|It didn't actually rain the afternoon this was taken, so I'm|
assuming that's mostly smog in the sky behind Wat Phra Kaew's
impressive ornamentation, not clouds - either way, it did a great job
of keeping Bangkok predictably hot and sticky.
So while planning my April jaunt to Southeast Asia earlier this year, I expected to be pretty darn uncomfortable throughout the majority of my trip. April is the region's hottest month, meaning there are few places where the high is likely to be below 30ºC (or, really, more like 33°) and nighttime lows don't bring much relief.
On the evening of my arrival, I stepped out of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport shortly after 11pm and, rather than the cool ocean breeze I'd left behind in Sydney, felt the sticky Thai heat creep under my skin. After spending five summers in swampy Washington, DC, I'm no stranger to the unpleasant combination of intense heat and sky-high humidity, but there's a pervasiveness to the Thai atmosphere that's unlike anything I'd experienced before: the air has weight, substance and pushes back against your every movement. Slow down, it says, you're not going anywhere in a hurry, so just relax and go with the flow. Mai pen rai - no worries! (The only thing in the entire country that seems to be immune to this is Bangkok traffic.)
By the time I got into the taxi that would take me to my hostel near Siam Square, every inch of my skin was coated with a fine sheen of sweat that felt like it had been there since the day I was born. I walked into my hostel room and whimpered when I saw the request not to set the thermostat any lower than 23ºC - as hot as I was, 20º sounded like it might, possibly, after several hours, be cool enough. But I'd come to Southeast Asia wanting to experience it as it is (as much as possible for a blonde-haired, blue-eyed farang), so I set the thermostat for the prescribed 23º and eventually cooled off enough to fall asleep.
|In sticky Bangkok, it's the little things - like|
a 20-baht fan and a cold Diet Coke - that keep
|It wasn't yet 8am, but the heat was enough to|
have already drained half my battery. (At least,
I assume it was the heat and not the repeated
attempts at getting a photo with both me and
Angkor Wat in it...)
After Siem Reap, I headed back into Thailand, this time North to Chiang Mai, where the first day of Songkran was winding down as I arrived. For those of you who are unfamiliar with your Theravada Buddhist holidays, Songkran is the Thai festival that celebrates the Lunar New Year in mid-April. The rituals surrounding the New Year have to do with the bathing of living spaces, Buddha images and monks and making merit or paying tribute to elders...but for all intents and purposes, what it's really become is a nation-wide water fight lasting from one to three days (or more!), depending on where you are. And, as most of the travel blogosphere will tell you, Chiang Mai is the place to be for Songkran.
|Songkran-enforced cool. I think I've left|
water parks drier than this. (If you're not
seeing any wet spots, it's because there
aren't any dry ones!)
One thing I did notice about my reaction to the heat while I was in Chiang Mai was that I was no longer wishing I could set the air-conditioning down to 20°, as I had that first night in Bangkok. In fact, I often found myself setting it at 25°, or even shutting it off altogether. The same was true when I reached Koh Lanta, one of the Southern islands on the Andaman Sea side. The humidity there was especially brutal, so I kept the air-conditioning on at night to cut through it and set the fan on low to keep the air moving around the bed and blow the few mosquitoes that found their way into my bungalow away, but I found myself setting the thermostat to 25° or higher and still needing to bundle into my sweater to sleep. What was happening to me?!
Back in Sydney, I arrived toward the end of April to find that it had been raining for a week and would continue for most of the next. It wasn't particularly cold, but I was freezing. I wore layers of sweats and two pairs of socks. I huddled in bed at night, shivering until I warmed up enough to fall asleep. I drank copious amounts of tea and coffee, clutching at the mug until every remnant of warmth had faded. When the temperature dropped to 15° at night - a temperature I had greeted with a sigh of relief in Tasmania when my visit coincided with Sydney's 40°+ February heat wave - I whimpered and briefly considered adding a third pair of socks. After a month of this, I decided it was official: Thailand and Cambodia had smashed my internal thermostat to pieces. In two weeks of steamy weather, Southeast Asia had not only overridden my lifelong aversion to temperatures above 24° degrees, it had me longing for them.
While I've gotten a bit better in the three months since my return (read: I don't start staring wistfully at the heater until it drops to 22°, rather than 25°), I still find myself craving heat at temperatures I used to think were ideal and sighing in relief when I step into the bright Sydney sun, rather than looking for a patch of shade. I imagine that I'll continue to shift back toward "normal" until I'm once again grumbling at 30° temperatures, but it may be a while. Or maybe I should just head back to Thailand or Siem Reap...at this point, I'm getting kind of sick of wearing two pairs of socks.