Why Girls Should Go to Southeast Asia

By Nomadic Matt | Published December 2nd, 2010

alms giving in southeast asiaThis is a guest blog by Laura, our resident expert on female travel.

Deciding to go on a solo trip can be intimidating. Sometimes it’s not always by choice; it’s not always easy to convince someone to jump ship with you and take an extended vacation. However, solo travel can be really exhilarating, and I can’t think of a better place to take your first solo trip than Southeast Asia. It’s easy to get by on a budget, meet up with others, and travel around from place to place. If you are a woman and looking for a great place to go alone, Southeast Asia is a perfect place.

It’s budget friendly.
One of the downfalls about solo travel is it tends to be more expensive. You don’t have someone to share a hotel room with or to split a cab ride, for example. Compared to the Western world, Southeast Asia is cheap! Depending on your travel style you should be able to live off of $20-30 per day. On my cheapest day in SE Asia, I spent just $7 for lodging and food in Laos. And, if you plan to hang around a city for at least a month, you can rent an apartment at an extremely low rate.

It’s easy to get around.
You can take public transportation to pretty much any destination. Not only is it widely available, but I consider it fairly comfortable as well. Most buses are air-conditioned, and if you’re taking an overnight bus, there are sleeper buses available. I remember my first bus ride in SE Asia was from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Battambang. I bought my ticket at a travel agency around the corner from my hotel, and they said, “The bus company will pick you up at your hotel 30 minutes before departure.” I was caught off guard and thought, ‘What? You mean I don’t have to grab a taxi or lug my bags to the bus station? I don’t have to worry about getting lost and finding the right bus to get on? This is great!’ Most of the time, you can book a bus that will pick you up at your hotel.

partying with friends and buckets in thailand

Travelers abound.
Unless you really make an effort to get off the beaten path or venture into a town that’s unheard of, you will see tourists everywhere. I consider this a definite plus for a first-time solo trip. You shouldn’t have any problem meeting other travelers in guesthouses or around town. Not only is it nice to make friends (After all, who wants to talk to a brick wall the entire time?), but you’re also likely to find other travelers to join you to go sightseeing or to grab dinner or a drink in the evening. I think it’s also noteworthy to point out the stereotype of travelers you may meet in SE Asia. Everywhere I’ve traveled to I find a different type of tourist. I find the travelers in SE Asia to be more social and have more of a ‘travel hard, party harder’ attitude. Rarely will you find a guest in your hostel sitting around or sightseeing solo. Yes, plenty of travelers go alone to SE Asia, but they want to, and do meet others quickly.

typical backpacker buses in asia

It’s safe.
While there is crime, as there is pretty much everywhere in the world, I feel extremely safe when I’m in Southeast Asia. I take standard precautions but I’m not afraid to walk around by myself or take public transport. I go out in the evenings and don’t hesitate to interact with the locals. As a female traveler, safety is key and I feel just as safe here as I do back home. If you run into any sort of theft, I’d venture to say it’s most often by a fellow traveler in your guesthouse. As long as you aren’t wandering drunk at 3am in the seedy area of Phuket, you will be alright. Simply take normal, common sense precautions.

There are friendly locals & a unique cultures
If you’re looking to really dive into a place that’s completely different, Southeast Asia will not disappoint. Mouth-watering street food and some of the friendliest locals in the world are probably my favorite things about this part of the world. It doesn’t matter if you come into contact with a local who knows zero English (as I did on a 10 hour train ride). They will generally still want to communicate with you. While I was in a village in Laos, I told a restaurant owner that I wanted to participate in the alms ceremony for monks. She invited me to her home at 5:30 the next morning, made rice for me to give to the monks, and showed me proper etiquette for this Buddhist ceremony. Most locals in Southeast Asia treated me like a member of the family. You won’t have to try hard here if your goal is to dive into the culture, and if you ask a local about some ceremony or event, you’ll most likely be invited to participate (even in weddings).

friendly locals in Bali

If you are considering a solo trip for the first time, Southeast Asia is a great place to start. As a female backpacker, I like that I feel safe here, can get by on a budget, and meet other people. It’s a great combination when I can achieve all of these things and discover an amazing culture in Southeast Asia.

