How to cope with the heat in South East Asia

Nong cools down in front of a fan on a particularly hot day.

Nong cools down in front of a fan on a particularly hot day.

Asia isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine. The heat, the people, the unique chaos of the place that seems to make no sense at all, the food, the lifestyle, the general vibe of the region. Of course there are aspects to it that are hard – the language barrier, the poverty and misfortune you are faced with in many parts, the poor planning of services, the remoteness of some areas, but I love it all the same.

In our time in Thailand, Mick and I learnt a lot about ourselves and how we coped with certain challenges, particularly in relation to the weather.  Hot climates can be awesome but the also can cause plenty of issues. Dehydration is a major problem and can cause some pretty awful side effects. The dusty conditions during the hot season in South East Asia should also not be underestimated as people who suffer from asthma can find the smoke and dryness hard to handle. Sweat can cause all sorts of fun things like chaff, fungal infections and dermatitis.

Hot season in Cambodia is dry, dusty, hot, dusty and dry. The heat is relentless but with a little planning, you can make your stay a comfortable one.

So in light of all this, here are some basic things that really helped to make us a bit more comfortable in a hot country.

Don’t have really cold showers! When you are in a hot country, a stinking hot, dry and/or humid country all you want to do is get cool, right? And the best way to do that is to have a nice cold shower when you are hot, right? WRONG.  When you are hot and sweaty, your blood vessels are closer to the skin in an effort to keep your core temperature at a constant. You sweat as a way to stay cool. When you have a cold shower, your skin will be cold but your core will increase blood flow to the skin to bring it back to the right temperature, and you will be back to square one. Its much better to have a lukewarm shower, or cold at the beginning and then bring it up to warm before you get out. And dry off properly too – sitting there with excess water waiting for it to evaporate will just make you feel really uncomfortable and hot again in no time.

Drink water, lots and lots of water. It seems like an obvious one, but honestly you will really notice it very quickly in a hot country if you don’t drink enough water. Headaches, inability to focus, irritability, nausea, weakness and many other symptoms are caused by dehydration. If you find it hard to drink enough water, add some electrolytes to your drinking water – they are readily available in chemists. Maintaining the right balance of water in your body is incredibly important, especially if you are suffering from any kind of stomach upsets which dehydrate you even further. Cold tea and fruit shakes will also help to keep you cool.

Sweat rags sound revolting but I find them very handy! A small facecloth in my bag or pocket will make you feel a bit more comfortable. Wipe that sticky forehead or neck and if you put a bit of water on it, it will also cool you down while you are walking around. A cotton scarf wrapped around your neck is also pretty good at absorbing that sweat that you feel wetting the back of your neck.

Talcum powder, in my opinion, is an undervalued, amazing tool for living in the sweaty land. There are powders for prickly heat (yep, that itching you have when you sweat is experienced by others), powder for soaking up face sweat, cooling powders, medicated powders for fungal infections, antibacterial talc and many others. Use them! They will make you feel nice and dry and your skin won’t stick at your elbows and if you get chaff, you will thank me for this tip.

Don’t go out in the middle of the day. Just don’t. You will not only look ridiculous with your red, sweaty face but you will find that locals will be staring at you from the shelter of their shops wondering why on earth you are visiting a temple at midday. Most cities that I have visited throughout Asia tend to come alive in the afternoon to evening. Night markets are common, food vendors wont set up until the afternoon and even shopping malls don’t open til late. And doing things at this time of day reduces the risk of suffering from sunstroke. Take note of what the locals are doing (sleeping, hanging out inside, sitting in the shade and drinking a fruit shake, having a massage) and follow suit.

Wear cotton clothing. Cotton is cooling and won’t cling to you like polyester or other synthetic fabrics.  Make sure you wear light coloured clothing too as this reflects the heat. It’s also beneficial to not wear tight-fitting things like singlets or boob-tubes as you don’t only expose yourself to the elements and risk getting roasted, but tight clothing makes you sweat. Guys will feel a lot cooler if they wear a loose cotton button up shirt than a form-fitting raglan t-shirt and women will do much better in a  cotton shift dress way more than a mini dress. You might laugh at the locals wearing long sleeved cotton shirts and jeans, but I bet they aren’t sweating as much as the girl in the short shorts and singlet top!

Stay on the middle floor. This tip might seem like a strange one but it will help expats looking to stay in Asia. As much as a rooftop place looks AMAZING and the view is AWESOME you are going to roast. Locals avoid the top floors of buildings because they are the hottest part of the building and when the weather is hot (80% of the time) why would you want to be in an oven? Not only will your electricity bill be ridiculously high but you will just sweat even more than your ground floor counterparts.

Don’t crank the aircon. One of the biggest mistakes you can do is to crank the aircon to a really low setting because you are hot. This drains the electricity for one but it also will contribute to you feeling a lot hotter and get more affected by the heat when you do leave your cube of cool. Cool the room down for half an hour then set the aircon to a reasonable 25-27 degrees. You also will reduce your risk of getting a flu/fever because of the temperature difference.

Locate the local pools. There are swimming pools dotted all over the place, even at beachside towns and islands. Find out where they are and work out how you can use them. Many of the hotel swimming pools can be used for a small fee or for free if you spend money on food and drinks while you are there. Make a day of it and enjoy the cool water…though the water probably won’t be that cool!

I’m sure there are plenty of other tips that others would love to share about their living or travelling in Asia. How do you keep cool when its breathtakingly hot?

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