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Southeast Asia is a popular region for travelers. It’s a diverse area with many different cultures and cuisines, and since almost the entire area enjoys warm weather, it’s a great place to travel to avoid snowy climates.
I’ve been to Southeast Asia three times now, and two of those trips were for seven weeks each. I’ve traveled to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Brunei.
Here’s my packing list for Southeast Asia.
- 2 tank tops – Cheap ones I was willing to throw out along the way.
- 6 T-shirts – One was for sleeping. Easy to buy on the road too.
- 3 pairs of shorts – One pair was more of the beach/gym type, also for sleeping.
- 1 pair of gym pants – Comfy for long flights or bus rides. Or buy some hippie pants when you get there.
- 1 pair of jeans – Not always a popular choice for those traveling to hotter areas, but I like to wear jeans in the evening and in transit when buses or planes are often cold.
- 1 long sleeve shirt – I was glad to have this on cold buses, boats and planes.
- 1 bathing suit – If you’ll be spending lots of time at the beach, consider bringing 2.
- 1 rain jacket – A lightweight one is best.
- 2 bras
- 4 pairs of socks
- 7 pairs of underwear
- 1 sarong – Great for the beach, covering up at a temple, and many other situations.
Since I’m willing to wear the same shirt a couple of times before washing it, the amount of underwear I have with me determines how often I have to do laundry. I think 7 pairs is a reasonable amount, though I’ll be honest, I usually pack more than that. I’m lazy about washing my underwear in the sink, but doing so will really cut back on how much you have to pack.
I also don’t wear dresses, but if you do, cut back a little on the t-shirts and shorts and pack a couple of lightweight sundresses instead.
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 1 pair of Tevas sandals – Or something similar that can get wet and are comfortable.
Because I didn’t bring any dresses, I didn’t bring shoes that would go with dresses. If you bring a dress, try to find one that goes with your flip flops or pack a pair of roll-up or foldable flats.
Toiletries and Medical Items
You can buy things you need, like shampoo, soap, contact solution, and almost anything else, in Southeast Asia. It might be a little harder in more remote areas, and you probably won’t find the brand you like, but if you run out of toothpaste, you’ll be fine. Pack travel-sized toiletries and leave your full-sized bottles behind.
- Shampoo, conditioner, soap/shower gel – Check out the best toiletries for carry-on travel.
- Make-up – Remember that it is really hot and humid in most parts of Southeast Asia and you’re likely to spend a lot of time sweating off your make-up. I never wore mine.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Contact solution – Read more about how to travel with contact solution.
- Hair brush and hair ties
- Prescription medications
- Tiger Balm – Great for itchy mosquito bites and even helps keep the mosquitoes away.
- Basic first aid items – Band-aids, wound cream, etc.
- Anti-malarial medicine – Talk to your doctor ahead of time about whether these are right for you, as well as any other vaccines.
With my t-shirt wardrobe, I don’t pack much in the way of accessories, so this will depend on your style.
- A light scarf – This can dress up an outfit for a night out.
- Necklace, earrings – Just a few pieces of jewelry, and make sure they’re ones you wouldn’t be upset about if you lost them.
- Laptop – Optional. If you’re blogging about your travels or working from the road, this is a must-have item. But if not, it might not be worth the extra weight in your backpack.
- All necessary batteries, chargers and cords
Other items to pack
- Travel towel – Most guesthouses and hostels will provide bath towels, but you’ll want something for the beach. Your sarong or a Turkish travel towel will work too.
- Hat – I hate hats. But I was so glad I brought this to protect myself from the scorching sun.
- Headlamp – I used this a lot more often than I ever thought I would.
- Laundry detergent sheets – Perfect for washing clothes in the sink and not needing liquid soap.
- Passport – Make sure it’s valid for at least 6 months past the end of your trip and has plenty of empty pages.
- Passport-sized photos – Often needed for visas.
- Eye mask and ear plugs – If you’re a light sleeper, buy good ones.
- Padlock – Keep your stuff safe when sharing hostel dorms.
- ATM and credit cards
- Small amount of cash
- Tissues – Don’t walk into a public bathroom without these! You can always pick these up on arrival.
Tips for Traveling in Southeast Asia
Even though it’s a hot region, most parts of this area are fairly conservative. When you’re not at the beach, cover up a bit more and dress appropriately, especially when visiting temples. Bathing suits, short-shorts, and tank tops are not appropriate in most situations. Read about being a responsible tourist in Thailand for more ideas.
