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Backpacking Essentials for South East Asia

“Who actually likes packing?” an incredulous friend said to me recently. I do. I love packing. There, the nerd in me is out. It taps into my organisational and planning skills and it helps me get really excited for wherever I am visiting! In the past I’ve had a few friends ask me what they should bring backpacking, whether for themselves or buying presents for a friend or family member who is about to leave on their first backpacking trip. The following are all items I actually use or wish I had used the first time I went backpacking. I pack all these items when I have travelled around Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and India. The first time I went backpacking around South East Asia, I completely over packed. My backpack was enormous, I complained all the time and often threw a few tantrums and made my travel buddy carry my backpack more times than I would like to admit.

For a complete list of everything you should bring with you, read this post

What to Pack in your Backpack: Backpacking Essentials for South East Asia

Here’s how to NOT be a royal pain in the arse when backpacking, avoid complaining and pack these 20 useful and practical items:

  1. Dry bag – These are so incredible useful when you are on and off boats and in monsoon or rainy seasons around Asia. I have a 3L and a 5L and I prefer the larger size as I can fit more stuff in! I bought mine in Thailand but if you are after one before you leave check out Amazon for Dry Bag Sack, Waterproof
backpack south east asia pack
Me adventuring around with my dry bag

 

  1. Small backpack – I only recently converted to be a day backpack kind of person! Before I was always resistant as I thought cross-shoulder bags went better with my outfit (so vain). Since travelling to India, I am a total convert – you can fit a bottle of water in it and it makes everything feel lighter and more manageable! I bought mine at a market in India, it’s not too big and the perfect size for me!
backpack south east asia pack
Incredible India and me and my little backpack!

 

  1. Kindle – As a complete bookworm, I was always slightly wary of the famous Kindle or e-reader. I love the smell of real books, turning the pages and swapping with friends. However, they are also fairly unpractical for travelling light and the glue melts in the sun or hot countries and the pages fall out. So now I have learnt to embrace the Kindle and I wouldn’t travel anywhere without it! The battery lasts forever (even when I frequently forget to turn it off) and any classic literature is free to download and read! Even better when I am on a budget and want to spend money on travel activities and not books! Check out my list of inspiring travel reads here. Get yours from Amazon Kindle Paperwhite E-reader
backpacking south east asia pack
Reading on the beach in the Gili Islands, Indonesia

 

  1. Travel journal – I love writing and like me, so many travellers I know love to document their journeys in a notebook so that they can return to the memories of how they felt at that time. It’s also a great present for anyone setting off on their trip. Just make sure it’s a light one like these from Amazon…

 

  1. First aid kit – I am by no means a medical expert but the following are a few things I include and have used in my first aid kit, plasters, anti-histamines, immodium, charcoal tablets, seasick pills, scissors…

 

 

  1. Sleeping bag liner – This one I find so so useful. When backpacking you might not always be staying in the nicest accommodation and you might not always find the sleeper trains or buses the height of cleanliness. This is where your sleeping bag liner can be used, it’s light so perfect for hot countries and means you don’t have to touch that questionable material underneath you! I have one with a ‘mummy’ hood meaning my hair doesn’t have to touch anything and when being stared at on Indian trains I can just pull the whole thing over my head – Sleeping Bag Liner Travel

 

  1. Tiger balm – I swear by this stuff and so does most of Thailand. I use it for mosquito bites, for warding off bugs, for muscle aches and even to put under my nose if I end up sleeping near a smelly bus toilet! It’s generally more expensive in the UK so wait until you get to South East Asia and buy from a local convenience store like 7/11 in Thailand.

