What to Pack for Backpacking through Asia

A backpacking holiday in South East Asia is becoming more and more popular, especially with young people. Not content to just laze on a beach or wallow in the hotel pool, an increasing number of people want to see the natural beauty of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines.

And it’s just not the natural wonders in this part of the world, there are some man-made structures such as temples and castles that take the breath away. But what to wear? By definition, you only have a pack on your back, and so can’t take much, and what you do take you don’t want to be so heavy that you’ll collapse of exhaustion on a mountain trail!

The first thing to think about is when you are travelling.  The most popular season for back-packing in SE Asia is between October to April. It will usually be dry and hot. If you travel between May to October, it will be cooler, and most likely wet.

Firstly pack a very lightweight waterproof rain jacket with a hood. You may be able to buy one when you arrive at your jumping off point, but as this garment doesn’t weigh much, I say pack it!

waterproof jacket

For the feet, get some Chacos- they are comfortable and hard-wearing. Sort of flip-flops for the hiker. Bring some wool socks that will dry quickly after you have washed them (or been soaked in a monsoon).


Southeast Asia’s days are generally humid and you can get extremely hot and sweaty. For men and women, take about four pairs of shorts. Short skirts for the ladies and girls can be viewed as inappropriate when travelling through villages off the beaten track, or visiting temples. Cover up and show respect and you will gain respect! Knee-length lightweight skirts are fine. Because of the hot weather and the dust, breathable, and durable skirts are recommended.  In Thailand and other areas of SE Asia you will see a million pairs of lightweight “fisherman” long shorts/trousers being worn by locals and tourists. Bring these or buy a couple of pairs as soon as you arrive.


T-shirts and Tank Tops will be your main body-wear. While you can buy them when you arrive, I have heard reports of them falling apart after just a couple of washes- or of the dye running- it seems they are not made of the best material, so best bring your own. You’ll also want to consider that with the amount of walking and moving around that you’ll be doing on your travels that it might be best to pack a sports bra like the girls at Get Bra Advice suggest. It’s better to be prepared than to get caught short and be uncomfortable for any portion of your trip. You’ll want to relax and explore as much as possible!

For your head, it is essential to have a hat to keep the sun at bay. Wide-brimmed panama straw hats are more comfortable to wear- baseball caps will make your head sweat too much.


When it comes to underwear, many people use swimwear, as it is easily washable, and will also be used on the beach. That means less bulk in your backpack. For the ladies, a sarong is a must; light, attractive and will make you blend in with the locals.

Bring a large towel- not only will it be for drying yourself off after a swim, it can be used as a more comfortable seat on the rickety bus, or as a blanket if you find yourself sleeping rough one night!

A word about toiletries. These can usually be purchased in the larger towns and cities, as can medicines (antibiotics can be purchased over the counter without a prescription). However sanitary towels can be hard to find, so bring your own supply. Bring a small waterproof bag to carry your toiletries in. Don’t forget to bring Imodium, as you are likely to get the runs at least once during your backpacking holiday, plus some stomach-ache remedies, such as Gaviscum. Transfer it to a plastic bottle before you set out.

I would ask your Doctor or Pharmacist about an anti-malaria shot or tablets before you leave. Some say that they can do more harm than good. You will want to make sure that you have clothes that will cover most of your body and limbs for when the mozzies are most active; usually in the evening.

Finally you are likely to encounter a lot of children in your travels and a lot of them will pester you for money or sweets. I have found that there are three things that they will appreciate (or perhaps their teachers if you pass a school). They are biros for writing, kiddie’s novelty skin plasters for their scratches spots and grazes, and, believe it not, bubbles. Yep, a small bottle of bubble solution with the blower in the lid will have them shrieking with delight!

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