All Your Southeast Asia Questions Answered!

Contents

What’s Your Question?

Every day, we get asked loads of questions in our popular Facebook Group of over 20,000 travellers! We decided to make a collection of the most common questions we receive to help travellers like you plan their trip to Southeast Asia more easily... If you can’t find your question here, please post it in our group or comment below!

Top 5 FAQs of 2022 – Quick Answers:

  1. What’s the best Travel Insurance for backpackers? We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing Nomad insurance.
  2. Do I need a return flight when booking a trip to SE Asia? Airlines may ask you to show an onward flight ticket when checking in for your flight to SE Asia.
  3. What are the current COVID-19 entry requirements? See all travel entry requirements for SE Asian countries here (updated weekly).
  4. What’s the best size backpack for my trip? A 40-litre backpack is the perfect size, alongside a 25-litre daypack. Read more here.
  5. What’s the best backpack for travelling Southeast Asia? Osprey Farpoint (men) and Osprey Fairview (women) were voted the best backpacks by our readers.

All Your Questions about Travel in Southeast Asia – Answered Below


ENTERING & EXITING:

πŸ›‚ Which countries in Southeast Asia are open for travel?

After two years of travel restrictions due to COVID-19, Southeast Asia is finally opening up! Keep up to date with Southeast Asia’s entry requirements in our Southeast Asia COVID-19 overview. This guide is updated weekly by our fabulous editor, Sheree. The guide links out to more in-depth travel restrictions guides for each country across the region so you can make sure you’re prepared for whichever country you’re travelling to!

🎫 What visas do I need for Southeast Asia?

Check out our Southeast Asia visa guide for information about obtaining visas for each country in Southeast Asia. (Things have changed during COVID-19, of course, so be sure to keep an eye on entry requirements for each country here.)

πŸ›« Do I need a return or onward flight ticket when flying into Asia?

Many countries in Asia will only allow you to enter if you have proof of onward travel. This pesky rule means that you must have a flight ticket already booked that proves you will leave the country within the time that your visa expires. It’s a real pain for backpackers who want to be flexible and go with the flow! However, there are ways around it… See our guide to proof of onward travel and decide what steps you need to take before you travel!

Disclosure: Some links on this page are affiliate links. If you purchase through them, we earn a small commission at no cost to you. This helps us fund the site and the community. 


HEALTH & SAFETY:

🦺 What travel insurance should I go with for my trip?

Travel insurance is an essential pre-trip purchase, especially in the era of COVID-19. We put together this guide about the best travel insurance for backpackers with the most frequent recommendations from our Facebook community. Here are their top three choices…

  1. SafetyWing – Ideal for long-term travellers and digital nomads who prefer their flexible monthly subscription plans.
  2. World Nomads – Perfect for adventurous travellers thanks to their variety of activity add-ons. 
  3. True Traveller – Great value for money option that’s easy to customise depending on your travel style.

πŸ₯ Can I get travel insurance for a pre-existing medical condition?

Yes, you can get travel insurance that covers a pre-existing medical condition. Some β€˜normal’ backpacker insurance companies will be able to cover you but you’ll need to talk to them about your condition – assume this will raise the price significantly and don’t expect the cover to be as comprehensive. The other option is to use an insurance company that specialises in pre-existing medical conditions. Staysure are our favourite!

πŸ’‰ What vaccinations do I need for Southeast Asia? 

The mandatory and recommended vaccinations for the region are documented in our vaccination guide to Southeast Asia. (This guide does not include information about approved COVID-19 vaccines. Please see our Southeast Asia travel restrictions guide for this info.)

🦟 Should I take malaria tablets in Southeast Asia? 

The advice for taking malaria tablets will vary depending on where you are planning to travel. Most of the frequently visited places in Southeast Asia do not require anti-malaria medication, but some off the beaten track destinations and border zones may do. Check out this article for more information on whether or not you need to take malaria tablets during your travels in Southeast Asia. 

πŸ›΅ Do I need a special driving license to hire a car or motorbike in Southeast Asia?

Anyone who is planning to hire a motorcycle or a car in Southeast Asia will need to hold an international driving permit valid for the vehicle in question. (Important -Don’t forget to check whether your travel insurance covers car/motorcycle use too!)

