Updated October 17th, 2018.

These adventures have been voted THE TOP 50 EXPERIENCES in Southeast Asia by our readers!

Backpackers – Don’t Get Ripped Off! Over the past two years, we’ve been sending our South East Asia Backpacker Ambassadors to TRY AND TEST the variety of different travel companies that offer the following adventures. As there are so many companies that claim to offer a ‘life-changing experience’ how can you be sure it’s a life-changing experience of the RIGHT KIND? 

Through feedback from backpackers as well as our own research and 10+ years of travel experience, we can point you in the right direction when it comes to booking an excellent value for money and quality experience with a company that’s mindful of local communities and the environment. You can now book many of these experiences directly and safely through our website. Money back guaranteed if your travel plans change (we know that happens!). If you need any free advice or you want to see if we can get you a cheeky discount on any of these adventures, just get in touch with Nikki and Dave!

1. Learn to Dive

Many people who travel to Southeast Asia take the plunge to discover the abundant treasures that lie underneath the surface of the ocean! From turtles to whale sharks, to multi-coloured corals, and even World War II shipwrecks, the warm turquoise waters will reveal an entirely different world! If you’ve never dived before, a great place to get certified is the turtle-shaped island of Koh Tao, Thailand, where many dive schools offer 3-day Open Water Courses for less than $300 US. Once certified, you can dive up to 18 metres anywhere in the world! Find out more here about the best places to dive in Southeast Asia.

2. Trek the Rice Terraces

From the misty mountains of Sapa in North Vietnam to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Banaue in the Philippines, Southeast Asia is famous for its incredible rice-terraced landscapes. Carved out by hill-tribe communities over thousands of years, this lush green scenery will simply take your breath away! The best way to experience the rice terraces is to trek on foot along the tiny trails that only the villagers know. Take a two-day trek with a local guide and immerse yourself in an ancient culture during a homestay with a local family. Read more about one traveller’s experience trekking in Sapa, Vietnam here.

The View Across Luscious Green Rice Terraces With The Back Of The Sapa Trekking Tour Guide's Head In The Foreground

3. Learn Muay Thai

Muay Thai is becoming hugely popular with backpackers wanting to tone their bodies and learn this ancient martial art in the land of its birth! Known as ‘the art of eight limbs’ Muay Thai is the only martial art where you can use your hands, elbows, knees and feet. There are many professional Muay Thai schools across Thailand, from Chiang Mai in the north to Krabi in the south, where you can learn Muay Thai in authentic surroundings. Prices are around $150 US for one-week training with food and accommodation included! You can even train with legendary 3-times world champion, Attachai Fairtex at this famous Muay Thai gym in Bangkok! Read more about Muay Thai in Thailand here.

Muay Thai Training in Pai, Thailand

4. Go Rock Climbing

Krabi in South Thailand is famous worldwide as a rock climbing Mecca. With limestone cliffs rising out of turquoise waters lined with beautiful white sandy beaches – the scenery just doesn’t get any better than this. Many backpackers head to the bohemian-fused Railay Beach to take a rock climbing course with a local rock climbing school. We love this one-day course with the awesome folks at Real Rocks where you’ll learn the basics of rock climbing whilst enjoying awesome views! Elsewhere in SE Asia, there’s rock climbing in Northern Laos, Bukit Takun in Malaysia and even Halong Bay, Vietnam. Find out more here about the best places to rock climb in Southeast Asia.

Rock climbing at Railay Viewpoint, Krabi, Thailand.

5. Experience Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a must do experience for every backpacker to Vietnam! This UNESCO World Heritage landscape dotted with floating fishing villages, incredible rock formations and intriguing caves can only be experience in one way – by taking a boat trip! The most popular Halong Bay trip for backpackers is the legendary Castaways Island by Vietnam Backpackers Hostels. On this famous tour, you’ll spend the night with fellow castaways on a deserted paradise island surrounded by jungle-clad cliffs. You’ll swim with twinkling phosphorescent plankton, go rock climbing, high-speed tubing and as the sun rises take a kayak to explore this magical seascape. If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option, also check out the popular Halong Hideaway Tour.

