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QUICK: First-timer’s Guide to Backpacking in South East Asia

By Kach Umandap June 30th, 2022 Posted in Asia Travel Blog, Travel Blog, Travel Guides 36 Comments

Backpacking in South East Asia is, for many, a once in a lifetime opportunity, so when you set out on your first trip, you want to do it right! You probably want to avoid rookie mistakes which could put a bit of a downer on your trip and give you any unpleasant problems dramas. Think excessively large backpack weighing you down to more serious hospitalizations without the right insurance – What a bummer!

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Photo by Peter Livesey on Unsplash

There are a lot of countries in South East Asia that are full of amazing sights, sounds, and people; Philippines; Malaysia, Indonesia but here we’re sticking with Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. These are all incredibly beautiful and diverse countries with huge amounts to offer, so if you’re thinking about your first backpacking adventure then a tour of the big 4 will give you experiences and memories to reminisce over for years to come and also give you all the experience and confidence you need for any future adventures.

12go Asia

Important things to prepare before the trip

Insurance – You may never use it, but you’ll know when you need it.


Health – Vaccinations, Malaria medication, First aid kit.

Documents – Make copies of everything important – printed and electronic, saved in a safe place.

Plan your route – You don’t have to stick to the plan, but a little research goes a long way on a first solo trip abroad.

Get in shape…and try to stay that way! It’s easy to end up drinking every night traveling around South East Asia, but it’ll inevitably shorten your trip by destroying your budget. Precious memories become a hazy blur of shots, rowdy bars, and hung-over bus rides and you feel like crap for half the time you’re away. Then again, have fun!


What to bring?

Just bring your essentials, don’t bring a lot of clothes as you can easily buy the baba pajama style in Bangkok and some “same same” cool shirts! Flip flops are a must-have, don’t ever forget that!

What backpack?

DIY Itinerary in South East Asia

If you will be traveling for a month or less, we suggest you carry a 38 Liter Backpack or a Backpack that can be carry-on luggage on planes but if you plan to travel long-term and 50 to 65L will be good enough.

What backpacking route?

DIY Itinerary in South East Asia

There are different routes to take, it all depends on your interests, time frame, and budget. Here’s our recommended route if you plan to travel for 1 month or more, if you plan to travel for 3 weeks or less then you can just skip some of the Cities.

First Route – Start in Thailand then Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and end the trip for a crazy full moon party week.

Bangkok – Chiang Mai – Luang Prabang – Vang Vieng – Vientiane –  Hanoi- Hue- Hoi An – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh – Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville – Siem Reap – Bangkok – Suratthani – Koh Samui- Koh Pah Ngan – Koh Tao – Bangkok

Second Route – Start in Singapore to Malaysia then do the First route (reverse order)

Singapore- Kuala Lumpur – Penang – South Thailand (Koh Phi Phi side and  Koh Pah Ngan side) – Bangkok – Cambodia- Vietnam- Laos – Bangkok


You might also consider visiting the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar- though they are out of the way we tell you, they are really worth it!



If you’re from the Philippines, then you get a visa stamp on arrival – you can check this article with my personal experience for more details.

If you’re British, European, or American – you have to get the visa in advance in Vietnam (you have to pre-apply online if you’re flying or get it from the Embassy if you plan to cross the border by land). You can get a visa on arrival in Cambodia and Laos for a certain fee. You don’t need a visa to enter Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore if you plan to stay for 30 days or less.

Transportation? Crossing borders?

It’s really easy to cross borders in South East Asia as there’s a lot of overnight buses all over. In Cambodia, the VIP bus even has wifi while in Vietnam there are different bus companies offering a Hop On and Hop Off. If you fancy traveling by train then you can do it in Vietnam and Thailand.

Where to stay?

6 Types of Accommodation You Can Use When Traveling
Photo by Marcus Loke on Unsplash

There are different options for you. Hotels in South East Asia depend on Mid-range to luxury, you can do Couchsurfing as the community is quite active there but we highly suggest that you try to stay indifferent dorm-style hostels where you will be able to meet like-minded people.

Okay, we have the list here of places where we stayed while backpacking. These dorm bedrooms price range is between $5 and $15 only!

Transportation Tip: If you’re looking for the cheapest way to book the Trains, Buses, Ferries, Transfers on this route, we use 12Go.Asia to compare the prices!

Powered by 12Go Asia system

Where to eat? What to eat?


