How to Properly Pack for a Backpacking Journey Through Southeast Asia

One must know how to pack properly for a trip through South East Asia, lest they end up feeling hot, sweaty and miserable for their entire trip.

After a two year journey through the jungles, mountains, beaches and wonders of Asia, knowing what to pack is one of the essentials to staying comfortable and enjoying your journey. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that weight adds up and you will be carrying everything on your back. Knowing what you can and cannot purchase overseas is crucial in deciding what to bring. Travel between October-April/May is the high-season- the weather is dry and hot (except in Northern Laos and Vietnam). For travel between May-October, it can be cooler and wet. So, pack accordingly!


Raingear/Umbrella- if you do not already own raingear, the cheaper option is buying it while you are out there. However, they do not sell quality breathable rain-jackets such as Patagonia etc. A rain-jacket comes in handy for the monsoon season starting in May/June- October. Umbrellas can be purchased overseas, and is used by the locals as a sun-shield.


Shoes/Socks- An extremely comfortable, high quality pair of flip-flops are strongly recommended- Rainbow flip-flops come highly recommended. Another good travel sandal is Chacos- they are comfortable and extremely durable. Chacos double as a good trekking sandal. Runners may like to bring a pair of lightweight running shoes. Forget the cotton socks, but do bring about two pairs of wool or quick-drying, warm socks. These are great for Vietnam’s cold winters or Northern Thailand’s cooler monsoon season- good socks are hard to find in Asia.

Shorts/Skirts- keep in mind you want lightweight, durable, quick-drying clothes. Southeast Asia’s days can get extremely hot and sweaty- be prepared to sweat profusely. For men, about 4-5 pairs of shorts are recommended. For Women, wearing short skirts is inappropriate when travelling through non-touristy areas. Covering up is viewed as a sign of respect, and this extends to men as well. So, purchasing knee-length skirts before setting out is nearly mandatory. Again, pay attention to buying quick-drying, breathable, and durable skirts- your clothing will take a beating on the dirty buses and dusty road. About 6 skirts are recommended.

Pants- Asia is a wonderful place to wear in your favorite pair of jeans. During the monsoon season, jeans can be your best-friend, but for travel during the dry season October-April/May- you will rarely wear them. Buying Thailand’s infamous lightweight “fisherman” pants is highly recommended, rather than bringing any other pants. You will find these sold all over Southeast Asia and sported by nearly every backpacker patronizing these countries.

T-shirts/Tank tops- T-shirts can be purchased as you go, however finding quality tank tops is nearly impossible. Clothes are bought cheap out there, however they are also cheaply made and less durable.

Sweatshirts- Travelling with at least one sweatshirt is recommended. Fleece is always a good option, but in terms of sweatshirts, a hooded sweatshirt is highly recommended.

Hat- will help to keep the sun off your face.

Bathing suits- One or two for men, but for women, the more the better. Bathing suits double as quick-drying, easily washable undergarmets.

Sarongs- Sold at all beach towns, sarongs are the most useful items to a traveller. They can be used as towels, dresses, shirts, jackets, sheets- they are absolutely wonderful.

It is important to know that clothing bought in Asia is often low quality. Pants, t-shirts etc. purchased over there tends to run with each wash. So, being careful to wash things separately is the key to not ruining all your clothing.


Backpack – A comfortable backpack is obviously the most important thing when ” backpacking “. If it breaks while you are gone, expert seamstresses are omnipresent and cheaply priced. Throughout Asia, shops selling “Northface” rip-offs are plentiful. However, as expensive as wilderness equipment is, in this case, it is well worth the extra money. The inflated price stems from high-quality items. Northface, Dana Designs and Gregory backpacks are recommended.

Hammock/Rope- A wonderful thing to bring along with you- REI sells a lightweight, compact blue nylon hammock. Though hammocks are sold throughout the region for cheap prices- they are bulky and heavy. Bringing one of these comes recommended, along with at least 20 meters of climbing rope for handing the hammock and drying laundry.

