Tag Archives: tropics

Dressing Modestly in Hot Climates

Dressing modestly in hot climates: what to wear in tropical climates where showing a lot of skin isn’t appropriate. How to stay cool and stay culturally respectful

 

Being of the western world, when the weather gets hot Paddy and I bust out the tank tops and shorts, pulling them from the wrinkly depths of our dresser drawers for their 3 months of glory before the Seattle rains set in again. When the temperature gets above 85, all I want to do is put on a flimsy sundress and lounge in the shade or in front of the fan. Dressing modestly in hot climates? I’ll save that for when I sit in my air-conditioned office. The sundress goes on right when I get home when it’s hot.

We’ve traveled to a lot of tropical countries where this kind of clothing is just fine. When we started planning our trip to Thailand, I read up on local dress and customs, and in Thailand shorts are only for the beach. In addition, women generally keep their shoulders covered when walking around the city, and going into a Buddhist temple and the Grand Palace requires closed-toed shoes and covered shoulders. Men usually only wear shorts and tank tops at the beach.

So how does one go about dressing modestly in hot climates and still stay cool? I thought maybe I’d buy a white gauzy long-sleeved hippy shirt. I tried it out the summer before our trip and felt like I was being slowly suffocated to death by medical gauze. They say that you are hotter if your skin is in direct sunlight. I can see how this can be true, but I need to feel airflow and a breeze on my skin. That, and there is the whole armpit sweat issue.

Paddy had a similar dilemma. If he can’t wear shorts, what kind of pants can he wear when he has to cover up and stay cool? Jeans are out of the question. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to wear jeans in 90 degree weather with 100% humidity, but I made that mistake once and never will again. We always see locals in hot countries wearing jeans, but I don’t know how they do it.

Dressing modestly in hot weather
Visiting a Thai friend in Chanthaburi. It was so hot and humid this day that my t-shirt was literally soaking wet. My Thai friend was wearing jeans–I probably would have died.

 

Dressing modestly in hot climates for Men:

For shirts, Paddy usually packs quite a few light-weight, loose-fitting cotton or linen short sleeve button-down shirts for our tropical vacations. They look nice and keep him cool. Just don’t get the aloha shirts unless you are actually visiting Polynesia. They’ll just make you look like an obnoxious tourist.

dressing modestly in hot climates
Dressing modestly in hot climates: Paddy in a comfy short-sleeve button-down in Thailand. Eating a scorpion.

 

Another option for covering up (we’ve seen Anthony Bourdain wearing these kind of shirts a lot as well on his shows) is a mesh-lined moisture-wicking long sleeved shirt. Paddy has a Columbia Sportswear Tamiami II PFG shirt like this one, with unnoticeable slits in the sides that help vent heat out. It is super light, and supposedly has extra SPF 40 sun protection.

When the sun goes down and you need to go out to a nice restaurant but it is still sweltering hot, or you have a business meeting, or you need to visit a temple or church, pants are a must in  most countries. Paddy found a pair of linen pants on deep discount at Nordstrom Rack and another one at a good price at JC Penney and they have served him well on a couple tropical vacations. Linen and cotton are your best fabrics for hot weather as they are very breathable. Paddy did end up wearing long below-the-knee shorts most of the time, and linen pants at the temples or when we went to a nicer place for dinner.

Dressing modestly in hot weather
Grand Palace Thailand–long flowy skirts, linen pants, and loose-fitting cotton shirts cover nicely and keep you cool.

Paddy also swears by moisture-wicking underwear for hot weather. They are expensive, but he says they are a life-changer.

Fisherman sandals are a great option for close-toed foot protection that has ventilation. Many of them are aquatic as well. Just don’t try to wear them in the Lebua Sky Bar in Bangkok, they don’t consider those appropriate footwear (although beat-up Chuck Taylors seemed to be allowed).

 

Dressing modestly in hot climates for women:

Women have a little more to worry about, depending on what country you are traveling in. If you are traveling anywhere that is predominantly Muslim, you will definitely want to cover up. Thailand is pretty modest, and women wearing shorts and tank tops outside of beach areas is frowned upon. This doesn’t mean that tourists don’t do it, but it isn’t culturally respectful. In Thailand you won’t be allowed in a Buddhist temple with shorts and a tank top. Women need to have their shoulders covered, a skirt that is knee-length or longer or long pants, and both men and women need to have close-toed shoes.