A Group Poses On The Beach - Castaways

6. Meet the Orangutans

Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, these great apes are so human-like it’s uncanny! Your heart will ache when you realise how much danger these creatures are in due to the ongoing chainsawing of their natural habitat. Like with all animal encounters, you’ll want to make sure that your visit is in no way harmful to the animals. A popular and ethical place to get up close and personal with the orangutans is at the Semenggoh Wildlife Sanctuary in Borneo. If you’re looking to trek with semi-wild orangutans in the jungle then Bukit Lawang in Sumatra, Indonesia, is the place to do it. Head to our Bukit Lawang travel guide to find out more and to understand the rules of the jungle!

Orangutan in Sarawak Borneo

7. Conquer a Summit

Whilst Southeast Asia does not boast the Himalaya of Central Asia or the Andes of South America, there are still some pretty awesome peaks to tackle for the mountaineers amongst you! Climbing Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia is not for the faint-hearted. The seventh highest peak in SE Asia stands at 4,095 above sea level and it takes two days to reach the summit, which you’ll attempt before sunrise! As well as the mighty Kinabalu, you might like to attempt to climb Mount Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest Mountain. At 3,243 metres, it isn’t as high as Kinabalu but it’s still a tough overnight hike. Read one traveller’s experience of summiting Fansipan here.

Mount Kinabalu Borneo

8. Go on a Meditation Retreat

With so much adventure on offer in Southeast Asia, you might feel overwhelmed! Why not put the breaks on and learn how to sit still and just ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ for a while. Many people who come to Southeast Asia and take a meditation retreat, be it for a few days, or a few weeks, claim life-changing results! The amazing power of mindfulness is only just being realised. If you’re an experienced meditator, you may like to embark upon a silent 10-day Vipassana Retreat. If that sounds initially too daunting, many temples in Southeast Asia open up to allow foreigners to learn Buddhist meditation for a few days, food and board included. The price is on donation.

Meditation Teacher Training Course

9. Clean Up!

Think not what Southeast Asia can do for you, but what you can do for Southeast Asia! This adventure can take place anywhere at any time of day and all you need is a bin bag, a pair of gloves and a can-do attitude! Recently, we interviewed several backpackers who have evolved into ‘trashpackers‘ as they actively pick up litter and get involved in clean-up events as they travel. If you want to get involved, Trash Hero is a wonderful organisation that do beach clean ups across Asia and you can join them at any one of their regular clean-up events. And, to make sure you don’t add to the plastic problem while you travel, make sure you invest in a filtered water bottle.

The Trashpacker Malaysia

10. Learn to Surf

Bali is Southeast Asia’s surf capital and the best place to learn if you’re a beginner. You can take a one-hour lesson or you can immerse yourself in the waves for a few days and take a cheap and fun surf and accommodation package, with yoga classes included. If you’re a more serious wave-rider, why not take a surfing safari holiday! Or, get off the beaten track and head to the legendary surf spot of Banda Aceh in Sumatra or the lesser known surf towns of Batu Karas and Pangandaran in Indonesia. If you’re heading to Thailand, did you know that it’s also possible to surf in Phuket? Find out more about the best places to go surfing in Southeast Asia here.

surfing

11. Experience Angkor Wat

The largest religious building in the world and a source of national pride for Cambodia (it’s on their flag), Angkor Wat is a sight to behold! Dubbed the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, exploring the crumbling temple ruins of the Angkor Complex near Siem Reap could take you days, even weeks! Dating back to the 9th Century, this temple complex was the capital of the Khmer Empire for four centuries. Today, the jungle has reclaimed parts of the site giving us travellers an experience akin to being in our own Indiana Jones movie! You can hire a bicycle or a tuk-tuk to explore the ruins, which are too vast to explore on foot. Find hidden temples off the beaten track on this one-day cycle tour run by local student guides.

