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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Mekong MAster Packing List – MUST READ!

Mekong Clothing & Equipment Packing List

THINK LIGHT! You will have to put whatever you bring onto the tops of buses and into the backs of trucks, and you may have to carry your bag for long distances. The lighter you pack, the happier you (and the rest of the group) will be! Pack your bag and then walk around the block three times… Anything you can live without? Ditch it.

Students who arrive at the airport drastically over packed will be asked to send extra items home at their own expense. We will be taking flights with weight restrictions of 15kg of checked luggage per person so please keep this in mind. And although there will be many opportunities to do your laundry by hand, you’ll be happiest with light, wrinkle-free, quick-dry clothing that doesn’t easily show dirt.

We recommend that you bring what’s listed here, and not much more. This list has evolved over years of instructor wisdom and student input. Trust us, you won’t need anything else and if you do you’ll likely be able to buy it in-country. It is very important that you can fit all of your belongings into one backpack (and a day pack) that you are comfortable carrying on your own! Note: you will not have to fit your day pack into your backpack, but you will have to put your shoes inside it (i.e. nothing should be dangling off your pack).

EQUIPMENT (ALL):

  • A BACKPACK around 45 liters is the best – But you can bring a slightly larger pack if you like. Just remember that you will be carrying it around and the smaller it is the better. Your shoes need to be able to be packed inside your pack. We can’t stress this enough. In South East Asian culture, it is super rude for anyone else to touch your shoes – so please keep this in mind – they need to fit inside your pack.
  • A BACKPACK COVER or a waterproof slip to fit over backpack is important for the group will be traveling during the rain and mud season. HEFTY trash bags (to layer both the inside and outside of your bag) can also work equally well.
  • Small (less than 25 liters) DAY PACK.
  • CAMERA with extra memory cards and a charger. We will have access to power for most of our trip but you might also want to bring an extra battery if you’re worried. Definitely bring some extra heavy-duty ziplock bags as they pack easily and can keep your camera and other valuables dry in a pinch.
  • Small MOSQUITO REPELLENT (smaller than 3 oz) you can buy more in-country. 25-35% DEET is the most effective for stopping mosquitoes from actually biting you.
  • One pair of walking OR hiking SHOES (you don’t need both). The best option is a light, low top, hiker or mountain running shoe that can double as a street shoe. These must be able to fit inside your pack. You do not need high top hiking boots.
  • A pair of inexpensive FLIP FLOPS is convenient and appropriate for homestays and time in rural communities, but they are not appropriate for trekking/wilderness exploration, NGO visits or travel days.
  • One pair of walking SANDALS like Chacos, Tevas, Keens, etc. Again, these should fit inside your pack. Please note: people either love or hate sandals like these. If you love Chacos and wear them all the time they can be great. If you do not want sport sandals you can use almost any other comfortable sandal, including flip flops. There is no need to spend a lot of $$ if you don’t think you will wear them.
  • Small travel size SHAMPOO and conditioner that will last about one week. You can buy more there when you run out. Please note: it is definitely possible to buy a variety of toiletries while on course but it will be very hard or nearly impossible to find the exact same thing (specific brands) you have at home.
  • TOOTHBRUSH and small tube of TOOTHPASTE. These are also available in-country.
  • Small travel size SOAP. You can buy more when you run out.
  • Small hand TOWEL or small lightweight quick dry towel. When you arrive, there will be opportunities to buy the traditional sarongs and bathing clothing that are used by most people along the Mekong.
  • Small PHOTO ALBUM of pictures of family and friends including pictures of your house and school. Pictures are great for starting conversations or just to ward off homesickness. Consider bringing extra copies to give away as gifts to homestays. Please remember that they need to be culturally appropriate (no bikini shots or shots that show a lot of skin).
  • Small, lightweight HEADLAMP and extra batteries. This is mandatory!
  • A diary or JOURNAL and pens. This is a mandatory requirement.
  • NECESSARY MEDICATIONS, prescription or over the counter (OTC), with instructions on their use and dosage (by your doctor if by prescription). The Instructor Team will carry a comprehensive medical kit with first aid supplies, OTC medications, and broad-spectrum antibiotics so there’s no need to pack any meds if you don’t want to.
  • SUNSCREEN, 30+, preferably a small bottle. It’s relatively easy to find generic sunscreen brands on course. Also consider bringing lip balm with sunscreen if you think you’ll need/use it.
  • GLASSES or CONTACT LENSES. If you wear contacts make sure you have enough for the entire trip, or if you sport glasses bring a backup pair. Make sure you also being enough contact lens solution with you too as this can be difficult to find in-country.
  • ALARM CLOCK/WATCH Preferably a watch with an alarm, but a small travel alarm clock will work as well.
  • ONE 1L REUSABLE WATER BOTTLES (like a Nalgene) – some students recommend one regular water bottle and one pouch style water bottle that rolls up. Most of the instructors carry one Nalgene and then purchase a supplementary water bottle for hikes.
  • STUDENT ID Having this with you will help us as there are sites that will give us discounted entrance tickets. This needs to have an expiration date and be valid. If for whatever reason you don’t currently have a student ID, then bring a picture ID like a driver’s license as this often works. The money that we save during course will largely be added to your student expedition budget which allows you to go big!
  • PASSPORT COPIES It’s a good idea to scan your passport (being, the main passport page with your photo and the page with your China visa on it). Please print five hard copies: Four to carry with you on course, and a fifth to leave at home with your parents. Then, email yourself and your parents a copy of the scans so that you can access them online if necessary.
  • PASSPORT SIZE PHOTOS for the Laos and Cambodia visas on arrival you will need FOUR passport size photos.
  • CASH AND ATM DEBIT/CREDIT CARDS for payments of visas you will need approximately $100 USD cash plus an extra $100 USD cash or so for incidentals is a good amount to have on hand. You’ll be able to go to the ATM to withdraw more local currency if needed during the program. Having an emergency credit card is also handy in case you need to go to the hospital.
    • Special note: Please make sure you CALL YOUR BANK to let them know that you will be travelling from mid-September to mid-December in Asia (China, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia) BEFORE you depart.

OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT (ALL):

  • SUNGLASSES (Look for sunglasses that protect you from 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB light).
  • HAT (one that you’ll actually wear on course).
  • Lightweight cotton or silk SLEEPING BAG LINER This will keep you warm on our few overnight treks, but many students don’t use them otherwise… It’s your choice.
  • SMALL DRY BAG (like a stuff sack). This will come in handy for our water time when you want to keep valuables dry. Also bring extra re-sealable plastic bags. Having your things in stuff sacks smaller bags within your giant pack will make packing, unpacking, and repacking a lot easier as well as keep your valuables safe from water and rain.
  • ELECTROLYTE PACKETS a small personal supply of Emergen-C, Airborne or alternative electrolyte packets. These will be important to replenish our bodies in the heat and humidity of South East Asia and they will also help treated water to taste different.
  • SLEEPING PAD There will be at least one trekking opportunity where this will come in handy, but besides that, most students find they rarely use their pads on this course. But sometimes, especially if a homestay family only has a thin bamboo mat as a “mattress” they can make your stay more comfortable. It’s up to you, but if you do choose to bring one we recommend a compact version (like a small blow up thermarest) that can fit inside your pack for flying. It’s also perfectly fine to opt to be uncomfortable for those three nights in lieu of lugging around the bulk… None of the instructors carry these. Again, it’s your choice.
  • LIGHTWEIGHT TRAVEL YOGA MAT for our budding yogis out there who practice daily yoga, you don’t have to stop because you’re coming on course. We encourage all forms of exercise. It’s good for health and endorphins. These can also double as a sleeping pad when needed.
  • SMALL TRAVEL HAMMOCK can be a fun thing to have along to lounge in, but don’t expect to be able to sleep in it regularly. This is important! Many students expect to sleep in their hammocks regularly, and this is not a reality. Your homestay families will have dedicated a bed to you, and you will be expected to sleep there. If you choose to bring a hammock for lounging, make sure you have straps to hang it with.
  • EARPLUGS, because some of the places that we stay can be quite noisy and if you are a light sleeper please consider bringing a pair. They’re also great for air travel.
  • Bring a travel-sized INSTRUMENT if you play one. Everyone loves music! You can also find some fun instruments on our journey together.
  • GIFTS A big part of Chinese and Southeast Asian culture revolves around gift giving. Gift giving has very little to do with the actual gift and a lot more to do with the giving and receiving of any gift. Some things we recommend: Key chains, pins or postcards from your hometown and family photos are always good. It is nice to print hard copies of family photos as your host families will love to have them and you will notice that there are always pictures of past students hanging on walls in the places and homes we visit. Please remember that they need to be culturally appropriate (no bikini shots or shots that show a lot of skin).

