Friday, March 4, 2016

South East Asia Vacation Planning

Vacation planning for 3 months in Asia

Goals for vacation:
  1. Surf: Get barreled, learn how to do turns and cutbacks
  2. Visit the following countries/places: 
    • Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Mongolia
    • Areas of China I've never seen before: Yunan, Tibet, Chongqing, Urumuqi
      • Basically start south in Indonesia and trek northward, eventually ending up in Tibet, then maybe even Mongolia
  3. Stop by Shanghai on the way in and on the way out of Asia to see grandparents
  4. Keep total expenditures under $10k, including flight, immunization, everything
  5. Continue to work towards my other new year's resolutions
The rest of this post is broken into 3 sections: Pre-travel, Gear, Itinerary.

I must have regrettably spent over 40 hours on researching and buying the following gear. Analysis lead to paralysis. I had some ridiculous requirements for each gear (that good ol' product development and system engineering mindset). But in the end, I'm very happy with what I've picked. I cared heavily about weight, especially because some airlines like Air Asia only allowed for 7kg carry ons. Every ounce mattered.

Waterproof cellphone case requirements:
I plan on surfing, but a lot of surf spots are not near hostels. So I plan on carrying a phone and cash with me for directions and surfboard rentals and then just surf with the phone on me in case the place didn't have lockers.
  • Find a pouch/case to allow me to surf with the phone in my board short pockets
  • I thought about using an armband attachment, but was concerned about this because the armband can get ripped off by a strong wipe out. So my goal remained to keep the phone in the pocket.
  • Roll top pouch instead of plastic top pouch. The plastic seal can break or get crushed or cracked if hit the board.
I ended up getting the Crenova BP-02 that has a roll over velcro enclosure system.
The MOKO IPX8 certified case was runner up, but I was concerned about the plastic top part breaking in case it got crushed between my hip and the surfboard.
I was also consider ALOKSAK (glorified zip lock bags), but I thought nah forget it, yo, holmes to Bel Air.

The Crenova phone case arrived and I didn't like how it just had snap on buttons on the top (3 ziplocks that roll over each other and then a flap with 2 snap on buttons to close the roll).
Being a paranoid person without a day job, I spent 3 more hours looking at waterproof phone pouches and then bought the DiCAPac, which uses velcro (a single ziplock that rolls and gets held in place with two velcro sections.)
The DiCAPac also came in different colors, and that embarked a google-fest of what was the most visible color underwater for fear that I would drop the phone and it sinks to the bottom. I came upon a few interesting articles explaining how water basically absorbs light in the ROYGBIV order. So a few feet underwater, red will appear as black, then a few more feet, orange will appear as black, etc. The exception being if the color was fluorescent (gives off light, aka glow in the dark).
Articles about color visibility underwater: -If a diver is bleeding at 60', where there is no red light, the diver bleeds a greenish-black blood
But then this wikipedica article quoted a study that said the most visible non-flourescent color was usually yellow.
In hindsight, the phone case I bought floats. I didn't need to do all that research about visible colors underwater. Damn.

Portable charger requirements:

I had a devastatingly hard time deciding how big of a charger to get. At first I thought I'd try to match one that is the weight of the Kindle Paperwhite since I had decided to forego taking a Kindle (7.6oz), but I realize that's actually too heavy for day-to-day pocket carry. My phone is 5.71oz and I decided I didn't want anything heavier than my phone in the other pocket.
  • USB port on top
  • 2A output at least
  • 2A input at least for faster recharging (I saw one company has a 4A input, but the battery was huge)
  • Preferably includes a built-in usb cable
  • Curved edges and pockets (so they don't poke holes in my pockets when I do a backflip) 
  • No bigger or that my phone. To keep things in perspective, my 5.5" phone:
    • Dimensions 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm (6.02 x 2.99 x 0.35 in)
    • Weight 162 g (5.71 oz)
I had a hard time deciding between:
EasyAcc 6000mAh (which was featured on Wirecutter) and Anker PowerCore 10000 Portable Charger, The Smallest and Lightest 10000mAh External Battery. I bought one, then canceled it, then bought the other, then bought the first one again. So I bought both. FML.

Packable daypack requirements:I wanted something smaller than my 44L backpack to use for a second pack
  • Packable
  • Max 16oz weight, preferably half of that
  • Chest sternum strap
  • Side mesh pockets with tightener, or at least carabiner attachment to attach Nalgene bottle to carabiner
  • Laptop sleeve inside
I had a difficult time deciding between L.L. Bean Stowaway Daypack and Gonex Lightweight Packable Backpack Hiking Daypack Upgraded Version 30L.
I ended up with the Gonex because it was a few ounces lighter. I got it, and found out the side mesh pocket couldn't fit a Nalgene bottle. Damn.

Waterproof dry bag requirements:
I'll be trekking during rainy seasons, so I wanted a dry bag to keep my laptop dry, but I also wanted to be able to use it as a daypack (I know, scope creep and redundant requirements with the packable daypack, no bueno).
  • Two removable straps (so I can stuff into my backup, can carry as duffel, or use a backpack)
  • Zip pocket for easy access to stuff
  • Packable
  • Side mesh pocket to hold water bottle
  • Less than 1.5lbs
  • Compression valve, or eVent or eVac material so that you can compress the air out of the bag but still ensures water-proofness (it turns out this is what separates the average bags from the bugie/expensive/elite bags)
It was impossible to find something that met all of the above. I ended up getting Mava sports 15L. No compression feature, but that's ok. We'll see how well it holds up.

