Backpackers have been traveling through Southeast Asia since the late 1960s and early 1970s, leaving a well-worn trail around the region.
Starting in beautiful Thailand, the trail makes its way to up-and-coming Laos, through Vietnam, and to the temples of Angkor Wat. It then winds back into Thailand, where people head south to party in the Thai islands before moving down to Malaysia and Singapore.
There are a few variations to the trail, but this is what it mostly covers.
I’ve been visiting this region since 2004 and spent years living in Thailand. I love backpacking Southeast Asia and have written extensively about it as I know it like the back of my hand.
It’s an especially great region for new travelers because it’s easy to travel around, it’s safe, and there are lots of other travelers you can meet. But it’s also perfect for veteran travelers too as there are tons of off-the-beaten-path destinations that the standard backpacker trail doesn’t cover.
In short, Southeast Asia has something for every traveler — and every budget.
This Southeast Asia travel guide will help you travel the region like a pro, ensuring you save money and make the most of your time in this fun, gorgeous, and lively corner of the world.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Southeast Asia
1. Admire Angkor Wat
One of the greatest human creations in history, the Angkor Wat temple complex is best explored over the course of a few days. Even if you don’t like temples, the place is still amazing to see as it’s a testament to the genius of humanity. I spent three days here and that simply wasn’t enough. A one-day pass is $37 USD, while a 1-week pass is $72 USD.
2. Explore Bangkok
Bangkok is the hub of travel activity for Southeast Asia. You can get anywhere you want from here, eat amazing food, find cheap shopping deals, and experience a great nightlife that will keep you up until dawn. Though I hated it at first, after just a few days I’d fallen in love with the city.
3. Relax on some tropical islands
There are more tropical islands in this part of the world than can be named, and all you have to do here is lie on the beach, soak up some sun, and cool off in azure blue water. Three of my favorites include the Perhentian Islands (Malaysia), Rabbit Island (Cambodia), and Ko Lanta (Thailand).
4. See Ha Long Bay
Sailing trips to this island-filled bay with emerald waters, limestone formations, and marine life give you an appreciation for the natural beauty in Vietnam. Tours from Hanoi start at around 2,700,000 VND for two-day trips and increase from there. Make sure you go with a reputable company though as some of the cheaper boats are less than ideal. If you’d rather just visit for one day, day-trips from Hanoi cost 1,300,000 VND.
5. Wander Kuala Lumpur
If you’re in the area, be sure to spend a few nights in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, with its glorious temples and incredible street food scene. The Petronas Twin Towers are a must-see, and if you don’t mind heights, you should walk across the bridge connecting the two. They stand an awesome 451 meters (1,500 feet) tall!
Other Things to See and Do in Southeast Asia
1. Go jungle trekking
No matter where you go, jungle trekking is a must for any traveler in Southeast Asia. This region of the world is covered in amazing jungles with diverse wildlife, plentiful camping opportunities, and cool waterfalls. The best jungle treks are found in northern Thailand, Western Laos, and Malaysian Borneo (the latter are also the hardest and most intense). As an example, jungle trekking generally costs 2,000-2,685 THB per day in Thailand.
2. Attend the Full Moon Party
The biggest one-night party in the world welcomes up to 30,000 people, with a party that stretches until dawn. Cover yourself in glow paint, grab a bucket of booze, and dance the night away with new friends on the island of Ko Phangan in Thailand. As the name would suggest, the party is on the night of the full moon. If you miss it, there’s always the half-moon party, quarter-moon party, and black-moon party. Really, every night is a party on Koh Phangan. There’s no airport on the island, so everyone arrives by ferry (come early to secure accommodation). You can come via Surat Thani on the mainland or from the nearby island of Koh Samui. Just avoid the flaming jump rope that occurs — I’ve seen people get burned badly!
3. Learn to dive
There are many great dive sites around the region for those interested in underwater exploration. You can learn to dive here at a fraction of what it would cost back home too. Some of the best places are Ko Tao (Thailand), Sipidan (Malaysia), as well as Indonesia and the Philippines. A typical diving course is completed in three days. A PADI course typically runs 10,000 THB in Thailand, including three nights’ accommodation, though at smaller schools you can often negotiate down to 9,000 THB. Day trips for certified divers start at 5,900 THB.