Laura Walker runs the website, A Wandering Sole. She’s been backpacking around the world for seven months by herself and is not afraid just because she is a girl. You can get more travel tips from her website or check back here every other Thursday for more stories by her.

comments 43 Comments

Kate

I completely agree with this article. I started travelling for the first time this year, it has been my dream for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to tackle Southeast Asia with me so I went by myself. It took me three weeks to build up the courage to tell my parents I had booked flights, they had been encouraging me to travel to Europe as well as it would be ‘safer’. I spent three months travelling through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand and it was incredibly easy to meet people travelling the same way. It was my first trip away from Australia and I would not change it. About two weeks ago I returned home from a two month trip to the UK which turned into three and a half months in Europe. I spent half the time wishing I was back in Asia. It was so difficult to meet people to travel with, especially in the UK where you have to book most things in advance or miss out. Italy and Croatia were a little easier but still no where near as good as Southeast Asia. I think that so many people have the wrong idea about Asia, in my three months I did not get food poisoning and technically wasn’t a victim of theft (an American girl I caught a cab with had a misunderstanding with the driver which meant I had to fork out about three times what the trip was worth). Regardless of all this you would be a fool to miss Southeast Asia for the simple reason that you are a solo traveler.

Kathryn

Hi Laura,

I’m also thinking of spending 3 months solo in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand and would be interested to know your intinerary? I’m trying to do one myself but so much to see!

Thanks

Kathryn

Agreed. I’m heading to Taiwan and other Asian countries (including SE Asia) next month after quitting my job this week in order to travel, write and live my dreams audaciously. :) Travel is the light in which our souls can be ignited. I cannot wait!!!

Nina,

I took a look at your website, very inspiring! How long will you be in Taiwan? Looking forward to reading about your adventures.:)

South East Asia is a fantastic location and I loved traveling there. I would add that these could also be the reasons for Latin America as well. Most countries are much safer than we expect and there’s no additional precautions you need to take because you are female, you just need to be a smart traveler regardless of gender.

Thanks for the tip Ayngelina. Many of these, such as transport, did not necessarily apply to Africa, so I’m glad to hear that Latin America is another good spot for first time solo travelers :)

I can’t believe food hasn’t been mentioned. In my opinion the best food is found there.

Stef,
I actually did mention food but agree it’s excellent in se Asia as long as you’re not a picky eater.

You don’t need to convince me! SE Asia is a calling!!!

Interesting article. I definitely think women should travel places by themselves. I enjoy traveling solo (currently living in Taiwan, in the middle of nowhere, alone) but I avoid a lot of the party crowds.I loved Thailand but I have to say there is a certain type of traveler that tends to get under my skin. It’s cool to meet people on the journey but sometimes the entire journey is about gaining strength and growing, through solitude.

Good tips though!

Rhonda,
I definitely agree that sometimes going solo is to seek solitude and independence- that’s actually one of the reasons I like solo travel. Thailand is probably more suited for those seeking the comfort of others.

NomadicMatt

I used to live in Taipei. Any plans on heading back up there? Nice city.

Matt,

I go to Taipei about once a month, I used to live closer to the area but now I’m in central Taiwan, out in the country. I love it here, though my Mandarin skills are basic and a lot of people speak Taiwanese so it’s often confusing for all involved in the conversation. :) Taipei is fun for that night out on the town but but at times it’s too chaotic for me (I’m sure you remember main station on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon). I’m not sure I’d live in that area again but one never knows.

Watch out. I traveled alone in Jakarta and was definitely not safe. Then moved to Bali and met solo females on two separate occasions that were victims of date rape in Kuta. I stayed in Jakarta for about eight days and northern Bali for about three months. I loved it, just know I wouldn’t go back to Jakarta alone and feel females should especially watch their back in Kuta, as they should in all tourist-heavy areas.