⛔️ Is Southeast Asia safe to travel?

We honestly believe that Southeast Asia is one of the safest regions to travel to in the world! Aside from the occasional bout of political instability, the most popular backpacking countries in the region are full of friendly, helpful people and crime rates are very low, especially when it comes to violent crime. Of course, you should always keep your wits about you as petty theft or minor crime can happen anywhere! If you’re particularly concerned about safety, why not choose a destination featured on this six safest countries in Asia list.

🚺 Is Southeast Asia safe for female travellers?

Southeast Asia is a very safe region for female travellers with thousands of solo backpacking chicks hitting the road each year. Be sure to read our fabulous tips for female backpackers here!

πŸ’Š Can I take prescription medication to Southeast Asia?

Travelling with prescription medication in Southeast Asia is very similar to anywhere else in the world. Make sure you’re allowed to take your specific medication into each country and keep it in its original packaging. You shouldn’t have any problems but always have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Also bear in mind that a lot of drugs are available over the counter without a prescription in many Southeast Asian pharmacies.

πŸ‘“ Can I travel with contact lenses in Southeast Asia?

Travelling with contact lenses can be a bit of a chore, especially if you’re on an extended backpacking trip. Glasses are often more practical but if you’re set on contacts, it’s not impossible. 

Choose between daily or monthly lenses. Dailies take up a lot of backpack space but it can be hard to keep monthlies clean. Cleaning solution is available in most major Southeast Asian pharmacies, especially those in large cities, but keeping your hands clean enough to handle your contacts can be a challenge. Continuous wear contacts can come in super handy while travelling but if you’ve not used them before, a backpacking trip isn’t the time to start!  

Take your prescription with you. If you run out of contacts, you might be able to buy them on the road. Don’t rely on this if you have an uncommon prescription or require a specific brand though. 

Finally, wear sunglasses as much as you can. They not only protect you from UV rays but also prevent dirt and dust getting in your eyes. 


BUDGET & MONEY:

πŸ€‘ How do I save money for a trip to Southeast Asia?

Get a job. Sell your car. Sell your granny. Do everything you can in order to raise the funds needed for your backpacking adventure to Southeast Asia. Trust us, you won’t regret it! Here are our top 10 tips on how to save money for a backpacking trip.

πŸ’² How much does a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia cost? 

How much money you’ll spend in Southeast Asia depends on what kind of traveller you are. Do you prefer a splash of luxury? Or will you make do with a grotty dorm in order to save a few cents? To give you a rough idea of what to expect, we put together an in-depth Southeast Asia budget guide here! (If you are heading to just one country, in particular, we also have links to individual budget guides within that guide.)

πŸ’° How do I access money in Southeast Asia?

ATMs are common across most of the region and usually accept Visa and Mastercard – you should try to get one of each as occasionally you’ll find an ATM that only accepts one or the other. Traveller’s cheques are unnecessary but if you insist on taking some, make sure they’re in US Dollars. In more off the beaten track locations, there may not be any ATMs. Ask at your accommodation about the status of ATMs at your next destination.

πŸ’³ Which travel cards will save me money whilst travelling? 

Read about the best travel cards here and learn more about how to save on bank charges and exchange rates while travelling in Southeast Asia. If you don’t have time to read the article in full, these are the top five travel cards that we recommend… (As they’re free to apply for, why not get a few to make sure you’re saving as much money as possible!)

  1. Starling Bank (UK Citizens only)
  2. Revolut (EU Citizens)
  3. Monzo (UK Citizens only)
  4. N26 (EU Residents)
  5. Wise (formerly TransferWise) (Worldwide)

🏧 Can you avoid ATM fees while travelling?

Travellers often get stung by high fees for using ATMs whilst abroad. Unfortunately, not even the travel cards above allow you to such fees, which are actually imposed by the owner of the ATM itself. However, there are several ways you can reduce these fees. Check out our article on using ATMs whilst travelling here.

πŸ’΅ Can I use $US dollars in Southeast Asia?

It’s best to stick to local currencies while travelling in Southeast Asia. US Dollars are widely accepted for large transactions or hotels in very touristy areas, but you’re unlikely to get the right change or a fair exchange rate. Cambodia is the exception. Along with the Riel, the US Dollar is the main currency used in the country. For transactions under $10USD, it’s advised that you use Riel. For transactions over $10USD, US Dollars has become the preferred currency.

