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.
A Personal Tour of the Great Wall of China and a little lunch!!!
November 3, 2016
I’ll let Peter share his version of our arrival in Beijing Airport and I’ll start at the part where we actually meet up with Michael and Grace that I talked about previously. They had graciously agreed to give us a personal tour of the Great Wall of China and then take us out for lunch. Our outbound flight for Chiang Mai didn’t leave until 6 pm and our luggage had been forwarded so we had all day.
Journey to the Wall
It was about 6:30 am when we left the airport. We headed off in their Toyota Landcruiser to Mutianyu. This is a restored area of the wall that is north of Beijing. This is not the most famous views of the wall, but it is not as busy. Michael and Grace live in southern Beijing so they had not been to this one either. It is not as popular, and therefore they felt it would be less crowded. There was a clear blue sky and the temperature was around freezing. They said it was the first clear day in about a month without cloud and high levels of pollution. On the way there, I was amazed at how easily drivers just go with the flow. Scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, cars, buses and even donkey-pulled carts all seemed to coexist with relative ease.
Lane markings and left turns on green lights just seemed to be guidelines. Fortunately the traffic was travelling at a reasonable speed so adjustments could be frequently made.
Need a toilet in China?
In the USA you ask for the restroom. In Canada you ask for the washroom. In China and Thailand you ask for the toilet. At the visitor center at MuTianYu the stalls were marked poddy or squat. There were a couple of poddy stalls which were regular toilets for tourists but the majority of the stalls contained toilets where the porcelain bowl is below floor level. You stand on either side and squat to prevent you from having to sit on a seat touched by someone else. There was toilet paper in the hand wash area, but none in the stalls. Fortunately my hiking pants have a regular emergency stash. The paper is disposed of in a basket, however, and not in the toilet as we are used to at home. These squat toilets flush, but some places have a pail of water nearby and you are required to add your own to flush it away.
The Wall itself
We took a shuttle bus up to the top of the road, then wandered past the market stalls which open at 7:30 am.
A chairlift took us to the top of the ridge where the wall followed the rugged hilltops as far as we could see in both directions. This section of the wall was originally completed in 1404 to protect the resources and rich trading center of Beijing from invaders from the north. There are watchtowers with 360 degree views at regular intervals. They have perfectly arched doorways and windows. There was also some housing for soldiers with separate quarters for the general.
The top of the wall itself is much wider than I expected. You could drive a carriage along it, except for all the steps. The spectacular fall colors, crisp clean air and clear blue skies only added to the experience of standing on a all that is over 600 years old. It was designed to be functional but it is beautiful as well as it follows the hills for thousands of km.
The four of us walked up and down hundreds of steps, admiring the views and construction from many angles. I had decided to check my tripod in our luggage because I expected to have way too many people around to use it effectively. It was getting busier when we left about 11 am but I have many pictures without anyone in them.
We finished our visit with a toboggan ride down the chairlift hill. The plastic sleds had brakes on them that worked really well. I was surprised how much control I had. There were a couple of ladies ahead of us who were much more nervous about gaining any speed so we often had to stop and wait for them, but it was fun nevertheless.
Click on individual photos to see in a larger view
Back to Beijing
We drove past small farms and orchards on our way back to the city. There were many little shops set up along the road and many people doing manual labor in the fields. Micheal and Grace shared with us about the discrepancy in lifestyle between the country and the city. Housing in the city is becoming very expensive, however, so many young adults either live with their parents, or their parents have to help them buy a house. Rent is not relatively as much, but most people want to own their home. We also saw lots of large company buildings. The majority of the signs we saw were in Chinese and in English as this country tries to develop a more global image. Even though the Chinese speak in many different dialects, their written language is the same for all.
Hadilao hot pot restaurant
We parked below a shopping area in a northern section of Beijing. There were many security people whose job it is just to direct people in the parkade and watch the vehicles. We saw many more people working here, in the restaurant and at the Great Wall attraction that we would see at home.
The 5th floor is all restaurants and we waited in the lobby of the Haidilao Hot Pot Restaurant for a table. While you are waiting you can have your nails touched up, your shoes shined or a game of chess, all for free. We got a table right away so didn’t get a chance to advantage of these services. The service we received once seated was quite amazing. I guess in China, only exclusive private restaurants offer much for service This franchise wanted to treat everyone very well.
The waitress brought us aprons to wear over our clothes and covered our coats on the back of the chairs with a heavy cloth to keep them clean. She even left a little glass cleaner package for Michael and I. Grace and Michael ordered off an ipad. The waitress brought us plates of thinly sliced beef, kidney and mutton, shrimp, tofu, mushrooms, large slices of potato, strips of kelp, slices of cow’s third stomach, a bowl of some kind of greens and finally a bowl of raw duck’s tongue.
Two large pots of soup were placed into a well in the center of the table. One was spicy and one was more plain. All the other items were cooked in the broth. We filled a bowl with a variety of items chosen to flavor our cooked food. Some of the flavors were familiar and many were not. There was garlic, sesame oil, crushed peanuts, spice mix, chili peppers, just to name a few. I wished I had taken a picture of the other items because by the time we worked through the meal, I was too overwhelmed to remember.
We tasted a rice “wine” that was 55 proof, and some Chinese beer. It was quite a mild flavored beer but that is all that is available in China. Michael said that he had tried several craft beers when he was in Canada and preferred them. The waitress also brought us a Chinese drink that tasted like thick iced tea and another drink that was creamy, warm and kind of purple colored that is made from beans. We spent a couple of hours trying everything.
Just before we left home I saw a quote by Anthony Bourdain from CNN who talked about eating in another country required you to apply the Grandma rule. “Eat whatever is on your plate, ask for seconds, smile and say thank you.” That was the rule we applied and to our surprise we had a delicious lunch. We were delivered back to the airport by 4:30 with plenty of time to go through security before our flight to Chiang Mai.
Video clip from lunch