4. Eat street food in Singapore
Thought Thailand had great food? Try the hawker stalls of Singapore for incredibly tasty eats. Don’t forget to also visit Little India and Chinatown for some of the best and cheapest food in Asia. If you’re looking for a nice place to sit down and eat, eat at Singapore’s famed restaurants during lunch when restaurants offer discounts, making them a great deal. You’ll also find the most affordable Michelin-starred restaurants here (Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice and Hawker Chan), offering world-class meals for just a couple of bucks!
5. Overload on temples
You can’t turn a corner without seeing a Buddhist temple in this part of the world. You’ll get temple overload at some point but visit as many as you can, as each is unique to the country and region of the temple. Check out Chiang Mai, Bagan, Angkor Wat, Hue, Hoi An, and Luang Prabang for places with high concentrations of ornate and beautiful temples. Most are free to enter, however, dress codes are enforced (you need to have your shoulders and legs covered).
6. Dive Sipadan
Located off Malaysian Borneo, Sipadan is one of the best dives sites in the world. If you have your dive certificate, make sure you venture out here. The area is teeming with life turtles, diverse cave systems, sharks, dolphins, colorful coral, bright fish, and everything in between. Not a lot of people make it to this part of Malaysia, but it’s worth it to go the extra mile and make your way off the tourist trail a bit. Keep in mind that only 176 permits to dive at the island are issued each day, costing 140 MYR per person. The resorts on the neighboring islands each get a specific number of permits per day and require divers to stay with them for a few days. So you’ll need to stay at those resorts and dive the surrounding areas before they can get you a Sipadan permit.
7. Fall in love with Bali
Bali is the most popular destination in Indonesia, and its famous Kuta beach is known for its parties and surfing (it’s overrated, in my opinion). However, there is much more to Bali than just wild nights and sun-soaked days. Many beaches are great for families, the rice terraces in the center of the country show you what a lush and green landscape truly is, and Ubud is an artistic town with great food and (traditional dancing. Cheap guesthouses and hostels in Bali usually cost around 120,000-200,000 IDR per night, while private rooms cost upwards of 250,000 IDR per night. Free Wi-Fi and free breakfast are generally included, and most hostels also have a pool.
8. Take in Ho Chi Minh City
Frantic, chaotic, and crazy, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is the embodiment of the controlled chaos that rules Southeast Asia. You can’t quite figure out how this teeming mass of people and cars work together, but it does. Highlights here include touring the tunnels used by the Viet Cong in the 1960s, taking in the view from the Saigon Skydeck, eating your way through the street food scene, and seeing the city’s numerous temples.
9. Admire the sunrise over an Indonesian Volcano
One of the most popular tourist attractions on Java is Mount Bromo and its National Park. Don’t miss out on getting a photo of the smoldering Bromo volcano as it lies surrounded by the almost lunar landscape of the Sea of Sand. Get up early to catch one of the most memorable sunrises of your life. If you’re there in mid-August, you’ll be just in time to see Upacara Kasada, the traditional Hindu ritual of the Tenggerese, a Javanese tribe of the region.
10. Hike in Khao Sok National Park
Located in the south of Thailand, Khao Sok National Park is constantly rated as one of the best parks in Thailand, with incredible trekking, camping, limestone karsts, cooling rivers, and a glistening lake. Visit for semi-challenging hikes, tons of wildlife, walking paths, and breathtaking sunsets. Park entrance costs 200 THB while full-day guided tours are 3,400 THB.
11. Visit Kampot
Most people come to Kampot to enjoy the scenic riverside views, as well as the rolling hills that surround the city. Since you can explore easily enough on foot or by bicycle, Kampot is a great place to slow down and relax. Don’t miss the pepper farms, as this region of Cambodia is filled with pepper farms where you can learn about the history of the spice, see how it is grown, and pick up what is considered some of the finest pepper in the world. Tours are usually free, though you need to arrange transportation. Don’t miss the nearby mangroves and national park too.
12. Take a cooking class
Food from this region is as varied as the countries themselves and learning how to cook a few dishes is a great souvenir of your time here. Even if you don’t plan to cook back home, you can still spend a day making and eating scrumptious food. Most big cities have cooking schools offering classes of 2-6 hours, often including a trip to the local market beforehand to select ingredients. In Thailand, class prices range from 1,000-1,300 THB. In Cambodia, classes are around $20 USD.