πŸ’Έ How do I keep my costs low whilst travelling?

There are a few simple ways to save money whilst travelling and these are; stay in backpacker hostels, eat cheap local street food as opposed to Western meals, take local transport, be careful on which tours and activities you do and don’t drink too much alcohol! Oh and learn how to haggle. For more tips on how to keep costs down whilst backpacking see our budget tips here.

πŸ‘·πŸΌ Can I get a job whilst in Southeast Asia?

In most countries in Southeast Asia, you will need a work permit in order to work legally. If you are planning to teach English, work in a business or become an adventure tour leader, you will need to speak to the company that is employing you to make sure that your job position is legal. However, many long-term travellers find jobs online or even start their own blogs so that they can work from anywhere! Check out this list of travel job ideas that mean you can make money whilst on the road.


TECHNOLOGY:

πŸ‘©πŸ½β€πŸ’» What’s the WiFi like in Southeast Asia?

In most areas, the WiFi is great. Southeast Asia has become a digital nomad hotspot after all. Big towns and cities generally have strong connections available all over the place. Even the islands and beach resorts have upped their game in recent years. However, in more rural locations, expect the WiFi to be spotty at best and non-existent in some cases. If you’re concerned about a particular place, why not ask in our Facebook group as we have members who are located all across the region!

🀳 Can I use my phone data in Southeast Asia? 

Getting a local SIM card is the best way to make sure you have Internet all of the time whilst travelling in Southeast Asia. In our phones and SIM cards guide to Southeast Asia, we detail how to get one in each country and which ones are best. 

πŸ“² What apps do you recommend for backpackers?

Apps for budget planning, route planning, travel buddies and travel hookups… there is an app for everything these days! Read our article about the best backpacking apps for travellers here, put together using the recommendations from our Facebook community.

πŸ”Œ What plug sockets are used in Southeast Asia?

A number of different power outlets are used across Southeast Asia – just to make it confusing for you! (In fact, some countries, like Thailand, have up to five different outlets in use across the country.) Our recommendation is to get yourself kitted out with a universal travel adaptor before you travel so that you are never without power. Check out our guide to plug sockets and universal travel adaptors here.


ROUTE PLANNING:

🌴 What is the best backpacking route in Southeast Asia? 

THIS is the most popular backpacking route for travellers in Southeast Asia, often nicknamed the Banana Pancake Trail or the Golden Circle. This efficient route is recommended for first-time backpackers as it’s a logical, budget-friendly way to travel the region overland, plus you’re likely to bump into many other travellers along the same route, making it super sociable! If you’re eager to dive in and plan your itinerary in more detail, you can find itineraries for every country in Southeast Asia here.

β˜€οΈ When is the best time to visit Southeast Asia?

Luckily for backpackers, there is no bad time to visit Southeast Asia. The climate varies across the region, so no matter what time of year you go, you can find the perfect weather somewhere! (With that said, it’s worth avoiding certain seasons in certain places. Read more about the rainy season and burning season below.)

🌧 Is it okay to travel Southeast Asia during the rainy season?

Many travellers worry about visiting Southeast Asia during the rainy season, AKA the monsoon season, but in our humble opinion(s) – it can be one of the best times to travel! With cheaper prices, fewer people and fresher air, we actually love travel during this time… As long as you plan appropriately and make the most of the time when there isn’t a downpour, the rainy season really does have its advantages. (There are a few particularly serious rainy seasons to avoid, see the article above for more info.)

πŸ’¨ What’s the burning season and should I avoid it?

The burning season occurs across Southeast Asia at different times of the year. It is caused by agricultural workers burning their fields to prepare for the planting of new crops. In short, it causes dreadful pollution that hangs in the air for weeks. If you can avoid it, we definitely recommend that you do, particularly if you have asthma or allergies. Read more about when the burning season happens in Asia and how to avoid it here.

🚌 What’s the best way to travel around Southeast Asia?

Southeast Asia is generally very well connected and getting from A to B isn’t difficult. The cheapest way to travel is by local bus. Some journeys span just a few hours while others can last more than a day! (Read about Southeast Asia’s longest bus ride here!) Big cities in the region are well serviced by regular flights and there are many low-cost airlines, like AirAsia, who are based in Kuala Lumpur. Trains are also an option in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam and are the SEA Backpacker team’s favourite way to travel!