12. Take a Cooking Class

There’s no better way to learn about a new culture than to discover its cuisine – and SE Asia has some of the best food in the world! As you sample the culinary delights of each country, why not spend a day learning how to cook your favourite dishes? Many travellers take a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai where classes, like this one with lovely Thai lady, Trichada, include a trip to the local market to source fresh ingredients. Other popular places to take cooking classes are Hoi An, Vietnam and Bali. After you’ve slaved away at a hot stove, of course you get to eat everything that you’ve cooked! One tip – arrive with an empty belly! Read more about cooking classes in Southeast Asia here.

Sabirama cooking class

13. See the Bagan Temples

Built between the 9th and 13th centuries, the ancient landscape of Bagan boasts over 2,200 temples across an area of 40 square miles! You don’t realise the true magnitude of Bagan until you scramble up the old bricks of a crumbling temple and see the magical vista from above! Watching a sunrise or sunset from a Bagan temple is surely one of THE bucket-list experiences in Asia. Many travellers explore the vast complex by electric scooter, a fun and cooling way to zip around from temple to temple! Read our detailed guide to exploring Bagan here. Note – rumour has it that temple climbing has now been banned!

Bagan Temples

14. Go Caving

Since the world’s biggest cave, Han Son Doong, was discovered in Vietnam in 2009, the country has been attracting more and more travellers who are lured by bizarre subterranean landscapes. While there’s a huge waiting list to explore the biggest cave, backpackers who visit Phong Nha National Park in Central Vietnam can explore many other spectacular caves in the area. In Thailand, the beautiful Soppong region near Pai in the north is a must-visit – home to one of the longest untouched cave systems in Asia! If you want to visit one of Thailand’s most impressive caves on a backpacker budget, don’t miss this two-day waterfall and jungle trek which takes in the stunning Lod Cave for just $55 US.

Phong Nha Caves, Vietnam.

15. Hike a Volcano

Indonesia is a wild, rugged country with 76 active volcanoes that have erupted over a thousand times in recent years! In 2018, the holiday island of Bali made headlines as the volcano, Mount Agung erupted spewing ash into the air and causing disruption to flights. When they’re not erupting, however, Indonesia’s volcanoes make provide some of the best hiking opportunities in Southeast Asia. Every year, adventurous hikers attempt the tough climb of Mount Rinjani on the island of Lombok, as well as Mount Bromo in Java. The surreal landscape of Kawah Ijen with its weird blue flames has to be seen to be believed.

Mount Rinjani View

16. SUP!

If you’ve never heard of SUP before, it’s time to find out the reason why it’s so popular! Stand Up Paddle Boarding is an amazing alternative way to experience the rivers, oceans and waterways of Southeast Asia! On this SUP tour in Kampot, Cambodia you’ll explore the fishing villages, mangrove forests and billabongs of this coastal town. In Hoi An, Vietnam, don’t miss the awesome SUP Monkey Adventures! Take an ocean paddle as the sun rises on the Aloha Sunrise SUP Tour or explore the Thu Bon River for a few hours. Watch local fisherman, glide past water buffalo and get off the beaten track on a fun and unique mode of transport!

SUP Monkey Sunset Hoi An Vietnam

17. Encounter Elephants

Getting close to an elephant is high on the list of ‘must do things in Southeast Asia’ for most people. Today, most travellers (but sadly not all) are educated about the damaging effects of elephant shows, elephant riding and elephant treks with these sociable and highly intelligent creatures. The most ethical way to encounter elephants is at a registered elephant sanctuary such as the well-respected Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We’ve been lucky enough to see elephants in the wild twice, once in Sri Lanka in Pottuvil and once on the outskirts of Kui Buri National Park in Thailand. Find out more about ethical elephant tourism here.

