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January 23, 2008 2:18 AM   Subscribe

Best clothing for traveling in South East Asia in April and May?

For five weeks in April and May, I am planning on backpacking through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I will likely be more often in urban areas, though I'd like to be prepared for anything.

I have read enough SEA threads on askme to know that I should be able to get cheap clothing while traveling, but I'd like to not head off with an empty pack. I am planning on ordering a much-hyped macabi skirt. I also just ordered some lightweight nylon pants, a long sleeved shirt and a bandana from the Buzz Off brand.

I am particularly concerned with mosquito bite prevention, as I have proven very susceptible on at least three continents. April/May is during the hot season in SEA, apparently, which means there shouldn't be as many mosquitoes out as in the rainy season... right? Should I be sporting long sleeved, light-colored shirts every day, or would that just be more necessary around dawn/dusk? I am planning on permethrin spray-coating everything I am taking with me, unless advice here suggests otherwise. Also, would it be wise to invest in a mosquito net? I will probably be sleeping in hostels and couchsurfing.

And for footwear: it seems a lot of people in other threads talked about flip flops and Tevas. It sounds like I could get flip flops cheaply in country, but I feel like I should have something else for any possible hiking, or for just walking around all day. After backpacking in Europe I feel it'd be insane to go without a good pair of walking shoes, but it's likely I don't know what I'm talking about.

I want to stay cool, be culturally respectful and as unbugbitten as possible! Lend any and all suggestions and recommendations, and feel free to detail your wardrobe choices on past excursions to the area. Thanks!
posted by liverbisque to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get some good footwear before you leave. Everything else you can buy there, but it was hard to find good shoes in SE Asia. If you are planing on going on any of the nature hikes, you'll hae to cross some muddy streams and your feet will get wet, so keep that in mind.
Also, in some places(eg, thai royal palace) you have to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees and wear closed shoes too.

The first time I went I packed way too much clothes. and a mosquito net that I never unpacked over the whole 6 months.
The second time I just packed some jeans and shirts. I was hanging out with locals, and if they can manage that, I figured I could too. Its hot at first, but I got used to it.
posted by Iax at 2:50 AM on January 23, 2008

Yeah, get footwear before you leave, particularly if you have big/wide feet.

The weather is consistent all year, and so are mosquitoes. In my experience, you can't really prevent mosquitoes with clothing. Best bet is to get some Mopiko when you get here, and apply liberally.

If you are busty and tall (essentially NOT small, slim, or flat), you may have a hard time getting clothes here. I'm a M/L elsewhere in the world and in Malaysia I'm XL if I'm lucky. You can get some really cheap clothes here though, so if you fit the size profile (think stereotypical East Asian), you're in luck.
posted by divabat at 3:08 AM on January 23, 2008

What they said.

All that crap you're packing, you don't actually need it. I'm heading that way in a month and have bought a good pair of hiking boots and a waterproof fleecelined jacket. I will be leaving them with friends in Nepal when I have finished trekking. Other than that, I have a 37 L pack which will be as empty as possible when I leave Europe. Whatever else I need will be bought on the road. If I need a bigger backpack while on the road I will buy one for $20.

Whatever you need (except footwear) will be available, while travelling, for much less money than you are paying for it at home.
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 3:15 AM on January 23, 2008

A small umbrella (buy one locally) is a less expensive and more comfortable form of protection against sudden deluges than waterproof clothes. It is also good protection against relentless sun.
posted by rongorongo at 3:51 AM on January 23, 2008

Cotton, it will be hot. Shops sell nylon clothes which are not comfortable. Good boots, cotton and wool socks for hiking.
posted by mattoxic at 5:44 AM on January 23, 2008

Don't recommend the boots since you'll be in the city anyway, and the ground'll be too hot for you to stand them. Good socks and really, really, comfortable shoes made for walking. For mosquitoes, just get a spray-on repellent and you're good to go.
If you're not going to a place that's too conservative, you'll do fine with shorts, but jeans and shirts are standard, yeah.

I live in SEAsia (Philippines). I walk to school everyday, and sometimes even in the rainy season it's too hot for me to not break a sweat. Second the umbrella, get good sunscreen too. Shower frequently.
posted by drea at 8:02 AM on January 23, 2008

I'll also be in SEA soon. Cotton is comfortable, but I'm probably going to be doing a lot of laundry ... will cotton line-dry in this climate? Am I going to be wearing perpetually damp clothing?
posted by lbergstr at 11:08 AM on January 23, 2008

When I was backpacking, I only used a mozzie net a handful of times. However, when I did need it, I was glad to have it. If you won't have a fan blowing over your bed, or AC, you might want to consider taking one just in case.

Definitely bring some thin-long sleeved clothing to wear after dusk, and for certain aspects of the culture. I wore cotton, but one of my French friends had some sporty microfiber tank-top that dried wonderfully. Maybe bring one of those in the off-chance your usual clothing doesn't dry?

Oh, bring some industrial strength Jungle Juice as well.. mmm.. 98% DEET.
posted by hobbes at 2:14 PM on January 23, 2008

Hmm... apparently there are cloths which are made to repel mosquitos and bites, they're called permethrin. I was sold on a new kind of extended release mosquito repellent before my trip to Africa that was supposed to slowly release DEET to reduce absorption into skin, while keeping your protected. It did make me break out in hives though.

Oh and nothing we had (4 different types of repellent) bothered the cece flies.
posted by stratastar at 2:56 PM on January 24, 2008

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