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Summertime in Thailand: How to Avoid the Heat

When George Gershwin wrote "Summertime" for the opera Porgy and Bess, he clearly had laid-back, balmy days in mind. Back then they hadn't heard of skin cancer, heatstroke, and all the other nasties that come without protection from "That lucky old sun," that "ain't got nothing to do, but to roll around heaven all day." I love the Ray Charles version!

Today, we are better informed and more health conscious. Are we really?
A common sight in Thailand today is that of a scantily-clad young lady passing a street sweeper who is dressed like a bee-keeper: wide-brimmed straw hat, facemask, coverall, and baggy pants. Does this lady know something the tourist does not? Put your shirt on it!

Ask yourself this: "Why is the sun care business a multi-billion dollar earner?
For decades this industry encouraged you to "Look like a Hollywood star - Get a tan." Don't tell me that their industrial chemists, medical advisers, call them what you will, failed to warn them of the dangers of ultraviolet rays to the human body! That would be like the Marlboro man telling you not to smoke!

No, these companies just eased on in there with their factor fifty protection products when the medical evidence was made public. Australian's are, in my humble opinion, the people who were first to recognize the dangers of what used to be called, "a healthy tan."

As far back as the eighties, Australian children could be seen wearing the world renowned Akubra hats while travelling to and from school. "No hat today, mate? Then home you go!"

I'm not trying to spoil your holiday in the Land of smiles; merely making sure that you don't leave here with anything other than wonderful souvenirs and happy memories.

The former United States President, Harry S. Truman, coined the phrase - "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." A more profound observation than he realized.

British super-model, Naomi Campbell, is quoted as saying: "I never wear underwear in tropical conditions." Thank you, Naomi. You have just made a happy man very old!

What follows is a list of what my old drill instructor in the Parachute regiment fondly alluded to as, "Dog Common sense."

  • Observe how the locals are dressed. No, you do not have to follow the dress code of the lady sweeping the street, but rather the everyday Thai person you see on the street, beach or mountain village.
  • Head covering is all important; be it a baseball cap, an Oz Akubra if you can afford one, or a simple cotton headscarf, regardless of gender. I've know some bikers who would, rip off your head and do nasty things into your dead skull, whilst wearing headscarves.
  • Cotton is the material of preference. Wear light, loose clothing on your walkabouts. Shorts and T-shirts are ideal; ladies should buy one of the many and beautiful sarongs available here, to stick in your bag in the event that you visit a wat (Buddhist temple).
  • The human body comprises a large percentage of water; without water you die!
    Water content varies: the average male adult has about 68%, the average female adult 55%, and children have as much as 70% of water in their bodies.
  • Find yourself at sea in an open boat, or in the mountains in summer without water, and you are in real trouble. A person can last without food, in general terms, far longer than without water. Drink water as though your very life depends upon it; because it does!
  • Booze and holidays go hand in hand for many people, and who am I to disagree? When holidaying in a hot climate, however, avoid alcohol during the daylight hours whenever possible; ethanol depresses the level of the anti-diuretic hormone, arginine vasopressin (AVP). You are dehydrating with every beer or spirit you are accepting into your body. In layman's terms, urine volume increases to the extent that you are losing more fluid than you gain by drinking alcohol.

    No, I am neither an anti-alcohol fanatic, nor a holy-roller. As a working journalist I have been known to carry more alcohol in my liver than the average camel does water in its hump. We're dealing here with common sense, remember?
  • Mornings and evenings in Thailand, particularly here in Chiang Mai, are the coolest times of the day. Take advantage of that by adopting an early-to-bed-early-to-rise attitude.
  • Sunglasses, socks, good trainers or walking boots, THE HAT, and loose-fitting shorts, skirts and tops are the answer.

Let's get back to that issue of sun care products. If you intend to expose your skin to the sun for an extended period, slap on the highest factor sunscreen known to mankind. Don't forget your face; the most common melanomas start before your very eyes. Why do you see young, fit, international cricket players wearing that funny green or white cream on their noses?

Just as an amusing aside, have you noticed that Thai ladies slap on as much whitening agent as western ladies use sunscreen? They want to be white, and we westerners want to be brown; what a crazy world.

My wife is Thai, and tends to use more whitening cream than Michael Jackson.
I have, on occasion, rolled over in bed to find myself face to face with a Mayan death mask! Not a happy experience while still half asleep!

Thailand, however, should be a happy experience, and in most cases proves to be just that. But save a wonderful visit from becoming a painful experience by following these simple guidelines.

Jai yen, in the Thai language means keep a cool heart; make sure the rest of your body is treated in kind.

Enjoy your stay in this beautiful country. Go home with a tan by all means, but remember, if like me you hail from Scotland, we are pale blue by nature!

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