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A Students' Guide: Backpacking Southeast Asia


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Backpackers have been exploring Southeast Asia for decades, and budget travellers and students love it so much that there are many destination routes that are now thought of as a part of the region’s ‘Backpacker Trail’.

The region is a popular destination because it is moderately safe and inexpensive to visit all time of the year. Throughout the handful of countries on offer there are hundreds of activities to enjoy and some stunning natural and historic attractions. Here are our travel tips for if you are interested in backpacking Southeast Asia!

Budgeting for your trip

The main draw for backpackers and students is the price; it is super cheap compared to western prices for food, accommodation and transport. If you are very budget conscious you can manage on budgets as low as $20 a day. Some countries are more expensive than others and as a rule of thumb Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia are among the cheapest countries to explore, while Singapore and Brunei are generally the more expensive.

Planning and key destinations

Planning in Southeast Asia is the key to any trip, whether you are a first-timer or an experienced traveller. Typically in Southeast Asia travellers will fly into one country, trail around and fly out of another country back home, with internal flights in the region to take them from country to country. Internal flights are relatively cheap and many tickets can be amended cheaply. There are plenty of amazing sights in the region, so make sure you have done your research and have planned a route that takes in these attractions, such as Angkor Wat, Ha Long Bay and Bali to name just a few.

Research events

This comes under planning, but one thing worth considering is trying to tie in your itinerary with some of the biggest events in the calendar. Whether it’s Thailand for Songkran in April or Laos for the Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival in May, the events can provide focus for your trip and can also be relatively inexpensive highlights.


Outside of some major cities most countries have fairly limited public transport, and it isn’t always the ‘luxury’ transportation they may promise. Just be prepared to be cramped in to a bus with 100 people or on an overnight train through Vietnam sleeping on a wooden bed; be flexible and you will be fine. Island hopping in the Philippines and Thailand can be done inexpensively by ferry. If you are brave the roads in most of Southeast Asia are perilous at best, but it is a cheap alternative to buses. Just be prepared to drive defensively!


Depending on how far you are looking to stretch your budget, you will find hostels that will offer beds for under $10 a night typically, and you can even get private rooms for around $20 dollars a night. Always remember to book your first two nights before you arrive in the region so you don’t have to go on a hunt for a room at 3am. You can really stretch the budget in Southeast Asia since this region offers nice accommodation that can be quite inexpensive - in Koh Phi Phi you can get a 5* hotel for under $50 a night.

Understanding cultural norms

Southeast Asia is a favourite amongst many because of its varied and different cultures across the region, but it is so important to understand these cultural differences whilst you are in the countries. It is also important to understand the do’s and don’ts of each destination you are visiting, such as their views on conservative dress, or if businesses are closed on certain days of the week or for upcoming holidays. One of the more obvious cultural differences you may encounter is food in Southeast Asia. Do not fear the street food! While some items may be a bit bold for conservative palates, skip touristy restaurants and do as the locals’ do and eat street!

Visa Requirements

Don’t get stuck in a rut, research the visa requirements for each country you are visiting. Attempting to explain to a Vietnamese border authority that you don’t have the right visa isn’t the easiest way to travel. Most countries in Southeast Asia will issue a visa on arrival for UK travellers, usually for 30 or 60 days, with the main two countries that do require a visa in advance being Vietnam and Myanmar. Make sure that you research the visa requirements (and entry and exit fees) for all of the countries on your itinerary in advance, just to avoid any mishaps. Bali charges an exit fee so remember to save some dollars for the way out.

Simply enjoy!

There are always opportunities for things to go wrong but if you plan, stay organised and research before you go it cuts your chances of anything going wrong. Be smart about your safety and just remember the cultural norms so you aren’t left out in the cold. You are guaranteed to meet a lot of other travellers, students and backpackers in Southeast Asia so be friendly and open to changing plans on whim to partake in a new adventure. So go on book that flight and have one of the most incredible trips of your life!

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