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6 Things You Need To Know Before Backpacking Through Southeast Asia

6 Things You Need To Know Before Backpacking Through Southeast Asia

backpacking in south east asia

There are lots of reasons we pack our bags and head to Southeast Asia in search of incredible travel experiences. And it’s no wonder – the region is an extraordinary, eye-opening and beautiful part of the globe.


And while we can’t plan for every single thing (that’d be super boring), there are a few essential things to prepare for before setting out on the journey of a lifetime.

#1 Border Crossings

The Burmese border
The Burmese border. Image: Jason Thompson / Flickr

When passing between countries, you’ll encounter a border crossing, which can sometimes be daunting. Ultimately, you’re at the mercy of whoever’s in charge, but the key is to follow orders and endeavour to not act like a clueless tourist (even if you feel like one).

“The border crossing is part of the experience of travel. Enjoy the quirks of the moment. Most importantly, be patient and calm and expect to queue,” a senior director at Pacific Asia Travel Association told CNN Travel.

Also, you may also be asked for a small extra fee for getting you through, but it’ll only be the equivalent of a couple of dollars, so just remember to save a little of the appropriate currency and don’t sweat the small stuff.

#2 Infamous Bus Journeys

A local bus in Phuket, Thailand
Image: Jessica Rabbit / Flickr

Organising travel between various places is simple enough, but if travelling by bus, be prepared for longer-than-expected journeys (and for departure and arrival times that differ from what’s stated).

If you catch enough buses, you’ll soon realise that most companies have different definitions of “sleeper bus”. Some will have toilets, cabin-style beds and blankets, and others will only have seats and no on-board facilities. In other words, be prepared to stop in the middle of nowhere for toilet breaks.


Bring earplugs, something warm, toilet paper, entertainment, and food and drink. And enjoy the rocky ride!

#3 Language Barriers

Neon signs in Thailand
Image: Ninara / Flickr

Learning “hello” and “thank you” in the language of each country you’re travelling to is well worth it. Keep a running list of phrases that you hear regularly on your phone. If you can’t ask a local what they mean, ask around your hostel – someone there is bound to know.

Before you head to a market, a restaurant, a border crossing, or a bus or train station, get a few useful phrases down. For example, anything related to your dietary requirements, times of buses, directions. Definitely have relevant questions prepared, too.

#4 Prepare For A Range Of Different Food

Fresh squid cooked at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand
Fresh squid cooked at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand. Image: Paul Arps / Flickr

Let’s face it: you’ll be eating food that you’re not used to while backpacking through Southeast Asia. Couple this with partying, sleepless nights, heat and dorm rooms, and you may be at risk of getting sick.

But don’t panic if that happens. Keep hydrated and out of the sun (when you can), get to a pharmacy for professional medical advice and get ready to ride it out. Once your body has adjusted to new foods and spices, you’ll get to enjoy Southeast Asia’s culinary delights to the fullest.

See Also
6 Mesmerising Indian Sites That Aren’t The Taj Mahal

#5 The Art Of Bartering

Night markets in Bangkok
Image: Karl Baron / Flickr

Practically everywhere in Southeast Asia will give you the opportunity to learn the art of bartering. There’s an unspoken rule that the initial asking price of items at markets isn’t the one you’ll settle on. Have a little fun, enjoy the lively exchange and definitely approach it with an idea of what you’d be happy to pay in the end. And always keep it fair, fam.


#6 Keep The Essentials With You At All Times


Take a bottle of water everywhere. And remember, you can’t drink the tap water in some places.

Toilets in Southeast Asia are equipped with toilet hoses, but rarely provide toilet paper, so it’s useful to keep a roll on you. This said, do the right thing and throw it away in the bins provided rather than flushing it which may cause clogging.

And, finally – it’s not an “essential” in the traditional sense, but something that’ll be hugely beneficial – download the app. It’s a godsend.

Check out Qantas flights and begin your next adventure.

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