Note: Overnight buses in Vietnam are to be avoided as there are many reports of crashes due to overtired drivers.

🚲 Can I travel Southeast Asia by bicycle?

It is possible and some crazy folks do! Read our guide to bikepacking here.


FOOD & DRINK:

πŸ₯• I’m a vegetarian/vegan, will I be okay in Southeast Asia?

We may be biased but we think that Southeast Asian cuisine is the best in the world and if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan… you will be pleased to know that there are many options for you that do not include meat and fish. Of course, you’ll have to be careful with a few Southeast Asian staples such as fish sauce and shrimp paste! Check out our vegan guide to Southeast Asia to discover delicious local meals in each country and find out how to communicate your dietary requirements effectively.

πŸ₯œ I have a peanut allergy, is it safe for me to travel Southeast Asia?

With peanuts and other nuts being common ingredients in many local dishes in Southeast Asia, it is understandable that those with nut allergies may be concerned about travel in the region. However, travelling with a serious allergy is possible as long as you take precautions. Read our article about travelling Southeast Asia with a peanut allergy here.

πŸ’¦ Can I drink the tap water in Southeast Asia?

We do not recommend that you drink straight from the tap in any country in Southeast Asia. Our advice is to invest in a refillable water bottle so that you can save money on buying plastic water bottles AND help the environment at the same time too! Refill stations are all across the region, so you don’t need to worry about finding clean water that’s safe to drink. Or, if you want to take it one step further, or you’re heading to an off the beaten track region, why not get yourself a filtered water bottle, such as the awesome Grayl GeoPress (voted the best-filtered water bottle for travel by our group members). With these amazing pieces of gear, you can literally drink from the toilet, though you probably shouldn’t.


ACCOMMODATION:

πŸ›– Do I need to book accommodation in advance? 

Unless you are travelling during the high season or around certain festivals, you don’t really need to book your accommodation in advance. However, if you have a particular hostel or hotel in mind, it can be better to book rather than show up without a reservation, to avoid disappointment. We often recommend that you book the first few nights in the city that you arrive, which is Bangkok for many travellers. Having the first few nights sorted will give you chance to find your feet and get over your jet lag before embarking upon more adventures… We use Booking.com, Hostelworld or Agoda when booking accommodation in advance. You can see a comparison of the three sites here!

πŸ™ Where should I stay when I arrive?

Many travellers choose to start their backpacking journey in Bangkok. It tends to be cheaper to fly to and has good transport links both domestically and internationally. Different neighbourhoods will suit different types of travellers, but this guide on where to stay in Bangkok will provide a good overview of your options. Whilst many backpackers make a bee-line for the infamous Khao San Road, a few alternatives are Greater Banglamphu, Thonglor and Ari.

🏨 How do I find the best hostels in Southeast Asia?

Funny you should ask! We have shortlists of the best hostels in some of the most popular backpacker destinations in Southeast Asia on our best hostels page here. Swimming pools, rooftop bars, and all-you-can-drink happy hours… oh yes, hostels in Southeast Asia need to be seen to be believed! Oh and some of them can cost less than a cup of coffee in Europe!

πŸŒ† What’s the best hostel to stay at in Bangkok?

There are loads of great hostels in Bangkok where you can meet other people to continue your onward travels with. This list of the best hostels in Bangkok was put together with help from our epic Facebook community! Whether you’re looking for a party hostel, a flashpacker pad or a boutique guesthouse, there is somewhere for you on this list.


BACKPACKS & PACKING:

πŸŽ’ What backpack should I travel with?

The backpacks that get mentioned again and again in our Facebook group are the Osprey Farpoint 40 (for men) and the Osprey Fairview 40 (the female version). However, there are many great backpack brands out there and it’s important to discover the perfect bag that suits you! Check out our ultimate backpack guide here for the best options. If you’re female, you might want to check out this specific guide on the best backpacks for women.

πŸ›„ What size backpack should I get for travelling? 