First-timer's Guide to Backpacking in South East Asia
Photo by Alyssa Kowalski on Unsplash
  • Tom Yam Goong – A vibrant combination of fresh herbs, lemongrass, fish sauce, chilies, and jumbo prawns.
  • Pad Thai – A simple yet brilliant dish. Noodles with tofu, bean sprouts, onion, and groundnuts. Now often served in chicken or pork varieties, you can add your own fish sauce and chili for extra flavor.
  • Geng Kheaw Wan Gai (Thai Green Curry) – The spiciest curry in Thailand repertoire is also the most distinctively Thai, with a blend of delicious spices and coconut milk.
  • Massaman Curry – Literally meaning Muslim in Thai, Massaman curry is an explosion of flavors from coconut milk, potatoes, roasted peanuts, bay leaves, sugar, cinnamon, and tamarind sauce.

Laos – Simple, fresh ingredients form the foundations of Lao’s cuisine, with a blend of aromatic spices like ginger, galangal, coriander, and tamarind.


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  • Laap – Essentially a fresh and healthy meat salad made with beef, chicken, pork. beef or fish, flavored with lime, roasted rice, garlic, and herbs and served at room temperature.
  • Tam Mak Houng – Too often dismissed as a copy of the papaya salad found all over Thailand, this salty, spicy salad can be served with the main dish of chicken or pork and rice for a complete and satisfying meal.
  • Oh Lam – Translating into, ‘to put in,’ this is the Irish Stew of Laos cooking – whatever you have to hand goes in the pot with herbs and seasonings to create a flavourful and hearty meal. Beans, eggplants, mushrooms, lemongrass, and coriander are all thickened with sticky rice.

Cambodia – Most Cambodian dishes are built on a foundation of contrasts; sweet and bitter; salty and bitter; raw and cooked. They are a blend of local tradition and foreign influence from close neighbors and years of migration.

First-timer's Guide to Backpacking in South East Asia
Photo by ginomempin CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Grilled Seafood – With freshwater sources in all directions and the Gulf of Thailand to the South, fresh fish and seafood, flavored with chili, fish sauce, and lime juice, is a staple of Cambodian cuisine
  • Fish Amok – Cambodia’s signature dish. Aromatic kroeung curry paste, white fish, and coconut milk steamed in a banana-leaf cup. Incredible!
  • Green Mango Salad – Mangoes have eaten in all colors I Cambodia and the green ones make an incredible salad, blended with carrots, basil, peppers, fish sauce, and lime juice.


10 Tips for Moving to Vietnam and Living an Expat Life in Hanoi
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
  • Gỏi cuốn (Spring Rolls) – These fresh, un-fried spring rolls come filled with a variety of different ingredients and are best dipped in delicious peanut sauce.
  • Bánh Xèo (Sizzling Pancake) – One of the things the French left behind, the humble crepe has been fried into a crispy, taste-filled pocket of awesomeness!
  • Phở (Vietnamese Noodle Soup) – This staple breakfast soup is found on street stalls on every corner of Vietnam. The simple, clear soup with added herbs and flavors beautifully hydrate and nourish you, ready for the day
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36 thoughts on “QUICK: First-timer’s Guide to Backpacking in South East Asia

  1. Hi, Your blog is so informative.
    I’m OFW from Dubai, and planning to do Southeast Asia Tour this Nov as my birthday treat to myself.
    Target is :
    From Dubai – BKK then to SG – Dubai,
    4 weeks (but 2weeks in BKK) another 2 weeks is Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia & SG

    Can you advise which country to visit first and the next. Pleasee.

    Thank you!

  2. Love your blog! It is so interesting and ridiculous! I want to update some information about immigration into Vietnam. If you’re the citizen of 5 countries following: UK, France, Italy, Spain and Germany, you can stay up to 15 days in Vietnam without getting a tourist visa. For other nationalities, now you can apply for a visa on arrival at 3 international airports: Hanoi, Da Nang and Saigon. Welcome back to my country!

  3. Hi,
    Just want to ask question regarding booking one way ticket going to point of entry for example from Manila to KL, I am planning to do the Banana Pancake Trail and start in KL, then exit in Bangkok back to Manila. Will they allow me to board plane on a one way ticket?

  4. Hi Ate Kach,

    Im a fan of TwoMonkey Travels. So helpful ng blog nyo.

    Anyway, this year. Me and my friend will be staying in BKK for 14days. We thought of backpacking BKK-Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia-Malaysia-SG-BKK. Kaya po ba ng 14 days? We are also looking for an updated blog for the said places. We’re girls and it is our first time backpacking. Medyo afraid lalo na may mga scam po pala sa Cambodia. Need your advise. Thanks and God Bless you Two Monkeys! 🙂

    1. Hindi mo kaya ng 14 days yan if you want for 7 countries unless you’ll spend most of the time sa airport to fly! You can do Bangkok-Cambodia and Vietnam instead! =)

      Go to the search box of the blog and you’ll see our detailed articles with recommended places to stay too!

  5. Great article. I went backpacking through southeast asia twice in (2015 and 2016) and i definitely agree with getting a route beforehand and scanning your documents…very important!

  6. Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are not bad countries to start the backpacking in Southeast Asia. Traveling by land is possible so it’s worth to make it in a month or more.

  7. I’m going backpacking around Thailand this summer so this has given me a few ideas on how to prepare! I haven’t started yet >.<

  8. That smile on the photo says it all; a great trip and some good preparations. Good advice for us going there!

  9. I have been to Malaysia and it was a wonderful experience. You have shared some great tips. Will bookmark this for later use.

  10. These are valuable tips, especially for those who want to trip to The countries above for the first time, not only for backpacker but also other type of traveller.

  11. Sometimes I tend to overpack and bring something so much no important, this post is excellent for me. I love the extremly helpfull tips! Thank you 🙂

  12. This is such a great post. I’m so in love with Asia and I’ve been to quite a lot of countries within it, and these tips could not be more useful!

  13. Wow, great tips. These essentials are enough to make adventurers more confident in pursuing their passion of seeing the world.

  14. I’ve never tried backpacking in Asia before. I’m sure it was quite an experience and I really appreciate the tips and all the information! Asia has always been beautiful and full of breathtaking sights!

  15. I am from the Philippines and I’ve only been to Singapore here in South East Asia. I do intend on backpacking someday!!

  16. Now this is what you call the ultimate travel guide, I have always wanted to go to South Est Asia as the way of life is so different.

  17. I so want to travel to Asia ugh!! Planning the route of what to visit is just so tricky though lol.

  18. ultimate backpacking guide , seriously you have some great advices in here and not only for backpackers . pinned

  19. This is an ultimate guide. i would definitely have a look at this when I plan my trip to the South East next year. thanks for the share.

  20. hi miss Kach, i would like to know how many hours of travel by land if we start from thailand to laos? laos to vietnam? vietnam to cambodia? if we’ll follow ur recommended first route.

    hope to hear from you. Godbless.

    1. Where in Thailand you will exit? North to Laos? You have to take a boat then bus… then Laos to Vietnam is around 25 hours depending where you will exit and enter. Vietnam to Cambodia is only 6 hours. When crossing border you need to spend at least a day.

  21. I really wish I could try backpacking across SE Asia very soon. Im curious how u do the multi city thing.. Do u book all ur plane tickets in advance?

  22. Hi Ms. Kach, My friend and I are planning to have a one week tour in Bangkok then we’re planning to cross to Cambodia. We appreciate any suggestions on how should we do this since we’re both inexperienced in travelling and we really don’t have any idea at all. we’re kinda lost on how should we do the multi city thing. Thank you so much. xoxo

    1. Hello Shela, hope these below articles would help you with your journey. if you decide to cross the border, I highly suggest you just pay a travel agent in Khao San Road to arrange it for you. You’re better off checking 5 different agency to check the prices, usually it will be a van then bus in Cambodia side.

      Things to do in Bangkok- https://twomonkeystravelgroup.com/2015/09/7-awesome-things-penang-malaysia/

      Things to do in Siem Reap- https://twomonkeystravelgroup.com/2015/09/7-awesome-things-siemreap-cambodia/

      Recommended Backpackers Hostels in Bangkok = https://twomonkeystravelgroup.com/2015/06/ultimate-list-best-hostels-thailand/

      Recommended Backpackers Hostels in Siem Reap – https://twomonkeystravelgroup.com/2015/07/ultimate-list-best-hostels-in-cambodia/

      Let me know if you have other questions. – Kach

  23. This is a great guide! I LOVED Pans Place Guesthouse in Laos – one of the best places of my trip. If anyone heads to Vietnam make sure you head to Da’Lat. It has amazing French colonial architecture and the cheapest and most fun thing I did in Vietnam; Waterfall Canyoning!!!!

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Written by Kach Umandap

Founder of Two Monkeys Travel Group. Since 2013, Kach has visited all the 7 continents (including Antarctica) and 151 countries using her Philippines Passport. In 2016, she bought a sailboat and went on sailing adventures with her two cats - Captain Ahab & Little Zissou in the Caribbean for 2 years. She now lives in Herceg Novi, Montenegro where she's enjoying her expat life and living on a gorgeous Stonehouse. She writes about her experiences traveling as a Filipina traveler with a PHL Passport. Also tips on backpacking trips, luxury hotel experiences, product reviews, sailing & adventure travel.