For Thailand I embraced my inner hippie. Long, flowy linen and cotton skirts worked perfectly for keeping me covered and keeping the airflow going.

Shirts and tops were a bit more difficult. I wore sleeveless tops that covered my whole shoulder or light-weight cotton cap-sleeve t-shirts most of the time. The cap sleeve was perfect–it covered my shoulder but left some air flow to the armpits, so I didn’t have to worry as much about sweat stains.

dressing modestly in hot climates
Dressing modestly in hot climates: Long cotton skirt and cap sleeve tunic, moisture-wicking t-shirt

Lightweight, cotton or linen scarves are also great to travel around with. You can put them on to wrap around your arms/shoulders when necessary or use them to cover your head/hair. In the north we associate scarves with keeping warm or fashion, but they can be great for keeping the sun off your head and neck if you get one made from a breathable light-weight material in a light color. If you are in Muslim areas of Asia or Africa you will definitely want to have one of these to wear.

I’d also like to offer a tip for another problem for women in hot climates, that has nothing to do with dressing modestly in hot climates. It’s the phenomenon no one likes to talk about called “chub rub.” Unless you have the 90’s era Kate Moss heroin chic thigh gap, you may have experienced it at some point or another. Chub rub is chafing from the tops of your thighs rubbing together when walking bare-legged in a dress. The hotter and sweatier the climate, the more chafing occurs.

Cotton bike shorts offer a solution to this problem, which I’ve used a lot. If it is REALLY hot though, bike shorts provide a bit too much coverage and restrict airflow. They’re better than having stinging, chafing thigh burns, but not the ideal solution.

chub rub solution
The best solution I’ve found to battling “chub rub.” image from www.luvees.com

A few years back I stumbled across an online startup company called Luvees, which offers lacey shorts and slip on thigh guards with thick pads on the inner thigh portion. I have both the shorts and the slip ons, and they are the perfect solution. The lacey shorts provide breathable coverage while keeping the thigh guards in place. The thigh covers work best when it is really hot and sticky (Thailand was the ideal climate). When it is only 75 degrees in Seattle, they slip down while I walk, so the shorts are the better solution. There is another company that makes a similar product called Bandalettes that claims no slippage. I’ll have to get some of those for next summer to see how they work.

Dressing modestly in a hot climates is kind of tough to do, when all you want to do is walk around in shorts, flip flops, and a halter top. But in many countries, it just isn’t safe or culturally respectful. Personally, I like to try not to stand out as much as possible–it usually attracts unwanted attention. Stay cool, and stay considerate.

 

 

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Two days/three nights on Isla Mujeres, Mexico–just a short shuttle and ferry from Cancun. A laid-back island with great beaches and plenty of culture

 

Excerpt from original post Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico 2009: Isla Mujeres, Chichen Itza, and Tulum

This trip to Mexico in 2009 was one of our favorites, and Isla Mujeres is a place we always talk about going back to. I always recommend it to people looking for a quick and easy tropical vacation on a budget. It was so much less expensive than Hawaii or the Bahamas, and you can get a beautiful white sand beach and a little Mexican culture (without the mega resorts) only a half hour shuttle and a quick ferry ride away from the Cancun Airport.

 

Day 1:

We arrived in Cancun in the morning after a night flight with a layover in Miami, on the day of Paddy’s 40th birthday. Our first destination was Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun. I had scheduled a shuttle with Best Day shuttles for $8.00 each to the Isla Mujeres ferry dock, and everything went as planned.

**Tip: People accept US dollars here as well as pesos. Bring some $1 bills with you so that you have some small bills to tip with when you arrive. Tipping in Mexico is a big part of the culture and will be expected. This began the second I got off the plane and went to the restroom–there was a lady handing out paper towels for tips. Tip your shuttle drivers, hotel maids, bartenders, and your restaurant servers. We always tip at least 20%.

After a 30 minute shuttle to the Isla Mujeres ferry, it wasn’t long before the next boat arrived. We purchased our tickets and got some cash from the ATM at the ferry terminal (the guidebook told us that sometimes the island ATMS occasionally run out of cash to dispense). A short ferry ride later, we walked off the pier to the town of Playa Norte and found our hotel.

