19 tips to know for backpacking Southeast Asia

Well hello to you my reader chums! Backpacking around Southeast Asia was one of the best decisions I've ever made and the greatest experience in my life so far. I loved every minute of soaking up the culture, eating the best food, seeing the sights and lapping up the sunshine. It's something I'll never forget and forever wish to go back.

19 tips to know before backpacking in South East Asia

As it's nearly a year (where has the time gone?) that I was prepping to go, I thought I'd put together a guide of everything to know before you go backpacking.

Pack lightly

This is probably my number one tip for any wannabe backpackers - and something I wish I listened to more when I was packing for the trip. I'd always advise you to pack less rather than more - as you don't want to make your backpack unnecessarily to heavy for you to carry around.

My advice would be to pack what you think you need and then half it. Something I had trouble with was thinking about how many clothes or underwear I'll need for a 2 month period. But, looking back, I certainly brought too many clothing items with me and could easily have halved the load. When backpacking, you can easily buy more clothes on market stalls and wash your clothes along the way.

Try and avoid packing heavy items, bring versatile pieces and sort in packing cubes, to keep organised. For more tips, check out my 2-month packing guide to Asia.

Be wary

Backpacking around Asia will give you a complete culture shock, especially if you haven't been to the continent before. It took me a while to fully immerse and appreciate their way of life - and then fall in love with it. It's so incredibly humble and heartwarming that you'll feel the same.

However, in the same breath, you need to be wary of your surroundings a lot more. Southeast Asia, for instance, is generally a poor area so things like thieving and scams are more likely to occur to tourists. With that in mind, it's important to be street smart as you're roaming around. Keep your eyes peeled on any valuables you may have, look at your surroundings and try and avoid scams. A few ways to do this would be having a travel money card (save you losing any cash), don't carry around anything expensive items and don't walk off the beaten path after dark.

It's all common sense really when you think about it but as long as your safe and looking out for yourself and whoever else is with you, then you'll have a great time travelling.


Learn common phrases

Wherever you go in the world, it's important to have a brief knowledge of the lingo. Whether it's to greet someone or find directions, it's very helpful. You should try and learn a few phrases like greetings, how to get somewhere, how to order food, etc. It's quite lucky that most places around the globe, there is a common correlation where people speak English, but it doesn't mean you should rely on that.  If you pick up a few phrases, it'll help you out when you're venturing around the non-tourist areas - and also means you can understand the locals, and even have a chat with them.

Have the correct gear

When it comes to backpacking, you need to be prepped in the things you're bringing with you, and that all depends on what you're planning to do whilst you're travelling. Whether it's a lot of hiking, heading off the beaten path or island hopping, you need to be prepped with the handy items. For instance a waterproof phone case, a torch, hiking boots, or a reusable water bottle will come to good use.

Research is key

Even though backpacking and travelling the globe is all about being spontaneous, I would recommend doing a lot of research beforehand. From researching where you want to go, mapping out a route, to ensuring you get the right visas, injections, and currencies. Also by reading up, you'll learn tips on how to stay safe, food recommendations and the off-the-beaten-path locations to visit.

Don't be scared

Before I went travelling, lots of people filled my head with danger stories of Asia and it did worry me a lot, however, once I arrived, there was really nothing to be scared of. I found my bearings, fell in love with wherever I went and felt incredibly safe. Don't be scared to see new places, try the crazy foods they offer or speak to locals - they'll be some of the kindest you'll ever meet. Fill your heart with the culture, the memories and embrace any fears you may have.

Cash is everything in South East Asia

Travelling around South East Asia, you'll find that cash really is everything. You can use your card to pay in more of the tourist hubs in restaurants, bars and for attractions, but predominately for more local areas, transport, and market stalls, you need cash. I would recommend bringing cash with you and then put the rest on a travel card - and take out the money when you need it.

19 tips to know before backpacking in Southeast Asia

Download Grab

Grab is Asia's version of Uber and a blessing in disguise when you're lost and need a lift back. The Grab vehicles can either be tuk-tuks or actual taxis, it really depends on the location. Unlike the tuk-tuks you pin down on the street where you can haggle a price, a Grab will give you the price before you book it. It's pretty much available across Asia but off-the-beaten-path areas, you may not be able to access it.

