Southeast Asia is one of the most popular touristic destinations in the world. There are a bunch of interesting things to see and it doesn’t require much of a budget. Those who are looking for a spiritual and nature-filled adventure often set their sights on Southeast Asia. If you’re looking to go backpacking through any of these countries, there are some things you need to keep in mind for your first visit.

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1. There’s a lot to see in one place


Most western travelers will want to see everything that Southeast Asia has to offer. Every monument, interesting ecosystem, and unique living culture has to be explored during your vacation, right? The problem is that the region is too varied for you to even come close to exploring everything. If you stray from any walking path you could end up in a tiny monastery that has its own charm and spiritual attraction.

Unless you plan on staying for months on end, you’re not going to get tired of spending time in just one Southeast Asian country, let alone feeling bored of several. You should do your research before hitting the road and find out what kind of things you can see in your target destination. You’d best believe that there are a plethora of wonders for you to get acquainted with before you cross country lines again.

2. Pack your bags light

No matter where you’re headed, there’s no reason to overpack your bags. You don’t need to bring a mountain of clothes. You can be sure of one thing: it’s going to be warm and humid wherever you go. You should pick your clothing to adapt to this. These articles of clothing probably won’t take up a lot of space in your backpack or luggage. Make sure to pack your bags efficiently.

You shouldn’t bring a lot of spare stuff, either. Instead, it’s recommended that you simply get your clothes washed at a local laundry place. They will have your clothes clean and ironed within a day’s time. Lugging around a bunch of clothes will only slow you down. 

3. Stick to bottled water

One of the many amateur mistakes you could make when traveling abroad is to drink the local water. Immunities vary and you can rest assured that yours isn’t used to the kind of things present in many Southeast Asian water supplies.

Even things that were washed with local water might not be the best thing to consume. The fruit might taste good and clean, but your stomach will disagree with that after a couple of hours. You should always search for bottled water. 

4. Haggling is a tradition 

When you decide to buy something in any of these various countries, you need to remember that they don’t treat transactions the same way. Haggling is a way of life in places like Thailand and you should partake in the culture. If not for the sake of blending in and absorbing the culture, then do it for the sake of your wallet.

Get ready to lower the price of absolutely everything by at least forty percent. A smile and some charm will easily slash prices in half. If you learn a couple of words in the local language, you might be even better off. Just make sure you don’t overdo it. They know when local haggling is too much, but you don’t.  

5. Look both ways when you cross the street

Driving is a lot more dynamic in many Southeast Asian countries. The drivers don’t follow the rules of the road that you might be used to. It’s not unusual for them to drive on either side of the road in whichever direction pleases them. This can create a lot of jams in traffic, but it also means that you can’t rely on courtesy when you cross the road. You have to constantly be on the lookout for vehicles on both sides of the road.

Crossing a particularly busy street requires some forethought. Going in alone can even be dangerous. The best course of action is to rely on everyone else. Follow where the locals cross. They will usually wait until there are a large enough number of them that cars will want to stop and wait for them to pass. 

6. Exchange money when you arrive

The banks and exchanges at home won’t offer you the best kind of rates for your money. You’ll find that there are quite a few transaction fees associated with Southeast Asian currencies, which is why you’ll lose a great deal in western exchanges.

Your best bet is to stick to local places when you arrive. You’ll get better deals from the local “money exchanges” than you ever would back home. Hotels are an atrocious choice for exchanging your money. They expect tourists to rush in with their wallets open, which is why their rates are criminally unfair. You should stick to local banks instead. They might be few and far between, but they’re most certainly worth the hassle. 

7. Get travel insurance

When visiting other western countries, travel insurance is mostly a way to calm your travel anxiety. If anything goes wrong, you can count on the insurance to cover it, even though nothing will probably happen on the trip. However, Southeast Asia is a bit more dangerous than your average travel destination.

Even if you stick to some of the more solitary parts of the journey, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Making your way through the jungles and rainforests will expose you to a host of bacteria and parasites your body isn’t used to. If you’re properly dressed and you watch out for yourself, you probably don’t have to worry about it.

