant we planned on an early night. A big lightning storm passed north of town for a couple of hours. The sound of the thunder echoing around the peaks was more evidence that big mountains really do exist in this area. We hoped some rain might clear the skies for another try at sunrise, although I worried for some friends who were trekking on the mountain at the time.
At 5 am the stars and moon were bright overhead so we were optimistic. While the sunrise was quite lovely, and the tall peaks did appear in their entirety, the smog quickly swallowed them up so there was not much left for us to than return to Kathmandu. Our friends who were on the mountain in the storm had arrived at their guest house early in the afternoon and got to watch the storm. They arrived in Pokhara 3 days after we left and thought it was the beautiful place. Click the link to see what they saw. Pokhara Images.
Nepal…to visit or not to visit?
March 23, 2017
Visit to Nepal
Before getting ready to head back to Canada we took a last holiday from our holiday. We decided on Nepal for a few reasons
- Peter had wanted to go there for 40 years.
- It was much less expensive to fly to Kathmandu from Thailand than from Canada
- We needed to leave the country one more time before our visa expired
- Tourism is down in Nepal since the earthquakes 3 years ago. We wanted our tourism dollars to help make a difference.
- We thought it would be a good place to escape the burning season of bad air in Chiang Mai.
Four of the five reasons were good reasons. The last one proved false as the air in Nepal is even more polluted than when we left Thailand. Fortunately, we had bought Vogmasks to filter out the most dangerous particles and wore them most of the time we were away.
Reasons to visit
- The people of this country are happy and kind. They work very hard to make a living. Even before the earthquake though, 1/3 of the economy is from local efforts, 1/3 comes from money sent home by those who leave to make a living, and 1/3 is from tourism.
- There is a wonderful energy here. I am glad we had time in Thailand to have some experience with city living or this might have overwhelmed us.
- Our hotel, The Tibet Peace Inn, was very good value at about $35/night. They could not have been more helpful. They picked us up at the airport, provided a hot breakfast for $3 a day and arranged our itinerary for the time we were there. The manager booked our flight and driver for our trip to fly by Everest. He also booked a driver and hotel for our trip to Pokhara for 2 nights and even let us leave some of our things in our room in Kathmandu when we were gone. And not only that, but they had the best hot, high-pressured shower we have had since we left Canada.
- You can hire a private guide and driver for a whole day of touring the villages near the city for about $80. We had a great day with Ranjan Mishra, our guide.
- You can buy any knock off clothing gear that you want, all made in Nepal. I got a mid-weight down jacket for $20 and waterproof duffel bags for our camping gear for $35.
- We stayed in the Thamel area. It is the tourist area and has lots of restaurants serving food from every country, including Nepal. Local beer is also cheap. $4 for 620 ml.
- The country is primarily Hindu with many Buddhist and some Muslim. They have a strong influence from India which we could see in the women’s dress. Having heard many Hindu stories at Angkor Wat was a big help to understanding the culture here.
- There is a very strong sense of community here. Children hold hands as they walk to school. They play in the streets with whatever they can find. People smile and welcome you. Parents play with their children and laugh with them. I saw lots of dads carrying their children around
Reasons you might not want to visit
- Air quality. It is not only very dusty, but the skies register over 150 ppm of 2.5 micron particles which is above the dangerous level.
- Traffic-There is too much traffic for the roads. There are no traffic lights at all in the Kathmandu valley. Many streets are not paved due to mismanagement or because of the earthquake. These roads are full of holes. If a mudslide occurs in the mountains, the traffic must drive around it. The unpaved roads also result in lots of the dust.
- There are many people who walk here, especially compared to Thailand although are almost no sidewalks in our neighborhood. 40% of traffic fatalities are pedestrians.
- There is not a central government that knows how to help its citizens. Although building techniques must be adhered to when rebuilding homes after the earthquake, money that was promised has not arrived. They dig up roads to add someone to a water line, but don’t replace the road. There are power poles that are half a meter into the road because roads people and and power peope don’t work together.