CLOTHING (ALL)

Please make sure that any clothing you bring is CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE. Anything above the knee, that exposes your shoulders, or that is low cut is not acceptable. Light colors that show bras are not appropriate. Low hanging pants that reveal underwear are not appropriate. Sleeveless shirts/tank tops or clothes with swear words or satirical jokes are not appropriate for men or women at any time on course.

We will send you back to get changed if we think what you’re wearing is not culturally or environmentally appropriate. If that means that we miss a bus or a cool experience, then you will have the group to answer to. As a good rule of thumb, if you’re questioning whether a piece of clothing is appropriate, it probably isn’t. Being on a Dragons program isn’t a fashion parade. If you feel like you look like a dag, then you’re probably doing it right.

MALE CLOTHING

On the Mekong course, we will experience an extreme gradient of weather and temperature. From dry, cool and windy nights on the mountains (8°C) to hot and humid weather in the delta (35°C). For this reason, we need to pack efficiently so that we are prepared for all elements. Please bring the following:

  • Lightweight RAIN JACKET (should be breathable material).
  • Three or four presentable and polite T-SHIRTs (you will get a Dragon’s t-shirt and this can count as one).
  • At least one COLLARED SHIRT. This can be short-sleeved as it will be hot, but it is important to have one item to “dress up” in. Bring light colors, but try to avoid white entirely as it gets dirty easily.
  • One EXTRA T-SHIRT for sleeping in homestays and villages (no tank tops).
  • One pair of NICE PANTS (lightweight like Dockers).
  • One or two pairs of lightweight QUICK-DRY PANTS. Note: these do not have to be expensive zip-offs (these can be great but are sometimes pricy), just make sure the pants are comfortable and can dry out quickly. These are great for hiking.
  • One pair of LONG SHORTS (they MUST go to your knees). While you’ll see people wearing shorts, the majority of Asian men and women wear pants, even in the heat!
  • One pair of LIGHTWEIGHT SHORTS FOR SLEEPING in homestays and villages.
  • One RASH GUARD (or quick dry T shirt) AND a pair of BOARDSHORTS (to the knee or below) are also required for swimming. The new European bathing shorts that are basically short shorts are not appropriate to swim in.
  • WARM LAYERS:
    • Be sure to bring a WARM FLEECE/WOOL PULLOVER or JACKET Fleece is great because it is light, doesn’t hold odors, dries fast and keeps you warm even if it’s wet. This is an essential element of the layering system, and a wool sweater will serve the same purpose. We recommend that students do NOT bring cotton sweaters and sweatshirts, as they are heavy, take a long time to dry and will only make you colder if they get wet.
    • LONG SLEEVE THERMAL UNDERWEAR (TOP AND BOTTOMS) light to mid-weight capilene or polypropylene is the best. Basically, some type of synthetic or wool. No cotton.
    • LIGHTWEIGHT WARM HAT (especially if you feel the cold easily)
  • Seven changes of COTTON UNDERWEAR (should not be visible in any cases).
  • SOCKS 3-5 pairs made out of wool or synthetic material. You will need ONE PAIR OF LONG SOCKS for our trek to avoid leeches.
  • A RAZOR that you like and a few extra blades. Small bottle or tube of shaving cream. If you have facial hair, it’s appropriate to keep it well trimmed.
  • One DEODORANT that you prefer. Many types can be purchased on course.
  • KNEE LENGTH/LOOSE RUNNING SHORTS Like our yogis, our runners don’t have to stop running just because they are on course. We want everyone to be fit and healthy and exercise a great stress reliever. Tight leggings are not appropriate to wear in the villages we stay in but loose, but knee length/loose shorts are great.

