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What to know before backpacking through Southeast Asia

If you are taking a trip to the orient in the near future, consider these tips for backpacking through Southeast Asia to stay safe and fit in.


There are more than 600 million people in Southeast Asia alone, with hundreds of languages and dozens of religions. Southeast Asia–which is made up of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, East Timor, Brunei, Christmas Island, the Cocos Islands, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands–is a dense and diverse area. Don’t let the first person you meet characterize your interactions with everyone else. Much like Australia, everyone in Asia has a unique perspective on the world, so give them a chance–that is the key to making friends while travelling solo or in a group. You may find unlikely friendships you never expected.

Be respectful of local beliefs and take heed of notices regarding removing your shoes, touching people’s heads, or covering up in temples. To fully immerse yourself in another country and truly appreciate their culture it is essential you at least attempt to adopt local customs. This does not mean you need to lose who you are, it just means you need to be open minded about new experiences.

Eating and drinking

We can’t stress enough the importance of eating the local food – for your health and your cultural wellbeing. Local food is often fresher, tastier and cheaper than anything Wester-inspired. Don’t be afraid to buy from local street vendors, either.

Drinking local beverages is always the right choice. If you choose to drink, local beers are often the cheapest – and in areas with bad water supplies, you can be sure the beer is safe.

If you find yourself in areas with poor drinking water, another tip is to buy ice. Surprisingly enough, ice is often made in factories using filtered water, so it is safer than drinking tap water – except when it isn’t. Use your best judgement and ask locals for safe brands.


Don’t be afraid of taking alternative modes of transportation than you may be used to while backpacking through Asia. Popular transportation options include motos (scooters) and tuk-tuks. Overnight busses are a great way to maximise your time and minimise your accommodation budget.

If you choose to rent a scooter, make sure you have the proper travel insurance, most policies require additional coverage for renting scooters.

Flying is also quite cheap between Asian countries, even when booked only a day or two in advance.


Nearly half the countries are considered dangers to visit, according to SmarTraveller, so exercise a high degree of caution. Whether you are travelling alone in Asia or backpacking with a group, stay on top of specific travel warnings for the country you are visiting and look out for obvious dangers.

Book travel insurance–youGo offers travel insurance for backpackers–and make sure it covers all of the activities you want to try.