Daniela, backpacking is different from going on a classic outdoor trip. You travel the country with public transport, you go to the beach, for a hike or just visit a city. What does it mean for the choice of equipment?
It wasn’t your first time in Thailand. Can you just pitch a tent on the beach?
First of all: you don’t need a tent because there are hostels everywhere, as well as bungalows directly on the beach. And secondly, such accommodation is cheaper than camping sites in Germany.
How can I picture a trip through Thailand?
You travel by public transport like a local: by bus, rickshaw and shared taxi. It is also fun to rent a scooter. For longer distances, like going from the north to the south of Thailand, I would recommend a train trip – preferable a night train so you can save time and accommodation costs. Ferries and long-tail boats bring travellers and locals alike to the many islands. And whoever is up to it can add on an outdoor tour: one-day hiking trips, paddle or climbing excursions, diving courses, trekking in the northern jungle.
And how much luggage do I need for this?
There are lots of different philosophies about this. Minimalists will only take some Tevas, two T-shirts and a journal in a handbag with them – they would laugh out loud if they saw my packlist. I like to have my own stuff with me though, including a sleeping bag inlet and my snorkel set. I am prepared to carry more weight. It is everybody’s own decision.
Is a backpack really better than a trolley case?
Which backpack model did you pick in the end?
I decided in favour of a Deuter Aircontact 50 + 10 SL which makes the best of its capacity and has a very good carrying system. It also has handy features: a hip belt with little zipped pockets, large side pockets and an integrated rain cover. Outside, I attach my shoes with a carabiner. Inside, everything is in a waterproof bag which is perfect protection against the rain and splashing water on a ferry.
Is it necessary to put the backpack into another bag for the transport on the roof of a bus or on the plane?
A transport bag is not a bad idea. It protects the backpack and prevents the straps from getting caught in conveyor belts or on bus seats. In hostels, you can use it for shopping or dirty clothes. When I’m backpacking I always try to use my equipment for many purposes.
What else is multifunctional?
Do you use an additional daypack as well?
There are always people who wobble around with a medsize backpack on the back and a little one on the belly. I tried it once but I didn’t feel very mobile. I prefer a big backpack that takes all my stuff. A good supplement is the Vaude Rock Ultralight, a 25 litre backpack that can be folded into its lid. It only weights 360 grams and waits in the big backpack for use on day tours.
You spend a lot of time on buses, trains and ferries. Do you have good tips for the moments when you are moving places?
It is important that you can make yourself comfortable – everywhere. Often the air conditioning is too strong or the draught is annoying. That‘s one reason why I like to take my Houdini Power Houdi which keeps me warm and even has a hood. If it gets really cold, I use my sleeping bag inlet made of fleece as a blanket. My Eagle Creek Sandman Travel Pillow never stays at home. Earplugs are a brilliant invention too, when you are trying to get to sleep.
Sleeping in the train or bus? Aren’t you worried about theft?
Generally, Thailand is pretty safe. Nevertheless, I always carry my passport and money in my Ortlieb valuables bag. On train rides I always lock my backpack to something. It is never a bad thing to take a lock with you. Usually there are lockers in hostels where I like to stow my camera when I don’t need it.
You can probably skip any kitchen equipment in Thailand, can’t you?
Do you have to filter or sterilise the tap water?
For drinking, washing fruit or cleaning teeth it‘s important to use bottled water. You can buy it everywhere. However, when you are planning on doing a longer jungle tour in the North where there is no supply of bottled water, purification tablets come in handy.
Back to the clothes. What else has to be packed along with the fleece jacket?
As little as possible. For me, two, maybe three pairs of shorts or a skirt, one pair of trousers and five to six T-shirts or blouses are enough, as well as underwear and a bikini. And a dress for the city and restaurants. I wash more often, usually at a sink with the Sea to Summit Laundry Wash which is biodegradable. The Sea to Summit clothes line is fantastic too: you just tuck the clothes between the little balls, so no clothes pegs are needed. But if you don‘t want to do your own washing, there are laundrettes where you can get it done for a few Baht. But never drag a mountain of clothes with you.
Shorts, T-shirts, Houdi – that’s it?
So you don’t need a nice large beach towel?
Way too heavy! The light shawl is good enough for the beach. To dry myself after a shower, I use a Meru Sport Towel made of microfibre, it wraps as small as a coke can and weights less than 100 grams.