 

  1. Clothes line – this was a present from a friend before I went on my first long backpacking trip and it was so incredible useful. Nice hotels often provide towel rails or drying clothes horses, budget accommodation does not! You can hook the clothes line between two wall fittings in the bathroom or outside and put your clothes in between the twists to stop them flying away in the wind. Mine was similar to this Adjustable Bungee Clothesline

 

  1. Gopro Hero – The first time I went backpacking I didn’t have a GoPro and only discovered them later in life – however I feel I am now making up for lost time. I recently bought a new one, the Gopro 4 as it has a screen and you can use down to 40m for diving. The new gopro 5 can only be used to 10m for diving so you need to buy something extra if you want to take it diving. I bought mine from the Amazon equivalent in Thailand – GoPro HERO4 Silver.
backpacking pack south east asia
I took this with my gopro while diving in Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia – the coral colours were unbelievable!

 

 

  1. Deet mosquito spray – once you are in South East Asia, the strongest DEET mosquito spray I have been able to find is 15% compared with 50% at home and I know which one I would want when faced with those jungle mozzies. This is one item I definitely recommend buying in advance, try Repel Max Insect Repellent

 

 

  1. Ear plugs – Again, an item it took me a while to discover but now I won’t travel without mine (and am constantly buying more as I lose them!) So useful for noisy train journeys and to block out the noise of crying babies, hawkers and the rest. These are not always easy to find in Thailand and the airport shops are way overprices so try ordering some from Amazon before you go. I recommend buying a pack with a few pairs! Protection Noise Cancelling Disposable Foam Earplugs

 

  1. Eye Mask – Another fantastic travelling item that I used constantly on flights, night trains and buses. I find it difficult to sleep and if you do too then definitely invest in a cheap eye mask. Mine is a cheap one from a Thai market but I love the ones that have a space around the eyes like Star Moon Deep Molded Sleep Mask

 

  1. Baby wipes – I never like spending a lot of money on those expensive make-up remover wipes and so I decided to go for tax-free baby wipes instead! They are so useful for sweaty moments, cleaning hands, shoes, backpacks, to use as toilet paper…the list goes on.

 

  1. Sarong – I think this is such a useful item. You can use it to cover your shoulders for visiting religious places, to cover up for warmth, to use as a towel on the beach, to lie on on the dirty ground.  I also recommend waiting until you arrive in South East Asia – so many pretty sarongs and scarves to choose from at the markets.

 

  1. Handwash for clothes – While you can get laundry done on mass cheaply in most of South East Asia, there is always the occasional time when you just want to wash the odd item so I recommend carrying a small handwash liquid around with you for when you really just want to wear that favourite top! (or you’ve suddenly realised that you’ve run out of underwear!) A friend bought me some like these and they were very useful! Travel Hand Wash Soap Sheets

 

  1. Selfie stick – In Thailand there is no shame in using a selfie stick and I honestly think you can get some great photos from using one. There is this gopro selfie stick on Amazon Waterproof GoPro Selfie Stick.  I have bought before in Thailand but it broke fairly quickly and I think it’s better to go with a real shop than a dodgy market in this case!

 

  1. Toilet bags to separate items – I usually get frustrated at how long it takes to find things in my backpack so I’ve recently started separating items using toilet bags or soft linen bags so I know what is in each one. I don’t recommend millions of plastic bags as no-one likes to be woken up in their dorm room by the noisy plastic bag person rummaging around for something!

 

  1. Travel towel – The first time I travelled I took a beach towel – What was I thinking? It was enormous, took up so much space and just collected sand for the duration of my trip. Fool. Try one of these small and quick-drying travel towels instead like RainLeaf Towel GreenI don’t think it’s worth spending a lot as after a few months it will smell and you will probably throw it away!

 

 

  1. Pack of cards – for those long, delayed train journeys, and for those wild drinking game nights you won’t remember. Everyone loves the person who brings a pack of cards for entertainment! Alternatively I received Dobble for Christmas (great present from my sister!) and this livens up any dull journey too! I know even use it to teach in my English classes, it’s easy to play, fast paced and so much fun. Amazon sells them Doburu (spot it) / Dobble (japan import)
  2. Anti-bacterial gel – because travelling as a backpacker is not always the most hygienic way of travelling. Use liberally after toilets, staircases, night trains and buses! Check out more travel in Thailand advice here
    packing backpack south east asia
    Buy cheap sunglasses at the local markets too!