Most of our community like to take two bags with them. The first is a daypack or collapsible daypack (25-litre), in which you will keep all of your valuables that should never leave your side! The second is a 40-litre pack that you can leave at the hostel while you go sightseeing during the day. A 40-litre is the perfect size as it can often be taken as carry-on (depending on flight rules) and is easier to transport. Plus, from our experience, it’s always better to pack less and travel light!

πŸ“¦ What should I pack for Southeast Asia? 

We recommend that you pack light! Almost everything that you need can be bought whilst you are in Southeast Asia, but there are a few items which you will find difficult to purchase once over there and it’s actually better that you bring them from home. The clothing style is super casual, even for nights out, so don’t go packing your best dress/shirt as you will not need it! Check out our ultimate packing checklist for Southeast Asia here.

🩴 What shoes should I take with me?

We recommend that you take no more than three pairs of shoes; a sturdy pair of walking sandals, a pair of flip flops and a pair of closed toe sneakers or trekking shoes. (Ladies, you will not need heels!) Read more about the best travel shoes or travel sandals in these guides!

πŸ› Do I need to take a sleeping bag to Southeast Asia?

No. Hostels, hotels and guesthouses will provide bedding. A sleeping bag will take up unnecessary room in your backpack and only weigh you down. However, some travellers do like to take a sleeping bag liner with them which means that you’re prepared when you come across a particularly grubby hostel with questionable bedsheets!

🧺 How do I do laundry while I’m away?

Honestly, one of the best things about backpacking and the reason that I never wanted to come home is that you can hand in your smelly laundry at the hostel reception and get it back the next day smelling clean and smelling fresh – and all for around $5 USD!


DIFFERENT TYPES OF TRAVELLERS:

☝🏽 Is Southeast Asia good for solo travellers?

We particularly recommend Southeast Asia to first-time backpackers and solo travellers on account of the region being so damn friendly! Honestly, it’s difficult NOT to make friends and you’ll end up craving a few days of ‘me time’ in no time at all! Check out our top 10 tips for solo travellers here!

πŸ‘΅πŸΌ Am I too old to travel Southeast Asia?

No way! You are never too old to be a backpacker and Southeast Asia attracts travellers of all ages! While some hostels definitely cater to an 18-25 party crowd, the great thing about backpacking Southeast Asia is that you really will find all sorts of people at different stages of their lives. You’ll meet young first-time backpackers, married couples, backpackers in their 30s, families, empty nesters in their 50s, even backpacking grannies! Please don’t be put off living the backpacker dream no matter what age you are.

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘§β€πŸ‘¦ Can I backpack with my family?

Southeast Asia is a fantastic place to backpack with your family. The region is super safe and full of friendly people who will probably want to babysit your kiddos if you’ll let them! There are tons of adventure opportunities and kid-friendly activities which present an awesome learning curve for your little adventurers… Read about this family that have been backpacking with their two kids for over 10 years!

😎 Is it easy for a solo traveller to meet people in Southeast Asia?

With over 20,000 active members, our Facebook group, the South East Asia Backpacker Community is a great way to meet other travellers before you set off! However, you really needn’t worry about making friends whilst in Southeast Asia… us backpackers are literally everywhere! You will meet people on tours, in bars, on buses and especially in backpacker hostels… For solo travellers looking to meet people, our advice is always to stay in a popular backpacker hostel at the start of your trip where you’ll meet people very easily over the first beer. By beer seven, you’ll be lifelong friends!

AND FINALLY…

🌎 Southeast Asia vs South America, which is better for backpackers?

Both regions offer an amazing backpacking experience, which is why we have another website dedicated to backpacking South America! As a general rule, Southeast Asia is safer and easier to travel around and more suited to first-time travellers. Backpackers have been exploring the region for decades and the main routes are very well-trodden. South America, on the other hand, can be a bit more challenging because the backpacking infrastructure isn’t as well developed and there are a few more safety concerns that you should know about.


Can’t see your question listed?

If you can’t find the answer to your question about travel in Southeast Asia, you should ask in our Facebook community. This group has over 20,000 members and is THE best place to go for travel advice or to find out what is happening on the ground.


About South East Asia Backpacker

South East Asia Backpacker is the brainchild of one backpacker who set off on a journey of self-discovery. If you want to find out more about this website and how it got started, check out our about page or grab a copy of South East Asia Backpacker creator Nikki Scott’s book about how the whole adventure started! 

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