Iwas in Bangkok in May, when temperatures soared to nearly 40°C on some days. Parts of the country even surpassed 44°C, and local dailies reported that it was the longest heat wave recorded in Thailand in 65 years! You’d think that living in always-sunny Malaysia means that one wouldn’t feel the heat as much but try telling that to my hardworking sweat glands. It was tempting to just stay indoors all the time – which is easy to do, given the city’s many, many malls – but what’s a trip to Bangkok without traipsing its streets and soi (small lanes) for authentic food, bargain buys and cheap massages?
Of course, that meant spending a good amount of time under the merciless sun and watching my complexion change a little each day. I couldn’t change the temperature but I did learn some ways to cool my mood and make myself more comfortable in the punishing heat beyond the sunscreen-hat-umbrella routine.
1. Shield your arms
They are not the prettiest accessories nor will they enhance your outfit, but those arm ‘socks’ do a good job of protecting your skin against harsh, burning heat. They look like long socks with open ends that end at the wrists, or come halfway up your palm with an opening for your thumb.
In Bangkok, you can buy them from stalls or kiosks (found at some BTS stations) that sell regular socks for about THB100 a pair or less. Convenience stores and outlets like Guardian and Watsons carry them too. Elsewhere, you can find them at sporting goods shops.
2. Have a wardrobe change
You will sweat, your clothes will get soaked with sweat, and even after they’ve dried off, your clothes will smell. That’s the uncomfortable truth about hot weather travel. By the end of a full day out, I could no longer tell if it was the heat, the exhaustion or my eau de persona that bothered me more.
I started packing along a change of clothes (at least a top) to change into as and when needed, so I could continue on the rest of the day feeling cleaner and fresher. Light cotton tops are of course the most practical for this kind of weather but even better are sports tops that are built with fabric technology that helps manage sweat – from wicking them away and letting your skin breathe to preventing body odour. You’ll be doing yourself AND the people around you a favour.
3. Pack your own cool
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wishing I had a personal air-conditioner cocooning me everywhere I went. Fancy thinking aside, there are a couple of accessories you can stock up on that gives you the closest thing to that effect. At stores like Daiso, look for disposable instant freeze packs (for personal, not kitchen, use). These are usually packets of gel or liquid that you shake or mush up to release the chemicals within that then mingle and freeze immediately. Press the packet against your skin to some quick icy relief. Another handy Japanese idea is the –°C Minus Degree Cold Sense Towel that, when placed on the skin, gives a mild cold sensation that further intensifies when the towel is wet.
4. Wipe and powder
Ideally, I would take another shower halfway through the day but that wasn’t always a practical option, depending on my itinerary and distance from my accommodation. Instead, I kept packets of wet wipes and a small bottle of talcum powder in my bag. When my skin had gotten unbearably clammy, I would nip into the nearest washroom and give myself a quickie ‘dry’ shower. The wet wipes are cooling, the powder makes my skin feel baby-soft, and I feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
5. Get your electrolytes
You know that it’s only sensible to keep yourself well hydrated and that water is the best replenishing fuel. But it’s easy to forget to do it regularly enough and not wait for thirst to remind you – by which time your body is actually already dehydrated and you will tire easily. To recover fast, you’d want to load up on electrolytes, which helps to balance water levels in your body. Sports drinks like 100 Plus, Pocari Sweat, Gatorade and Vitamin Water are designed for that and are all easily available.
If you are in a tropical country like Malaysia and Thailand, where coconuts grow in abundance and are used widely in local cooking, why not load up on electrolytes the natural way? Coconut water is not only high in electrolytes but contains less sugar and sodium than sports drinks. In Malaysia, where roadside stalls will crack them open upon order, pour out the liquid into plastic bags or cups, then scrape the flesh and add them to the beverage. They are also conveniently sold by the bottles at supermarkets and convenience stores – make sure to read the labels and choose the ones that are just pure coconut water, with no extra sugar or other additives.
6. Don’t crowd your itinerary
You want to see and experience as much of the city as possible, but in harsh weather conditions, you would do well to take a leaf from the Bangkok’s traffic and go slow. For each day of your stay, mark out two places or activities you really want to do, and prioritise those. Anything additional that you manage to cover is considered a bonus but not a must. There is no point in filling up your itinerary to the brim only to have to rush from place to place, end each day dog tired, and drag yourself out of bed early the next morning to do it all over again – that is why we often need a holiday to recover from the last one! Add to that the dangers of not staying hydrated enough through it all and you will not only lose energy fast but also become susceptible to headaches and fatigue.
7. Schedule cooling breaks
Stop at a cafe for a drink, pop into a 7Eleven, step inside a mall or any indoor spaces in between being out and about. Think of it as you would hydrating – do it regularly to keep your energy up longer. Remember that as temperatures soar, your body has to work harder to keep you cool so help it along by taking breaks in air-conditioned comfort.