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

Whether you are taking a backpack or sticking to a suitcase, here are 40 tips you need to read before travelling Asia.

Backpacking Asia
Backpacking 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.
  • Cruise Halong Bay – often overlooked by backpackers, find time to cruise Halong Bay. Overnight boats are available from £170 per person and include transfer from Hanoi, meals and activities.
  • 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.
  • ChinaChina is more expensive than countries in South East Asia but is worth the visit. Stick to the high speed trains to get around, enjoy the cheap and delicious food (and the DUCK!) and  enjoy local beer for under £1. Visas need to be applied for in advance via the Chinese Embassy in your home country so prepare and plan your trip in advance. Also, don’t miss out the Yangtze river – simply stunning.
  • 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.
  • India – Average cheap hotel rooms in India cost around £10 per night, depending on which city you are in. New (or old) Delhi can cost more like £25 for nice, clean and modern rooms that sometimes include a pool at the hotel. Book flights in advance to get a good deal.
  • 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.
  • South East Asia – Most backpackers favour this area because of it’s cheap price and variety of culture. Dorm rooms average around £5 per night whilst double rooms can cost as little as £10. Street food can be found for under £1 whilst sit down, three course meals cost around £15 for two people.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
Backpacking Asia
Backpacking Asia
Backpacking Asia
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cambodia – One of the cheapest but interesting countries in Asia, I would highly recommend a visit. We stayed in the beautiful Villa Siem Reap hotel which cost us £13 a night! Night buses around the area are cheap and there is easy access to Vietnam. Thailand and Laos.
  • STA Travel – If you intend to stick to the big cities of Asia, head over to STA Travel to find yourself some great deals on multi-stop or ‘Around the World’ flights.
  • 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. 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.
  • Budget tip 2 – 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?!
  • 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 Thailand 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? Less touristy destinations then Myanmar and Bhutan? Great food try South Korea and Phillipines?
  • 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).
BACKPACKING ASIA
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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’.
Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew
Backpacking Asia
  • Plan for overnight buses – Overnight buses are a great way to save money, pass time by sleeping and meet other travellers.
  • Backpack or not backpack? – 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.
  • 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.
  • Check the climate – Asia is predominantly hot and humid. Check your destinations local weather and pack accordingly. Bring light clothes, including long but light trousers for temple visits.
  • 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.
  • Visas – Myanmar, Vietnam and China require visas before arrival so do your research and get them sorted before you leave.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

Hope these tips help! Tell us about your experience in Asia in the comments below – I do love reading them.

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Showing 12 comments
  • tracy collins
    Reply

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

  • Jennifer
    Reply

    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.

  • Maggie
    Reply

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

  • Naomi
    Reply

    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.

  • Suzanne
    Reply

    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.

  • Vrithi Pushkar
    Reply

    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.

  • Vicki Louise
    Reply

    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!

  • Kassie
    Reply

    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.

    • Katie
      Reply

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

  • Justine Cross
    Reply

    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? 😀

  • Janine Good
    Reply

    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.

  • Tatum Skipper
    Reply

    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!

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