13. Take a food tour
If you don’t want to learn how to cook any dishes yourself, taking a food tour is another great way to gain insight into the region’s amazing noodle dishes, fresh seafood, sweets, and street food while learning about the history and culture behind the cuisine. Most major cities in Southeast Asia offer food tours, including market tours, street food tours, and other specialized food tours. As an example, Siem Reap Food Tours start from $75 USD and include all food, drinks, and transportation.
14. Visit an elephant sanctuary
While riding an elephant is on many a Southeast Asia bucket list, once you know how much the animals suffer from abuse in order to provide these rides, you might think twice about taking one. An even better way to get interact with elephants is to volunteer at or visit the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai in Thailand. It’s a phenomenal place, allowing you to give back to the community and these magnificent animals all at once. After coming here, you will understand why you should NEVER ride an elephant. A one-day visit costs 2,500 THB.
15. Shop at the markets
Exploring the street, indoor, and night markets is a quintessential part of traveling through Southeast Asia. Every major city has sprawling markets filled with all manner of stalls offering everything from prepared street food and produce to clothing and household items that make great souvenirs. Haggling is part of the experience, so don’t be afraid to try it!
16. See The Killing Fields
If you’re traveling through Cambodia on your Southeast Asia itinerary, learning about the country’s genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge is a sobering must. A visit to Choeung Ek, also known as the Killing Fields, may not be the most cheerful way to spend an afternoon, but it makes for an educational and memorable experience. Over 3 million people were killed by Pol Pot’s regime, including countless women and children. Admission is $6 USD. The site is located 10 miles from Phnom Penh, so expect to pay at least $15 USD for a return trip via tuk-tuk. Half-day guided tours start at $66 USD.
Be sure to visit our specific Southeast Asian country travel guides for more detailed information about what to see and do in each place:
Southeast Asia Travel Costs
Accommodation – Accommodation in Southeast Asia is really cheap, making it the perfect place to travel if you are on a budget. Free Wi-Fi is the norm for hostels these days, and many hostels in the region also have outdoor swimming pools and air-conditioning. The availability of free breakfast and kitchen facilities greatly depends on the city and country.
Generally, you can find dorm rooms for as little as $6 USD in Cambodia and 36,000 LAK in Laos. In Thailand, 4-6-bed dorm rooms are around 270-440 THB per night, while in Vietnam, you can expect to pay 130,000-175,000 VND for the same. In Indonesia, prices range between 75,000-135,000 IDR for a 4-6-bed dorm room.
Throughout the region, you typically expect to pay around $15-20 per night for a private room with air conditioning.
Simple guesthouses or bungalows throughout Southeast Asia generally cost $12-15 USD per night for a basic room, fan (sometimes air conditioning), and hot water. If you want something nicer that includes a more comfortable bed and a TV, expect to pay $20-25 USD per night.
If you can handle the bare basics (small rooms and not the comfiest beds), you can find rooms for as little as $8 USD per night, especially in rural areas.
For backpackers, budgeting around $10 USD per night for accommodation is pretty safe no matter where you go in Southeast Asia. If you’re looking for a higher-end hotel room with more amenities, expect to pay $20-50 per night for a room. Anything over that is luxury territory.
Camping is available in certain areas, usually for just a few dollars per night for a basic tent plot. However, this is about the same price as hostels so it’s not really any cheaper.
Food – While each country’s cuisine certainly varies, overall Southeast Asian food is aromatic, spicy, and flavorful, using many ingredients to create layers of flavor. Typical spices and herbs include garlic, basil, galangal, cilantro, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chilies, and fish sauce. No matter what region you’re in, you can expect to find a variety of curries, salads, soups, noodle dishes, and stir-fries.
Rice and noodles are central to Southeast Asian food, while the meat is usually pork, chicken, fish, or seafood, which is everywhere on the islands and coastal areas.
While traveling Southeast Asia, street food is the most popular form of eating. On average, these meals cost $3-5 USD or less. You find these stalls throughout this region lining major streets and at the markets, many of which exist specifically for street food. In Singapore, street food (from “hawker stands” as they are called there) costs around 5-6 SGD for a meal. Even if you go into small local restaurants, the price does not increase that much.
Food that costs $2 USD at a street stall generally only costs $4-6 USD at a local restaurant. If you went into a restaurant in Thailand, you’d pay around 135 THB for a pad Thai that would have cost 35 THB on the street.
In Cambodia, street food, which isn’t as abundant as I would like it to be, is around $1-2 USD, while restaurants charge around $3-4 USD for a local dish like amok (a coconut milk dish) or luc lac (pepper gravy beef).