The roads are definitely part of the problem. They are often full of potholes and the drivers don’t exactly have a lot of rules that they need to follow. Crossing the street in Indonesia is dangerous if you don’t follow the steps of locals.

8. It’s a cash economy

When you’re buying things in the US or Australia, you might not feel the touch of cash on your hand for long periods of time. Nowadays, people stick to using credit cards for convenience. However, many of the countries in Southeast Asia will make it difficult for you to use them.

Even if shops and restaurants have credit card scanners, they might just flat-out refuse to utilize them. Their economy is mostly driven by cash, which is why it’s important for you to adapt to it. Always have some paper money and coins with you to pay for things. Don’t be surprised if public restrooms require a fee as well.

9. Respect culture and customs

If you decide to travel to any Southeast Asian country, you’re probably not going to want to miss its exquisite beaches. Many of these countries have some of the most wonderful shores and clear waters that you can find. Places like Bali are a must-see if you are looking for a good time at the beach. A bikini might be one of the first things you decide to pack.

Unfortunately, the local culture might be a bit on the conservative side. Even if some locals stick to bikinis and other swimwear, it would be wise to bring some towels or full-body swimming suits.

Whenever you enter a home, you should always take your shoes off. It’s considered pretty rude to walk around someone’s home while wearing shoes. Temples require that people cover their knees and ankles.

10. Avoid tourist traps

It’s no secret that travelers will encounter their fair share of tourist traps. This is true no matter where you decide to go. Every country and major city has them and it’s good to know how to avoid losing your money on random low-quality products and food.

Tourism is one of the fastest growing parts of many Southeast Asian economies. It’s no surprise, the countries themselves are beautiful and offer sights that can’t be seen anywhere else. Keep in mind that this means you’ll encounter a lot of swindlers.

Ask locals where you can get the best food. When you exit the bus station or airport, the first establishments will obviously be geared towards arriving tourists. Try to avoid them as they are probably pretty low in quality and sanitary conditions. Temples that feature animals should also be skipped as they often drug the animals and abuse them when they don’t cooperate.

11. Find the right accommodation

hotel room

Whenever you plan out a trip, you’re going to want to find a place to sleep ahead of time. The problem is that much of the accommodation in Southeast Asia caters to tourists. This means you’re going to end up dealing with a lot of scams and less-than-truthful advertising.

Airbnb’s aren’t the recommended choice as you never know what kind of host you’ll encounter. Apartments and homes might not be absolutely secure places to be as the locals don’t really believe in locking their doors and windows.

Hotels tend to be really expensive. Imagine trying to find a free room in many of the establishments near the beautiful beaches in Bali. If they aren’t already completely booked, then the rooms will cost ridiculous amounts of money per night. If you’re traveling in a group, it might be more efficient to look for some Bali Villa Escapes instead. You’ll probably get a better deal than some tourist trap establishments and you get more privacy. 

12. Get the right visa

Visa requirements differ from country to country and you have to know them in advance. Places like Thailand will allow you to stay for thirty days without one, but that only applies to certain nationalities. Other places will let you buy a visa as you arrive. Cambodian borders function this way.

For places like Vietnam, you have to look into getting one in advance. There won’t be many strict visa requirements for tourists, but you have to get the documents done. You can’t assume that they will let you through with just a passport.


There are very few travel destinations as rich as Southeast Asia. The region offers something for everyone. If it’s the temples you want, there are hundreds with very intricate designs. Pure, untamed nature is plentiful and the beaches are some of the best in the world. The culture is different and the people are pretty welcoming of tourists. As long as you stick to some of these pointers, your trip will go off without a hitch.

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temple in Southeast Asia

About the Author

Liam Smith

Liam Smith

Guest Blogger

Liam Smith is a young and aspiring Australian blogger with a passion for everything related to travel, design, and style. He has a B.Sc. in Interior design and is an avid reader.