Living in a Tropical Country

White Beach BoracayMany dream of relaxing in a warm land where the sun shines every day – especially those working in cold and wet countries, like the UK where it’s dark most of winter.

Understand the Weather
Tropical RainI’ve been living in the Far East for 22-years: believe me, the weather is not all honey.  You feel more positive when the sun shines and an outside lifestyle is nice.  People are more friendly and relaxed – however, most of the year the climate is extreme. Like summers when its hotter than hell and buckets down every day.

Humidity & the Heat
Take Hong Kong, it’s usually 95% humid. Feveringly sticky for eight-months of the year, and around 33c all day and night.  However, we have fierce air-con and winters can go lower than 10c – but this feels freezing without heating.

If you’re too hot, move higher up. Tropical climates tend to cool quicker with altitude. Temperatures at sea level are cooler than inland, but more humid.

Tropical Storms & Typhoons
These usually occur in latitudes of between about ten and thirty degrees, but Google the weather before you leave home as it changes rapidly. Peak typhoon time in South East Asia is in the autumn, but can occur in summer too. Big typhoons come several times a year and shut all transport, often for days.

Insects
cockroachBugs grow huge in warm climates. Cockroaches almost as large as small mobile phones are common in the kitchen and sometimes in other rooms. Mosquito bites are an everyday occurrence, and spiders and minute midges you can’t see make you itch. Ants and other creepy crawlies are also a worry if you’re messy.

Water
In poorer Asian countries pressure can be a problem, especially in high-rises where showers can be reduced to a trickle.  Hot kitchen taps are only in the most expensive apartments, but this is doesn’t matter outside winter. However, it’s usually advisable to boil drinking water if you don’t buy it in. Even in Hong Kong where its supposed to be safe from the tap, I’ve learnt boiling is best, especially in the New Territories.

Walking
Chinese Pavement in GuangzhouPavements aren’t in the same state of repair as they are back home. You need to be careful you don’t fall in open drains or other holes, especially at night where street lighting is on saver-mode.

In most Asian countries pavements are for parking motor-bikes and extending retail display. Sometimes it’s safer to walk in the road.

Telecommunications
Surprisingly, mobile phone coverage is usually much better than home.  Many Asian countries transmit 3G at the top of mountains or in remote areas like deserts.  And fast 4G is arriving in many large cities.  However, although internet is now common, speeds are inconsistent in poorer countries.

Transportation
Hong Kong TaxiPublic transport is another advantage of living in this part of the world. Unless you’re out of the way, taxes, busses, boats and trains will be more frequent and much cheaper than your home country. In large cities like Bangkok, Guangzhou, Hong Kong or Manila: only at peak-times do you wait more than a few minutes for a taxi.

Safety
Western rules don’t apply in Asia.  Busses drive with bald tyres and far too fast. Overcrowded ferries lack life jackets. Fires can be dangerous as exits are blocked, fire-doors jammed open, and smoke detectors don’t exist.

Food
FruitCheap fresh food is everywhere.  Imported and canned produce is expensive. Asian people appreciate freshness and shop every day.  All towns have bustling markets where locals haggle for the best deal. The selection will usually be more than you’re used to in the supermarket, with many exotic vegetables and fruits.  Fish and seafood is sold live, and meat exhibited like an abattoir.

Sleeping
It may not have occurred to you, but it can be problem getting to sleep at 33c and 90% humidity. Many of my friends prefer just a simple bedroom fan. This works well as long as it’s not directly blowing on you. I like air-con – as it dried the air too. However, unless meticulously adjusted it makes you go either hot or cold all night long. I find it best set to no colder than 26c, and doze under a sheet a thin duvet.

Conclusion – is it worth living in the heat?
If you’re staying in the countryside it will be basic and harsh. If you’re in the city there will be more amenities, but a tiny flat with no garden or car.

However, living in the tropics isn’t all bad. Little frustrations ease with time, and advantages of low prices, sun and swimming in warm water compensate. You do feel better: colds disappear, you mellow, and alfresco dining beats watching TV.

Nevertheless, before you throw in the job, visit for a holiday first to see if it’s for you. Talk to the locals and expats whose honesty is invaluable.  Visit when the weather is bad: it’ll be cheaper as well as giving you a feel of what you could be letting yourself into.

See my personal site at NigelHayMckay.com