- Local people we talked to feel that too much of the country’s money goes to corrupt officials. If you want a certificate stating you are a trained plumber, you can just buy one.
- It is hard to see so many poor people living in tents and shelters. Children say to visitors, “Give me a chocolate.” Many people in the smaller villages share a community water well or spigot.
- Garbage is often dumped into the river or pushed down a hill or piled up in a yard. Infrastructure is very limited
- Public school is only free up to grade 5. The children look great in their uniforms of skirts or pants and sweaters with ties, but their education is very much like ours was in the 50’s. Punishment for creativity and very much rote learning with workbooks of homework.
Hope for Nepal
We met a couple of locals who want a better future for Nepal. Our guide wanted to share what he loved about his land, but wants a government that is accountable to the people.
Our driver lived in a village that was mostly destroyed. He left his brother behind to look after their old father and moved to Kathmandu with his and his brother’s children so they could continue to go to school.
A young man running a nightly movie on the upper level of an Irish pub, Cinema under the moon, has many ideas for Nepal. He wants a trades school that is accountable to the employers that the students will have needed skills. He wants to use the hydroelectric power available in Nepal for electric cars and has read up on Elon Musk’s Tesla battery. Depak lets tourists message him on Facebook if they feel they are being taken advantage of by anyone in Kathmandu.
These thinkers make me feel positive. They also get me thinking much more about, “What should I be doing? What is my role as a citizen of the world? We are here for a few more days. I will continue to ponder my responsibility as we see and learn more about Nepal.
I will include some more pictures of the devastation and rebuilding from the earthquake in a travel subheading in the next couple of days , as well as some photos from our flight by Everest. Check back.
We have the destination… What’s next?
October 22, 2016
I realize the primary purpose for this blog is to describe retirement and living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We are on our way to the airport in San Francisco, but our route includes a leisurely trip down the USA west coast. This is the kind of option I love in our new role of retirees. I’m writing this as I listen to the ocean waves relentlessly crash into the beach at Seaside, Oregon. We spent the afternoon today flying kites.
In order to be ready to leave home for 5 months, we had much to do to get to this day at the beach. The first question we spent a lot of time discussing was what to do with our house. Should we sell it or try to rent it out? I was actually glad that a poor housing market made it easier to rule out selling it, as I was not ready to let go of my home base. I still had that old vision of myself as part of the community and didn’t want to lose all of that yet. Since I had taken a summer retirement job and was not home for much of July and August, I couldn’t imagine sorting through all our belongings and packing them away for the winter.
In June, I listened to a podcast with my daughter. It discussed how positive, optimistic people are not as successful as you might expect. They just think that things are going to work out well. The problem comes when they don’t actively do anything to make things happen. I kept this in mind while working to get our house rented. Instead of just waiting for someone to call me and ask to rent my house, I was going to have to actively find someone.
I talked with some people in town who recruit new doctors, hoping they would have someone coming to work for just the months that we were leaving. A realtor did a walk through and thought it should be a good rental option, especially if we left it furnished. I began to realize that if we were going to rent it, a year’s term starting in September was the most likely scenario. What would we do for the time before and after our trip?
Fortune smiled on us and a friend mentioned they had a small retirement home in the Columbia Valley of British Columbia. At least we would have a backup place for when we return to Canada. They haven’t retired yet and were happy to have someone in it. I had a plan B. My anxiety level was greatly reduced. I took pictures of the rooms of our house, the yard and the front and decided to post it for rent on a Facebook house sell/rent page. (sample house video prepared on the app Photo Grid. ) I scrolled through the other posts to get an idea of rent rates and what was already available in town. There was a woman looking for a place to rent for herself and her dog. I looked at her Facebook page and saw a picture of the quote, “The mountains are calling and I must go,” by John Muir. Peter has the same quote on a tee-shirt. It was enough of a connection to contact her. She stopped by the house a week later and moved in to our daughter’s room in September. We have a tenant for the year who will look after our house when we are gone on our adventure.
While we did spend some time purging and sorting, we didn’t have to do everything. We have our house looked after and a place to return before we decide what our next travel location will be.