Thinking of backpacking South East Asia? Before you jet off, it could be worth reading this guide – especially if it’s your first time exploring the tropical subcontinent. Renowned for its cheap prices, South East Asia can have its hidden costs if you’re not careful. There can also be health dangers and cultural differences to be aware of. These 12 Asia travel tips will help you to stay out of trouble so that your trip is the fun adventure that it deserves to be.
Asia travel tips:
Plan your itinerary (but don’t over plan!)
South East Asia is full of surprises and so you shouldn’t plan to travel with a strict day-by-day hourly schedule. A bit of spontaneity will make your trip more fun – you’re likely to meet people as you’re travelling and tag along with them on last-minute detours.
What you don’t want to do is be too spontaneous and end up running out of money in the middle of nowhere having missed out on all the major attractions. Try to have a loose itinerary of the places you want to go and how much you plan to spend in each destination. This will ensure that you see all the things you want to see whilst still having a good time.
Lonely Planet books are a great resource to study this and plan your trip.
Stay in hostels
Hostels are one of the cheapest forms of accommodation and are ideal for backpacking through South East Asia. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also meet other backpackers by staying in hostels. Hostels tend to have a good wi-fi connection and the staff there are very knowledgeable about local sights and attractions. Sharing a room with strangers can be scary the first time, but in most cases, the people that use hostels are friendly and considerate.
You may occasionally want to treat yourself to a cheap hotel to give yourself your own space. Also, look out for guesthouses and b&bs which can also be as cheap as hostels in some areas. Camping could even an option in remote regions although you’ll have to bring a tent with you (you could always buy a tent whilst you’re there). One of the best Asia travel tips to keep costs at a minimum.
I use regular travel sites to book my accommodation that I have come to trust over the years. Learn which ones I think are the best and provide easy booking systems and the best prices.
When it comes to getting around, try to avoid taxis. They’re usually the most expensive transport option and there are some taxi drivers scammers that will try to rip you off because you’re a tourist. Use them only if it’s a real emergency.
Buses and trains tend to be cheaper and more reliable – you’ll have to wait a little longer, but it’s worth it. Tuk-tuks are also a good option and a fun experience (make sure to negotiate the fare initially rather than waiting until they’ve driven you to your destination though).
Take night buses
Night buses operate all across South East Asia and tend to be a cheap way of getting around. You can also sleep on these buses, saving yourself the cost of a night’s stay in a hostel. Night buses aren’t always the most luxurious forms of transport – if you’re a light sleeper, you may find that you struggle to sleep at all on these buses. However, they are generally reliable and will get you from a to b.
To find more transport options I have come to use on a regular basis head over to my Travel Resources Page.
Eat street food
You don’t want to be eating out at plush restaurants every night. Street food is much cheaper, whilst still as tasty and authentic in most cases. Every city in the subcontinent is likely to have a market, where you’ll find plenty of stalls selling cheap and authentic South East Asian food. In fact, you’ll likely find stalls on street corners. The locals tend to like their food spicy, so bear this in mind if you’re not a fan of hot foods.
Sometimes you may be able to find canteens and coffee shops used by locals – these can be cheap places to get a bit to eat. When it comes to alcoholic drinks, try to stick to local beers as these will be cheaper than imported drinks.
Drink bottled water
Tap water in South East Asia doesn’t go through the same purification processes as in the west. As a result, it can be full of bacteria – the locals are immune to this, but many westerners tend to get sick or get the runs when exposed to these germs. If you stick to bottled water, you know that it’s come from a clean source. Always check that the lid is securely tightened as some vendors will try to sell you bottled up tap water! If you are going to follow any of these Asia travel tips make it this one.
Remember to get vaccinated
There are diseases in South East Asia such as malaria and rabies that you need to be careful about. Getting vaccinations from a travel doctor before you go could be a sensible move – this way, if you do come into contact with these diseases, you’ll already be immunised. Your doctor will be able to recommend which jabs you should take. These often have to be taken over a period of several weeks (in some cases months) before you fly out. To fend off malaria, you may be given tablets instead. Getting vaccinated can be expensive, so make sure that you budget for this.
Remember to sort out visas too
You’ll need to have applied for a visa before entering each country. Nowadays, you can usually apply for visas online without needing a paper record. You can do this before you reach South East Asia, but you’ll need to know the times in which you plan to enter and leave each country (this is why complete spontaneity doesn’t always work).
Research the local laws and customs
There are many laws in South East Asia that can catch out travellers. For instance, in Thailand, it’s illegal to drive without a shirt on and in Singapore, littering can carry a fine of $1000. It’s worth looking up these laws before you visit.
Similarly, you should be wary of the difference in customs. In some countries such as Laos, you don’t want to be walking around in a bikini as it could be seen as indecent behaviour. Around temples, you should particularly make an effort to cover up out of respect by wearing trousers or a long dress instead of shorts or a skirt.
Be wary of tourist scams
Sadly, there are lots of scams to be found in South East Asia – tourists tend to be the target of these scams. If you want to plan a guided tour of a palace or a temple for the next day, you’re usually best booking tickets online rather than trusting a tour operator that approaches you on the street. Similarly, some stores will pretend to be large brand stores, selling fake goods – watch out for these fake goods that are often illegal.
Prepare for all weathers
South East Asia is generally very hot all year round, so you’ll want to bring clothing for the heat and sun cream. When it comes to footwear, sandals or flip flops may be all you need.
Areas that are higher up in the mountains can be cooler and you may want to bring some extra layers if you’re planning to visit these regions. Being largely tropical, South East Asia also gets a lot of rain, so you may want to bring a waterproof jacket.
For assistance with travel items required for your trip and which brands you can relay head to my travel gear section of this blog.
If you’ve gone backpacking before, you’ll know that it’s essential to keep the weight down – you don’t want to be lugging around a heavy rucksack in the South East Asian heat. Whilst you may have lots of items that you want to bring, try to be realistic about what you need. When it comes to clothing, keep things basic and try to opt for lightweight clothing (opt for a light rain jacket over a bulky coat). It’s also possible to buy travel towels and travel sleeping bags that are deliberately light and easy to compact. Meanwhile, if you like to read, consider bringing an e-reader as opposed to bringing a selection of paperback books.
Get some more packing tips and ensure you are fully ready for your trip to Southeast Asia.
That is 12 Asia travel tips that will be sure to make your backpacking trip so much more enjoyable after all travelling and backpacking
Please keep me updated on your amazing trip and if you know of any other Asia travel tips that I should know about or information you have found that is useful to pass on, please leave them in the comment section below.
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Happy Travels, Brodie