Western meals, including burgers, bad pizza, and sandwiches, cost more, at around $7-10 USD for cheaply made food. If you want something that actually tastes as it does back home, expect to spend at least $10 USD for your meal.
While cheap, alcohol can also take a bite out of your budget if you’re not careful. Those $1-2 USD beers can add up! Wine and cocktails are more expensive, generally around $3-5 USD. A cappuccino is typically around $2 USD.
There’s a growing cutting-edge foodie scene in the region and if you want to splurge, you can do so on some really good meals. Big cities like Bangkok, KL, and Singapore, all have world-class Michelin star restaurants.
Since food is so cheap, there’s no point in grocery shopping unless you’re looking to get some pre-made salads or fruits. Additionally, a general lack of kitchens in most hostels makes it difficult to cook even if you wanted to. If you do purchase your own groceries, expect to spend around $15-25 USD per week for basic groceries like local produce, rice, and some meat (while avoiding expensive imported items like cheese and wine).
For more detailed price breakdowns and specific food recommendations in each place, visit each country guide!
Activities – Activities in Southeast Asia are pretty cheap. Most Buddhist temples throughout the area are free to enter, though some of the more famous and larger ones, like Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh, Wat Pho in Bangkok, the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, and Vat Xieng Toung in Luang Prabang cost $3-5 USD to enter.
Most day tours cost around $20-30 USD, often less. If you are going jungle trekking, seeing elephants, climbing mountains, or doing overnight trips, prices can go as high as $50-75 USD.
Learning to scuba dive costs around $300-400 USD. On the island of Ko Tao in Thailand, the course is 11,500 THB and includes free accommodation for the duration of the course, which lasts three or four days.
The three-day pass to Angkor Wat is $62 USD (the 1-week pass is a better bargain at only $72 USD). Jungle trekking costs 2,000-2,685 THB per day, though you can usually get better prices in groups. White-water rafting costs around 200 MYR.
For everything else, check the specific country and city guides for prices on various activities.
Backpacking Southeast Asia Suggested Budgets
On a backpacking budget of $45 USD per day, you can stay in hostel dorms, eat out at local markets and street stalls, drink a little bit, do mostly free activities as well as some low-cost ones, and use public transportation to get around.
On a mid-range budget of $85 USD per day, you can stay in budget hotels or private hostel rooms, eat some restaurant meals, do more paid activities like group tours or cooking classes, take some taxis, and enjoy a few more drinks. You won’t live large, but you won’t be missing out either.
On a “luxury” budget of $150 USD or more per day, you can stay in nicer hotels with more amenities, eat out as much as you want, do more paid tours including private tours, hire a driver, take more taxis, fly between destinations, and more. The sky is the limit with this kind of budget!
Southeast Asia Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Backpacking Southeast Asia is cheap. There’s little opportunity to spend a lot of money since everything is already so inexpensive — unless you intentionally are trying to splash out.
The two reasons why most people end up overspending is that they eat a lot of Western food and drink way too much. If you want to save money while traveling in this part of the world, cut down on your drinking and skip the Western food.
Beyond those tips, here are some extra ways to save money in Southeast Asia:
- Stay with a local – Accommodation is cheap in Southeast Asia but nothing’s cheaper than free! Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds and couches for free. You’ll also meet great people that can show you around and share their insider tips and advice.
- Book tours and day trips as a group – You have more negotiation power when you’re with a group of people buying multiple spots or tickets. Traveling alone? Meet a friend at a hostel and see if they want to join the same tour as you.
- Don’t book in advance – Don’t book any tours or activities before you get to your destination. They’ll be much cheaper when you arrive as you’ll be able to negotiate a lower price. Anything you see online is more expensive than you need to pay!
- Eat on the street – Pick up tasty local fare for cheap by eating street-side snacks, soups, and noodles. The food is the best and cheapest you’ll find.
- Bargain hard – Nothing is ever at face value here. Bargain with sellers as most of the time, the price they’ve quoted is way higher. There’s a haggling culture in the region so play the game and save some money. You’ll never get the local price, but you might come close!
- Minimize your drinking – Drinks really add up. Even with cheap drinks, if you’re not aware, you’ll end up spending more money on beer than on food and accommodation.
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier comes particularly in handy in Southeast Asia since you can’t usually drink the tap water. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw as it has a built-in filter that ensures your water is always safe and clean.