Be prepared for the public toilet situation

If you're a bit of a germaphobe then you won't like peeing in public places. A lot of Asia has squat toilets (literal holes in the ground) so you'll need to train yourself up with squats. As they are literally holes in the ground, a lot of public toilets don't have loo roll or hand wash - so bring your own to keep clean.

Public buses aren't reliable

I didn't get public buses a lot when travelling but when I did, I found they aren't the most reliable things nor do they stick to the schedule. A lot of the time, the buses will leave when it's completely full - so give yourself time to get to where you want to be.

Use 12Go Asia to book transfers 

For longer journeys, however, the company 12Go Asia was a lifesaver. I managed to book all my overnight buses and other transfers on here to get me from place to place. You can also book trains, ferries, and flights on here too.

South East Asia is very humid

I knew it would be hot, but I didn't realise the level of humidity that South East Asia would bring. It was incredibly hot, especially when venturing around the cities. Aircon and ice-cold water was literally a blessing - and suncream. Always remember suncream, and buy a lot before you arrive as it's really pricey in Asia. Because of the heat, bring protective gear (a hat will do) and try to avoid the sun when it's in its prime if you can (or just find a pool - you won't regret it.)


Beware of the seasons

Even though South East Asia is pretty much hot all year round, it does have its seasons - wet and dry. I visited in the dry season so I only saw a handful of rain (it was kind of a blessing) when travelling. However, if you go during the wet season, ensure to bring rain gear as the downpours can be very heavy. Dry season tends to be from November to February and that's usually prime backpacker season time - and the wet season is from June to October. Depending on what time of year you're going will determine what to pack - but try and be prepped for both extremes!

Street food - enjoy but be careful

Asia is renowned for its street food scene and it's honestly incredible. You cannot beat the aroma of when you walk through a food market in Asia - your mouth will literally water! Although street food is one of the best things about travelling (it's cheap and yummy), it can give you food poisoning. As there are a lot more germs out there than the street food you get at home, sometimes, you'll find yourself with a case of the Dehli belly. To prepare for this, take probiotics a couple of weeks before you go and whilst you're there, as it'll build up your immune system for any additional germs.

Locals will ask to have photos

In the lesser-known places, a lot of the locals wouldn't have seen western people before and would, therefore, ask to take a photo with you - as to them, you're like a celebrity. In Vietnam, I had so many schoolchildren come up to me and ask for a photo - it was the cutest thing!

Traffic is mental 

One thing that I'll still never fully take in was how crazy the traffic really was in southeast Asia! There are literally motorbikes everywhere and they don't pay attention to any traffic lights in sight. Be wary if you're a pedestrian but also if you're a driver as you need to be alert at all times. You'll also realise that seeing a family of five on one motorbike will become the absolute norm.

19 tips to know before backpacking in Southeast Asia

Stay respectful

In southeast Asia, Buddhism is the main religion and there are a lot of beautiful temples you'll see as you venture through. I'm still blown away by all the incredible temples I was able to visit and the history I was able to learn. However, as you go and visit the temples, you need to be respectful. That means covering up when needed and following all the rules the temples require. The same goes for the culture in general - be mindful wherever you go.

Always set a price before you go in a taxi

Taxi drivers and tuk tuk drivers can scam you, especially if you look like a lost tourist. Before you get into a taxi, try and haggle a price - otherwise, they can charge more and really con you out of money, especially if they have a meter.

Enjoy the experience

Southeast Asia is an experience like no other and will leave your heart full, your spirit humble and a tummy full of the best ever food. Enjoy it, embrace it and allow yourself to fall in love with the world.

I hope you enjoyed this post. What are your best backpacking tips?

Thank you for reading <3

1 comment

  1. Thanks for sharing, I learnt so much when on my travels in 2019, to remember the toilet paper in my day pack, as I had forgot once in a rush and had to borrow someone else's :)

    Nic | Nic's Adventures & Bakes


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