It might rain even in Thailand. Can I take my loyal Gore-Tex jacket?
Membrane jackets can only breathe if there is a temperature difference between body and outside air. When it is warmer than 25 degrees outside, sweat will stay inside the jacket. And anyway, during the dry season the showers are very short. So a three-layer jacket used on your last trip to Island would be out of place. At most I take my super light Montana rain jacket with me which also serves as a wind-breaker jacket.
Is it right that bright clothes are more pleasant in the heat?
Sure, they reflect the sun much better. I mean, Africans like to wear Khaki too. Apparently bright clothes also attract fewer mosquitoes.
Speaking of mosquitoes! How‘s the best way to fight the little devils…
Everybody learns from their mistakes: Avoid windless areas close to the water, wear long clothes at dusk and close the door of the bungalow in the evening when turning on the light. Apart from that, I use the usual remedies and I swear by Nobite. When sitting outside, a mosquito coil is really helpful. If that doesn‘t work, then use a ZapperClick.
What’s that? A mosquito gun?
No, it‘s like a miniature lighter that you put on the sting. A piezo igniter destroys the insect venom in the top layer of skin, so the itchiness at least reduces.
Talking about remedies: Do you buy sunscreen abroad or at home?
It is generally rather tricky to get good sunscreen on the islands. And if you find any, it’s expensive. I buy two sunscreens at home: sun protection factor 50 for the beginning and sun protection factor 30 or 20 for later on. I transfer them into little reusable bottles so I don’t have to carry the big bottles everywhere. On the plane, the liquid remedies should stay in the big backpack though – often they get confiscated when in hand luggage.
You also like to go rock climbing – in Thailand as well?
Isn’t that the ideal solution: travelling with light luggage and renting all the equipment you need for outdoor trips at your destination?
If you know the rental service and they have neat and well-maintained equipment, then it‘s nice and convenient. Unfortunately, many rental services have rubbishy equipment – like scruffy sleeping bags, crooked paddles, rickety bicycles. If you are going on a tour that requires really good equipment, to be on the safe side it is better to take it from home. Very often, they charge stiff prices too. Getting a snorkel set quickly can cost as much as a night in a bungalow. I prefer to take my own snorkel set, it fits me perfectly and is of course more hygienic than borrowed stuff.
There is also a first aid kit on your packlist, including camomile tea. Why did you take tea?
Most of the everyday hygiene products or minor pharmaceutical items are of course readily available in Thailand; like toilet paper, tampons, shampoo and so on. On my first tour though I was pretty sick and really wanted to have some camomile tea. It‘s unknown in Thailand – and ever since it’s part of my packlist.
Getting there: Thai Airways connects Frankfurt and Bangkok twice a day. Takes around eleven hours.
Best time to travel: From November to February to escape the cold and arrive in the sun. It rarely rains and it is not too humid. It is beautifully warm on the islands all year around because they are close to the equator.
Accommodation: There are many bungalows on Thailand’s beaches, so look for the nicest one when you are there – but pre-book during peak season. In big cities, stay in hostels. A great selection on hostels.com and hostelworld.com.
Getting around: The most convenient method is to book »all inclusive« at a travel agent if you are using different types of public transport for the journey south. You get a sticker on your shirt, and the drivers of the buses, ferries and pick-ups know where you are going. Explore the islands by foot or rent a scooter.
Daniela’s tour: Fly from Bangkok to Ao Nang, a tourist place with overcrowded beaches. Escape the hustle by going on a four-island-tour on a long-tail boat. Take the ferry to Koh Jum – lonely beaches! Further to the island Kho Phangan, including the monthly Full Moon Party, a meeting place for backpackers. Return through Surat Thani by train and bus to Bangkok.
The art of backpacking
A backpacker wants to see as many places as possible off the mainstream, and everything on a low-budget. Overnight stays in hostels, backpacker ranches, tents or cheap bungalows. Southeast Asia is perfect for a backpacker’s wallet and the dream of adventure in a nice warm climate. Two famous ambassadors of backpacking are the Lonely Planet founders who published the first guide for backpackers, called »Southeast Asia on a Shoestring«, and the British backpacker from Alex Garland’s novel »The Beach«.
25. Oktober 2012, Interview: Cindy Ruch