    Another useful item is a decent website for booking travel. Book your trains, buses, boats and ferries here…The more you book on this website, the higher the discounts!

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Packing Essentials Backpacking Disclaimer

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase an item I will receive a small commission with no extra charge to you. These are all genuinely things that I use all the time when I travel.

Backpack Thailand: Travel Cheap

So you wanna backpack Thailand on a budget? Here are some tricks to keeping things wallet friendly and as cheap as possible giving you more money to spend on activities and adventures in Thailand. The cost of living in Thailand is incredibly cheap and you can make your money go far by following my budget Thailand tips below. As I live in Bangkok, I’m a frequent backpacker and like to keep things cheap so I can travel as much as possible and spend my money on scuba diving.

1. Eat local. Thai street food is delicious and cheap. Most dishes will cost between 30-60 baht. When on the islands, the most expensive restaurants are normally on the beach front, so I’d avoid these touristy restaurants if travelling Thailand on a budget. Western dishes such as pizzas and burgers etc are generally made using imported items which means they are much more expensive. Stick to noodles, rice and soup if you want to travel Thailand cheaply.

 2. 7-11 convenience store is your new best friend. Snacks, alcohol, toiletries…there’s nothing you can’t do here. (You can even pay in cash for flights here with Air Asia or Nok Air). Beer is obviously much cheaper here than at a bar and a large bottle of water costs around 13 baht.

3. Save the planet and save your money by refilling your water bottle at a water filling machines. You can fill up ONE large bottle for ONE baht. If you’re consuming around 5 bottles a day then that’s a serious saving and definite help for the environment. If you’re reluctant to refill plastic bottles then consider buying a refillable bottle instead. I bought my mum this one for Christmas as I think it is a great size, contains a filter and is available in various colours. 

4. Negotiate. Most prices in Thailand are up for negotiation and this includes accommodation. If you have unlimited time then you can haggle with hostels and hotels and if you stay longer then they might give you a discount. Always haggle with patience and a smile!

5. Having said that, you can find fantastic accommodation deals on both booking.com and Agoda. I usually compare the both to find the best deal. Agoda also do ‘insider deals’ once you have an account with them which I find to be very reasonable rates.

6. Drink local. Most travellers find that their biggest expense in Thailand is spending money on alcohol. While Thailand is generally cheap for alcohol, it can add up when drinking every night. Thai beers are great – Leo and Singha (I avoid cheap Chang at all costs…here we call it a Changover!). Thai rum Sangsom is also delicious with coke and costs next to nothing! Imported beers or wines is incredible expensive so avoid these if you want to keep it cheap. Tax is exceptionally high on most imported goods.

7. Shop around different tour operators when booking snorkelling/island hopping/day excursion trips. I often find your guesthouse charges you more than the street stalls tours.  Snorkelling tours in a long tail boat are often cheaper than in a speedboat. For the cheap tours, the agencies will fill up the boat as much as possible so be prepared for the boat to be busy and to make some new friends. Make sure to enquire if National Park fees are included as I have been caught out many times. For example booking a snorkelling trip for 400 baht which is a great price, only to find out the morning of the trip that National Park fees are an extra 400 baht, doubling the cost of my trip. These are fixed by the government and tour operators cannot reduce the cost of National Park fees. Read more about National Parks in Thailand here.

8. Shop in markets. I’m not sure how I can ever return to the world of H and M now that I have discovered 100 baht dresses and bikinis at Thai markets. As a general rule, I find that if the price is written on the items then haggling is not possible. My haggling tip for Thailand is to negotiate the price down for one, and then consider buying two or more to make it even cheaper again.