Ethical elephant tourism

18. Go on a Yoga Retreat

Asia is the birth place of yoga and there are literally thousands of places to take a variety of different yoga classes, from Ashtanga to Hatha to Yin to Tantra and even Dog Yoga! The most famous yoga hubs across Southeast Asia are Koh Phangan and Chiang Mai in Thailand and Bali in Indonesia. Check out all of the yoga retreats (the cheapest starting at just $65 US for a 3-day, 2-night yoga retreat!) on our website here. You can read more about classes, yoga teacher training courses and absolutely everything yoga in Southeast Asia here.

Pure Flow Yoga, Koh Phangan, Thaialnd - Yoga Retreats in Paradise!

19. Experience a Festival

Experiencing a festival in Southeast Asia will provide you with colourful (and crazy!) memories that will last a lifetime. Send a lantern into the sky at the Loi Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai, gaze in awe at the painful acts of devotion of attendees to the Thaipusam Festival in Kuala Lumpur and get soaked to the skin at the world’s biggest water fight that takes place all across Thailand during the month of April. Southeast Asia’s festivals are varied, colourful and fused with passion and religious energy. Check out our calendar of festivals in Southeast Asia to see if your backpacking trip will coincide with a cultural event!

20. Hire a Campervan

Many backpackers leave hiring a camper van until they get to Oz, but it’s possible (and totally doable!) to hire a van and plan a road trip in SE Asia! Before you even think about it, you’ll need an International Driving Licence, travel insurance, a phone with Google Maps and some good road-trip buddies! At the moment (unless you buy your own wheels), hiring a van is only possible to do within one country, meaning you can’t cross borders. A van is likely to cost you around $65-80 US per day but don’t forget it’s your hostel, your transport and possibly your kitchen while you’re on the road, so it can be an economical way to travel if you’re in a group. Check out Indo Campervan in Indonesia.

21. Hop on a Bicycle

Cycling is an amazing way to travel. Looking for inspiration? Read this story of one traveller who cycled the length of Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi in four months. Or this Mum who cycled over 2,000 kilometres along the coast of the Philippines to raise awareness for plastic pollution. If you’d rather start small, why not take a cycle tour with the wonderful Butterfly Tours in Cambodia. Run by local student guides they offer ethical and budget-friendly bicycle tours in Siem Reap, Kampot and Battambang. We absolutely love their bicycle tour and homestay in Siem Reap (just $59 US), which shows travellers a different side to this tourist city. Check out all of our cycling tours here.

Cycling with Social Cycles in Vietnam

22. Go to the Full Moon Party!

Whether you love or loathe it, going to the Full Moon Party (just once in your life!) has to make any list of bucket-list adventures in SE Asia. Located in Had Rin on the island of Koh Phangan, this party, which started with a group of hippies playing guitars on the beach to celebrate someone’s birthday, became the world’s most notorious beach rave, attracting up to 30,000 people a month! However, it’s not the only party on Koh Phangan. There’s also the Half Moon, Black Moon, Pirate Moon and Shiva Moon! Read more about Phangan’s party scene here. If you’d love to experience the Full Moon Party in a group, check out these Thailand group adventures which combine group travel with partying!

Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan, Thailand.

23. Haggle at the Market

Business is done differently in Southeast Asia. As you browse many markets and shops across the country, you’ll see that goods don’t always have prices on them as they so clearly do in the West. It’s your job to negotiate the price with the shopkeeper and it’s a whole new skill – believe me! Be polite, learn a little of the local language, smile and stand your ground. Haggle for fruit, clothes, tours, souvenirs and tuk-tuks. Don’t haggle for food in restaurants, drinks in bars or items at the 7-11! Check out our article here for more tips on haggling in Southeast Asia!

24. Visit the Dragons

Komodo Dragons are the largest monitor lizards in the world and can grow up to three metres long! Their saliva is believed to contain so much bacteria that one bite from the creature can be deadly to humans. Native to the islands of Komodo, Flores and several other small Indonesian islands, the dragons have become a dangerous tourist attraction for thrill-seeking backpackers to Indonesia – just don’t get too close! You can arrange treks to see the dragons from the nearby islands of Lombok and Flores, you can go on a liveaboard dive trip, or you can see the dragons as part of this 9-day island-hopping adventure tour from Lombok to Flores.

