Weather and What to Wear (No Pun Intended)

The best clothes to wear while traveling through Southeast Asia are cotton, linen and silk. Unless we are talking about Gore-Tex (or other similar lightweight materials), synthetic materials and thicker clothing is a no-no for obvious reasons – Weather & Climate.

Let’s change tack and talk a bit about weather and climate. People often use the word ‘tropical’ without really giving it much thought other than hot and humid. One may hear – “tropical this” or “tropical that”…

Well then, let us allow ourselves to get a little technical for a second. The region of Southeast Asia is indeed TROPICAL, as it lies within the tropics – that is to say in between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Our lovely Equator lands right dab in the middle!

To simplify the subject, there are two seasons in this region: the dry season and the rainy season. The latter occurs as winds from the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean move across the region bringing moisture-laden air far inland. Normally the rainy season begins around mid-May and often lasts well into October. From my experience late-July to September is when it really comes down.

However, the downpours seem to be fairly consistent as to when they occur. Sometime after 2PM (1400 hours) and before 5 PM (1700 hours) is when it really pours. This isn’t an exclusive nor is it a hard and fast rule. You may get showers at other points during the day. However, this is when the fiercest rainfalls tend to occur. An individual can almost set one’s clock by this and organize his or her daily itinerary around it! Such showers normally don’t last long, but often they are enough to flood streets and noticeably increase the water level of local streams or rivers.

There are times when the rains do indeed cool down the day, yet it has been my experience that the aftermath of such a rainfall increases humidity, making the day that much more uncomfortable and muggy.

By contrast the dry season is just that – DRY! Normally from November to April there is little to no rainfall. We did experience some pretty serious downpours in early December of 2012 in northeastern Thailand. I remember several my locals commenting on how old patterns of weather were not the same as they used to be. Climate change? Global warming? I honestly don’t know. Suffice to say there are more exceptions to the rule than there once were.

Generally speaking, however, the above information still holds true, despite Mother Nature’s occasional hiccups! The driest period tends to be January and February. Yet in February of 2011 in Kao Yai National Park in Thailand, I experienced some impressive rainfalls, though they lasted less than 10 minutes.

Straddling the end of the dry season and the start of the rainy season is the hottest period of the Southeast Asian calendar. From March to June the temperatures hover between 34°C and 42 °C, depending on how far from the coast you are or what altitude you are at. Coastal areas and highlands being more moderate and in Cambodia’s case (at least) deforested lowlands in the interior being extremely hot.

The peak tourist season is from November to February and is often considered the cool season by locals. Here you can find days ranging from 25 °C to 34 °C 34. In 2013, we experienced a two week period in December when the temperature was about 24 °C to 28 °C and we actually felt a bit chilly in the morning! (Our bodies had become that accustomed to day after day of doggedly hot weather!)

Now back to clothes – I opened up this article with materials such as cotton linen and silk. They help you breath. Loose fitting clothing is just good common sense.

Moreover, a tourist to Southeast Asia will not need to pack a lot (regardless of which season you choose to travel). Packing light is just common sense. Clothing in the region is fairly cheap and if there is something you forgot, you will have no problem whatsoever finding what you need.

Moving around a lot in a region where public transport is always not the most efficient dictates that carrying a light load will make the experience that much more comfortable.

Respecting the local culture is paramount – most temples or historic sites will not allow you in with tank tops, short skirts or pants. Avoid tank tops, mini-shorts, and mini-skirts. Though common gear among tourists and backpackers, locals commonly look them down upon. Few will ever say anything to you directly ever – but many do look upon it as disrespectful. It really is your decision on how you wish to present yourself. Don’t forget – Buddhist temples require long pants, long skirts and no tank tops throughout the region.

You might think socks are unnecessary, but it really depends what kind of vacation goer you are. Personally I would often wear cotton socks at night to protect me from mosquitos that love biting one’s ankle. If you like trekking through the various National Parks a good pair of ankle high sneakers or boots are a must. Leeches folks – particularly in the rainy season! Like wise, the traction such footwear provides are excellent for visiting the various ancient ruins scattered throughout the region. At the end of the day sandals, flip-flops and high heels in the Southeast Asian interior are only for the insane! Save it for the beaches, hotels and other touristy areas.

A Day in the Ruins of Angkor

This mini-documentary deals with our trip during the Khmer New Year to the ruins of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom – the last two capitals of the great Monument Building Period of the Khmer Empire. Although it would eventually become a Buddhist realm, the civilization of the Khmer during the start of this period was largely Hindu. Even today, Cambodia’s Theravada Buddhism is a mix of Hindu, animistic and Buddhist rituals and concepts. They certainly don’t consider themselves Hindu, but Cambodians have long-since fused these belief systems into their culture.

The Khmer people are one of the older ethnic groups in the region, much older than the empire they founded. Not unlike other ethnic groups in Southeast Asia they were heavily influenced by Indian culture, in particular the Tamil influence of the Chola Dynasty that flourished in eastern and southeastern India. So these early Cambodians adopted Hinduism as their religion long before they built Angkor Wat.

Our excursion to these vast ruins was conducted on the second day of the Khmer New Year celebration – a celebration that lasts for three days. These former capitals of the Khmer Empire are too extensive to be fully covered in a single day. However, we were able to go to the three most iconic locations and show them to you. Angkor Wat lies about 7km from the town of Siem Reap and Angkor Thom is roughly 3 kilometers from Angkor Wat.

It was really a lot of fun putting this together, though it was hard work. As with our previous mini-doc on the first Angkorian capital (Hariharalaya), it was a long and very hot day. This made filming and moving about even more difficult, but it was truly a great experience. We are very happy to share these monumental wonders of architecture and engineering with all of you!

For more information on these incredible ruins, don’t forget to read our posts on Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

Tuk tuk anyone?

Going by different names in different regions of this beautiful world, tuk tuks (also spelled tuk-tuk with hyphen) are one of the more common forms of public transportation you will find. Anyone who has been to places such as Cambodia, India or Thailand (among other countries) are probably very familiar with the tuk tuk.

It really is a novel & fun way to travel about, but there are scams & drivers (who for whatever reason) are not the nicest people you will find. In one instance, we witnessed a Chinese tourist pay a driver $35 (USD) for a fare that should have been about two or three dollars. I decided to engage in a social experiment & asked him for a ride. The second he realized I was a local ex-pat as opposed to a clueless tourist, he told me to look for someone else. Most tuk tuk drivers who work for a hotel or guesthouse, only receive a little bit of the money you are paying them.

Nevertheless, there are a number of tuk tuk drivers that are really lovely people – just trying to do the right thing. In this short video, we present our good friend Souy – a truly kind, energetic & responsible tuk-tuk driver. He is by no means the only one out there, but if your trip to Siem Reap is just a few days or weeks long, it would be difficult to get a good idea of where to find a driver who sees people and not dollar bills.