I’ve traveled (mostly alone) in South America, Europe, Antarctica and West Africa in addition to Asia. I had a rougher time in SE Asia than I did in Ghana or Argentina. That said, it was amazing. So beautiful and so much fun. I recommend travelers in general and especially solo female travelers get to know the dangers they might face by talking to other SFT, or by going to their home country’s embassy and talking to a female employee. Get an insider’s view so you know what to watch out for and can be prepared and spend more time enjoying your vacation.

Aman perjalanan!

Jackie,
Thanks for weighing in! Can you tell us why you didn’t feel safe in Jakarta? I think that might help others to feel better prepared. I actually had a bus ticket to there from Bali and ended up not going. I felt really safe the entire time in Bali, but never went to Kuta, as it is heavily touristed. Date rape- good to point out that if it was drug-related date rape, never accept drinks from others or put a drink down or out of sight.

Hey,

To start let me say that I have rather blond hair which seemed to be problematic in Indonesia.

I first didn’t feel safe in Jakarta because when I went out walking alone, people stared at me, guys followed me and one guy tried to jump in a cab with me. Also two Indonesian women on the street pulled me aside and told me it wasn’t appropriate for me to be out alone. After that experience on my first day I went to the US embassy to get more pages added to my passport and ask about safety. A woman there said it definitely wasn’t safe for me to wander around Jakarta alone.

1. They were having problems with people dressing up as security guards and stealing people stuff like outside of hotels and other establishments.

2. There was a problem with cab drivers gassing foreign passengers, especially ones traveling alone, dropping them out in the middle of nowhere and taking all of their belongings, or worse.

3. They were on the verge of having elections and previously foreigners had been beaten in the streets during election times.

4. I heard a great deal about how unsafe the transportation was. In one day I heard about gangs on the buses from travelers and my hotel staff, there were riots on the train lines because there had been mudslides and the government hadn’t cleaned things up, there was a ferry boat accident in which many people drowned, and all Indonesian airlines were blacklisted by the EU.

After a week of trying to be as safe as possible, I was tired and jumped a flight to Bali, where I stayed volunteering at a birthing clinic near Ubud for about three months. It was lovely but yeah, there was definitely a problem with date-rape.

I got into trouble even in Bali after talking to some men who were sitting on the steps of the clinic. The day after I had stopped to talk with them, chatting politely about the clinic and such, the director of the clinic came to me and said that some of the women in the village thought I had offered sex to their husbands. It came out that my blond hair drew some bad attention and I was warned to be much more careful about who I spoke to.

I hate writing about all of this as I would really feel bad if someone is discouraged from going to Indonesia, but I do think its important to know what you are getting into. In talking to travelers, I’ve found many people have similar stories about the Philippines.

Jackie Rose

As if I needed any other reason to go. Now to find me a job in Thailand…

FemaleTrav.

Having just returned from Thailand I agree on all points, cheap, beautiful, fun, safe (no diff than being a tourist anywhere else – use proper precautions)

Except thanks to our ethnicities, my girlfriend and I encountered struggles that most Western tourist dont have to deal with…… we are American, but I’m of Mexican background, and my girlfriend’s parents are from the Philippines.

Thus we both have dark hair and tan skin, so EVERYONE thought we were Thai.

At first it was funny and entertaining, all tuk tuk drivers, taxi drivers, street vendors, hostel personnel, masseuse, would open with: “you thai? you look thai, why you speak english?? where you from? you look thai”

ok no big deal, we probably got some pretty decent discounts. Despite our explanations that no, unfortunately we were not thai, just ethnically diverse Americans – the Thai people were generally excited that they had the pleasure of serving American (thai-looking) girls.

The real problem however, was with Western tourist. Specifically men. They’d stare at us as if we had the words “prostitute for hire” on our foreheads. Sadly, to westerners, all brown people look alike.

Had Thailand not been amazing in so many other ways, men constantly mistaking us for Thai women-just about ruined our trip. It made us both reconsider future trips to countries where we can possibly be mistaken for a local, and where the sex industry is so prevalent.

Western tourist made no effort to befriend us as they did with other characteristicaly pale skinned or blond travelers. We had to prompt all conversations with fellow backpackers.