A Komodo Dragon

25. Go Snorkelling

If diving isn’t your thing, then don’t worry, you can still explore the amazing underwater treasures of Southeast Asia with just a snorkel and a mask. Some of the best places to go snorkelling are the Gili Islands off the coast of Bali, where colourful corals, sea turtles and tropical fish swim just metres from the shore line. Malaysia’s beautiful Perhentian Islands also have a great reputation amongst snorkelers where black-tip sharks and turtles are common, as well as an abundance of other tropical fish. The best place we’ve been snorkelling lately was Koh Rok, an island the coast off Koh Lanta in Thailand.

Snorkelling at Cham Island, Vietnam.

26. Ride the Hai Van Pass

Touted as one of the best coastal roads in the world by none other than Top Gear, riding the Hai Van Pass has become one of the must-do adventures in Vietnam! The famous 20km route, which has been called “a deserted ribbon of perfection” connects the city of Da Nang with the town of Lang Co in the province of Hue. Historically, it’s believed to be the connection between the cold, industrial North of Vietnam and the more laid-back, tropical South. Backpackers can experience the road and its hidden attractions and spooky war remnants on a Hai Va Pass motorbike tour, where you can either drive the bike yourself or go pillion with an experienced Vietnamese driver. Don’t like motorbikes? You can also do the tour by jeep.

27. Volunteer

When we discussed life-changing adventures in Southeast Asia with our community, we were interested to hear that many people’s most memorable experiences revolved around volunteering projects. While we strongly advise against volunteering with children in Southeast Asia, as well as orphanage visits, and we’re very skeptical about organisations that offer ‘voluntourism‘, there are some very worthy projects to volunteer your time to in Southeast Asia. Find out about animal welfare, education and conservation programs that have been suggested to us by our readers here. Photo taken at Lanta Animal Welfare in South Thailand.

Happy, healthy dogs at Lanta Animal Welfare

28. Gorge on Street Food

Southeast Asia is an adventure for your stomach and the best place to start is right on the street! Across the region, you’ll find that each country has its own unique take on street food, from Nasi Goreng in Malaysia to Pho Bo in Vietnam, Som Tam in Laos and Pad Thai in Thailand. If you don’t speak the local language, it can be difficult to know what you’re ordering, however a simple point that says “I’ll have what he’s having” should do the trick! There are hundreds of varieties of soups, curries, salads, stir-fries and pastry based snacks – pretty much always served with chilli! Read more tips here on ordering street food in Southeast Asia.

Street Food, Hoi An, Vietnam.

29. Learn Thai Massage

Thai massage, dubbed ‘Lazy Yoga’ by some, is an ancient art form that dates back 2,500 years! Today, across Thailand you can have a one-hour Thai massage that costs just 150-300 Thai Baht ($5-10 US) and it’s definitely one of the must-do things for backpackers! While some people consider it torture, others love it so much, that they want to take a course to learn how to inflict the torture, sorry, pleasure… on others. The best places to take Thai massage courses are Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Wat Pho in Bangkok is famous as the home of Thai Massage. Want to pummel or be pummelled? Find out more about Thai massage here.

Fah Lanna Siam Thai Massage

30. Stay in a Floating Bungalow

Khao Sok National Park, home to the largest flower in the world, wild elephants and the stunning Cheow Lan Lake, is a must visit for backpackers to Southeast Asia! One of the best experiences to be had in the national park is to spend the night in a floating bungalow waking up to the sounds of nature at sunrise. Most backpackers opt for a 2-day, 1-night trip to the lake which includes trekking, kayaking, a visit to a cave and a night in the floating bungalows. The package costs around 2,500 Thai Baht. We’ve heard good reviews about Monkey Mansions in Khao Sok village.