Where to Stay in Southeast Asia
I’ve been traveling Southeast Asia since 2005 and have stayed in hundreds of places. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Southeast Asia:
- The Siem Reap Pub Hostel (Siem Reap)
- Onederz Siem Reap (Siem Reap)
- Onederz Sihanoukville (Sihanoukville)
- Monkey Republic (Sihanoukville)
- Onederz Phnom Penh (Phnom Penh)
- Sla Boutique Hostel (Phnom Penh)
- The Magic Sponge (Kampot)
- Indigo House Hotel (Luang Prabang)
- Traveller Bunker Hostel (Cameron Highlands)
- Kitez Hotel & Bunks (Kuala Lumpur)
- Sunshine Bedz Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur)
- Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel (Penang)
- Mad Monkey Hostel (Bangkok)
- D&D Inn (Bangkok)
- Kodchasri B&B (Chiang Mai)
- The Royal Guest House (Chiang Mai)
- Green Leaf (Khao Yai)
- Lonely Beach Resort (Ko Chang)
- The Sanctuary (Koh Phangan)
- Pineapple Guesthouse (Phuket)
- Under the Coconut Tree Guesthouse (Hoi An)
- Pretty Backpackers House (Da Lat)
- Hanoi Old Quarter Hostel (Hanoi)
How to Get Around Southeast Asia
Public Transportation – Public transportation costs from a few pennies to a few dollars, with Singapore and Malaysia offering the most comprehensive public transportation systems.
In Thailand, local buses cost around 8 THB per trip, while the Metro and Skytrain in Bangkok cost 16-52 THB per trip. In Cambodia, a bus ticket in Phnom Penh costs just $0.40 USD per ride.
Taxis and tuk-tuks Taxis and tuk-tuks (small, shared taxis with no meter) require a bit of haggling and cost more than public transportation (but are usually faster).
In Singapore and Indonesia, taxi drivers do put on the meter. In Bangkok, you can get taxi drivers to use the meter, but if you’re hailing one in a tourist area, he might try to avoid using it. In Vietnam, the meter is sometimes rigged, but if you can get a reputable company like Mai Linh, you won’t have any problems.
Ridesharing – Grab is Asia’s answer to Uber. It works the same way: you hire a driver to take you somewhere via the app, and you can pay via the app or in cash. It’s often more affordable than a regular taxi, though drivers are a bit unreliable as the practice is not as widespread here as in other parts of the world.
Bus – The easiest and cheapest way to travel around Southeast Asia is by bus. The backpacker trail is so worn that there is a very well-established tourist bus system to take you anywhere. Buses costs vary between $5-25 USD for a 5-6 hour journey. Overnight buses cost $20-35 USD depending on distance (they often have reclining seats so you can get a decent sleep).
You can check ticket prices and book bus tickets at aggregators for all the different bus companies across Southeast Asia here.
Train – Train service is limited in the region and not something to really consider when you travel Southeast Asia. It just doesn’t go many places. You can take a train up and down the coast of Vietnam, though it is slow and expensive. Thailand is the only country that has an extensive train system that lets you travel all its regions (and onward to Singapore) from Bangkok.
The train prices in Southeast Asia are determined by distance and class, so the farther you go, the more you pay. Night trains with sleeper cars are more expensive than day trains. The night train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok takes twelve hours and costs 965 THB for a sleeper seat. However, that same train during the day is 300 THB. In Vietnam, trains run up and down the coast and cost 1,445,445 VND from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
Flying – The cost of flying around Southeast Asia has come down in recent years due to the rise of low-cost airlines. Scoot (merged with Tigerair), Jetstar, and AirAsia are the biggest. Nok Air has a lot of flights within Thailand, and VietJet Air is popular in Vietnam. Lion Air serves Indonesia, but its safety record is really spotty and I personally would not fly them. If you book early, you can save on fares, as most of the airlines offer deeply discounted fare sales all the time, especially Air Asia.
Just make sure that the airport these budget airlines fly into isn’t too far out of your way (transportation from the secondary airport sometimes negates the savings from using the budget airline itself).
Also, keep in mind that you usually must pay to check your baggage on these cheap flights. If you wait to pay for your luggage at the gate, you end up paying almost double. Travel carry-on only to avoid this added cost.
