How to Meet Friends While Backpacking Solo in Asia

By Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor March 7th, 2015 Posted in Asia Travel Blog, Travel Blog, Travel Guides 5 Comments

In many times that I have traveled in and outside the country (Philippines), I have always gone solo. I do not know what is with traveling solo that I enjoy it the most.

(Timo and Franzi, the German couple that I met in Bangkok, Thailand from Don Muang Airport. We ended up touring the Grand Palace, Bangkok City and China Town ).

Do not get me wrong for I do not have anything against traveling with family or friends. It is just the sense of independence, freedom, worry-free and carefree traveling that strike me the most. Of course, it is a matter of preference. But solo traveling, for me, is more rewarding and entertaining. It gives one more opportunity of meeting new friends, learning a new culture, going to more places (without worrying if others would like to go or not) and of course the flexibility of time.

But isn’t it that traveling solo sometimes feel “solo” (read as lonely, boring)? My answer is a reverberating No! Traveling solo is not lonely or boring at all. Based on my personal experience when I went solo backpacking in Southeast Asia, traveling solo gives you more chances of meeting new people and gaining more friends – international friends. In this article, I will be sharing tips on how to meet new friends so that your traveling solo will not feel like “solo” at all.

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1. Helping the Locals

It is always nice learning a thing or two about the place where you will be going. In my case, I did a few research about Malaysia and the places of interests. It is not always the case that tourists need help from the locals. Sometimes, it is the locals that need help from the tourist.

Take for example my stay in Malaysia. After touring Kuala Lumpur for two days, I went to the nearby city of Malacca – a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its colonial ruins and old city treasures. This small city in the southern part of Malaysia is the home of the sweetest people I have ever met. On my night stroll in the area, I was approached by a group of young college students for an interview regarding Malacca’s tourism. Being the kind person that I am, I gladly accepted the invitation. It was a long night full of laughter and funny stories. They gave me tips on where to go and eat in Malacca. To top it all, they gave a late night tour of Malacca in exchange for my kindness.

(This group of students from Malacca gave me a late night tour of the City after they interviewed me for their school paper regarding Malacca’s tourism)

This group of students from Malacca gave me a late night tour of the City after they interviewed me for their school paper regarding Malacca’s tourism

2. Helping the Lost Travelers

Sometimes, we often give directions to people, but missing the chance to get to know them. We thought that answering directions, places of interests or where to go, eat, and hang out would be enough. But no! It should be more than that. Helping the lost does not only mean letting him or her know the right track or way. Instead, it includes sharing with them your passion and experiences. Helping them is best served not only by telling the way, instead, SHOW THEM THE WAY. Accompany them in their travel and show to them that like them, you are eager to see the world out there.

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Walked five km from the bus stop to the Thailand-Laos Immigration Border

This happened to me after my four-day stay in Malaysia, where I packed my bags and left for Bangkok, Thailand. I arrived at Don Muang International Airport. Since I left the Philippines without any itinerary on hand, I asked the desk officers in the airport for a good place to stay in Bangkok. I was given a piece of paper, written on it the direction on how to go to Khaosan Road. I immediately went outside the airport and waited for a bus. Not far from me was a couple. They looked at me, and I gave my trademark warm smile. They smiled back at me. Thinking that I was a local, they asked me on what bus to ride on going to Khaosan Road. I smiled at them and in my neutral English told them that I am a Filipino. The two were quick to apologize while giggling. I told them that I am also going to Khaosan Road and maybe we could all come together. I handed to them the piece of paper given to me by the desk officers and together, we left for Khaosan Road. As it turned out, we ended up touring the Grand Palace, Bangkok and China Town for two days.

3. Hangout with your Hostel mates/ Roommates/ Dorm buddies

What is the good of staying in a guesthouse without knowing anyone? You are in the guesthouse to meet people from different places. And you are exactly there to associate and share your experience, a piece of your culture and yourself. A guesthouse is a place where the amalgamation of cultures come together to form a bond of friendship. Imagine, when you are traveling solo, you’ve got to meet crazy people in different places. And a guesthouse is a good place to start meeting one.

