With its tempting mix of volcanoes, rainforest, rice fields, beaches and coral reefs, Southeast Asia is one of the most incredible and accessible regions in the world. Travellers have been exploring Southeast Asia for a century and it has become the place to go for many university students and mid-career professionals. There are now many routes through the region known as the traveller trail, because of the ease of transportation throughout the countries. There is so much to do in Southeast Asia, including diving in Thailand, hiking in Vietnam, paddleboarding in Cambodia and much more, but make sure you plan ahead and research for your trip.
You can spend the day exploring thousand-year-old ruins and the night at a rave on the beach; attend a Buddhist ceremony or go whitewater rafting; chill out on the beach or hike through the Vietnamese jungle. Here is my guide to Backpacking South East Asia….
STAYING FOR 3 MONTHS?
READ MORE: Southeast Asia Itinerary [3 months]
The region is a popular destination because it is moderately safe, inexpensive and the weather tends to be good most of the year. Whether it is Vietnam, Indonesia, or Malaysia there is an abundance of activities to enjoy alongside stunning natural and historic attractions.
This guide focuses on Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia as those are the countries I have visited, but if you’re thinking of visiting The Philippines then make sure you check out this Coron travel guide.
Whether you opt to plan the trip yourself or go with a travel specialist, you will have a wonderful time! Here is my travel guide for travelling through Southeast Asia:
Planning and the weather
Planning in Southeast Asia is the key to any trip, whether you are a first-timer or an experienced traveller. Typically in Southeast Asia travellers will fly into one country, trail around and fly out of another country back home, with internal flights in the region to take them from country to country.
Southeast Asia sits entirely within the tropics and so is broadly a hot and humid climate that varies little throughout the year, except during the two annual monsoons. Bear in mind, however, that each country has myriad microclimates so have a planned a route that takes in these attractions, such as Angkor Wat, Ha Long Bay and Bali to name just a few.
Get off the beaten track and go local
Though Southeast Asia has long been on the travellers’ trail, it doesn’t take too much to get off the beaten track – whether it’s to discover that perfect beach or to delve into the lush surrounds of the rainforest. One of the best things to do whilst in the region is to attend some of the local festivals and celebrations, there are often many, and can mean you mingle with the locals and really get a feel for everyday life in the country.
Think about visiting the overlooked city of Battambang in Cambodia, attending Songkran in Thailand, taking the railroad less travelled in Thailand or visiting the Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival in Laos.
READ MORE: Ultimate One Month Itinerary for Thailand
Transportation and accommodation
Outside of some major cities most countries have fairly limited public transport, and it isn’t always the ‘luxury’ transportation they may promise. Just be prepared, or book through a well-known company who can book all of your transportation for you. It takes time to get around in the region, whether that is taxis, trains or aeroplanes. Island hopping in the Philippines and Thailand can be done inexpensively by ferry.
If you are brave the roads in most of Southeast Asia are perilous at best, but it is a cheap alternative to buses. Just be prepared to drive defensively! And when it comes to where to lay your head, book your accommodation in advance, as it is unlikely you will be able to turn up to many hotels in the region. Also the best hotels get booked up in advance, especially around peak seasons for the region.
Budget wise, you will be able to find hotels for around $50 a night typically for a 3 or 4 star hotel, and you may be looking at $80 for a 5* hotel in the tourist places.
Don’t get stuck in a rut, research the visa requirements for each country you are visiting. Attempting to explain to a Vietnamese border authority that you don’t have the right visa isn’t the easiest way to travel. Most countries in Southeast Asia will issue a visa on arrival for UK travellers, usually for 30 or 60 days, with the main two countries that do require a visa in advance being Vietnam and Myanmar.
Make sure that you research the visa requirements (and entry and exit fees) for all of the countries on your itinerary in advance, just to avoid any mishaps. Bali charges an exit fee so remember to save some dollars for the way out. Don’t spend all your money on wine… These are essential for Backpacking South East Asia.
There are always opportunities for things to go wrong but if you plan, stay organised and research before you go it cuts your chances of anything going wrong. Be smart about your safety and just remember to research the cultural norms so you aren’t left out in the cold. So go on book that flight and have one of the most incredible trips of your life!