When I was doing my TEFL training in Bangkok in 2009, I noticed one of my classmates, Kim always wore jeans.
“Why do you always wear jeans? Aren’t you burning up?”
“No, I’m used to it. When I lived in the Philippines all the teenagers wore jeans. I don’t even think about it now. They’re comfortable.”
I nodded. Kim was the first third culture kid I met and I found her upbringing endlessly fascinating. And she’s right, the youth in Asia, not just in the Philippines, like to wear jeans despite living in a tropical, muggy hot climate.
Most expats and travelers think they are dressing “local” then they wear elephant pants because they are cool, loose and ubiquitous at the markets. But if they took a look around they’d see that not one local person is wearing them (okay, maybe one). So I can spot an Asian tourist based on their dress. And I can certainly spot an Asian tourist from a Western country by the amount of skin she is showing.
I do like how travelers who come to Siem Reap pack a nice dress. I’m not sure if this is a thing these days or how the word got out, but it’s nice to see folks dressing up at night. It’s a refreshing change from the ultra-casual wear you see in touristic places. Sometimes it’s shameful what tourists chose to wear, but I have to remind myself that this is a perfect example of a clash in cultures.
It’s funny, you’d think a hot country would equal short shorts and tank tops, but SE Asians are fairly conservative. Of course, this is changing, and ladies of the night dress like ladies of the night and city dwellers are much more revealing than their countryside counterparts, but overall, it’s rare to see a midriff, cleavage and a whole-lotta-legs.
If there was a body part to show off, it would be legs. Thai girls are showing off more legs, but in Cambodia, not so much. I’m rather shocked by the amount of sweaters and long sleeves here, but there you have it.
I’m also surprised by how much Cambodian teens like the color black. What a hot color! Have you ever worn a black tee shirt on a summer day? My god, it’s like having the sun sit on your back. So, if you want to look cool wear black. Yes, yes. I realize this is the exact opposite of what you’d chose to bring, but I’m telling you, leave those whites at home. SE Asia is not as clean as back home, if you bring whites prepare for it to get stained.
So when I travel within the region, I bring/pack/wear jeans. You quickly learn that buses, malls and airports are freezing. They can be worn multiple times and if you really need to have your jeans cleaned, a laundry shop is not far away. You’ll look fashionable and when you sit on that tuk tuk or plastic restaurant chair your thighs won’t have to peel away from your seat with sticky sweat.
Yes, a skirt or dress at the right length will do, too.
I get it though. Most travelers are probably coming from a cold climate and can’t wait to wear summer clothing! I do wear shorts, but I’m very conscious of length and style. I’m just saying, because I’ve seen many mosquito bitten and sunburnt legs, jeans don’t get you in trouble at temples either.
But what if you want to pack really light? Well, I’ve got these amazing yoga pants made of 100% nylon that can look casual or expensive, but best of all, they are a bit rain proof and dry super quick. They are capris so I’m sure they do nothing to make me look taller, but you don’t want pants that skim the ground in Asia. Especially in public toilets or squat toilets or on a motorbike, yeah, skip the long and loose look here.
Thin tees are also great to have because they are easy to wash and dry. If you look for something with 70% polyester this also makes for wrinkle-free packing. And they take up no space, another bonus.
Which brings me to sportswear – a lot sport clothing is perfect for traveling. Nobody expects you to iron sportswear and when you are in SE Asia, the last thing you want to do is iron. It already feels like hair dryer is on your face…and really no matter how well you pack, I hate pulling out a wrinkled dress or tee and hoping it will come out in a hot shower.
Everything else, you can get here. Seriously. I always forget something when I pack. I do lists, but it doesn’t matter. I remember the important stuff, but I’ll forget a toothbrush or phone or something or other. It’s a great excuse to go shopping though.
What do you pack? Got any snazzy tips?