Fine, a little extra effort on our part meant we still came away with some great friends who werent put off by ‘what appear to be thai girls speaking english’

but examples of more blatant mistakes that really became frustrating:

While in Phi Phi, the European kids working for local bars handing out free-bucket flyers to all tourist, would save their flyers as we walked by, only extending the coupon out to us if we blatantly spoke english in front of them.

Also in Phi Phi (where the sex industry is not common as it is on other islands, we really only saw one obvious prostitute in town) drunk Italian men asked us for “boom boom.” we were just sitting eating a sandwich at a street cafe.

A greek dude handed me his hotel card with room number, on a SNORKELING trip.

While at a bar, two russian dudes asked if we “already had company for the night”. Our bad, two little brown girls should have known better than to attempt hanging out at a bar.

Needless to say, we spent more time than should ever be devoted to picking outfits while on vacation. We’d spend HOURS shopping for stereotypical “tourist” attire hoping to stop the harassment so we could enjoy our trip. We wore big sunglasses and flashed our cameras anytime someone started looking at us funny. We painted the american flag on our back using body paint during the fullmoon party. Entire evenings devoted to looking for that “I <3 Bangkok" shirt, sarongs, sun hats, long sleeved shirts, capri pants, etc. Anything that was tacky and screamed "I'm a tourist" from afar. Because unlike our blond counterparts, we couldnt walk around in flip flops, shorts and a tank tops in the blazing heat with out warranting many, many unwanted interactions from both Thais and Westerners.

Long story longer, if you look like a tourist – yes absolutely go to SE Asia as a lone female traveler.

If there is a chance you could be mistaken for a local, take the necessary precautions. I cant really give you advice on what those might be, we didnt find any real solutions to the problem. Maybe bring clothes with logo's from back home? Problem is there are a lot of counter fit brands in Asia, so the locals are wearing fake DC's, and Northface too. Maybe wear your University logo t-shirt? Try to hang out with other obvious backpackers to ward off the questions a tad. Or chill with the locals and pretend youre one of them. Both equally fun.

Heck. just be prepared to explain yourself with every human interaction that takes place while on the road. And once you do, dont forget to let it go and have fun. Its still an amazing place.

NomadicMatt

Sorry to hear about your bad experience!

Karen

sex industry, sex industry, just stop it. If you’re a female, Thailand couldn’t be safer, but if your an American who is fed this constant stream of shit about sex industry, then you see everything through that filter and suddenly every local women looks like a hooker. Guys hit on women at bars everywhere. It doesn’t necessarily mean they think you’re a hooker. Journalists freely tack zeros on to the number of “professional hookers” in Thailand all the time with no consequence but somehow always fail to mention that prostitution is illegal in Thailand and the age of consent is the same as in the US. It’s 18. The myth of the sex industry is much bigger than the actually sex industry. I’m a blonde. I’ve been to greece and italy and was hit on in the same manner at around every corner, but for some reason I can’t blame the the “sex industry” in those countries. When in Thailand, I get approached by creepy russians at bars too. If I was asian, should I conclude it is because they are trying to partake of the “sex industry”. If you’re not in Thailand and a man stares at you will you conclude that he thinks you’re a “prostitute for hire”? Come on. Be fair.

Sorry, I agree with FemaleTrav. and disagree with Karen. Her case might be a bit extreme where bad vibes seem to be all over, but I don’t think she’s being “all American” in trying to relate everything she saw or experienced to the sex industry. I was born and raised in both Hong Kong and Canada and let me tell you, when you look a certain way, doesn’t matter where you are from or what you speak, you WILL be subjected to a certain treatment. I am not sure if Karen, you yourself are of a certain ethnicity- and please note that I hope I don’t offend you in any way bringing this up as a topic- but when you look differently than the prototype North American (namely blond and caucasian), well, haha. Many of you female travellers might not have experienced any danger because frankly speaking, you stand out both in the crowd and would be too visible to pick on as a “victim”. I have personally been in situations before, the locals thinking that I wouldn’t understand what they are saying, openly discussed why they wouldn’t pick on a “white girl”, and the reason being that it’d be too easy for the police to find them as alibi would be everywhere, because everyone would recognize a foreigner.

