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Packing for Southeast Asia is quite the art, it’s hot and humid in most places and you generally want to look nice travelling this area of the world even if you’re backpacking, so what is the perfect South East Asia Packing list and what Southeast Asia packing tips do I have to help you?
Well, after spending over one year in South East Asia doing multiple Southeast Asia backpacking trips I’ve made many packing mistakes and I’ve seen many packing mistakes made by people I have met whilst travelling. I’ve seen people who have bin half of their bag because they realised it wasn’t South East Asia appropriate, people who have binned suitcases in turn for backpacks (spoiler alter, that may or may not have been me!), and people who carry far too much and don’t end up wearing half of it!
Instead of giving you list of what to pack for South East Asia, I wanted to collate those experiences into a post with details on how to pack for Southeast Asia with important Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to packing your backpack for Asia, aka – your trip of a lifetime, because Southeast Asia is seriously the best part of the world to backpack around!
If you do want a packing list for South East Asia, read my Thailand Packing List and Guide as this applies for Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos!
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How to Pack for Southeast Asia!
DO only pack what you need!
I know this sounds obvious and is much easier said than done but as you go through your wardrobe if you pick something up and think ‘I probably won’t need this but I’ll take it anyway’ put it back and do not bring it as you only need South East Asia travel essentials!
For a more detailed post on what you should pack for Thailand which will apply for many of the Countries in South East Asia too, have a look at my Thailand Packing List here!
DON’T take clingy Clothes.
This is more aimed at what to pack for Southeast Asia for females. To help you work out what not to pack for Southeast Asia, one thing to think about is not taking clingy, tight clothes!
You need to imagine just how hot and humid it gets in South East Asia. The majority of time you will be sweating during the day and night so take lightweight, floaty clothes only. Do not pack jeans (although denim shorts are ok and actually a good idea) or dresses and tops etc with lots of layers.
Even gym pants and Spanx Leggings can be hot and uncomfortable so if you pack them be sure to pack 3/4 length or gym shorts.
Not only will these clothes be more comfortable but they’ll weigh less and take up less room in your bag because minimalist packing for Southeast Asia is best!
DO be prepared to Shop in South East Asia.
The shopping in Southeast Asia is great and it’s addictive! So many times I have wanted to buy things but not had room in my bag. If you are having trouble finding lightweight, loose clothes at home, wait until you get to Asia and shop there.
Khao San Road is the best market in Bangkok for backpackers and perfect place to shop. In fact, all of the Islands, Cities and Towns in Southeast Asia are full of markets catering for backpackers with clothing in the right material for South East Asia Travel and weather!
DO take a Backpack.
Backpack or suitcase for travelling in Southeast Asia? Thats the common question and my answer is a backpack! Even if you are reading this because you want to know what to pack for a 2 week trip to Asia, I still suggest a backpack!
Yes it will be heavy on your back and sometimes you’ll hate it but its SO much better than the hassle of taking a suitcase for your backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. Your bag will be hauled onto buses, tuk tuks, boats, balanced on mopeds and in some case thrown from boat to boat (yes really!) and backpacks make it a lot easier for this to be done.
It’s so awkward seeing someone with a suitcase trying to wheel it onto a boat, drag it through sand or lift it on top of a tuk tuk! Embrace the South East Asia Backpacker life and take a backpack.
If you need a wheeled case for certain reasons or are really against a backpack, rather than a hard suitcase get a Rolling Rucksack which will be easier to travel with and carry when you need to.
DO use Packing Cubes.
There’s been a hype around packing cubes the last few years and rightly so because they are so great and so handy when working out how to pack for a trip to Southeast Asia with all the stuff you need to take.
Packing cubes really help compress your clothes meaning you can pack more into a small space, however I also find them so great for organising my clothes! If I know I won’t be in beach places for a few weeks I pack all my beach wear in one cube and I don’t have to touch it until I’m back by the beach meaning I create less mess when unpacking and it’s easier to find the clothes I do need!
I use these packing cubes from Amazon which are great, however I only use the small sizes as the big ones that come in the back are far too big!
DON’T pack ‘extra’ Toiletries.
Do not pack doubles of things. You can buy the vast majority of toiletries needed in Asia from your usual brands in the shops once in South East Asia. Whether that’s in the small convenient Supermarkets or in Shopping Malls in the big Cities if you need something more specific.
Also when you think about what toiletries to pack for Southeast Asia, remember that if you’re not sure you’ll need something, don’t buy it and pack it because you’ll be able to buy it away if it’s a generic product.
Another Southeast Asia packing tip from me is that I suggest taking more Sun Cream, especially if you are going to Thailand first as suncream is expensive in Thailand and will probably be cheaper at home!
The other thing to note for females when packing for South East Asia on your period is that Tampons are not common in South East Asia and when you do find them they are pretty expensive – £10.00 a pack in some places! So pack more Tampons, be prepared to use sanitary towels or even better, buy a menstrual cup before you go travelling.
These are the way forward for periods in general and especially when travelling, they’re so small and once you have it you have no need to purchase any more items! I use this Travel Lily Cup which is really great!
DON’T take a huge Towel.
Big, fluffy towels are great but not when you’re trying to fit it into your bag. Most guesthouses and hotels in South East Asia will offer you towels but I recommend adding a small, quick dry, foldable travel towel when packing for Southeast Asia because often if you’re staying in hostels you need to pay for towels and these towels always come in handy one way or the other.