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Couchsurfing in Laos

This is what exactly happened to me in this one place in Thailand that I love the most – Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is located in the northern part of Thailand, wherein the weather is colder than Bangkok. The city is rich in vibrant culture, old ruins, and amazing temples. My stay in Chiang Mai does not purposely coincide with the Loy Krathong Festival, and I thought accommodation would be difficult. From the train station, I ended up in the old city of Chiang Mai, enclosed by a deep canal where you can see the century old brick-wall. I scouted the area looking for a cheap accommodation. Luckily, I found a guesthouse with an available bed for one. I immediately checked-in and wow….I received the warmest welcome ever. Cool travelers from all over the world gathered in the living room where we introduced ourselves. We hang out the whole night partying at a nearby bar where one of the guests in the house is a disc jockey. Seriously, my roommates are the craziest of them all. We played with the camera and did crazy poses.

(My roommates at Lita’s Guesthouse in Chiang Mai, Thailand: L-R Astrid and Flo from France, Danny from Canada and Patsy from Hongkong. The one lying is the monkey from the Philippines)

My roommates at Lita’s Guesthouse in Chiang Mai, Thailand: L-R Astrid and Flo from France, Danny from Canada and Patsy from Hongkong. The one lying is the monkey from the Philippines)

4. Talk to fellow Solo Travelers

“Same feathers, flock together.”

One of the ways of making your solo travel worthwhile is to talk to fellow solo travelers. By talking to them, you will learn a lot of things especially on how to manage your resources, places to go, affordable trips, etc. Starting a conversation with them is easy because like you, they are alone. They are the type of person who is open to a lot of possibilities and suggestions. They are open-minded and eager to answer your questions, share a meal with you, and give you company in going around the place and getting lost along the way. Lastly, they can go crazy with you the whole night without worrying about any company!!!

During my stay in Chiang Mai, I met Ildus, a Russian hitchhiker who have hitchhiked from Russia to Thailand. He had been in Thailand for a while, and he gave me a quick tour of how Chiang Mai looked like at night. This well-traveled person inspired me to travel on a budget – hitchhiker style. His adventure and how he managed to go to Thailand from Russia is an inspiration to me. Money is not a problem in traveling for you can make it along the way. This guy is the perfect example of an adventurer.

(Ildus, the Russian hitchhiker who hitchhiked from Russia to Thailand. He later went to the Philippines where I hosted him thru couchsurfing)
(Ildus, the Russian hitchhiker who hitchhiked from Russia to Thailand. He later went to the Philippines where I hosted him thru CouchSurfing)

5. Be someone else’s Photographer


This is my immemorial line that works all the time. Perhaps for someone that travels solo taking pictures of yourself is one (if not the only one) of the hardest thing to do. I admit I am bad at selfies. I cannot get good angles, and the pictures end up being blurry. I also noticed that my fellow solo travelers suffer the same thing. They want to capture the great view with them in the foreground (as evidence perhaps that they have been to such place). But they could not take the perfect picture. So what is the best way to get friends in an instant through pictures? Well, be helpful. Ask them if you could take their picture, and in return, they will also take your picture. Simple, right? But trust me, it works all the time (guaranteed!!).

During my trip in Chiang Rai, Thailand, I saw this pretty Austrian girl who joined the tour to have a run-visa in Myanmar. Like me, she was alone too. When we went down from the van to see the White Temple, I saw her having a hard time taking a picture of herself with the White Temple in the background. And I am in the same situation as her. Being naturally helpful, I asked her if she wants me to take her picture but in return, she will take my picture too. She agreed, and the rest is history. Throughout our travel to Laos and Myanmar (in the Golden Triangle Area), we chatted and laughed the whole day. Like most of the people that I met in my travel, she became my friend on Facebook and constantly communicating with her.

(Left: My picture in the White Temple that Sabrina Pilz from Austria took. Right: Her picture which I took.)
(Left: My picture in the White Temple that Sabrina Pilz from Austria took. Right: Her picture which I took.)