All in all, I only recommend flying if you are pressed for time or find a super cheap deal. Otherwise, stick to the bus.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Southeast Asia is safe, though popularity of the practice varies by country (it’s more common in Malaysia, but not so much in Cambodia). Dress respectably, smile while making eye contact with drivers, and use a cardboard sign to tell people where you’re headed. Be prepared for long bouts of no pick-ups, especially if you’re traveling through more rural areas. Pack plenty of water and food. Also, make sure the people picking you up understand you’re hitchhiking and not flagging down a taxi.
Hitchwiki is a great resource for hitchhiking tips.
Car rental I don’t recommend renting a car in Southeast Asia. Rental cars are expensive ($40 USD per day or more) and the roads here are in poor shape. I would never drive around the region.
This post discusses getting around Southeast Asia in-depth if you want more information.
When to Go to Southeast Asia
The best time of year to visit Southeast Asia is from November to April when temperatures are milder (though temperatures vary drastically by region). It may be mild in Thailand in January and hot in Malaysia but in Northern Vietnam, it’s cold!
Here is a breakdown of each country so you can know when to visit:
In Indonesia, the best time to visit is April to October. Temperatures average 24-30ºC (75-86ºF), and the weather is mostly dry. July to September is the peak holiday season and when you can expect to pay the highest rates. December to February is the rainy season.
In Malaysia, January-March and June-September are the best time to visit, as these months have the lowest average rainfall. It is still hot and humid during this time though. The rainy season is from October to December. Singapore’s climate/weather is much like Malaysia’s.
In Vietnam, the weather varies by region. In Central Vietnam (including Hoi An and Nha Trang), January-May is the best time to visit because it is dry and the temperatures average 21-30°C (70-86°F). June to August is also a decent time to visit. If you want to stick around Hanoi, March to April is great, or October to December (for mildest temperatures). The rainy season is May-September.
Thailand has three seasons: hot, hotter, and hottest. It’s always warm, though the weather is nicest between November and February (which is also peak tourist season). Bangkok is “coolest” and driest during this time (but still averaging a hot 29°C/85°F each day). April and May are the hottest months, and the rainy season is June-October. The gulf islands get pretty rainy from August to December.
The dry season in Cambodia is from November-May and the cool season is from November-February (and when most people visit). Temperatures during this time are still high, but humidity is lower. Laos has the same cool season as Cambodia, with the dry season running from November-April.
Overall, if you’re visiting Southeast Asia, November-April is generally the best time to visit.
For more information, visit each specific country guide.
How to Stay Safe in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel — even if you’re traveling solo, and even as a solo female traveler. Violent attacks are rare. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is the most common type of crime in Southeast Asia, especially around popular tourist landmarks. Always keep your valuables out of reach on public transportation and in crowds just to be safe.
Never leave your valuables unattended while at the beach and always keep a hold of your purse/bag when out and about as bag snatching is common. A little vigilance goes a long way.
There are some common scams around that you’ll want to be aware of, such as the motorbike scam. This involves a bike rental company trying to charge you for damage to the bike that you didn’t cause. To avoid this, always take photos of your rental before you leave so you can protect yourself from baseless claims.
Another common scam involves a tuk-tuk driver taking you somewhere you didn’t want to go in hopes you’ll buy something from the shop/restaurant he dropped you off at (he gets a commission if you do). Simply refuse to buy anything and demand to go back to where you were — or find another driver.
If you’re worried about other travel scams, read about major travel scams to avoid here.
Solo female travelers should feel safe here, though it’s generally a good idea to avoid walking around alone at night just to be safe. Additionally, always keep an eye on your drink at the bar and never accept drinks from strangers.
Overall, the people who get in trouble here tend to be involved with drugs or sex tourism. Avoid those, and you should be fine. Penalties for drug use in this region are stiff so even if you’re here to party, skip the drugs.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Southeast Asia, check out this post that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Southeast Asia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
Southeast Asia Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of TNN+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
My Books to Southeast Asia
Forget the other guidebook companies! With my guidebooks, you’ll get to see the region the way it’s meant to be seen. You’ll get off the beaten path, away from crowds, and see the local side of Southeast Asia visiting my favorite sights, restaurants, bars, and attractions! I use my detailed experience to show you the attractions, give you the suggested itineraries, money-saving tips, places to stay and eat and drink that you won’t find in mainstream guides. Get away from the tourists and travel like a pro!
Buy My Thailand Guide
Buy My Bangkok Guide
Southeast Asia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Southeast Asia travel and continue planning your trip: