BACKPACKING ASIA – 40 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING ASIA

BACKPACKING ASIA

Backpacking Asia is exciting but daunting – we share 40 things you need to know before traveling Asia – including saving money & how to plan.

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING ASIA

PLANNING A TRIP TO ASIA

  • Vaccinations – Visit your local doctors surgery or health centre at least 5 months before you travel. Some vaccinations take a while to order in and need to be taken over a three month period. Explain exactly where you’re going and they will be able to advise you on which jabs you’ll need. This site is an easy to navigate NHS website that can help you plan your vaccinations. 

As a guideline, travellers in Southeast Asia should get the Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid and Diphtheria/tetanus/polio (combined into one shot) vaccinations but in some areas you may need to take malaria tablets and/or get your yellow fever jab. If you are spending an extended period of time in remote areas then you may consider getting the Japanese Encephalitis and the rabies jab.

  • Plan around the weather – Check the weather for each of your destinations and plan around the heat. Avoid monsoon season and aim for the low season to get the best deals.

 

  • Know what you are looking for – If you are planning a trip to Asia, decide what you are looking for! Asia is massive, so do your research and decide what you want. If its temples and culture then Myanmar and Cambodia? History then Vietnam and China? Unusual Tech destinations then Tokyo and Taiwan? Famous Landmarks then India and Kuala Lumpur? Jungle and Adventure then Malaysia and Borneo? Beautiful beaches then Thailand or the Philippines? Great food try South Korea and Singapore?

 

  • Book your first night – Make sure you have your first night booked in a hotel. After a long flight, you will need a decent nights sleep to sort out your jet lag.
  • Travel Insurance – linked to the above, get your travel insurance! There are too many stories of 20-something backpackers getting into a horrific accident and not affording the hospital bills because they weren’t insured. Get decent insurance! We use World Nomads to get the best offer and to be fully covered. You can even get money back on delayed flights.

 

  • Learn greetings and “is it spicy?” – Some areas of Asia will be full of locals who can speak English; at least enough to help you out. Some areas will speak very little, if any. Learn hello and thank you to help you with your trip (I write them down on the notes app on my phone). I also learn the word ‘spicy’ before heading to any local restaurant and market. By shaking my head and hand and saying spicy, the vendor normally figures out I don’t want extra chilli!

 

  • Book or not to book? – Booking your flight there then ‘winging it’ is fine to do in Asia. Unless it is the peak season, most hotels and hostels have available rooms whilst most buses, flights, trains and tours can be booked a few days in advance, if that. I personally prefer to book my travel and accommodation before leaving so I can get the best deals and know how much cash I have left for sightseeing, food and entertainment. Then we book tours and sightseeing trips whilst in a country.
Romantic getaways in Asia

BEFORE YOU GO TO ASIA

  • Currency – In some countries around Asia, the US Dollar is used as well as their national currency. Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are countries that prefer the dollar and you can get reasonable exchange rates at ATM’s. However, make sure you do have some local currency too as markets and small shops may not take USD.

 

  • Bring a light bag – A light bag is perfect for days exploring a new city. Make sure it has a zip and is preferably a shoulder/tote/satchel bag.

 

  • Don’t be afraid – Before travelling Asia, I was genuinely concerned about our safety and belongings. We had heard and read so many horror stories about travel around Asia but were still drawn to exploring it. Apart from a few overpriced cab rides and one awful drink in Phuket (oh and our taxi did crash into a lorry in China but we were fine!), there was really nothing to actually worry about.
  • Tissues – This one is weird but ladies, take some tissues with you that you can pop in your handbag before heading out. Not all toilets around Asia will offer such luxury and no-one likes having to ‘shake it dry’.

 

  • Backpack or not? – If you plan on taking a lot of buses and trains around Asia, then take a backpack – not sure how best to pack? Read the Backpack Hack for the best packing tips. Buses rarely offer large storage space, with smaller buses putting luggage around your feet, under chairs and in-between seats. However, if you will be flying the majority of your trip, a suitcase is just fine and is our preferred choice for trips.

 

  • Visas – Myanmar, Vietnam and China require visas before arrival so do your research and get them sorted before you leave.

 

  • Get reading – This one may sound bias but once you have decided your destinations, get online to read blogs, websites, Tripadvisor and watch youtube videos of your chosen places. You can learn where is best to eat and stay, how to travel, local scams in the area to avoid, popular attractions, off the beaten track attractions and so on.
Backpacking Asia

BUDGETING A TRIP TO ASIA

  • Plan your budget – Asia can be as expensive or as cheap as you wish. It is possible to spend as little as £20 a day but I recommend at least £50 a day (per couple) is a good amount to budget.