All that aside, SE Asia is great, the people are very warm, the food fantastic and many spots remain undisturbed and unspoilt. I totally agree it’s great and worth every penny and while to travel to this region!

FemaleTrav.

Ohh… forgot to mention my favorite episode of being mistaken for Thai:
In Phi Phi, at one of the beach bars, while I was at the bathroom mirror tying up my hair up for easier dancing, someone ran past and called out “ladyboy!”

Now. first of all, I was wearing cargo capri pants, sandals and a black top. Not necessarily the attire of a prostitute….but whatevs, there’s so many of them, they can in all arrays of attire. The part that was funnier/more insulting was that most people think I’m a hot girl, and dont generally mistake me for a dude.

Sigh. Must have been my non-dainty hands. Thanks Thailand. I’m only 25, but what was previously only an on again/off again insecurity about my weathered-manly hands, is forever present now. Fml

Having seen some pretty attractive ladyboys is my only consolation.

Wow, thanks for offering a completely different perspective. I would hate to have to deal with the slimy men! In a positive light, some of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen were ladyboys in Koh Tao, so maybe take the ladyboy comment as a compliment ;)

Eatlaughloveanon

Oh, FemaleTrav, I am so sorry to hear your story. I hope you managed to have fun on your trip and I really hope it hasn’t deterred you from traveling to SE Asia again.

debra

Preface: I am a 26 year old female filipino Asian-American who is currently solo traveling southeast Asia right now. I’ve been in southeast Asia for about three weeks with the intention of going through at least March/April of next year.

The whole looking like a local goes both ways. Generally, I have found it to be an advantage. Vendors and drivers tend to harass me less, unless I am wearing my backpack. I get very annoyed with all their calls for me to patronize their business. However, the moment I try to interact with them, the whole “looking like a local” goes away and big money flashes in their eyes as I try to bargain for whatever I want.

Yes, I have also experienced some of that “are you Thai, you look easy” sort of thing. I was coming out of a KSR club (yes, club off KSR, bad idea) with a Malaysian girl from the guesthouse I was staying at, who invited me out. Some guy then proceeded to ask us where we are from since we were talking English. This was after some guy who wanted to bring me home from the club because he didn’t have a Thai girlfriend. :-

I really don’t think looking like a local in southeast Asia is a bad thing. As a solo female traveler, I genuinely feel that I’m safer, especially when I’m walking alone by myself at night (yeah, bad thing to do too).

I am very thankful to you for this wonderful post.. After reading your post I Wish to go South East Asia…

Kristina

Great article! I totally agree with you. I traveled around China, HK and Philippines solo. I had no trouble at all communicating. I bring a trusty dictionary. Asians are very accommodating. The food! aaahhhh nothing quite like it!

It’s good to know there are such great places for solo female travelers. Thank you for all these tips!

And I am not surprised you are living in Taiwan Rhonda, don’t you think ti has the friendliest people on Earth? I loved the 3 weeks I spent there last year…

Actually I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Taiwan but I love it more than I hate it or I would not stay.;) I agree some of the people here are indeed the friendliest individuals I’ve ever met (when not driving), though unfortunately the friendliness seems to be based on race as well.

Jeannette Francois

First off, I love the pictures in this post. Not to mention, it’s almost as if you read my mind when you wrote this article.

I have decided to shed my conservative side and get adventurous. So, I am going to work overseas as a teacher and have just complete my itesolcourse and received my TESOL certification.

Anyway, I have submitted applications to various places in the middle east/Europe and am constantly on the look out for travel information I can use to my advantage.

Finding safe places to travel while abroad is definitely one of them.

Thanks again for the helpful hints and keep this great information and photos coming.

dk

I can definitely sympathize with your experience. I’m Tamil-Canadian and while travelling in Malaysia I was constantly mistaken for a local and worse a local prostitute. It was also hard to make friends with other Western tourists. It was great to be able to speak the local language and not be ripped off for cabs or at stores but next time I travel it will probably be to a place where I don’t look like a local.

SE asia is definetely a great place for traveling girls !!!

