Tips for backpacking in South East Asia

Tips for backpacking South East Asia

Travelling in South East Asia is very different to your average holiday in Europe! Here are my top 25 tips to make you backpacker savvy before you even get on the plane!

  1. Pack suitable clothing. Most places in South East Asia are very conservative with their clothing, and you should do the same.
  2. But don’t bring too much, clothes are cheap to buy (bonus!) and can also be souvenirs (double bonus!)
  3. Learn some basic language; hello, thank you, goodbye etc. You’ll be surprised how much the local people appreciate you trying
  4. Get a suitable backpack. Your backpack will be like an extra vital organ to you, so make sure its perfect for your needs
  5. Likewise, bring suitable shoes. If you plan on doing a lot of walking like I do then you need supportive shoes. Also, break them in before you go unless you like having blisters.3
  6. Try local food, don’t be afraid of street food as it’s just as easy to get sick from restaurants (yes this is from experience). Which leads to…
  7. You will get sick at some point, so carry Imodium and rehydration tablets
  8. Talk to other travellers, sometimes the best places to see will be ones you haven’t heard of before.
  9. Learn how to cross a road – seriously, its different in different countries. Thailand works by traffic lights and crossings, Vietnam has a few traffic lights but bikes don’t follow them!
  10. Ladies bring a sarong/scarf. It is good for a cover-up for temples, on the beach in case you forget your towel (yes that happened!), and also for privacy in a dorm room.4
  11. Bring loo roll. It’s rare in some countries, but also embrace the bum gun! Most countries in SEA do not have plumbing like we do so their toilets cannot handle toilet roll. Please bin it don’t flush it.
  12. Bring hand sanitiser. This is key to minimise your risk of getting sick.
  13. Make time to relax, seeing new sights all the time gets very tiring so make sure to put your feet up now and again
  14. Face your fears. Do a skydive, take a boat trip or do what I did and zip-line over a river to get to the dark cave! Do something you are not entirely comfortable doing, you’ll thank me later.
  15. Beware of scams- If a tuktuk driver says a popular tourist sight is closed, do not believe them. They will say they know a quieter, better place to go but will take you other sights (and also shops you have no interest in buying things in, where they earn commission). This scam is very common.1
  16. Beware of fakes. Fake branded items are everywhere. If someone is selling Nike trainers or a Michael Kors handbag it will be fake. This may seem obvious but I have heard people bragging about their $20 new Nike trainers they got from a market…
  17. Transport will be late 99% of the time. The 1% it is on time/early then you will be late, so be prepared!
  18. Get around like a local- use Uber/Grab/songthaews/underground/BTS over tuktuks and taxis. Your wallet will thank you for it.
  19. Buy sun cream and insect repellent before you get there, it is crazy expensive.
  20. Don’t give money to street children. Whether they are begging or trying to sell you something, I know it is heart-breaking but you are not helping them. If you give them money you are only providing an incentive for their parents to keep them out of school.2
  21. Keep in touch with loved ones back home. Technology nowadays makes it easy to contact family and friends, all you need is a nice café with Wi-Fi which certainly isn’t hard to find. Plus you’ll be glad you aren’t missing out hearing what is going on.
  22. Be aware of your belongings. Although I personally haven’t had any issues with theft, it does happen. Keep hold of your valuables or keep them in a locker/safe in your accommodation. I recommend a backpack or across-body bag for added security when out and about. Don’t be that person that leaves $200 on their hostel dorm bed while they have a shower then get the police involved when it goes missing and no one owns up!
  23. Do not live by lonely planet and trip adviser. Go explore and find places not on the app or in the book, it may be some of the best food/experiences you have.
  24. Don’t believe those people who say you are not a ‘true backpacker’ because you like to stay in a hotel occasionally, or you didn’t visit one tiny village in Cambodia so you ‘did not truly experience the country’. You are backpacking on your terms not theirs.
  25. Do what you want to do. You are travelling because you chose to, not because someone else told you to. Your happiness is the most important thing, so do what makes you happy, simple!

Have you travelled across Asia? What are your top tips for people new to backpacking? Let me know in the comments!

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