For example: A typical day in Vietnam for us would cost: Private double room with ensuite: £11, breakfast (pancakes and juice from nearby restaurant): £4, taxi ride: 60p, attractions (museum entrance and park): 52p per person, lunch (overeating) at a local market: £4, attractions (Pagoda searching and general wandering around taking street photos): free, dinner (three course, sit down restaurant including two alcoholic drinks each): £15, beer at local bar: £1.20 and cocktails at local bar  £1.60 = One day cost £37.92.

We have a series of Cost of travel posts to help you plan your trip. 

  • Bring extra – You can travel cheap but make sure you bring extra cash along so you can have some fun! There are so many people we have met on our travels who aren’t enjoying everything a place has to offer, in order to afford their trip. What is the point of travelling if you are not going to see or do anything?!
  • Expensive places to visitTokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Brunei, South Korea, Borneo and some areas of the Philippines and China can all be expensive places to visit. However, there is always a reason for that and it is usually because they are worth visiting. Try and afford to visit at least one of these places on your trip: My Pick? Tokyo!
  • Cheapest places to visit – There are some awesome and cheap places to visit in South East Asia – we have a post on the cheapest destinations in Asia, perfect for those on a tight budget.
  • Haggle – Across Asia, you will be met with higher prices because your foreign. Practise the art of haggling and if it’s too much, walk away – chances are there is probably a stall around the corner selling the same stuff.

 

  • Currency – In some countries around Asia, the US Dollar is used as well as their national currency. Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are countries that prefer the dollar and you can get reasonable exchange rates at ATM’s. However, make sure you do have some local currency too as markets and small shops may not take USD.

 

  • Cash in remote areas – Remote areas of a country are unlikely to have ATM machines at all so plan and take out plenty of cash whilst you’re in the city.

 

  • Expect to get ripped off – Unfortunately, it will definitely happen at some point in your trip. You will get into a taxi who refuses to use the meter, have a tuk-tuk try and take you to his mates suit store or be massively overcharged for something weird looking on a stick. Haggle when you can, get out of taxis and make the most of your trip. On our first visit to Bangkok, we got frustrated with the taxis but after walking out of one or two, we always found someone around the corner who would use the meter.
CHEAPEST HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS IN ASIA

HOW TO GET AROUND SOUTHEAST ASIA

  • Slow down – Everything in Asia seems to slow down. You can save a lot of money by taking the slow route to another country via bus or train rather than plane. Plus, by taking the bus, you can visit the smaller, lesser known destinations in the country. 
  • VIP Buses – VIP and first class buses can be worth it for long journeys. They always include air conditioning, often an on-bus toilet and can be much faster than second or third class buses. Shop around and never accept the first price. 
  • Multi-trip flights – If you are planning everything in advance and wish to fly, you can save some money by booking all your flights at once. We prefer to use the multi-flight option on skyscanner. 
  • Rent a scooter – Renting a scooting around Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, is a great way to get around, see the countryside and save your cash for the bar. Licenses aren’t always needed but bring your driving license from home just incase.
  • Fly – Air Asia is the main budget airline, with flights as low as £15! Check their website in advance and get booking. Ok, buses, trains and coaches may be more scenic and give you a sense of the countryside but flying is always more convenient and faster.
  • Outward travel – For some countries, you will need to know how you are travelling onwards after your visit. In Japan, we had to show our booking of our outward flight so check online for policies, more so if your destination(s) is an island.
Wang lang market

TRAVELING ASIA - ONCE YOUR HERE

  • Local water – Don’t drink water from the taps, it isn’t clean and will make you sick.

 

  • Ice – That being said, ice is often clean as it is usually made in factories using filtered water. We don’t worry about ice (as it is definitely needed whilst in Asia) and we have never become sick from the ice.

 

  • Respect local beliefs – Whether its not touching peoples head, walking on the other side of the road from a monk or removing your shoes, read the signs and follow the rules. You’re a guest in the country so be as respectful as you would be if you were a guest at your in-laws home (my rule of thumb).
  • Stay away from “extra strong” buckets – I will be honest, I don’t know if this is specific to Phuket or just Thailand or to the whole of Asia, but check your straw when drinking from a bucket. We were offered a ‘extra strong’ bucket on our first trip to Thailand and it turned out, there was something in the straws. A lady at the hotel said this happens often…so double check!

 

  • Stay healthy – As boring as it sounds, make sure you drink enough water and get some greens in your diet too. There is nothing worse than feeling like crap whilst sitting on an 8 hour bus journey or trying to climb a mountain/explore a city/get lost in a temple.

 

  • Scuba Dive – Whilst in Asia, try and find an opportunity to scuba dive! Tours are considerably cheaper than those in North America and Europe, with PADI courses at cheap rates found in Thailand, Philippines and India.
TIPS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS
Backpacking Asia

WHERE TO GO IN ASIA

There are 49 countries in Asia, all offering something interesting and unique. However, we are sharing some of our favourites, for those looking for inspiration. 

Japan – Known for its forward thinking technology, Japan is an incredible place to visit. Try the delicious food, visit the historic palaces and temples and enjoy the many, many theme parks around the country. Spend at least 5 days in Tokyo and don’t miss our video on how to save money in Tokyo too. 

Thailand – Thailand has something for everyone; with bustling Bangkok and its exciting markets to beautiful beaches on the islands and tropical forests in the North. As expats living here, we have a blog sharing all things Thailand to help you plan your trip. 

The Philippines – For those looking for a laid back vibe and a bit of adventure, the beautiful Philippines is for you. Enjoy the lifestyle and beach resorts in Cebu City, appreciate the white beaches of Boracay, take advantage of the dive sites in the Philippines and watch Manila transform every day. 

China – After living in China for 2 years, we were fortunate to see a lot of this diverse country. With stunning countrysides and rice fields, an amazing ice festival, exciting cities, unusual and interesting attractions along with history and culture in every corner; China needs to be number 1 on your Asia bucket list. 

Singapore – Clean, modern, trendy and fashionable, Singapore is a fantastic place to visit whilst you are in Asia. This is one of the more expensive cities in Asia compared to it’s South East Asia neighbours, but spending a few days here visiting the malls, trying the food and catching some amazing views and sunsets in Singapore is completely worth it. 

South Korea – Immerse yourself in the exciting culture of South Korea, with tasty street food, breathtaking architecture and unique culture. 

India – Known for its beautiful palaces, mosques, temples and monuments, India is a photographers dream. Get out of your comfort zone and visit the incredible sites this country as to offer. 

Cambodia – Known for the ancient temple ruins of Angkor Wat, Cambodia should not be missed on your Asia travels. Travel here is cheap, the people are super friendly and this is the perfect place to visit on your first backpacking Asia trip. 

Vietnam – Another South East Asia destination, Vietnam is becoming more and more accessible for tourists. Learn about the history of the country whilst in the cities but head out along the coastline, visiting smaller cities and towns for a different perspective. 

Macau – Known as the Vegas of Asia, this country is unique in a predominately non-gambling area of the world. The Cotai strip is a fun, exhilarating place to stay for a few nights whilst the Portuguese styled Old Town takes you back in time. 

Nepal – A hikers dream, Nepal is still vastly untouched by tourism. Visit the biggest mountain in the world and experience local life in the city. 

Dubai and the UAEDubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait offer a whole different experience compared to South East Asia. With luxurious hotels, high-end restaurants and sparkling new malls, the UAE is definitely worth a visit, at least for a few days. Plus, many of these countries make for the perfect stopover as you travel across Asia. 

We hope you have an amazing tie in Asia! Let us know where you are heading to in the comments below

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50 Comments

  1. really useful post katie! Will share this for my daughter too as she will need to know this stuff!!

  2. I love that you have ‘slow down’ for your first tip. This is so important for any travel. And learn how to ask ‘is it spicy’ – lol – a small detail not to be overlooked.

  3. Slow down is probably the most important tip! People rush through places without really taking time to enjoy the scenery. Great tips!

  4. I love VIP buses as long bus travel can be already so exhausting, the VIP makes it a little bit better. I love the tip on learning the language to ask about spicyness of the food. LOL especially in ASIA! Learned the hard way.

  5. Thank you for sharing these 40 tips which you picked up from experience. Asia is one of my favorite places to travel. I think it’s important to learn the language (like you learned the word for “spicy”) and it’s VERY handy (get it? 🙂 ) to carry a small packet of tissues for the bathroom and a hand towel for wiping hands.

  6. These are such awesome tips. Many overlooked by me. I am from India and I know what you mean by Slow down. I find that Asia has so much offer, so many different experiences, you really cant be prepared enough.

  7. Great tips! VIP buses are definitely the way to travel – and the occasional night bus isn’t so bad either – I especially likes the ones with the bed in! A backpack is also a must if traveling round a lot of countries – the wheelie case just doesn’t cut it in Asia!

  8. These are such great tips! I wish I had something like this before I left since this would have saved me quite a few mistakes. I second the pack tissues and learn spicy. I would also add to bring sunscreen from home since in Asia it is often very expensive and can have skin bleaching chemicals in it.

    • Oh great tip Kassie! Yeah definitely bring strong sunscreen if you are fair skinned! Calum needed Factor 40 the whole time!

  9. This is such a comprehensive list! Good to know about the ice and water – I suppose if you were on a budget, you could melt some ice for a drink? Or does it taste like it was manufactured? 😀

  10. This is great and I could totally relate to some of these! I do agree with the tissues. In China our guide would tell us when we would be near a “luxury toilet” or if it was a squatter. I also agree with not being afraid. I was too when I headed there on my own, but enjoyed it immensely.

  11. i went backpacking Europe in winter which was brutal as a girl with winter clothes. It would be awesome to head to a place where you could fit 10 outfits for summertime in a single backpack! Since I have been on a similar adventure, I enjoyed these tips!! Sp much easier getting on and off buses/trains when you only have a book bag!

  12. Thank you for sharing those tips! I’m planning a trip to Asia and I’ve really appreciated your suggestions since there were things that I didn’t know! 🙂

  13. Great list! Totally second the tissues part. I would also always carry a versatile scarf, sanitizers and wet wipes! =)

  14. I love Asia. Wish it wasn’t so far away. Halong Bay is at the top of my bucket list. Can’t wait to go there.

  15. Thanks for this quick refresher before we’re heading back to Asia next week! Looking forward to going scuba diving on Koh Tao and eating lots of cheap but oh so delicious Thai food. Heading to Laos as well for the first time. Excited!
    Totally agree on the renting a scooter part btw. Too bad we only did it for the first time after spending over 3 months in Asia the last time we visited. Won’t make that mistake again!
    Oh, and maybe bring some tampons when you expect to be having your period. Hard to find in some Asian countries!

  16. These are great tips. I just made my first journey to Southeast Asia and wish I had seen some of these before going but you are so right on all of these issues. Hopefully I will be back soon!!

  17. What a useful list, Katie! Didn’t know that about the ice coming from factories, we always tried to avoid it. Pinned this for later reference, for when we finally take the kids to Asia.

  18. A huge list of handy tips. Not drinking tap water is certainly a basic one but the best one. It’s so easy to forget!

  19. Some really important tips in here! Such a great idea to pop them all together in one post. It’s definitely worth travelling in first class buses in some areas especially on longer journeys, I’ve had some experiences of unlocked cabins on trains and sharing with some dodgy people so it’s always best to feel safe and comfortable 🙂

  20. Great information in this guide! Thanks for sharing!

  21. Great tips you’ve shared here! Definitely agree that haggling and bargaining is crucial especially when travellers are visiting Southeast Asia as prices are always inflated.

  22. Its a great posts for those who loves to travel! I just joined this amazing platform and I’m already confused about what to read and what not! Some Parts where the writer has beautifully summed up all the points is the best part! like if you are in hurry and you just want to scrum through then you can skip the main and read these valuable pointers! Good Work!

    • Thank you so much for your lovely feedback Monelle, welcome to our travel blog!

  23. Really Very Useful Post Katie, Thanks. I really like the system of VIP buses.

    • Thanks so much! glad you found it helpful!

  24. […] The oriental charms of Japan is one that is often expensive and pricey. The recent Cost of Living Survey listed Tokyo and Osaka as the top two most expensive cities to live in the world, but budget travelers need not fret. There are still ways to experience Japan on a budget, check out these and some other backpacking Asia tips. […]

  25. […] as well as budget travelers or backpackers. For most of those travelers, Bangkok is an entry gate before traveling through Asia and heading on their backpacking […]

  26. This is one thorough post with some very useful tips on traveling through Asia. Bookmarking it for future and will be sure to pass it onto my friends too 🙂

  27. I’ve not been to Asia yet so this will come in handy if I decide to backpack around it!

  28. Such useful information for travelling through Asia. Keeping the article for the future as Asia is top of my list to travel to next.

  29. Great post with very useful information and lots of tips. I will definitely use some when I next visit Asia.

  30. This is such an informative guide with so many useful tips. I haven’t explored much of Asia yet but I am saving this for when I do

  31. I love this guide! Knowing how to ask if something is spicy is key! I didn’t do that many times and had to order buckets of water, haha!

  32. This was such a thorough and helpful post! I’ve just pinned it for my future travels to Asia!

  33. What a great & thorough blog. I saved it for my up-coming SE Asia trip!

  34. This is awesome – I’ll definitely bookmark for when international travel resumes!

  35. Great information and love the reminder about slowing down. It’s so important to actually enjoy these moments and not just check things off your bucket list.

  36. thanks for the recommendations, havent been to some of those countries and hope to once everything opens up again!


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