LR

Not really. There’s more men than women in SE Asia population-wise and there’s chances of all sorts of dangerous things, especially sex crimes. And for guys traveling to SE Asia, they need to be careful in approaching women, especially married or committed women. It’s not safe when it comes to meeting women. Local men might beat or kill you over them, especially if they are their husbands or boyfriends. I’ve heard of guys chasing after local women, raping them, and kidnapping them. Sometimes they get beaten and/or killed by local men over them, just like a solo male traveler who was pursuing a married woman in the Phillippines. In other words, be prepared to deal with local cock-blockers (male).

Heading there soon! Let’s see if it is all true :)

cla

There’s so much to discover in SEA. The Philippine beaches and adventure spots are worth the trip. Here’s a fun traveler while having a good time in Cebu, Philippines.

http://www.facebook.com/juzkding

There are more places to be when you are in South East Asia.

Ken

Good article, Laura. I am Malaysian and perhaps you can consider to drop by here with a lot of attraction

That’s very true. One of the important thing to note in choosing your travel destination is safety, especially for women. Good article and well said

This article hit the nail on the head. I am 19 year old female planning to go travelling alone for six months this year. I decided not to try find travel partners, as last year I went backpacking with a group of people and there just wasn’t as much freedom as I would have liked. When you go on your own, everything you do, see, or eat is up to you.

I am so excited!! The flights are booked now, I am leaving on the 19th of March for Bangkok.

R_light

Olivia, I think its fate that I actually read every comment through – and that yours is the only post in 2013! Im also planning a SEA trip and plan to leave somewhere around the second week of March!

This is my first big trip and I am so excited! and scared sh*tless! After reading the other comments about rape/sex workers etc, are you not nervous about travelling solo? I really want to do this but wonder if doing it alone is feasible!

Also, Im Indian in background (born and raised in Canada) and the comments about it being harder to meet people because you dont look like a typical tourist suck!

Great post and very comforting to read. I leave first week of March and was feeling really nervous about my decision to travel solo. It’s great to know there are many other solo female travellers our there that have taken the adventure on their own or will be doing it. I hope I will be able to cross paths with some of you!

Lorenza

Hey! Really truthful article!

I’m planing on going to Indonesia in october to volunteer with an organization in Borobudur for 3 months and then travel alone for another 3 months throughout SE Asia and northern India, Nepal and Tibet. Also, if my economy allows it, I’d love to visit Japan. I have been reading a lot about solo female travelers and I’m not really afraid of going. Being from a third world country myself I think the safety precautions are pretty much the same than the ones I usually take here at home.. Still, all this information really helps, it can’t hurt to be extra careful.

What I’d like to know is how you manage with all the visas! Did you have to think about that or you didn’t need any being american/australian/european or something?
I ask this because I wanted to leave those 3 months open and really go where I felt like going in the moment.. but now I see that I need to tramit a visa for almost every country I’m planning on visiting! with the exception of Japan and Malaysia.. So I’ll have to define everything in advance? Or did you manage to do so on the road?

I ask all of this also because if I’m gonna have to plan everything before even going there, I’d like it if you could give me tips as to how much time I should plan on spending in each country.. In your experience where should I linger more and where I should just sweep through… For example, I read somewhere that I should consider at least 3 weeks for Thailand, 2 weeks for Vietnam and then maybe 1 week for Cambodia.. What do you think? Then maybe 2 weeks in Japan and the other month in Nepal, Tibet and northern India?

If anyone can share an itinerary that they did and worked great for covering all these places, I would really appreciate it!! Just to have an idea of when to apply for my visas.
Also, I’ll be on a sort of tight budget (that’s why Japan is not so certain).

Thank you!!!

I feel very safe in Southeast Asia as long as I’m not wondering alone drunk at 4am.

I think in most Asian countries crime is more opportunistic and non-violent, more along the lines of pick-pocketing and petty theft. I had my wallet stolen out of my bag without me noticing in China, for example.

In the West on the other hand, people will actual harm you before taking your stuff. I’ve heard numerous stories of people in American being held at gunpoint and then robbed.

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