12. Special things to bring (Sunscreen!)

In Thailand, sunscreen is expensive. Everything else is cheap but sunscreen, man, it’s more expensive than it is in the U.S. That means you should bring more than enough sunscreen (you’ll be sharing with other travelers, of course) than you think you will need.

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See all those super pasty Europeans? (The ones in front of the boat are Polish. The two closest to the camera are Dutch and Belgian.) They need sunscreen. I need sunscreen. We all need, nay, scream, for cheap sunscreen brought from our home countries. Taken on Dec. 13, 2015.

 

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The market may look a little shaded but actually, the sun is beating down. Really wishing sunscreen were cheaper, if you didn’t bring any (in your checked luggage.) In Bangkok on Dec. 4, 2015.

11. Keep a travelogue

See those people? The one in the center, (blue shirt) he’s from (or lives in, at least,) Montana. He’s on a 6+ month vacation after saving up.

He’s going to buy a motorcycle in Vietnam and go on from there. Do I remember his name? Nope. Not in the least. And I’m not going to remember because I (idiotically) didn’t keep a travelogue.

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We peruse the shelves in the largest market in Thailand, in Bangkok. It’s a maze. The guy in the blue shirt? I can’t remember his name to save my life. All because I didn’t keep a travelogue. We were perusing the weekend market on Dec. 6, 2015.

 

Making sushi rice

There are two subjects here: the rice used in sushi and how to prepare that rice, once cooked, into sushi rice.

The first deals with brands and varieties, that is, what type of rice to use. The second is purely recipe and technique, that is, how to make the sushi, or vinegared, rice.

By no means do I claim, proclaim, profane or otherwise pretend to be some kind of expert on rice, sushi, or the rice used in sushi. However, the topic has been written about multiple times. My takeaway was Kokuho Rose. I’ve grown so fond of it that I had to take a more cost-effective solution to buying it, mainly, 40 pound bags. It’s become my favorite white rice.

My default brown (long grain) rice is whichever five pound bag of (brown) jasmine rice I’m currently working through.

The great thing about making vinegared, or sushi, rice is it goes fantastic in rice bowls or really, anything. Then again, I like vinegar.

The rice question

The basics are, the rice used in sushi is either medium or short grain. If you look on the internet, you will find that the answers go either way. Koda Farms, who grows Kokuho Rose (a variety only grown by them) claims that short grain is should never be used. The Kitchn proclaims short grain is sushi rice.

So, this is all confusing. Japanese style medium-grain or short grain rice seems to be the answer. (Japan, for the most part, does not export its rice).

Try out different varieties/brands and find what you like. I know what I like. (I buy the stuff in the red/pink packaging).

Making sushi rice

When it comes to making the rice, I suggest using a rice cooker, especially because they are both so cheap and because they make cooking rice so easy, and perfect.

But what makes vinegared, or sushi, rice, special? The vinegar! And sugar. And salt.

(Use a rice cooker. Seriously. So much easier.)

So, you get your rice cooking (for what I use, the ratio is 1 and 1/4 cups water to 1 cup rice, meaning, for two cups of uncooked rice, you need 1 and 1/2 cups water in the rice cooker) and then move on to making the vinegar solution.

For the purposes of this post, as well as the recipe, the quantity will be two cups of uncooked rice.

I’ve found that heating the vinegar up in the microwave is the easiest way of getting the sugar (1/4 cup) and the salt to dissolve. It should be noted, however, that I just wing it with the salt and sugar. I literally just pour some of both in and call it good.

Another point of confusion is the washing of the rice. Many claim this is essential. I notice no difference with the rice I buy.

All that being written, here’s how to make sushi (vinegared) rice.

Ingredients

2 cups uncooked rice

2 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

Directions
  1. In a measuring cup, mete out 2 cups of uncooked rice
  2. Wash the rice if desired, until water runs clear.
  3. Pour uncooked rice into rice cooker.
  4. In a measuring cup, Measure out 2 and 1/2 cups water. Pout into rice cooker.
  5. Close rice cooker and turn on.
  6. While the rice cooks, measure out 1/2 a cup of rice vinegar in a microwave-proof container, if possible.
  7. Add the sugar and salt to the vinegar. Mix to combine.
  8. Heat the vinegar up in the microwave, while mixing periodically, until all the sugar and salt is dissolved. Once dissolved, move it to the freezer while waiting for the rice to finish cooking.
  9. Once the rice cooker either turns off or turns to warm, allow it to sit undisturbed for 5-15 minutes.
  10. Open the rice cooker and quickly mix the rice one or twice. Replace the lid and wait another 5 minutes.
  11. Remove rice from cooker into a large non-reactive bowl.
  12. Pour the vinegar mixture over the rice and, with your rice spoon/mixer (oversized, flat spoon), lightly mix with a forward-pushing motion.
  13. If making sushi, cover bowl with a wet towel and allow to cool further. If consuming rice bowls, consume!

See, or download, all the full-quality photos on Flickr.

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7. Bring your wide angle lens

I shoot with an old Canon XS from 2010. It was the bottom of the line at the time and it has no bells or whistles, but it can take a damn fine picture with the right lens. When I went the first time, I figured to shed weight and reduce liability I should not bring a laptop or most of my lenses. I specifically for the trip bought a 50 mm f 1/8 prime lens, as well as a 20 mm prime lens. Considering I shoot on a APS-C, or crop sensor, camera, that means the 20 mm is quite a bit longer, as is the 50 mm. I also brought my zoom lens. (I love my zoom lens.)

What I didn’t bring is my wide-angle lens (10-22) or my kit 18-55. I wish I had brought the former and I’m glad I didn’t bring the latter. The kit lens is just horrible. But my wide-angle lens is fantastic and many things I saw required it.

I managed to get by a little by using the 20 mm and trusting that I would be able to stitch the photos together later. I normally used Hugin, a free photo stitching (panorama) program, but I found after I tried to get some photos stitched, it was not having it.

However, the new CC version of adobe Lightroom has a merge/stitch function which gets the job done.

So, bring your damn wide angle lens or get one, all you DSLR shooters with crop sensors.

This radiant Buddha shows what the low light prime lenses can do. Picture taken in Bangkok on Dec. 5, 2015.

This radiant Buddha shows what the low light prime lenses can do. Picture taken in Bangkok on Dec. 5, 2015.

8. Bring enough big SD cards and extra batteries

I use an old Canon XS from 2010. It doesn’t have the bells, whistles, GPS, WiFi, movable screen or anything else that even basic DSLRs now have (like higher ISO) but it gets the job done. One downside is that it can only use SDHC cards, which max out at 32 GB. I didn’t learn this until a couple days before I was set to leave when it tried to use a 64 GB SDXD card.

But, I had enough SD cards and I mostly shot in JPEG (something I later regretted when it came to processing photos with certain light settings) which means I didn’t run out of room.

I did have to rely on my final backup, though, a 8 GB card. What I learned, after shooting on 16 and 32 GB card for two weeks, was the buffer time on smaller cards is more. Even though the camera might have a certain speed it can shoot at, a bottleneck can become smaller cards. The lesson? Make sure all your SD cards are 16 GB or above.

Finally, bring extra batteries. You never know how long you’re going to be out before being able to charge so spend the cash and buy a few extra batteries. Please! You’ll thank me later.

9. Bring a waterproof camera

I went on a couple of treks in Thailand, that involved snorkeling, swimming, going through water-logged caves and the like. I only had my trusty Canon XS from 2010. That was a mistake. I should have also brought a waterproof camera (point and shoot because I just don’t have that much money). I didn’t know that at the time. I do now. Woops!

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I stayed on a floating guest house on a reservoir. People didn’t like me pointing out it was a reservoir, not a lake. This part of my trip involved lots of water and, consequently, I have few shots. Hence the need for a waterproof camera.

10. Change your camera’s time/time zone immediately

You will forget this but, once you get in country, change your camera’s date and time to local time. Otherwise, you’re going to have to change all the metadata when you’re at home, trying to figure out which pictures were taken on which day. If you’re like me, and sort photos based on date, this can become a big issue. So, make sure to change that time.

6. Bring extra headphones

I cannot stress enough that you should make a trip to your local only-costs-a-dollar store, before you leave, and pick up a bunch of headphones for use on the airplane, in hostels, in the street, at night, during the day, wherever and whenever. Also consider bringing music with you on your phone or an MP3 player, as well as audio books.

A canal gate in Bangkok. Taken on Dec. 4, 2015.

A canal gate in Bangkok. Taken on Dec. 4, 2015.

5. Consider getting a VPN subscription

Now that you’re considering bringing a laptop, or even just your smartphone and using WiFi, you should really consider a VPN subscription, at least for the time that you’ll be away. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It’s often described as a tunnel that your internet traffic goes through which is especially important when you’re connected to public WiFi.

Think about being in airports, or when you need to convince your bank (lost my debit card!), Netflix, Amazon Prime or any other entity that you’re actually in the United States and not in Thailand or Vietnam. This offers a level of security and the convenience of appearing to be in a country of your choice for other purposes.

A woman holds a pot in alley, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. I really like alleys.

A woman holds a pot in alley, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. I really like alleys.

4. Consider bringing a small laptop

Although I own a small laptop, nay, a tiny laptop, I did not bring it with me. I figured there would be computers available, from either cyber cafes or hostels, if I absolutely needed one, it would be extra weight, extra liability and I just did not need it.

In hindsight, there were a couple of times, although not that many, where my life would have been greatly simplified if I had just brought my laptop and also, possibly, an external hard drive to dump photos onto. I did, however, make do with my phone. For my text trip, I will be taking my small laptop. I know that I will need it at least a few times and it will reduce my stress level greatly. That being written, consider investing in a padlock so you can lock your locker, if you’re staying at hostels, because you shouldn’t be carrying your laptop with you everywhere.

This is considered in a later lesson, dealing with backpacks.

If you don’t own a small laptop, consider buying one (although I would suggest against chromebooks). Fry’s often has them on sale for 80-90 dollars and, coupled with an external hard drive, you should be fine.

Pillars over a canal in Bangkok, Thailand. Taken on Dec. 5, 2015.

Pillars over a canal in Bangkok, Thailand. Taken on Dec. 5, 2015. This picture has nothing to do with laptops. But it is pretty!

3. Just rent the scooter

When you’re outside of Bangkok, either in the countryside or on an island or otherwise in areas that don’t have a large amount of transportation, from either Tuk-Tuks, taxis or motorcycle taxis, just rent a scooter. It doesn’t cost much and it will make your life so much easier. You’d think this lesson has more attached, but it doesn’t. Just rent the scooter and wear a helmet. That is all.

(They are not that hard to learn to ride).

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On one of the islands, outside of Krabi in Ko Lanta, everyone used scooters and you would see this little kiosk like things on the side of the road. Everywhere. Notice the scooters in the background.

This farmers market somewhere on Ko Lanta was gotten to by scooter, something I'd never ridden before. I only had one fall. Just one! Taken on Dec. 11, 2015.

This farmers market somewhere on Ko Lanta was gotten to by scooter, something I’d never ridden before. I only had one fall. Just one! Taken on Dec. 11, 2015.

2. Get a SIM card from a telephone vendor as soon as you get in country.

When it came to getting a SIM card for my phone, I waited way too long. I don’t remember if I thought I could save money or if I wanted to get a better deal or I didn’t want to be connected to life like I am at home or I was just busy but I really wish I had switched my SIM cards out either in the airport or the following day at a telephone vendor. I think I was under the impression there would be enough WiFi networks to connect to. I was wrong.

I instead waited for a week and a half and tried to get it set up myself, and then tried to get the people in a 7/11 to set it up. It never worked very well and I really wish I would have just had some god damned 4G when I needed it.

The flip side of this lesson is to make sure your smartphone both has a SIM card and that it can be used on overseas networks. If it doesn’t, consider buying a used smartphone (I bought my last phone, an HTC One M8 through Swappa and am still very pleased with it) that will work in the countries you plan on visiting.

The costs are minimal and they are worth it. Remember that if you go to a different country you may, or may not, need to get a new SIM card. Depends.

A woman cleans a fountain in a park, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand.

A woman cleans a fountain in a park, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Last December (2015), I flew to Bangkok, Thailand, for a two and a half week vacation.

I read a fair amount about what I should do beforehand but there was still a fair amount I learned while in country, and things I wished I had either done before, brought with me or what I wish I could have known.

This list is not made in any sort of order of importance and these posts will be put one on top of the other until the list is complete at which point, I will compile the big list in one post.

1. Have multiple debit cards linked to multiple checking accounts.

I learned that lesson the hard way when, halfway through my trip, I left my debit card (my one and only) in an ATM in Bangkok.

My problem was not that it was stolen, or used somewhere else. It wasn’t. My problem was that debit card was my only source of cash. Yes, I had an international (that is, no foreign transaction fees) credit card but getting cash from a credit card is a very expensive proposition and it’s not the easiest thing in the world. In fact, when I tried to do it, I was stymied by paperwork that I didn’t have.

I personally bank with Bank of America. I can now attest their international support is abyssal at best.

After trying to call their international collect line to no avail, I was finally able to get through in a browser messenger. The first person was dealing with was helpful, until the computer crashed. The second person I dealt with was half as competent and was unable to pull up any of the previous chat logs.

In the end, BofA supposedly sent my new card to some island in Thailand. It never arrived. UPS did not deliver it because they needed a better address and BofA never told me anything about the new card.

I was lucky enough to get the help of a Scot who took out the equivalent of $500 while we were at the secondary airport in Bangkok. (He was going to Chang Mai and I was heading to Phuket).

(Tip: There are no ATMs beyond the security checkpoint at the Don Muang airport, which serves domestic traffic).

I also learned that PayPal is worthless overseas. Despite multiple tickets, attempts, etc. to get PayPal to allow me to transfer that $500 to that Scot, nothing worked. In the end, I had to have an American relative wire the Scot the $500.

What’s the lesson?

Have multiple debit cards attached to multiple checking accounts. Lose one? No sweat! You’ve got two more. That’s my plan for my next international vacation.

An adjunct to this lesson is to have a checking account with a bank that does not charge for either a certain amount of ATM fees or charges no ATM fees (that is, ATM fees are reimbursed). In doing my research, I found two options: The Charles Schwab Bank (investor checking account, which must be opened in conjunction with a brokerage account that you don’t have to fund or use) and Fidelity Bank.

Vendors (center) set up their booths on the street on Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Vendors (center) set up their booths on the street on Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. Since most transactions are cash, get a debit card that doesn’t charge ATM fees, or reimburses you. Also, have multiple debit cards, in case you lose one.