Bunglaows over the water in Khao Sok National Park

31. Go Wreck Diving

Beneath the surface of Southeast Asia’s ocean lies another world – one where abandoned ships create homes for sea creatures and enticing playgrounds for advanced divers. The most renowned place for wreck diving is the island of Coron in the Philippines, where a fleet of eleven WWII Japanese ships that were sunk in a US air strike now lie on the bottom of the seabed. If you’re not an advanced diver, then consider exploring the Liberty Shipwreck off the coast of Bali which is accessible right from the beach. At a depth of 5-30 metres, the shipwreck can be explored by non-certified divers and even snorkelers at low tide.

32. Become a Yoga Teacher

Many travellers head to Asia to fulfil their dream of becoming a Yoga Teacher. India and Thailand are the two most popular places to take a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Course, which is the first qualification that you need in order to teach yoga professionally. The cost of a TTC varies between $1,500 and $2,500 US depending on the duration of the course, the location and whether or not food and accommodation is included. Even if you’ve been practising yoga for years, the course can be a great challenge, not only physically, but mentally, and many people claim that their TTC changed their life! Read more here about Yoga Teacher Training in Asia.

Jeenal and Daniel - the founders of the Wise Living Yoga Academy.

33. Go Island hopping

Thailand has 1,430 of them, Philippines has 7,107 and Indonesia has over 11,000 (they still haven’t counted properly)! I’m talking about tropical islands! There’s really no better place in the world to plan a swashbuckling adventure! One of the most exciting ways to go island hopping is to simply set sail with a local fisherman for the day. In most parts of Southeast Asia you can approach a local fisherman and ask him for a price to take you out on his boat. If you need inspiration on which islands to visit, check out our list of the Top 50 Islands in Southeast Asia here!

Palawan Island, Philippines

34. Go Jungle Trekking

Jungle trekking is a must-do experience in Southeast Asia and is possible in every country in the region! Hearing the deafening cacophony of insects and animals in a tropical rainforest is a once in a lifetime experience. Some popular places to go jungle trekking are Chiang Mai, Khao Sok and Khao Yai National Park in Thailand (which is even home to wild elephants and tigers!). In Malaysian Borneo and Sumatra, Indonesia many people go jungle trekking to spot orangutans. In this tropical land, the jungle is never far away – trekking is even possible in the city state of Singapore! Wherever you decide to trek, be sure to douse yourself with mosquito repellant and take lots of water.

Chiang Mai Trek, Thailand

35. Teach English

Travellers who wish to base themselves in Southeast Asia and extend their travels for up to a few years often look into Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). Across Asia, there is high demand for native English teachers and travellers can earn very decent money while they immerse themselves into a local culture and enjoy a completely different lifestyle. To qualify as an English Teacher, you need to take a 4-week TEFL course which costs around $1,500 US and can be completed home or abroad. Our friend, Rosanne Turner, has certified thousands of students at her school in Koh Samui, Thailand and they now work all over the globe. TEFL is a great way to combine work and travel and open up many adventure opportunities!

36. Take the Slow Boat

The slow boat to Laos is a legendary backpacker adventure that dates back decades! In the riverside border town of Chiang Khong, Thailand, travellers cross the border to Huay Xai and sort out their Laos visa before boarding the two-day slow boat to Laos. Along the way, they’ll spend the night at the small village of Pak Beng, before arriving into the pretty colonial town of Luang Prabang the next day. Take a good book, a pack of cards, some beers and snacks for the voyage and just relax and take in the changing scenery as you journey along the famous Mekong River. The slow boat is a great way to meet travel buddies for your onward adventures in Laos! Read more about other epic journeys in Southeast Asia here.

37. Discover Permaculture

Whilst Permaculture is becoming more and more trendy amongst hipster types in the West, the working class folks in Southeast Asia have been practising it for years! Simply put, Permaculture is a sustainable design system. Yes, it’s about growing your own food, but it’s also about being as efficient as you can be in terms of energy, housing and your day-to-day life. In Permaculture, waste is put back into the system and turned into something useful. If you’re interested in learning more about Permaculture, you can take a 72-Hour Permaculture Design Course at Rak Tamachat Farm in Northeastern Thailand. You’ll learn skills here that could change your life!

