Packing Guide for Thailand and Vietnam
There are certain idiosyncrasies that it’s worth knowing about before you head off to South East Asia, particularly for the ladies, as there are quite strict standards of dress at some religious sites.
Here’s my foolproof guide to not looking / feeling like a total d*ckhead in Asia:
1. Cover up
It might be 35 degrees and a billion per cent humidity but I strongly recommend (especially girls) that you cover your arms, legs and décolletage. I didn’t take my own advice and spent a whole day being stared at. It turns out that the long-sleeved silk shirtdress that I felt so clever for buying in Hanoi was too short and a little bit see-through. Much embarrassment ensued.
Pack long skirts, lightweight long pants and shirts with sleeves (preferably ones that don’t expose too much chest). You will feel like a dag but you will avoid becoming a social pariah and you won’t get sunburnt (see Point 2).
2. Take (and wear) sunscreen
It’s not always easy to find sunscreen in Asia so take some 30+ with you and don’t be fooled by the seemingly weak sunshine. Just because there isn’t a gaping hole in the ozone layer directly overhead doesn’t mean you should risk frying yourself. Again, I did not take my own advice and got horrifying sunburnt at Ha Long Bay. A surefire way to look like a dumb tourist is to walk around looking like a tomato.
3. Ladies, take your own, erm, lady things
While you can buy most toiletries and pharmaceuticals, you can’t buy tampons. On the upside, you can buy Valium over the counter. Just sayin’…
4. Take your own books and magazines
Because you are reading this, I am going to assume you speak English. There are bookstores that sell material in English but I wouldn’t encourage you to buy it because, a) it’s usually poisonously expensive and, b) it’s lame. If you’re a bookworm and don’t want you to die of intellectual starvation, make sure you BYO.
5. Wine and Champagne
Wine is exorbitantly expensive in Asia, particularly in Thailand where there is a 300 per cent tax applied (even on locally produced wines which I have heard described as a ‘shiraz smoothie’. Mmm … delicious). If you can’t bear the thought of a holiday without fermented grape juice, make sure you buy wine at Australian duty-free before you leave. Mind you, if you find yourself in Dalat, in the highlands of Vietnam, you have to try the local wine. It is spectacularly bad. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry.
If you are Australian, you probably wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without a pair of thongs, let alone the country. Having said that, thongs are incredibly handy in South East Asia. Unlike Japan, Thai and Vietnamese people are pretty casual, especially in regional areas, so thongs will serve you well as you wade through wet season puddles, head to a beach bar, go shopping or pad around town with freshly manicured toenails.