9. Use night buses. Not as comfortable as trains or planes but they are generally the cheapest way of travelling around Thailand. Package deals can often be booked which include ferries which I think is a good idea as they often take you all the way to the pier rather than dropping you in a town near the coast. From Bangkok you can leave from Mochit 2 Terminal (to go North), Ekkamai or Sai Tai Mai/Southern Bus Terminal (to go South). Some tourist companies leave from Khao San road and these tend to be the more comfortable buses in my experience. A friend has a travel company and you can get great discounts by booking multiple tickets and group tickets as well, as each time you add a trip it decreases in price, saving you money. 

10. For travelling to Thailand’s many islands there are often multiple options concerning boats. There are slower ferries, faster ferries, long tail boats and speed boats. The cheapest options are obviously the slower transport so if you aren’t in a hurry the always take the ferry or a long tail boat.

11. Take public transport. It’s an obvious one but taxis can be at least three times more expensive than local buses and songtaews (trucks) so stick to public transport to save a lot of money. If you’re in a group then a taxi might be worth sharing however as they still are very reasonably priced when on the meter.

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Full Moon Party Tips

I feel like I’m not supposed to like the Full Moon Party. It’s a bunch of drunks ruining one of my favourite islands, Koh Phangan. I’m over 25, I live in Thailand and I prefer to avoid dirty backpacker places. Yet I’ve been to FIVE Full Moon Parties so far…

Check this website to check your Full Moon Party dates and plan your trip around a few days on Koh Phangan. One to party and the rest to recover. And explore the beauty of Koh Phangan.

Ultimately, the Full Moon Party is a giant party on a beach, attracting up to 30,000 people! So enjoy and stay safe using my tips!

  1. Do stay till sunrise
  2. Do wear shoes – I go for closed in pumps as there can be glass around as one of my mates’ can testify!
  3. Do take a bumbag or just no bag! I take money in my pocket and that’s it!
  4. Do get covered in dayglow paint and drunkenly think you are the next Pablo Picasso.
  5. Do be patient with songtaews (trucks) when leaving. They will wait to fill up to make the most money possible. Remember the party can bring a lot of useful income for locals.
  6. Do eat food! While it’s all about the buckets, the street food is pretty good and will help you keep going until 6am!
  7. Do dance until the sun comes up
  8. Do consider staying in the north of the island. It takes 40 minutes by truck but accommodation is cheaper, nicer and they don’t have that ridiculous “you must stay minimum 4 days” crap that Haad Rin hostels try on.
  9. Do arrange a meeting point with your mates…you WILL get separated at some point!
  10. Do pay entry, it’s only 100 baht and think of all the cleaning up people have to do the next day!
  11. Do make new friends (coz you’ll probably lose your old ones!)
  12. Do stick to one spirit in your bucket…yummy Sangsom (Thai rum) is my favourite!
  13. Do kiss a dirty backpacker but…
  14. Don’t have sex in the sea…ew. People are pissing in it!
  15. Do NOT ride a scooter. People are killed every Full Moon and mostly from drink/drug driving.
  16. Don’t take a nap in the nap area…Full Moon is NOT for sleeping!
  17. Don’t wear your favourite dress! That neon paint does NOT come out.]
  18. Moving on after the Full Moon Party? The day after can get busy with people leaving the island so book your boat in advance.

Useful Things to Bring

    1. Bum Bags – very useful to have your hands free for drinking and dancing and to have your phone and money directly infront of you as the Full Moon can be a time for robberies. Buy your Waist Bag from Amazon.
    2.  Adorn your head with flowers to blend in with this backpacker crowd Flower Crown for Festival
    3.  For a classier version that neon paint, buy some cheap Boho Tattoos Flash Aztec Collection tattoos to take with you here on Amazon

How to get to Koh Phangan? Get your night bus/train ticket and ferry combo here.

After a quieter island after all that partying? Try visiting these quiet paradise beaches