Traveling to Northern Thailand and Northern Vietnam is different than other places we've visited. The weather can be hot, humid, and unpredictable; your stomach may not be accustomed to the foods or organisms in the water; medical care is not as readily available; and the culture requires a little planning ahead in terms of dress code. A combination preparation and a "roll with it" attitude will help make a successful trip that could otherwise be ruined or feel ruined.
1. Travel Pharmacy & Vaccinations
Months before your departure, go onto the CDC website and determine what vaccinations or medications you will need to take with you. What you will need often depends on your itinerary. For us, we needed Hepatitis A and Typhoid. We also purchased anti-Malaria drugs to take with us. Having been advised of the side-effects, we opted to only take it if we learned, upon arrival, that the area was known to have Malaria cases. We are not recommending or offering an opinion on that methodology and you are of course advised to speak with your doctor about all vaccinations and drugs.
Another helpful tool was bringing our own pharmacy so we did not have to navigate language barriers and access to pharmacies. We packed: Tylenol, Advil, Nyquil, Benadryl, Imodium AD, Band-aids, Neosporin, medical glue (for deeper cuts), Chapstick, sunblock (Soblar Zinc is my favorite), hand lotions, and anti-malarial drugs.
2. Clothing for Temples
All temples have a dress code. Women must cover their shoulders and wear longer skirts. My favorite article of clothing was this SPF 50 shawl (photo below), which doubles as extra sun protection for the sometimes punishing sun. A few temples, like the Grand Palace in Bangkok, require men to wear long pants and no shorts are allowed.
3. Rain Ponchos
The weather is unpredictable. If there was any possibility of rain, we packed our rain ponchos in our day pack. Ponchos are preferred over rain jackets because they fit over your backpack in the event you're caught in the rain while transferring between cities on your itinerary. Because of the heat and humidity, you're always going to be a little damp. But, dampness is a far cry from being soaking wet in a monsoon.
4. Key Hiking Items: Day Pack, Hiking Sandals, Hats, and Reusable Water Bottles
Day packs are also nice for city use as well, to pack water, snacks, and a mini pharmacy. For hiking though, it's a necessity. Every hiker knows that you never venture out on a hike with food and water resources, and hiking in a foreign country is no different. Hiking sandals are the also a super handy as you can easily cross through waterways and mud and be dry again in no time. Hats to cover your head in warm climates help reduce the chance of heat stroke. Reusable water bottles are an essential as some locations offer purified water from a filtered tap only. Plus, there's little reason to contribute to plastic bottle usage.