A time for solitude

A guide to help travel addicts make the most of social distancing

published : 26 Mar 2020 at 04:00

newspaper section: Life

My job as a journalist requires me to travel more often than the average person. Still, after three full decades in the profession, there are tons of destinations in Thailand that I have never been to. This country is blessed with so many beautiful places, especially in protected areas. Understandably, during the lockdown all national parks and forest parks are closed with no set date for reopening. On the bright side, nature gets a long break it so well deserves. (Above photo: Doi Kham Fa, Chiang Mai.)

Starting on Thursday, Thailand is under a state of emergency. Hopefully, this will help the country cope with the Covid-19 pandemic more effectively. At the time of writing, a full lockdown is not yet announced. But in line with the emergency decree, it's likely that social distancing will no longer be urged but enforced. Only with people staying calmly at home will it be possible to keep the highly contagious virus under control. China has shown that such stringent measures worked. If everybody complies, it should bring a good result here, too.

Doi Pui Luang, Mae Hong Son.

Koh Samet, Rayong.

For people who love to travel, myself included, being confined to one place for an extended period of time, even if it's home, may at first seem like a daunting task. But after a domestic flight a couple of weeks ago, during which I felt as if I was in a tank full of potential disease carriers, I realised this is not a good time to travel. Since then, I decided to practise social distancing and found that it isn't that bad. Nobody could tell how long it will take before things return to normal. But for now, let's make the most of the lockdown.

As a travel writer, I was accustomed to life on the go. Normally, if there was any weekend that I got to be home, much of it was spent doing accumulated laundry. With the lockdown, now I'm able to get my hands on other things that before this I could only wish I had time to do.

Apart from rescheduling my travel plans for the remainder of the year, my projects also include maintenance and proper storage of a variety of items so that I will be ready to venture out for my fieldwork whenever the state of emergency is lifted. Details of each mission can be found in the photo captions. I hope they might give you some ideas on how to not only get through this troubled time but also benefit from it.

Personally, I hope the lockdown would be long enough for me to complete all these missions.

Taipei, Taiwan.

One thing I plan to do during this period of travel restriction is to search for my favourite hiking clothes that I still have at home but are scattered in different spots. The clothes are old and inexpensive but light, breathable and easy to dry. This photo, by the way, was taken by a friend during one of my journeys to Laos' Bolaven Plateau, which has several beautiful waterfalls along its steep southern edge.

For my bike column, which no longer appears regularly because I rarely have time for riding, I need different rigs for different trips. Many of the bicycles have been idle for so long their tyres are now flat. This is an opportunity for me not just to refill the rubbers with air before they are deformed but also to check whether the brakes and suspension are still in good working order.

In Thailand, tourist accommodation is easy to find. But in certain areas, unless you don't mind sleeping in the pickup like I often do, a tent or a hammock is the only option. To be honest, I have no idea exactly how many tents I have. I rarely use them these days but every time I find one that I like on sale — one that is light, well-built and inexpensive — I can't resist the urge to buy. During the lockdown, I will keep them all, together with the flysheets, in one place and make sure that each is in good condition. The sleeping bags will be spread out in the sunlight before being stored with the tents. The last time I slept in a hammock was months ago. But before social distancing, I never got to fold it and put it properly back in its bag.

Thanks to digital photography, these days it doesn't break the bank to shoot hundreds of pictures during a trip. Some photos have been kept on a hard disk for so long I forgot I took them. The lockdown is a good chance to go through your picture folders. For me, this not only brings back memories but also ideas for travel articles when travelling is prohibited. These photos, for example, were among the numerous that were never used due to the newspaper's limited space. I took the picture of the peafowls in Nam Nao National Park, Phetchabun, and that of the monkeys at a temple in Saraburi.

The lockdown will give me plenty of time to gather together and examine my gear, from trekking shoes, hats and gloves to rain poncho, life vest, ropes, torches and camping stove. These items may seem unimportant but if any of them fails, you can be in a big trouble. Imagine the rope snaps while you're climbing a steep hillside.

Like a lot of people who love to travel, I have quite a few backpacks, some of which I use more often than others. Those that I rarely use will have to be checked, especially ones intended for trekking. To carry a heavy load for long hours, it's wise to make sure the bag is in perfect shape.

I hate waiting for luggage so I usually don't load mine when travelling by plane. Because of that, I use a suitcase only on long journeys in the wintertime because a thick jacket will not fit into my backpack. Somehow, there are several suitcases unnecessarily taking up space in my apartment. Maybe it's time to choose which ones stay and which must go.

With a car, you get to see more of Thailand than you can with public transport. With a 4×4 vehicle or a motorcycle, you have more chances to visit harder-to-reach locations. But whatever vehicle you have, the lockdown presents a chance for maintenance and to make sure it is ready to hit the road as soon as the crisis is over. Let's hope that the petrol prices, which have been falling lately, will not pick up when we're allowed to travel.

Bored of fried eggs or instant noodles, the basic campers' food? Use this stay-home period to hone your food-making skills. Cooking videos and recipes are abundant on the internet. The food you make should be safer than what you buy from a vendor. On your next trip with friends, whenever that happens, you can surprise them with your culinary masterpiece.

Thanks to today's technology, several businesses can still operate as usual despite the travel ban. Unlike at the office, when working from home you can wear anything and work in any position as long as you get the job done. A desk exercise bike allows you to burn excess calories while working. It can also be used as a standing desk which can relieve shoulder stress suffered by victims of office syndrome. Hiding from the virus is not enough to ensure that you'll be safe from it. You need to be healthy, too. By the way, that bed is another of my work stations.


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