Crazy Creek Chair- though optional, bringing one of these chairs that can be bought at any local or national wilderness store such as EMS or REI will increase your comfort. They are useful while waiting for buses and trains that are often late. Bringing one of these chairs will fascinate and invoke envy from other international backpackers.

Sheet- Lightweight and useful to put down on beds or on night-buses. These often come in handy and if go unused, easily left behind.

Towel- one for after a shower is enough- some people prefer travel towels.


Many toiletries can be purchases overseas in larger cities- some of the most popular brands are viewed as luxury items in Asia. Medicines are very cheap and most can be purchased over the counter, such as antibiotics. Bringing a good dob sack is recommended, along with many travel plastic bottles that will hinder shampoo, etc. from spilling and can allow you to bring smaller amounts.

For Women, bringing enough tampons to last you through your travels is extremely important- they are usually nearly impossible to find. Also, buying a folding brush with a mirror will come in handy.

Stomach aliments- A stash of pepto-bismal or immodium, is crucial- getting sick is part of the experience. However, fresh coconut milk, plain rice, bananas and ginger alleviate stomach aliments.

Malaria- Anti-malarial pills are recommended for the paranoid or short-term trips. But, long-term, they can do more damage than good to your body. Thailand is known for its state-of-the art, excellent and cheap private medical care. Local doctors in this region are used to treating malaria, and preventive measures can help lower the risk of contraction-such as covering up during sunrise and sunset. Locals believe that fresh coconut milk helps prevent malaria. Diets including lots of garlic and spicy foods also help keep mosquitoes from biting.

For Vegetarians- there is almost no such thing as a vegetarian in these countries. For short-term travel, bringing protein bars is recommended.


Books- English books are found throughout Asia in all backpacker destinations. Most stores allow you to swap books, so you do not need to carry a bunch of books with you. Also, backpackers often swap amongst one another. Books in other languages are not as plentiful.

Music- A necessity for those long bus rides- bringing a stocked ipod is recommended. A spurge on ipod speakers will make those around you happy and is also recommended.

Digital Camera- worth the splurge- documenting your travels is priceless, and the kids love to see pictures of themselves in the camera. Though many countries use American plugs, don’t forget to bring converters.

Drums and other musically instruments can be purchased for certain places while travelling. Everyone loves that person travelling with a guitar.


Lonely Planet- quoted as a “backpacker bible,” it is often outdated. Tourism is rapidly transforming Asian countries, and very often, lonely planet’s published information is outdated. Recommended for someone who wants to follow the beaten path.

Rough guide- tends to be a bit better than Lonely Planet. Will offer some places to stay and eat that will be a bit more off the beaten path

Word of mouth and a good map is the best travel guide.


In countries such as Cambodia, the begging from children is at first heart breaking, but then maddening. Often sent out by their parents, the cycle perpetuates when naÃ?¯ve tourists hand out money. So, doing and bringing things to make the kids happy and let them be kids is ideal. Giving to schools/teachers is better than giving to children. Most children are eager to talk to tourists and practice their English. Sitting down and giving free English lessons will be appreciated by the kids-especially those sent to beg- they just want to feel special and spending the day with a “foreigner” is exciting for them.

1. Bubbles- the kids love the bubbles- they will bring you crowds and smiles 2. Stickers- they are great to drop off at local schools for teachers to use as rewards on papers. Many schools, especially in Laos or Burma have very limited resources 3. Small laminated map of the United States- the kids will love to see exactly where you are from, and it can be used for a small geography lesson. 4. Cute kid band-aids- you will encounter children with sores and scraps- bringing cute band-aids is light and brings smiles to the less fortunate children 5. If you have room, English workbooks for children are wonderful and almost impossible to purchase overseas. Teachers will be thankful to receive these.


Bringing a colored copy of your passport, credit cards and ATM cards is recommended. Make sure these are tucked away in case of an emergency. Also, if you can change some money before departing, it makes things a bit less hectic

Many places accept US Dollars, but they are picky about accepting new-looking, in good condition dollars. Bringing a stack of US $1, $5, $10 is extremely recommended. Make sure the bills are crisp.

For those extra cautious, scanning a picture copy of your passport into your email account could be handy in case of an emergency.

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