Our hotel on Isla Mujeres was Suites Los Arcos in the center of town. After reading Tripadvisor reviews about street noise, we had requested a room at the back of the hotel and they honored our request. Check in was easy, and the room was immaculately clean. It was a great deal for $60 a night, with a deck, air conditioning, a mini-fridge, coffee maker, and microwave.

Click on any image below to view larger

 

Suites Los Arcos Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres–Suites Los Arcos

Above: Suites Los Arcos from the street

Below: Room interior and deck

Suites Los Arcos Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres–Suites Los Arcos

\

Suites Los Arcos Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres–Suites Los Arcos
Suites Los Arcos Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres–Suites Los Arcos

**Note: Stock up on bottled water the second you arrive. Don’t ever drink the tap water and brush your teeth with bottled water. If venturing outside of a touristy area, don’t eat raw fruits and vegetables as they may not be treated to remove the bacteria that makes foreigners ill. Also avoid ice outside of tourist areas. You can always ask your server if the ice is purified. Be wary of crushed ice, the purified ice usually comes in the tube cubes.

After a shower and a nap, we headed out into the humidity to find some food and walk around. We had dinner at a little beach bar by the pier, then ended up having some celebratory birthday margaritas and shots at a little Tequila bar not far from our hotel. If you like tequila, I recommend Aja Toro Anejo. It’s a top shelf tequila that is very expensive in the US, but is reasonable in Mexico. It’s so smooth you can sip it.

Isla Mujeres

We arranged a snorkel tour with a guy offering snorkel tours across the street from our hotel. We had to put $20 down and then pay $20 the next day, and he wrote us a voucher. We weren’t sure what to think, but his shop was right in front of our hotel and we figured at worst we would be out $20.

Day 2:

The next morning we had some huevos rancheros at the little cafe across from our hotel and met up with the snorkel tour, which was completely legit. They took us out in a boat with some other tourists down the coast of the island, and we snorkeled back along with the current.

**Tip: I bought a waterproof waist pouch online before this trip, for storing money and keys so I didn’t have to leave valuables in the empty boat with the guides. I’m sure they were trustworthy, but you can never be too careful. Also a good idea for going into the water when at the beach. You don’t want to leave your valuables on the shore.

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

One of our guides was feeding the fish tortillas, which is why there are so many of them in this video:

Snorkeling Isla Mujeres Mexico

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Snorkeling Isla Mujeres Mexico

After seeing lots of colorful fish, we got back in the boat and I promptly got a bad bout of motion sickness while we waited for everyone to get in the boat. Fortunately I didn’t puke, but spent some time with my head between my knees when we arrived at the beach. We stopped at a beach on the southern part of the island for a delicious barbequed  fish lunch before heading back.

After we arrived back to Playa Norte and took a rest in the air-conditioned oasis of our hotel room, we walked around the town a bit.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres

I was in love with the local cemetery. The colors, individual trinkets and offerings to each person’s resting place were so personal and endearing.

Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery

Below: Handcrafted “Catrina” dolls for sale in our hotel. I really wanted to buy one, but didn’t think it would survive the trip home.

Catrina dolls, Isla Mujeres
Catrina dolls
Catrina dolls Isla Mujeres
Catrina dolls

I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but I do remember that we only spent about $15 each including drinks. I was nervous about consuming ice but whenever I asked our server if the ice was purified,(hielo purificado) it always was. We never got sick.

Day 3:

The next day was our last full day on Isla Mujeres and we weighed our options of what to do. We could either rent a golf cart (there are no cars on the island except the few owned by locals) for $40 and see the rest of the island, or we could spend the day at the gorgeous beach in the town. We opted for a beach day.

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres

Most of the beach chairs were owned by some of the beach front hotels, but we found a row of them that were owned by the proprietor of a small restaurant on the beach. We approached the chairs and he came dashing over to explain the deal. We could sit in the chairs as long as we wanted, as long as we spent $11.00 over the course of the day. No problem at all.

Below: the view from the water facing the distant bar/restaurant that owns the beach chairs

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte

Getting a chair and umbrella was imperative. The September sun was so scorching hot that even with SPF 50 sunscreen on we felt like we were going to burst into flames. When we weren’t in the water, we would move our chairs along with the shade and pull all our extremities into the shade like vampires.

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte
Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte
Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte
Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte

We spent the late morning and early afternoon reading and swimming and taking in the beautiful powdered sugar beach and crystal blue water. It is truly one of the nicest beaches I’ve ever been to. The fact that it is in the town and in walking distance from everything is a huge plus as well.

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte
Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte

The guy from the restaurant came around a few times in the morning to take orders. We weren’t hungry yet or ready for a beer and he didn’t pressure us. Around noon we asked for menus and ordered some fish tacos, nachos, beers, and margaritas. We each had a couple drinks over the afternoon, and as more people arrived we watched our poor waiter hoof it back and forth across blazing hot sand in the midday sun to fetch food and beverages for everyone. When we were ready to leave, we asked for the bill. All that –drinks, food, service, and use of beach chairs for a total of $25.00. You sure can’t get that in Hawaii. We made sure to leave a fat tip for our hard-working friend for his excellent service.

fish tacos Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Fish taco and nachos on the beach

 

That night we found an Argentinian restaurant where Paddy had a perfectly cooked filet mignon for $15.00. Gotta love Mexico.

Isla Mujeres restaurants

 

 

We will definitely be going back to Isla Mujeres. While the off-season in September was nice without the crowds, it was a bit too hot for us. Summer and early fall are the hottest months. I would like to go in June, however because summer is when whale sharks are in the area and you can take a tour out to snorkel with them. It sounds terrifying to be in the water with such huge animals, but for that kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience, I’d suck it up and go for it.

How To Cut Costs On Your Trip To Tahiti and French Polynesia

How to travel to Tahiti and French Polynesia without having to sell a kidney to afford it: Ways to cut costs and maximize your travel budget.

French Polynesia is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. You have probably seen photos of the infamous overwater bungalows of Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahaa, along with crystal clear electric blue hued lagoons. It’s a popular spot for honeymooners, divers, and and adventure-seekers.

Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive places in the world. In a way, this is a good thing because it keeps tourism down to a minimum, preventing the islands and culture from being overrun by the obnoxious and polluting “Disneyland” that has overtaken places like Hawaii. Sadly, this means that only a handful of people without well-padded bank accounts get to visit.

If you enjoy a “Robinson Crusoe”, culture-rich tropical vacation, there is a way. It will still be expensive, but it’s do-able. We went for our honeymoon and went into quite a bit of debt, which we were able to pay off eventually. I wouldn’t recommend this, but we were determined and diligent about paying it off, and don’t regret it. We learned a lot of ways to save money on the trip, which helped us tremendously. We also know a bit more now about how to do an even less-expensive and more culturally focused French Polynesia vacation for the future. Our 10 year wedding anniversary, perhaps?

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti
Mountain view in Tahiti’s island interior

Here are our tips for saving money:

1. Go with a Tahiti specializing travel agency.

Travel agencies specializing in Tahiti and French Polynesia book trips in bulk and get bigger discounts for you than if you were to book on your own. We worked with Tahiti Legends, an agency based out of California. All my correspondence was done online via email with an agent. I had already picked out where we wanted to stay from extensive research on Tripadvisor and some guidebooks, so I told her what dates we could go, where we wanted to stay, and she quoted us an itinerary that included everything but airfare including all transportation and tours. I have also read good things about EasyTahiti.com, a Tahiti-based travel agent. Costco Travel also has good deals sometimes.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti

2. Bring EVERYTHING with you.

Not to be redundant, but Tahiti is ridiculously expensive. A bottle of sunscreen costs $30.00 and a six pack of local Hinano tall beers at the store costs $18.00. Bring all sunscreen you think you may need (don’t be a dumbass, pack a lot and use it), bug spray, toiletries– everything. Don’t plan on buying anything other than meals and souvenirs. If you drink alcohol, you will be shocked and appalled at the $20 cocktail prices at the resorts. Liquor is really expensive in Tahiti and all has to be imported. The saving grace here though is that you can bring your own. Tahitian customs will allow up to two liters of booze (wine or hard liquor) per person. We packed a fifth of tequila, a fifth of vodka, and boxed wine. We actually packed a little more wine than was allowed….they didn’t seem too interested in checking at customs. It was all box wine too, which may show up looking like something else in the airport scanners. Or not. I don’t know. We got away with it.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti
$8.00 Hinano and a $15.00 rum cocktail at the swim up bar at The Intercontinental Tahiti

 

3. Bring food

Bring crackers, cans of tuna, jerky, nuts, any sealed non-perishable snacks that you could make a picnic with for lunches. Since this is French Polynesia, baguettes and cheese, pates, deli meats and fruit are all available and not too expensive in local grocery stores (still more expensive than the US) and can be added to what you brought for a nice beach picnic lunch. See if you can get your travel agent to work free breakfast into all your lodging, or at least add it in at a discount. The breakfast buffet price posted at the resort in Bora Bora was $40.00 a person–I kid you not. I think our agent worked it in for free because we stayed over 4 nights. That way, you just have to worry about dropping the dough on dinners.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti
Local convenience store/market on Bora Bora where we bought inexpensive baguettes, French wine, cheese, pate, and fruit

 

4. Find out where the locals eat

Locals often frequent small burger joints and cafes called “snacks” or food trucks called “roulottes.”  We ate at a couple of these close to our resort on Bora Bora, and at the roulottes in Papeete (kind of like a food truck round-up) Have dinner there a couple nights. The food is good and the price is going to be a lot cheaper than the resort and tourist restaurants. Also, try to avoid eating dinner at your resort. Their prices are atrocious and you will get a more cultured experience (and most likely better food) by venturing out into the island.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Roulottes (food trucks) in Papeete at night
How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Delicious “poisson cru” in downtown Papeete. So much better than the resort versions.

5. Go in the off season

We went in summer, which is winter in the southern hemisphere and the dry season for French Polynesia. The weather is better then and not as hot. However, if you don’t mind heat and some rain, the prices are much better in the northern winter time.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
A little rain ain’t so bad…in the tropics it often rains only for a couple hours at a time.

 

6. Skip the mega resorts

Because it was our honeymoon and I was determined to stay in an overwater bungalow at least a few nights, we didn’t do this. There are small family-run pensions and hotels that cost much less than the resorts. Speaking French helps with the small family pensions though, as many of them don’t speak English. I would love to visit Tahiti again in the future, but have more of a small pension cultural experience next time. We’ve done the overwater bungalow, it was amazing, but we probably won’t drop that kind of money on it again. This was also the trip that we realized that we just really aren’t resort people.

 How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Our overwater bungalow was amazing, but this little beach bungalow at a small pension was one of the highlights of our trip

 

7. If you do stay at resorts, see about discounts for booking with the same resort brand for each island.

Our travel agent got us a bigger discount for staying at Intercontinental resorts on both Tahiti and Bora Bora. On Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, (the three most popular islands), big name resort companies like Sofitel, Intercontinental, Hilton, St. Regis, etc. have multiple locations. If you book with more than one of their resorts, they will often give you a better rate. Ask your travel agent to see what he or she can do for you.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Intercontinental Bora Bora
How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Intercontinental Tahiti

 

8. Visit only 2-3 islands, and islands in the same archipelago.

The more islands you visit, the more inter-island airfare tickets you will need to buy. The flights are short, but they aren’t cheap. The three archipelagos of French Polynesia are the Tahitian Archipelago (Society Islands), the Tuamotus, and the Marquesas. If you stay within one of them to island hop, it will be more cost effective than trying to fly between two or three. To visit any of them, you’ll need to fly to Tahiti first, regardless.

The Marquesas are the most remote and have the most well-preserved Polynesian culture, with beautiful mountains but few beaches, the Society Islands include the most popular destinations such as Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahaa, and Tahiti, and the biggest resorts. The Tuamotus are smaller and more remote and include world-class diving locations such as Rangiroa’s Blue Lagoon. Do some research and figure out what is most important to you to see and narrow it down from there. Tahiti and Moorea together would be an inexpensive option as they are so close. Moorea even has a ferry from Papeete. You can find many package deals for Tahiti and Moorea together.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Map of French Polynesia

 

9. You don’t have to tip

What…..? I know. It’s weird. And it feels so wrong. But French Polynesia is a province of France, and tipping isn’t part of the culture. Tax is also included in the prices most of the time. This makes the restaurant and bar prices a little less painful. $8.00 for a beer at the resort bar? Think of it as a $7.00 beer back home with the $1.00 tip. Still expensive, but it makes it a bit more bearable. Restaurant menu prices are what you see is what you get, so you don’t have to worry about all the tax and tip costs at the end.

 

On our next trip to French Polynesia, we’d like to get a bit further away from the resorts and mass tourism and see more of the culture. Rangiroa, Huahine, and the Marquesas are all at the top of our list. We’d also like to spend some more time on Tahiti and in Papeete. For details on our trip, check out our post on our Honeymoon in French Polynesia.