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.
Suprises in Kathmandu too…the good kind
April 4, 2017
Surprises in Kathmandu kept sneaking up on us. They were mostly the good kind. We enjoyed shopping for outdoor gear and eating Nepalese food. We saw a Hindu wedding event and toured some interesting locations. Nepal turned out to have more going it than we thought based on our first impressions.
One of the things to do in Kathmandu is shop for Nepal made “North Face” items. I don’t know how they do it, but they are locally made knock-offs that cost little and look pretty authentic. We saw North Face logos and sizing labels for sale in the shops in our street. I bought a rain coat that had 2 pieces of loop velcro on the hood that were sewn onto the same instead of opposite sides of the closure but my tailor lady in Chiang Mai fixed that for me for less than a dollar.
We had no idea what Nepalese food consisted of. I expected lentils and beans which someone had told me they ate in Kathmandu several years ago. What we found was an international food selection. There was wood fired pizza, fine dining, French bakeries, Irish pubs, a New Orleans cafe, and the Cafe with No Name that donated its profits to Nepalese education.
We also ate at the Momo Hut one day. They served traditional food which consisted of momos and Dahl Baht in a Tarkari set. The Momos were like little pork dumplings you would find at home. These were stuffed with a spicy chicken and served with a creamy tomato based chutney and some hot pepper. You can get them steamed, fried, or kothey-which is steamed and fried. They can be filled with other meat like rabbit or buffalo, vegetables or even chocolate in some places.
Dal Baht is rice and a lentil soup Tarkari Set is when they serve these 2 ingredients on a tray along with curried vegetables, some pickle and meat if you want. You eat everything together. The local custom is to eat it with your hands. It is usually served with chapati. Everest, Gorkha, and San Miguel are the local beers.
While preparing to finish our shopping, we heard noise out in our street. We thought it was more horn honking. The big trucks have a horn that plays a sort of tune with a series of notes. I went down to check it out and discovered a band playing outside. There were about 15 men playing drums, trumpets, baritones and 2 clarinets leading the group. They played for about 15 minutes, amidst the traffic of pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, cars and trucks, who were still honking at anything they could see in front of them. The hotel staff said that it was to call out the bride for a wedding ceremony. He said they would be back again later in the day.
I was returning a backpack to our room later in the day, and the band was playing again. They played, then began to move down the street, followed by several women in beautiful red saris, which is the preferred colour as it symbolizes fertility and life. There was also a wedding car decorated with real flowers. I believe the bride was inside. This group didn’t let a narrow street full of loud traffic interfere with their celebration. Cacophony is the only way I can describe it.
The final performance had the band marching back up the street. There were more people behind them and many were dancing as the moved down the street towards us. The groom was walking but I couldn’t tell if the bride was with him, or she got out of the car at a tiny alleyway. About 20 people crowded into this opening between buildings where the ceremony took place. The band played outside in the street. When the ceremony was over, most people entered into the building from the side and most of the band went home. We heard lots of music throughout the evening from our room. What fun to be able to observe this event!
Other Things to Do in Kathmandu
There are several things to see within walking distance of the Thamel district, which is the main tourist area. The Durbar Square-(an opinion link) area has many HIndu temples as well as the Royal Palace. Many buildings in this area suffered damage in the earthquake, but we saw a couple having wedding photos taken in the palace courtyard.
People also stopped to light a candle, leave flower petals or wipe red onto the statue of Bhairav. It represents the destructive side of Vishnu, a Hindu god who is the truth god and was used by city officials as a place where people had to swear to tell the truth. We saw dozens of people stop by to offer a prayer to this statue in Durbar Square.
We spent a quiet morning in the Garden of Dreams. It was developed in the 1920’s by a man who won a game of chance against his father, the prime minister at the time. He used his winnings to buy the land and turn it into a private garden. It was later restored by an Austrian group from 2000-2007 and is now a public park. A beautiful and peaceful surprise in the midst of this dusty and noisy city.
Our last day was spent packing up all our new outdoor gear, then sitting on the stoop watching the world pass by. We saw fruit sellers pushing their bicycles full of oranges, grapes and bananas. The butcher across the street was slicing off chunks of meat from the chunks sitting outside on a table. He tossed them into a balance scale and would adjust the weights on one side or the meat on the other. The yak cheese seller was in her shop. The counter is at street level and the shopkeeper stands below ground. The buyer has to bend down to make purchases. The cheese is covered with a mesh cloth and it is supposed to keep on the counter for 1-2 weeks.
School children were walking arm in arm off to school and includes boys and girls in Nepal. It is a world away from Rocky Mountain House.
Our drive to the airport required masks for the smog and the horrible amount of dust in the air. Although our plane was late leaving, we were above the clouds in time to see Everest and its tallest neighbors pushing up above the fluffy white cumulus clouds. Our last surprise. Except for the fact that Nepal kind of grew on us once we got over the disappointment of not being able to see the sky or the mountains. The people and their energy captured our hearts.