Northern Vietnam can actually be cold during the winter months. The mountainous areas of northern Thailand can get colder too. You won’t see snow, but you won’t be comfortable in shorts either. If you’re visiting these areas, come prepared.
Get used to taking your shoes off. In many countries, you will be expected to remove your shoes before going inside. You’ll probably see a pile of shoes outside by the door.
Most prices are negotiable. Remember that tuk-tuk drivers, guesthouse owners, and tour operators will almost always be willing to come down on their price. Always be polite during the negotiation process, and remember that a few extra baht isn’t worth the hassle to you but goes a long way for the person you’re negotiating with.
Even if you plan to wing your trip and travel as you feel, we generally recommend having at least your first few days of accommodation booked. Search now on booking.com for hostels, hotels and guesthouses.
Relax and go with the flow. Things won’t always run on schedule here, and punctuality can go out the window. That 5 hour bus ride will really take 7 hours. Or maybe 10. You never really know. But it will all work out.
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Thanks so much for this packing list! I found it so helpful when I was getting ready to travelling for 6 months around Japan and Southeast Asia 🙂 simple, practical, and full of great advice.
Thanks Sophie! Glad to help!
Great list. What size backpack did you use?
Hi Charlotte! For the first long trip, I traveled with this 40L backpack from REI plus a 20L daypack. On the second long trip, my husband and I both fit our stuff into that 40L backpack, plus we each had a daypack, roughly 20L each. And we often pulled out our REI stuff bag on travel days to make things a little easier.
My husband and I are about to leave to SEA indefinitely! We’re going as minimalists, though (30L backpacks). What kind of bag did you need to fit all of the above in? What do you suggest as 100% must haves for those who can’t pack much?
Hi Mickey! I probably traveled with a little more than would fit in a 30L bag, but the second time I went to SE Asia was with my husband and we traveled with one 40L bag (my REI Lookout 40, although I now have an REI Trail 40, which I like even better) plus a daypack each. So if you’re each going to have a 30L pack plus a small daypack, this list might work out ok. I’d say make sure you have a few changes of clothes, lightweight things that dry quickly, but maybe one or two things less than what I had. It is so easy to get laundry done for cheap in SE Asia, so even if you need to do laundry once a week, it won’t break the bank. You’ll find some type of shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc. just about anywhere you go. I never really needed my travel towel at guesthouses but it (or a sarong or whatever) comes in handy for the beach. These days I usually bring my sarong because it doesn’t take up much room. I don’t dress up ever, so that’s up to your preference. I was fine with sneakers and sandals plus my flip flops. You can buy flip flops there. Tshirts are easy to buy there, but any other types of clothes will really depend on your size. Sizes tend to run small. But the easiest area for me when I feel like I need to cut back is clothing. You’re going to sweat everywhere you go, so embrace it and be ok with wearing the same shirt a few times and wash a few things in the sink as you go if you really need to. The “must haves” are so much up to your preference, but anything you feel like you can’t live without and don’t think you can find easily in SE Asia. But remember, you can find a lot, if not everything you need there in some form. I hope this helps, and enjoy your trip!
Thank you. One of the most sensible lists I have seen ! Its somewhat like mine I usually take a sleeping sheet and a few other odd bits of “equipment”. This was really helpful, we didn’t travel to Asia last year and I was out of packing practice! My mantra .. wearing, washing and waiting ! It seems to work and to dress up I just stand up straight, put on a bit of lipstick and have a “nice”top that screws up in the bottom of my pack ! my one extravagance!
To Burma I will admit we are travelling in “small group” this time but after that we have several weeks in Thailand.
This is such a great website!! I love all the handy information and travel tips. One thing I noticed was not on this list that a friend of mine (who used to live in Vietnam and Cambodia) suggested was tampons/pads. She said they are not as available in some areas, nor are they the quality you might be used to. Even if you are not expecting your period it is always good to be prepared. Hope this helps fellow travelers!
Thanks for taking the time to make this list! This is really comprehensive and useful for me, and by far the best list I’ve come across so far.
Melissa Christina Jackson says
Great information! Could you give some guidance on professional type of women’s attire in a corporate setting? I’ve read it’s best to wear cotton or linen, but linen seems like it would high maintanence and not look very polished. I also hear to steer clear of high heels.