#MALES, DO NOT BRING

  • UNKEMPT FACIAL HAIR: a clean-shaven face is the cultural norm. If you do have facial hair, keeping it well-trimmed is more culturally appropriate.
  • Any TANK TOPS.
  • T-SHIRTS that have INAPPROPRIATE or OFFENSIVE wording on them.
  • SHORTS that are ABOVE YOUR KNEE.

^^There will be no exceptions to the above guidelines. Students who turn up in inappropriate attire will be asked to get changed.

FEMALE CLOTHING

On the Mekong course, we will experience an extreme gradient of weather and temperature. From dry, cool and windy nights on the mountains (8°C) to hot and humid weather in the delta (35°C). For this reason, we need to pack efficiently so that we are prepared for all elements.

  • One Lightweight RAIN JACKET (should be breathable material).
  • Three or four presentable and polite T-SHIRTs (you will get a Dragon’s t-shirt and this can count as one of your t-shirts). It’s important that these are NOT low-cut, and that your bra is not visible, even when you bend over to say hi to your host siblings. Please make sure that your shirts aren’t too tight, slightly looser or baggy shirts are better. Many styles of women’s v-neck or scoop t-shirts currently available in the US are not appropriate, and tank tops are never appropriate.
  • One polite collared shirt or BLOUSES (Bring light colors, not see-through, and try to avoid white entirely as it gets dirty easily.)
  • One EXTRA T-SHIRT for sleeping in homestays and villages. (NO TANK TOPS OR SINGLET TOPS – girls’ shoulders should be fully covered at all times.)
  • One pair of LONG SHORTS (they MUST go to or below your knees). While you’ll see people wearing shorts, the majority of Asian men and women wear pants, even in the heat!
  • One or two pairs of lightweight QUICK-DRY PANTS. Note: these do not need to be the expensive types sold at REI (those are great but can be pricy), just make sure the pants are comfortable and can dry quickly. These can be full length or capri style.
  • One pair of nice light LONG PANTS and/or a LONG SKIRT for more conservative or formal situations. For skirts the hemline should be between the knee and ankle, nothing above the knee. It should not be possible to see underclothing through the skirt if you choose to bring one.
  • One RASH GUARD (or quick dry T shirt) AND a pair of BOARDSHORTS (to the knee or below) are also required for swimming. It is often hard to find women’s board shorts to an appropriate length. When searching keep in mind, if you put on your “swim suit” and think you look good, you’re doing something wrong. Many students choose to bring basketball-style shorts, Jess swims in her hiking capris, and most Asians swim in their clothes.
  • WARM LAYERS:
    • Be sure to bring a WARM FLEECE/WOOL PULLOVER or JACKET Fleece is great because it is light, doesn’t hold odors, dries fast and keeps you warm even if it’s wet. This is an essential element of the layering system, and a wool sweater will serve the same purpose. We recommend that students do NOT bring cotton sweaters and sweatshirts, as they are heavy, take a long time to dry and will only make you colder if they get wet.
    • LONG SLEEVE THERMAL UNDERWEAR (TOP AND BOTTOMS) light to mid-weight capilene or polypropylene is the best. Basically, some type of synthetic or wool. No cotton.
    • LIGHTWEIGHT WARM HAT/MITTENS (especially if you feel the cold easily)
  • Seven to ten changes of cotton or quick dry UNDERWEAR (should not be visible in any cases).
  • BRAS: 1-2 sports bras and 2-3 regular bras (it’s your choice but you will need at least 1 sports bra).
  • SOCKS: 3-5 pairs made out of wool or synthetic material. You will need ONE PAIR OF LONG SOCKS for our trek to avoid leeches.
  • TAMPONS are hard to find in Asia. If you use these please bring a good supply with you. Pads are also available in cities, but we recommend that you bring your own supply. Look into menstrual cup e.g. Diva Cup, as these can be great alternatives and reduce waste, which can be awkward to get rid of in a homestay setting.
  • One DEODORANT that you prefer. More are available in Asia.
  • KNEE LENGTH/LOOSE RUNNING SHORTS Like our yogis, our runners don’t have to stop running just because they are on course. We want everyone to be fit and healthy and exercise a great stress reliever. Tight leggings are not appropriate to wear in the villages we stay in but loose, knee length shorts are great.

#Females – Trust us, we know that it can sometimes be frustrating to try and find clothes that meet the specifications above in the USA, but you’ll be very happy you followed them.

FEMALES, DO NOT BRING:

  • A FULL PIECE SWIMSUIT OR BIKINI (unless to wear under your Asian “swim suit.”).
  • Any MAKE UP/COSMETICS (you’ll just sweat it off anyways).
  • Any SHOWY/VALUABLE JEWELRY (no jewelry is preferred).
  • LOW CUT (V-neck/loose hanging), TIGHT-FITTING and/or SEE-THROUGH TOPS The styles in the US right now can be too low and often clothing will stretch out from frequent washing and humidity, meaning the neckline gets even lower which is not appropriate.
  • SHORTS THAT ARE ABOVE THE KNEE, or any tight LEGGINGS/JEGGINGS (except for sleeping in). Though some women wear shorts in urban areas, they’ll attract unwanted attention, so it is important you also have capris, pants or longer skirts that you’re comfortable in. Any shorts or skirts need to go to your knee or below.
  • T-SHIRTS that show your MIDRIFF or reveal your BRA through your arm hole.

^^ There will be no exceptions for the above guidelines. Students who turn up in inappropriate attire will be asked to get change.

^^^ Please note that if you don’t like wearing a bra then please wear extra baggy tops that don’t reveal your nipples.

DO NOT BRING (ALL STUDENTS)

  • Your CELL PHONE or any smart device.
  • TOO MANY BOOKS – they are heavy and do not last long in the rainy season. eReaders without internet capabilities like the Kindle Paperwhite or Nook Glowlight are acceptable. Preload your books onto your device and you can carry hundreds of books with you. Tablet-style eReaders are not allowed. We will have our own travelling library on course too that everyone will help to carry.
  • Any sort of ELECTRONIC ENTERTAINMENT (no Mp3 players or Gameboys).
  • TOILETRIES BIGGER THAN 3OZ You won’t have the space to pack them.
  • BARE MIDRIFFS (no stomach should show at all, any time).
  • HIGH HEELS/INAPPROPRIATE FOOTWEAR You won’t need them and they are a safety risk.
  • LOW-RIDING/LONG PANTS THAT DRAG Not culturally appropriate and a safety concern.
  • FULL SIZE COTTON TOWEL – they are too heavy and won’t dry quickly.
  • MORE THAN one pair of shoes, one pair of sturdy sandals and one pair of flip flops. Please remember that your shoes must fit inside your backpack.
  • JEANS – too heavy and will not have time to dry in the rainy season.
  • Anything made of LEATHER that you don’t want ruined
  • RATTY, SMELLY, TORN UP shoes or flip flops.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO BUY ON THE MEKONG SEMESTER:

  • T-shirts if you decide you need them
  • Toiletries
  • There will also be time to buy gifts and souvenirs at the end of the course, as well as additional boxes or bags for transporting the souvenirs back to the US

ONE OTHER THING TO BRING – A HEALTHY BODY!

Your experience will be so much more enjoyable if you come with a body that is fully prepared for the journey. We recommend an exercise regimen that gets your heart rate above 120 beats per minute, for thirty minutes at a stretch, four times a week. If you can’t do this much, do what you can… The more the better! There will be several opportunities on the course to go for long walks or ride bikes from one village to another. The better your condition, the greater the number of opportunities you’ll be able to seize.

A NOTE ON SHIPPING

Due to the movement of the course, difficulties with customs, and unreliability of shipping methods, we do not recommend shipping items to students during the program. Please make sure you bring all necessary personal items and medications for the duration of the course.

Ok, that’s a wrap from us. Phew. If you have any questions about the packing list, please post a message to the Yak board or email us direct your instructor team will address it.

Happy packing!

Your 2018 Fall Mekong iTeam.

Som, Steve & Shuier