On this note don’t take a towel for sunbathing on either, the Sarongs that are sold in all markets in Southeast Asia will be your best friend for sunbathing on. They’re great because they fold up small, dry quickly and act as a shawl for temples for example and a blanket for overnight journeys!
DON’T take all your Makeup.
When thinking about what to pack for Southeast Asia backpacking as a girl you might want to take a lot of make up for nights out. This is always my biggest mistake, I always take the necessities and what I usually wear day to day at home- mascara, eyeliner, blusher, concealer, lipstick, foundation, eyeshadow, but when in South East Asia during the day I wear no make up at all!
In the evenings when I’m on a night out in Southeast Asia I will wear make up but most of the time I only wear a bit of foundation, mascara and blusher or bronzer, which usually sweats off pretty quickly anyway!
When it comes to what to wear in South East Asia in the evening and how to look, girls do dress up and wear make up yes, but it’s not a must and will only be in the ‘party places’, most of the time you will be make up free so embrace it and pack accordingly!
Also remember that make up tends to melt due to the heat so if you have expensive make up, don’t bring it!
DO pack Trainers.
And not just Converse trainers, because at some point a hike into the jungle or up a volcano will seem tempting and you’ll need and want trainers on your packing list for South East Asia for these adventure activities, not Converse etc with no grip and that may get ruined! The best trainers for travelling are black ones because they go with everything!
DO take a Day Pack.
You may already be using a day pack for your hand luggage and valuables but if not and you are using a hand bag or smaller bag, make sure you have a decent day pack too as these bags are great for when you go on hikes and long days out exploring.
If you don’t have room for a big extra day pack, consider getting a foldable day pack when planning how to pack for Southeast Asia for one month because they do not take up much room in your big bag but are actual bags when you unfold them.
DON’T pack too much Underwear.
I’d say 7-10 pairs is enough even if you’re packing for 3 months in South East Asia. Getting your laundry done in South East Asia is really easy- you can drop it off at most guesthouse/hotel/hostel receptions to be done overnight and it’s ready the next day. It’s very cheap and done by weight.
DON’T take expensive Clothes.
Following on from the point above, if you’re wondering how to get laundry done in Asia? Well, its easy and cheap to get laundry done but I have seen and heard horror stories of clothes being dyed different colours, being frayed and even go missing, so take reasonably priced clothes that you aren’t that attached to incase this happens (although it has never happened to me!). If you’re working out what to pack for a Southeast Asia cruise you should be ok to take slightly nicer clothes!
DO pack Clothes that will cover your Legs and Shoulders.
Although most countries and places in South East Asia are used to tourists remember than these are very religious, conservative countries so when you visit temples and the more local part of town you will need to be respectful and cover up, this even applies for a packing list for Southeast Asia for males.
I always take a sarong in my bag to put around my waist to cover my legs when I visit temples and remember to put on a t-shirt rather than a tank top. Maxi dresses and long, baggy pants will also work well for what to pack when visiting temples in South East Asia.
DO invest in and pack a good pair of Flip-Flops/Thongs/Jandals!
I love Havaianas, they can appear expensive but they are worth it as they’re great in quality and they last a long time.
The best shoes to wear in Southeast Asia are flip-flops, not just because they are comfy and easy to pack and carry but in most places like temples, shops and restaurants you need to take your shoes off and slip on sandals are easiest for this.
You can buy fake Havaianas in many of the markets in South East Asia, especially in Thailand, but naturally the quality isn’t as good and real ones are much better!
DO always carry Toilet Paper.
If there was evert a backpacking essential for Southeast Asia, toilet paper is it and I recommend that you carry some with you during the day and especially on day and night journeys. Toilet roll is not always common in South East Asia because locals prefer to use the bum gun! You can of course use this too but if you get a bit ill in Asia, you’ll be pleased to have toilet paper on you!
DO pack a Rain Jacket.
Another travel essentials for Southeast Asia is a rain jacket because yes, it rains in South East Asia! Even if you’re going in the dry season you may still see a random downpour. You’ll be able to buy a one use plastic mac in most places in South East Asia if you get caught in the rain but packing a small fold away rain jacket is a great idea just in case!
DO remember the Little things.
Remember to take an adapter for your electronics for Southeast Asia. You’ll need an international adapter as the plugs can be different in the different Countries of South East Asia.
Take a decent padlock for your bag or locker in hostels etc.
Sunglasses are a must! I love my SunGod glasses and they are such good quality of the intensity of the South East Asian Sun.
An Eye Mask and Ear Plugs are needed for hostels!
A travel pillow is a great idea too for those long bus journeys and flights. I recommend a foldable, blow up pillow like this one so it doesn’t take up much room in your bag!
Headphones for those long Journeys and an E-Reader is a good idea too!
Hand Sanitiser is a must!
You can buy all of these things in South East Asia but it’s a good idea to have them in advance!
My final point on how to pack for Asia, and again, easier said than done I know is not to overpack and basically, if you can’t pick up your backpack or can’t close it, you’ve packed too much!
You really do not need to pack that much for South East Asia, you’ll be in beach wear a lot of the time or shorts and tops in Cities in Towns. Most clothing will be fine to wear during the day in South East Asia and at night and you’ll probably end up wearing the same outfits over and over because it’s a suitable outfit.
I know it’s harder if you’re going to Australia or somewhere else in the world afterwards but really do remember that the more you pack, the more you need to carry and you do have to carry your bag quite a bit in South East Asia!
Remember to get Travel Insurance before your trip to South East Asia!
Get a FREE quote from World Nomad’s here!
More posts to help you plan your South East Asia Trip: