Random Thoughts for the Hot Season

May 3, 2013

It has been so hot here this season that I am sure that my brain has begun to fry. Everyone is saying that this is the hottest hot season they have ever experienced. It is also so dry that the little canal behind my house has only about 3 inches of water left in it. I saw a snake head fish limping around the bottom today. I wonder what will happen to it when there is no water left. My gardener stared at the fish for a long, long time. I have a feeling I know what’s in store for him.

With this heat, I have been having a number of random fried-brain-cell thoughts lately that I thought I would share with you.

On Ultra Violet Radiation and Going Native

I just undertook a scientific study of how many Thais wear long sleeves when they ride their motorcycles.

A little background info is needed at this point. I developed a lump on my elbow and it was bothering me so I went down to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital’s Specialty Clinic. From the looks of it I think that “Specialty Clinic” is a euphemism for “Cosmetic Surgery Clinic”. At least it was air conditioned.

The cosmetic surgeon took a look at my elbow and told me I had a “keratocanthoma” . Whoa! With that many syllables that must be either really cool or really bad. The doctor said that it wasn’t so bad, but I should have it removed anyway since a small percentage of the Big K tumors turn into skin cancer. The cause of my elbow bump?  Probably too much ultraviolet radiation.

Our family has one car and one motorcycle. My wife is the car, I am the motorcycle. I love the motorcycle and it is the best way to get around Chiang Mai; the best way except maybe in April that is. Thus, my interest in Thais, motorcycles, and long sleeves.

Like most Expat and tourist riders I have always ridden around with as few clothes as possible; shorts, tee shirt, sandals. But after hearing about my sun induced elbow tumor I started observing my Thai counterparts on their cycles. So I undertook my scientific study.

Of the first 20 riders I encountered, 19 were wearing jackets, shirts, and hoodies with long sleeves. One person out of the first 20 was in a tee shirt. The next 20 I counted had exactly the same percentages. Results of the scientific study: 95% of all Thai motorcyclists wear long sleeves. I am sure that keeping a light, un-suntanned darkened skin is probably one of the reasons for covering up. Another is probably to keep the UV monster away.

Let’s compare the Thais motorcycle riding attire with that of foreign riders. A friend of mine just took a bike trip to Pai from here in Chiang Mai. It is a fairly tough road with, count them, 762 switchbacks. On the way back my friend encountered many foreign motorcyclists, the majority of whom weren’t even wearing shirts. That is not unusual. I once saw a foreign rider with only shorts on. Didn’t even wear shoes. Can anyone spell “broken toes”?

Besides the fact that not wearing a shirt in public (male or female) is considerd quite rude in Thailand, I am wondering what all that ultraviolet radiation is doing to these poor white people. A Thai friend and I were sitting in a roadside coffee shop one early afternoon as we watched two very overweight, potbellied, shirtless, tattooed, westerners walk by holding open bottles of beer. My Thai friend just shook his head and said, “Boy that is really ugly.” Hearing a Thai say that in English really put the point across.

But more importantly, I am wondering what these two guys felt like after waking from their beer and sun induced stupor later that day and discovering their skin covered with second degree sunburns. Can anyone spell “future skin cancer”?

So now before getting on my motorcycle I don a long sleeve shirt, socks, a pair of gloves and a helmet with a heavily tinted face mask (I’m holding off on the white surgical mask for now.) Instead of feeling hotter with all the extra clothing I seem to feel a bit cooler. Or it could be just psychological and I just feel better because no more Big K tumors are starting to grow on my skin.

Sometimes it is just best to do things the native way.

For those who want to know: The cost of my Big K procedure, 2,000 baht specialist’s fee (tumor removal, 2 levels of stitching), 1,100 baht hospital fee, 200 baht follow up (stitches removal) or about $115.

On Air Conditioning

I used to take pride in being able to get through a hot season without air conditioning. I’m not alone in that. I just ran into an old friend who told me how he is so acclimatized to Thailand he just never needs to turn his air conditioner on. Well, whoopee for him. I bet he wouldn’t pass up having lunch at a nice air conditioned hotel buffet.

I’m dying here (my bedroom is usually 90+ degrees at night). So now the air conditioner is on all night and quite often during the day too. Since this is the first time I have used the air conditioner this extensively I am currently terrified at what April’s electricity bill is going to be. I guess I’ll just have to chalk that up to the “price of doing business”.

As soon as I get the bill I’ll let you know, that is, once I wake up from passing out after looking at the amount.

On Coffee, The Enervation Cure

I have never been a coffee drinker. Don’t drink much tea either. I’m a Pepsi guy (although with the demise of the Pepsi distributorship here in Thailand and its replacement with the ersatz ”Est Cola” I feel a huge loss). But with this hot season and the weather being over 100 F every day for the last couple of months I have been hit with a serious enervating feeling. (I always look for a way to use the word “enervating” in a posting since it is one of the fun words in English which means exactly the opposite of what you think it means.)

Enervating – Causing one to feel drained of energy or vitality, exhausting

So I decided to try a cup of coffee in the morning to see if I could get a little boost. I stir one of those packets of instant cappuccino into hot water, and add more sugar and milk, sometimes chocolate milk. I have also tried their instant iced coffee. I don’t feel much of a difference though with either of them. But at least I don’t think I am addicted yet (to the coffee, the sugar maybe) since I only drink 2 or 3 cups a week, but I can feel the beginnings of the urge some mornings.

Back in the ’70s I had a boss who drank 10 cups of coffee before lunch. She was a chain smoker also. I have been trying to Google her and the latest thing I came up with was a professional article she wrote back in 1980. Nothing since then. Until I find out if she is still with us it might be well to eschew the coffee/cigarettes diet for now.


Last night we had lots of thunder, big wind, and a few drops of rain. I turned the air conditioning on for about an hour, then turned it off and used the fan. First time in over a month I got a good nights sleep without air conditioning. Tonight looks to be about the same, maybe a little cooler, 85 F (29 C) in my bedroom. Could it be that we have made it through the hot season? I’ll let you know.

15 Responses to “Random Thoughts for the Hot Season”

  1. David Cooke said

    Well I got two malignant melanomas removed without problems a month ago, so no more walking around half naked for me. If you think about the heavy clothing traditionally worn by the Arabs maybe you will come to the conclusion that there is some sense behind it. However, being stopped by a masked policeman with no identification doesn’t please me at at all, more than half of the inhabitants of Isaan look like bandits to me, they refuse to wear hats as it makes them look like peasants (even the peasants don’t want to look like peasants) and I have to laugh when I see people running across the street shading themselves with a laptop, mobile phone… or whatever.
    Motorbike + no helmet? Ever driven into a swarm of vicious insects at 100mph? Ya godda be stoupid…

  2. kohsamuipete said

    OMG! No more Pepsi??? Aside from all the rest of your great blog, I found this to be really shocking, Hugh. Kept me sane and refreshed (prevented serious enervation, as well) all those years ago; I can’t believe the franchise is no longer… Pete

  3. Eric Tan said

    Hi Hugh,

    Hopefully God will have mercy on the electricity bill of yours! My girlfriend only switches on her AC at night when she is sleeping and during the day she is away at work. Her monthly electricity bill comes to about 1000baht per month even though she works 7 days a week!

    From what I observed, Thai ladies do not like being out in the sun and they prefer to be fair-skinned rather than tanned. Yes, I agreed with you almost all the Thai motorcyclist wore long-sleved and this includes the men on the motorcycle-taxis.

    On a side note, I have been searching high and low over the internet for employment in Thailand. Teaching seems to be the normal route to go for foreigners and most schools will prefer native English speaker. But having said that, I will give the TEFL course a try after I am done with my chores back home.

    Do drink more water to prevent any heat injuries especially when u are all suited up riding your motorcycle!

    Warmest Regards,
    Eric Tan

  4. Pat Teepatiganond said

    Hi Huge,
    It is 53 F here in Austin,TX. The norm here is about 85 F for early May.
    I was in Chiang Mai in Feb this year, I though it was quite warm already.

  5. Hugh Leong said

    I just woke up. Wow! It’s been raining All Night! It is cool and I am taking deep breaths. I am sure that snake head fish in the canal behind the house is very happy. Thank the weather gods. I think we are going to make it.

  6. ivan1949 said


    Just returned from 4 days of my father-in laws funeral in Nokon Sawan last Sat. No AirCon, just fans , slept on the floor as well, talking about going native ;-). During the late noon seemed to be the worst of it, seemed like a good time to take a nap. But, easy to talk about it now that I am sitting in my AirCon Condo in Singapore, another 1-1/2 year to retirement.. Hmmmm. When sweetheart was loading fertilizer onto the tractor ( I helped) she was covered head to toe, for the heat and I guess the chemicals. Do you think the traditional Thai homes with tall roofs, wooden construction were much more cool or comfortable than the present day block/concrete buildings?
    Thanks for your Blog

  7. Traditional Thai homes, the ones on stilts, made of wood, etc. are open on all sides. No glass windows, no screens, sleep under a mosquito net. There is usually a place to hang out under the house (remember they are on stilts) which is shaded and fairly cool. They are also usually surrounded by large trees.

    The newest houses here are all cement, glass windows, screens, and at the beginning devoid of vegetation. So air con is a must. The first thing we did was to plan trees in strategic places to get the most shade. It took only a few years but our place is completely shaded now. Makes a difference.

    But from my experience, when the temp is over 100 F (about 37 C) nothing helps except made a nice cool shower.

  8. kamalalala said

    Doing a little research on sun protective clothing, I learned something important. Only certain types of clothing actually protect you against the sun. For example, a white t-shirt offers very little protection. A wet t-shirt offers even less. Certain clothing designed for the sun is the best bet. They will have an SPF rating on them. I love my wide brimmed Tilly brand Aussie hat and allows air to flow through ($70). The perfect hat for Thailand. A rule of thumb is that if you hold the clothing up to the sun and can see the sun through it, it’s not offering much or any protection. Denim for example offers good protection. Be careful out there.

    • Thanks for the info. No wet T shirts? That’s disappointing. I wear a Thai made straw hat when I work in the garden. Ten baht, bought on the side of the road. Works great.

  9. i thought chiangmai in the north is cooler ?

    • Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountains and sits in a bowl. Because of that it gets almost no breeze in the hot season. It is usually hotter than Bangkok. In the winter months CM is quite cool though.

      By the way, CM may be in the north of Thailand but it is about the same latitude (18) as Hilo Hawaii and Mexico City (19). “North” is all relative.

  10. i believe there are area where we can live higher up in the mountain area..

    • It is my experience that the higher up the mountain you get, 1. the farther you are from civilization (electricity, Internet, running water, air conditioned shopping malls, etc.) although you may or may not care about these things, and 2. the worse the pollution gets – it is in the mountains where all the burning is taking place.

      But, today the mountain is crystal clear. The smog lasted about one month this year – and I didn’t die, although the heat may just take care of that. Next year though, maybe a trip to Bali might be nice, just in case.

  11. oh okay..
    How about planting many tall trees surrounding your house? will this help fix the heat?

  12. Trees make a big difference, especially when you plant them to give you shade during certain parts of the day. In our place, about 2 rai, we have planted more than 200 trees. Doesn’t make much of a difference when it is 95 F at midnight though.

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