Rak Tamachat Permaculture Course, Thailand

38. Do the Buffalo Run

The famous Buffalo Run is an epic 7-day adventure invented by the much-loved Vietnam Backpacker Hostels! You’ll start in the capital, Hanoi and make your way south to the colonial city of Hoi An, passing national parks, caves, historical sites and deserted beaches along the way! You’ll experience ‘Halong Bay on Land’, visit some of the world’s biggest caves, crawl into spooky old Vietnam War tunnels, explore ancient temples and discover off the beaten track beaches before arriving in the UNESCO World Heritage city, Hoi An. With entertaining tour guides, plenty of laughs, great food and cheap beers, you’ll make friends for life and discover a different side to Vietnam on this awesome adventure!

The Buffalo Run, Vietnam

39. Explore Temples

Southeast Asia has temples galore and you’ll be forgiven if, by the end of your trip, you’re feeling a little templed out! If you want to explore some of the most unusual temples that Southeast Asia has to offer, don’t miss the insanely beautiful White Temple in Chiang Rai or the Daliesque Wat Pha Sorn Kaew in Phetchabun. If you’re heading to Chiang Mai, which is home to over 300 temples, check out our articles on the Top 5 Chiang Mai Temples here. And, of course, we can’t chat temples without mentioning Bagan and the Angkor Complex, home to some of the most iconic temples in the world!

Wat Sri Suphan, Chiang Mai, the Silver Temple

40. Hire/Buy a Motorbike

Forget the bus, many backpackers these days are choosing to explore Southeast Asia on two wheels! Travelling the region on a motorbike will give you the freedom to explore and stop wherever you like along the way. It’s become particularly popular, in recent years, to explore the length of Vietnam by motorbike, purchasing your wheels in Hanoi and selling them on once you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (or vice versa). There are many Facebook groups where you can buy and sell motorbikes. If you’re a newbie to riding motorbikes, check out our article with tips on hiring a motorbike in Thailand. Don’t forget your helmet!

Feel the freedom! Motorbiking in Southeast Asia.

41. Understand History

You can’t travel to Southeast Asia without at least a basic understanding of the region’s recent history. Less than 50 years ago, during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia experienced one of the world’s most horrific atrocities where a third of the population were murdered. In Vietnam, the aftermath of the America-Vietnam War, which ended in 1975, still affects communities today. In nearby Laos, a peaceful country which wasn’t even involved in the conflict is littered with unexploded bombs that still maim and kill hundreds of people each year. Be a responsible and sensitive traveller. Read up on the region’s history before you set off.

The Killing Fields of Cambodia, Phnom Penh

42. Find Your Paradise island

While many islands in Southeast Asia have been exploited for tourism, don’t let anyone tell you that paradise is lost! Whether you’re in tourist-ridden South Thailand or the Philippines, it’s still possible to have an entire island all to yourself. Don’t believe us? Check out this article written by one traveller who decided to try to survive on a deserted island in the Philippines! In Thailand, if it’s peace you’re after, check out the tiny island gem of Koh Phayam. In Indonesia, head off the beaten track to Pulau Kei, Indonesia’s ‘forgotten islands’. One thing’s for sure though – places change fast in Southeast Asia – so find that deserted island paradise before they put up a parking lot!

Rocks on the beach at Casa Rica Island, Cantilan, The Philippines

43. Go Urbexing

Co-owner of South East Asia Backpacker, Dave, is obsessed with Urban Exploration, or Urbex, for short, which is why you’ll find many articles about the topic on this website! From aeroplane graveyards to abandoned water parks, decaying trains and ghost towns, Southeast Asia has plenty of creepy delights for the Urban Explorer! Check out all of our articles on Urbex here and find out more about the unorthodox hobby in Dave’s article, the Joy of Urbex. If you’ve visited an abandoned places in Southeast Asia recently, get in touch and add your story to our growing collection!

