The Guide to Backpacking Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is known for its beautiful beaches, stunning natural wonders, its religious heritage and delicious cuisine. It’s no surprise more and more people are choosing to not only visit the region on their holidays but also spend time backpacking across this stunning continent. Here’s all you need to know about travelling across Southeast Asia.

What to bring

As well as sunscreen and a travel pillow there are a range of essentials you should pack to ensure you have the best time on your trip. Check out the list of vital items many forget below:

The essentials:

  • As a precaution make sure you sort out travel insurance for your trip just in case you get in an unexpected accident that sees you in the emergency room or lose your luggage.
  • Depending on how long you expect to travel for, it’s a good idea to look into any visa requirements you may need before you book your travel.
  • You won’t get very far without the local currency, but, it’s a good idea to bring a mix of cash and cards. If you were to lose your card, you can easily get the money replaced.
  • It’s also a good idea to bring a photocopy of your passport, any visas or travel insurance details and any debit or credit cards you’re taking. This means you can easily get them replaced if they are lost or stolen.

For comfort:

  • Lightweight, durable and won’t take up to much space in your case; a travel towel is a must bring item.
  • Earplugs will keep unwanted noise out when you’re trying to sleep.
  • A waterproof jacket, especially if you’re travelling in the rainy season.
  • A durable yet comfortable pair of shoes or sandals and if you plan on hiking, make sure you wear in your boots before you leave to avoid blisters.

For convenience:

  • A smartphone with headphones to keep you entertained on long bus journeys, to help you navigate and to keep in touch with family back home.
  • Make sure your bag is waterproof. It’s also a good idea to bring a smaller rucksack for day trips.
  • Refillable water bottle with a filter built in.

The weather

Southeast Asia has three distinct seasons all with a hot, sunny climate:

  • The high season (June to August and December to February) sees rain in the summer but the winters are cool and dry.
  • The shoulder season (March and November) is hot and dry.
  • The low season (April to May and September to October) is considered the wet season with flooding and heavy rain in the Autumn. But it is also commonly when the dry season begins in Indonesia.


Southeast Asia is considered a relatively cheap place to travel around and can be done on less than £30 a day. Accommodation is cheap with local guesthouses and hostels offering good rates for a nights stay. Bargaining is also a normal thing to do around Southeast Asia, but you just need to learn the art of haggling to get a fair price.

Famous places to see

Southeast Asia is bursting with culture with famous places to visit and exciting sites to experience in each country. Here’s a list of the most popular sites to tick off on your bucket list in four of the most visited countries in Southeast Asia:


  • Komodo National Park is home to the notoriously feisty giant lizards. Tour with a guide to learn about these magnificent beasts.
  • Visit the largest Buddhist temple in the world, Borobudur temple in Java.
  • Bail is home to some of the world’s most stunning beaches; Kuta is incredible.
  • Venture 2,000 metres in the hills for the hot springs, floating paddy fields and the lush jungle of Dieng Plateau.
  • Visit the cultural hub of Bali, Ubud with its stunning Tegalalang Rice Terrace.


  • Visit the famous Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap for a glimpse into the ancient spiritual heritage of the country.
  • Sail down the Kampot River for a relaxing way to see the fishing villages.
  • Banteay Srei is the historic relic to visit to experience real Angkorian art.
  • View Cambodia from a great height from the gardens at Phnom Sampeau in Battambang.
  • Bathe in warm pools and waterfalls in Kirirom National Park, near to Phnom Penh.


  • Snorkel and relax on the famous Phi Phi Islands, where traditional fishing boats line the sandy shores.
  • Visit the well-preserved Hindu shrine complex and home to Shiva, Phanom Rung historical Park in Buri Ram.
  • Like visiting heaven on earth, explore the natural paradise of Khao Sok National Park in Khlong Sok.
  • Explore the famous Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Buddhist temple up in the mountainside outside Chiang Mai.
  • The floating markets near Bangkok are a real treat to see, explore Damnoen Saduak market on a traditional long boat to experience the hustle and bustle properly.


  • Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam is a real natural wonder with 1,600 limestone islands and emerald waters just waiting to be explored.
  • Explore the ancient colonial buildings and unique heritage in the distinctive Hanoi city on the banks of the Red River.
  • Discover the local way of life down the meandering Mekong Delta, where floating markets, boats and houses are intertwined through the villages.
  • Venture into the world’s largest cave network, Hang Son Doong near Phong Nha in the lush jungle.
  • Visit Hue for the epic 1920s Khai Dinh Tomb with glorious bronze statues and murals.

Quick travel tips

  • Although you may be travelling to tourist hotspots and urban cities, you should still dress modestly and appropriately, especially when visiting temples and religious sites. When visiting these areas it’s important not to bare too much skin and you’ll need to cover your shoulders in religious surroundings.
  • It’s common practice to take your shoes off when entering homes and religious buildings. The general rule, is if your host is doing it, follow suit and leave your shoes by the door.
  • Travelling by bus is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get around Southeast Asia with routes running both day and night. But, because of this, they tend to be crowded especially during peak times.
  • Petty theft crimes are on the rise, as more and more tourists come to visit Southeast Asia. Make sure you keep your valuables out of sight on public transport and in tourist hotspots. It’s a good idea to carry a padlock with you to lock away your belongings in the hostels.
  • Bursting with flavour, Asian street food is a cheap and delicious way to eat in Southeast Asia, but just made sure the meat is well cooked before you tuck in.

With all this information you’ll be well on your way to safely and respectfully travel around Southeast Asia.

Solo Travelers l Jennifer Huber