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17 June 2015

Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Southeast Asia

I'm currently sitting in a rooftop cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia, taking a necessary day off from sightseeing. After a few weeks in Thailand and Cambodia, there are a few things that I have noticed so far that the average (Western) traveler should know before coming here; or maybe you're just curious about my impressions while traveling here. Either way, here they are:

It's Hot
This falls under the category of "obviously I knew that," but you don't really know this kind of heat until you're in it. It's a punishing and immediately painful combination of heat (over 36°C / 98°F) and humidity. After spending more than 20 seconds outside, I immediately sweat, and if I'm in directly sunlight, I'm sweating bullets within a minute easily.

What about staying in air-conditioned places (shopping malls, hotels, etc.)? I advise against this, as it actually prevents your body from adjusting to the heat. Your body needs to learn to self-cool and to simply maintain a higher "normal" temperature, and part of that is sleeping in a non-AC room. When you go between air-conditioned rooms and the steaming outdoors, you are shocking your body, and this makes you sweat more and become even more exhausted.

You Need to Take It Slow
Mostly because it's so damn hot, you will physically not be able to go about your day at a "normal" pace. Your body will spend most of its energy sweating and cooling itself down. And that's how people here do it. You will not see people rush; they just move about, waddling across the street, between mopeds and traffic. If you even make a two-second dash between cars, you'll crack that sweat. Also, this means that you'll want to lounge around more. Take an extra few minutes in the shade, and just sit there. It's not being lazy, it's conserving energy.

Eat Local Food
After 14 days in Thailand, I simply craved a burger and fries. So I went to the closest burger shop, which was just in town (in Pai). After scarfing down a burger topped with dubious-tasting cheese, my stomach immediately growled. It may have been other factors, including the heat exhaustion (above) but I did not feel too well after that. I slipped into an annoying and painful sore throat and low-energy state for a couple days. One day, I had simple fried rice for dinner and felt better afterwards than I ever had.