Grafitti-behind-the-altar-found-in-the-dining-room-of-the-abandoned-women's-prison-in-Chiang-Mai,-Thailand

44. Experience a Homestay

Whilst there are loads of amazing hostels and guesthouses in Southeast Asia, many backpackers told us that one of the most memorable experiences of their travels was a homestay. There are many local companies across the region who can arrange for you to stay in a traditional home with a local family where you’ll eat dinner, play with the kids and be a part of the fabric for a night. If done properly, the experience can be beneficial to both the hosts and the traveller. Read about one traveller’s homestay experience in Sapa, Vietnam here and be sure to check out this ethical homestay and cycling experience in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

45. Become a Dive Master

Imagine turning your passion into your daily job? Many travellers who arrive in Southeast Asia fall in love with diving, and, after taking their Open Water Course, decide to stay on at the dive school and work their way through the advanced courses before taking an internship to become a fully-fledged Dive Master. A Dive Master Course lasts 4-6 weeks and qualifies you to work as a diving instructor anywhere in the world. You’ll learn essential safety skills and grow in confidence as you assist in day-to-day trainings at the dive school. A Dive Master course costs around $1000 US. Check out Master Divers in Koh Tao for more info.

46. Learn the Local Language

Sawasdee! Mingalaba! Selamat Detang! There’s no better way to connect with locals than to have a go at speaking a few words in the local language. Yes, your accent may be atrocious but your enthusiasm will be much appreciated! Not only will you make friends, but you’ll also discover cultural insights that can teach you so much about the country in which you are travelling. For example – did you know that many Asian languages do not have tenses? (No wonder the emphasis is on living in the present moment!) For a light-hearted start, check out our video on useful phrases when ordering food in Thailand here.

47. Hit the City

While Southeast Asia is blessed with natural diversity and beauty, let’s not shy away from celebrating the man-made wonders of the Urban Jungle! Yes, Southeast Asian cities may be busy, polluted and noisy – but there’s an energy and a vibrancy that is reaching a crescendo as the old mixes with the new. Shopping malls, markets, cafés, world-class restaurants, spas and not to mention the nightlife… Young people of Southeast Asia are getting out, mingling in trendy bars and clubs, sipping cocktails and enjoying their metropolises like never before! Go on a bar crawl in Bangkok and you’ll see what we mean.

Bangkok Aerial View at night

48. Get Creative

Travel can get those creative juices flowing like nothing else. Away from your daily routine and stimulated by new sights, sounds, smells and tastes, you might find that an adventure starts to take place within your own soul! There are many ways to get creative from learning travel photography, to travel writing, starting a travel blog, sketching or journalling or even starting to write that book! Take a notepad and pens with you as you travel and note down all of those ideas you have, you never know what might become of them. When the founder of this website, Nikki, set off travelling, she had an idea to start a travel magazine – just look what happened!

Top Tips For Travel Photos - Taking Photos on the Go

49. Travel on a Group Tour

If you’re contemplating a solo adventure to Southeast Asia, you may be feeling a tad nervous! Will you be lonely? Will you meet people? This is exactly how I felt the first time I set off travelling and so I decided to book myself on a group tour at the start of my 6-month journey. It was a great idea! In the first few days of my travels, I met loads of people, got rid of my nerves and found my feet in Asia. Group tours can be a few days or a few weeks, depending on what you’re looking for, and they’re a great way to meet people and ease you into your travels. Check out all of our recommended group tours in Southeast Asia here.

Boat Trip, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

50. Make Life-Long Friends

Backpacking in Southeast Asia is a life-changing experience for many reasons. The landscapes, the food, the adventures, the wildlife. However, perhaps the most life-changing part of it all are the people that you will meet along the way. Each person colours your journey and adds meaning to each place that you visit. In 20 years time, you’ll no longer be able to remember the hostel you stayed in in Bangkok, or exactly what the street was like in Hanoi, what you will remember are the people who made your journey special. Whether you realise it or not, the people you meet could change the path of your life forever….

Group of backpackers watch the sunset in Thailand.

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