Board shorts with zipper pockets
I didn't have any boardshorts with zipper pockets big enough to hold my phone. They only had velcro pockets. Luckily, I was trying to use up a North Face gift card from a gift my old college roommates gave me (thanks guys!), so I hit up TNF store and ended up getting the Washoe shorts. These were the most expensive shorts I have bought in my life. I didn't go to TNF store with the intention of using the gift card on shorts, but that's just what happened.

Pre-Travel Financials, Insurance, Etc.

Debit card for no foreign ATM fees to get cash:
I opened a Charles Schwab account. After comparing ING (now Capital One), Ally, Simple bank, and other no foreign ATM fee debit cards I could think of, Charles Schwab seemed to be the best. I don't want to walk around with thousands of bahts or millions of rupiah on me. (USD to IDR is 1 to 13070?!)

A co-worker told me about T-Mobile's Simple Plan that has unlimited text and data in 140+ countries ($65/mo+tax for 6GB LTE data). I googled around and it was indeed the best thing I could find. Out of the places I was going, it covered China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia (no Mongolia nor Vietnam), but good enough. I'd like to avoid having to get local SIM cards at every country.

I will miss the rumble of her boxer engine.
I'll be trading it for the roars of crashing waves on a foreign ocean.
From what I read on some blogs about storing a car:
  • Overinflate the tires
  • Use tire blocks instead of the hand brake
  • Moisture absorbing crystals in the cabin to prevent mold/mildew growth (home depot)
  • Fill the tank full to prevent condensation
  • Add fuel stabilizer to the tank

I got vaccinated for:

  • Tdp: Tenatus booster
  • Hep-A: requires 2 shots, 6 months apart. 1 shot provides 6 to 8 months of immunity, and the second shot provides 20+ years
  • Typhoid fever - Can be taken as 1 shot that provides 2 years of immunity, or 4 separate pill to be taken every other day
  • Malaria: After googling around, I decided not to get malaria pills.

    • China:
      • Present year round in rural parts of Yunnan Province, primarily in the counties along the China-Burma (Myanmar) border. Limited transmission in rural areas of Anhui, Hubei, Guangxi, and Motuo county in Tibet.
      • Some major river cruises may go through malaria endemic areas in Anhui and Hubei Provinces.
    • Bali, Indonesia:
    • Thailand:
      • Rare to few cases in other parts of Thailand including the cities of Bangkok, Chang Mai, Chang Rai, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, and Phuket.  None in the islands of Krabi Province (Koh Phi Phi, Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai, and Ko Lanta) and  Pattaya City.
    • Cambodia
      • Present throughout the country including Siem Reap city. None in the city of Phnom Penh and the temple complex at Angkor Wat.
    • Vietnam
    • Mongolia:
      • None
  • Dengue fever
    • No vaccines exist.
    • Sweet! So I don't have to worry about it! (JK, bathe thyself in mosquito repellent)

Travel insurance requirements:
  • Allow for surfing
  • Allow for riding a motorcycle
  • Have emergency evacuation
  • Cover Theft and loss of personal belongings
  • Prefer to cover:
    • Diving
    • Renting a car
After many hours of reading and forgetting what I read about different insurance policies, I went with: TBD (still trying to decide on this)

Achieving the goal of surfing required more thought because I need to take into account rainy seasons and wave size. (And even freaking El Nino)

Best surfing places in SE Asia that I'd want to visit:
1. Bali, Indonesia
2. Phuket, Thailand
3. Vung Tau, Vietnam (near Ho Chi Minh)
3. Da Nang, Vietnam (probably not, because it's a bit too far from Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi)

Things I'm concerned about: internet availability, rainy season and wave size, El Nino's affect, religion, year round temp, water availability, food/meal cost, hostel cost, surf cost, ocean bottom type.

I decided on doing the following:
Shanghai - 2 weeks
Kuala Lumpur - 1 day, 15 hour layover (because I've already been there for 1 day layover previous)
Jakarta - 2 days
Bali - 10 days
Chiang Mai - 8 days (For a frisbee tournament, and then this water fight national holiday festival)
Rest of Thailand - 10 days ish
Cambodia - 1 week
Vietnam  -  2 weeks
China - 2 weeks (Tibet and the western part)
Then back to Shanghai (for another frisbee tournament)

So I'm basically going all the way south to Bali, my southernmost destination, and the trekking up.

Some things I'm noticing: I don't need to stay very long at any place and I get bored quickly

Searching for Places to Stay
The way I book hostels is to look on Trip Advisor for the map view of top things to do, and then book hostel locations near those things.
Like this:

Then I will do more googling for specifics, such as the fact that in Chiang Mai, the food stalls aren't everywhere, but mainly near the North and South gates, which I learned from this guy's blog:
This Levels guy is basically my role model of a traveler/hacker.

And sometimes, I'll get lucky and realize I'll be in Chiang Mai for their biggest holiday, and I'll do more specific googling and find more details, such as the following:

I found this planning and preparation part to be agonizing because:
1) I'm a little paranoid
2) I can be very detail oriented
3) I hate shopping around because it sucks all my energy. Feels like I just did 200 SWOT analysis on travel gear

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