Essential Packing List for Travelling Southeast Asia

Luckily because Southeast Asia is usually hot, it’s possible, and advisable, to pack lightly. I didn’t. I found myself looking through the contents of my backpack after a week in Southeast Asia and asking myself ‘why?’

To save you the trouble of asking yourself the same question, this post has been broken it down into categories by level of necessity. It may not cover everything, but use it as a general guide to help get you started.

Don’t You Dare Forget It

Essential items to pack for Southeast Asia

Passport – For obvious reasons!

Travel insurance – Don’t fail to get insurance on the ‘it won’t happen to me’ basis. In reality, you never know what’s going to happen. Be safe and get some insurance.

Swimwear –You never really know when you’re going to jump into a lake, dip in a river, or find a guesthouse with a pool. I found I wear swimwear more than underwear here.

Walking shoes – There are many beautiful walks, long distance treks, view point hikes, and temple steps to walk in Asia. It really is important to have decent walking shoes – go for something sturdy with a good grip.

Respectable clothing (ladies only) – There are so many amazing temples to explore throughout Asia. As a general rule, women must cover their shoulders and knees when entering temples. Be a respectful visitor and adhere to these rules.

Sarong – This is my favourite and most versatile item in my backpack. I use is to lie on at the beach, I use it as a towel, sometimes as a sheet at night, it can even wrap around me as a dress! It’s also handy to throw over my shoulders at temples too. (If you don’t have one already, you will no doubt pick one up when you travel!)

Sunscreen – This isn’t on my list because you can’t buy it in Asia. It is on my list because in Asia, they mostly contain whitening substances. They will protect you all the same, but bleaching your skin probably isn’t on your list of things to do whilst travelling.

Raincoat – It does rain sometimes. However, it also stays really hot. So a thin, compact raincoat will do you a world of good when you’re out and about because you can still enjoy yourself when the sun goes into hiding.

Don’t Worry, They Have it Here

Don't pack - you can buy these items in Southeast Asia

Clothes – I made the mistake of going on a shopping spree before I got to Asia. My advice: go once you get here! Anything you need, they have for cheap as chips. Depending on where you’re from, sometimes even cheaper. I ditched a lot of my clothes from home and shopped at markets here to replenish my wardrobe.

Medicine – Disclaimer: this doesn’t refer to specific illnesses or conditions. If you have any repeating or very specific medications then assume this to be on the ‘must have’ list above. Other than that, there are pharmacies on nearly every corner in Asia and they are always helpful and informative. So leave standard painkillers at home and get what you need along the way.

Sunglasses – I mean, you probably will bring your own, but I wouldn’t advise designer ones. There are probably hundreds of thousands of pairs of shades residing at the bottom of seas, lakes, and rivers in Asia. It is so easy to lose a pair while travelling. Cheap and cool ones can be bought everywhere, even in basic mini marts, throughout Asia.

Toiletries – There is no need to buy in bulk at home. Okay, so some of the moisturisers do have whitening substances, but as far as shampoo, razors, deodorant, and soaps go, they have it all here at great prices. Pack what you need in the beginning and top up as you go.

Don’t Be Ridiculous – Leave it at Home!

Southeast Asia packing list - leave at home

Denim Jeans – I cannot stress enough how little you need this item. Long trousers are okay – think leggings, chinos, thin joggers. But jeans are heavy, take a lot of space, and are hardly weather appropriate when it’s hot and humid.

Jewellery – Especially anything valuable or sentimental! Moving around a lot makes it easier to lose tiny items like jewellry. It also makes you a target both to other travellers and locals who don’t have much wealth. And honestly, when it’s hot wearing any jewellery other than small stud earrings can be extremely uncomfortable.

Washing Line (or any related item) – Southeast Asia is amazing for laundry services. Nearly every guesthouse offers it. You pay cheaply by the kilo and get it back washed, dried, pressed and tagged, and it’s all done quickly!

Tips, Tricks, and other Bits

There are plenty of packing hacks and travel gear that can make your time in Southeast Asia easier. For example, think about backpack styles. Some of them open around the sides like a suitcase or open from the top and bottom, some even have wheels! Find the one that works for you. You can also buy packing cubes of all sizes and separate, resealable laundry bags to keep your stuff nicely ordered and accessible within your backpack.

For avid readers, Kindles and e-readers are small and lightweight, with capacity for thousands of books. Or bring your iPad to stream movies on your more relaxing nights. Just remember that plugs may be different and bring the correct adaptors.

You can read a great list of other general Southeast Asia travel tips here, and don’t forget to read our expert advice for first timers in Asia.

Well, that should help you start figuring out what to pack for Southeast Asia. Anything you think I missed? Tell us what you must have in your backpack when travelling!

Guest writer Clare Caddick from the UK spent a couple months travelling solo around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam on Stray Asia’s Lot Pass. She loves nature and believes there is no such thing as fear in adventure!