6. Make friends on the Street

If there is one place where you will meet different kinds of people, definitely that would be on the street. This is the only place where you will be greeted some hi’s and hello’s side by side, and all you have to do is to smile. Street parties are very common in South East Asia, and this is one of the places where you could meet travelers and local alike. Well, street parties are great sites of adventure seeking people who party the night away to get rid of boredom and to hook up. But seriously, you will meet great peeps from the street. The type of peeps that are for keeps.

In Pub Street in Cambodia, I met this group of Israeli. It all started with a dance showdown among the party goers. Travelers, some of them holding beers in their hands, started dancing and showing their best moves. Of course, I am always game when it comes to this (brown monkeys do not give way). It is this moment when this group of Israeli strut their best moves in the tune of a hip-hop beat. Amazingly, these people got the move!! Well, we danced the night away, and party like there is no tomorrow. We ended up chatting together until early morning and go separate ways after eating a street crepe along Pub Street. Later on, these nice people became my guest when they traveled to the Philippines.

( The crazy Pub Street Party goers. L-R – Ilan Taussig from Israel, Jennifer Bjerk from Holland, Nica from the Philippines, me in yellow, a Cambodian guy, nir mishal and Tomer rotlevi from Israel)
( The crazy Pub Street Party goers. L-R – Ilan Taussig from Israel, Jennifer Bjerk from Holland, Nica from the Philippines, me in yellow, a Cambodian guy, nir Mishal and Tomer rotLevi from Israel)

7. Always share what you have!

Solo travelers would know that by sharing you will save a lot. But sharing does not work only to save you more money. It helps you gain more friends and share experiences with. Sharing your ride or your seat to a stranger tells a lot of things about yourself. It shows how sincere and kind you are to others, which is a plus point to a stranger. They will not feel aloof with you. Everywhere you go, kindness is a universal language that transcends race and ethnicity. If there is a perfect tool that everyone should have, that should be being kind while traveling.

Sharing kindness is something that I brought with me when I traveled. When I was on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, I shared a ride with a group of Americans going to Siem Reap. With this, I saved a lot of money and gained three more friends. When I was eating in the street of Saigon, I found myself in this nice restaurant along the busy street of Saigon with a Filipina friend. The place is a bit crowded, and there is a German couple looking for a place to sit. I immediately offered the end side of our table. What started as a simple lunch turned out to be an awesome exchange of culture and Facebook accounts. Soon enough, I convinced them to visit the Philippines in 2015.

( L-R: Park from USA, AJ from Armenia, Jim from USA and me in a bus ride to Siem Reap Terminal)
( L-R: Park from the USA, AJ from Armenia, Jim from USA and me in a bus ride to Siem Reap Terminal)

All in all, solo traveling does not mean that you will be “solo.” By going solo, you will get to know more who you are. You will see the real you outside of your comfort zones free from any restrictions and inhibitions. It makes you explore new horizon, learn a new culture and meet new people – which are the most important lesson that you will learn in traveling, outside the classroom. There is no need to be scared of going solo. Once in our life, we should experience how to travel alone while we can. Always remember, ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE!!!

 This article is an entry for the Bali, Indonesia Writing Competition 2015

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!

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About the Writer

The Legal Traveler - Irwin Pena

Irwin Pena, “The Legal Traveler”, I am a lawyer by profession who loves traveling. I consider traveling as life’s basic necessity. Meeting different people and learning their culture are traveling’s the greatest prize. Aside from intelligence, travel experience is something that money can’t buy. My favorite city is Chiang Mai, Thailand and my dream destination is South America. I love pasta, pizza and everything about cheese

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5 thoughts on “How to Meet Friends While Backpacking Solo in Asia

  1. I love solo backpacking, too! I have yet to experience most of those that you have experienced though since I have only been to a few places. I definitely learned something from this. Thanks.

  2. whoah. this post is a proof that I should be doing more of solo traveling in the future.
    I love your stories, especially about your room mates in Chaing Mai. They’re crazy (including you), and it was just a lot of fun.
    Thank you for sharing this post Irwin. It’s heart-warming and inspiring at the same time. Galing!

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