How to pack for Southeast Asia

Luang Prabang, Laos. 2016.

I’ve taken multiple trips to various countries in Southeast Asia over the last several years.  It’s a great part of the world with nice people, tasty food, and lots to see and do.  An added bonus is that cost of living is extremely low compared to most western countries, so your money will go a long way.

I also enjoy going to this region because I can take even less than what I normally take when I travel most anywhere else.  If you like to pack light, you can go nuts with this destination.

Here are a few packing tips if you plan on going to Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or any of the other countries in this geographic area.

1) Shoes.  Unless you plan on hiking up a tall mountain, all you really need are a good pair of sandals.  The last time I went to Asia, I only wore my Chacos.  Nothing else was necessary.  I did take some real shoes the first couple of times over there, but realized very quickly that I didn’t need them.  Sandals are commonly worn among the natives, so no one will give you any funny looks for wearing them everywhere.

2) Clothes.  Southeast Asia is hot.  Thick coats and long sleeves are not necessary.  If you get cold easily, a light jacket will suffice; you’ll probably want this anyway for the plane ride over, as they usually keep the cabin temperature on the cooler side.

3) Long pants.  Many of the temples require you to have your knees and shoulders covered, both for guys and ladies.  With the weather being so warm, this is really the only reason you would want to pack long pants; however, some of the more touristy temples will allow you to rent some clothing to wear on top of your own so you meet the minimum temple-wear requirements.  For example, at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, there are several vendors outside the entrance that, for a small price, will loan you a wrap-around skirt looking thing so your knees are properly covered.  On my most recent visit last year, one of the dudes in our group wore shorts the day we were scheduled to tour the palace, so he got one of these before we went in.

4) Pills.  There’s a good likelihood that at some point during your stay in Asia, you’re going to get sick.  Stomach bugs are very common for tourists, so be prepared.  Anytime I go to any country with a questionable water supply, I always get some Ciprofloxacin pills from my primary care doctor beforehand.  If you’re American, you need a prescription for this, so just tell your doctor that you’re traveling internationally and you want some antibiotic pills in case you get traveler’s diarrhea.  If you’re already on your trip when disaster strikes, fear not!  Antibiotics are sold over the counter in most places, so all you have to do is walk in and buy what you want; no prescription needed.

5) Umbrella.  Leave it at home.  If you unexpectedly need one, you can buy one for a US dollar or two.  When the rain comes down, the umbrella vendors magically appear on the streets.  Or if you’re out in a rural area of the country, you’ll get wet.  You’re already wearing quick-dry clothing, so you’ll be fine either way.

6) Wet wipes.  For the love of god, take some wet wipes (they sell them in convenient travel packs).  And some travel tissues.  Going to the bathroom in Asia can be an adventure.  To avoid getting graphic, I’ll just leave it at that.

7) Cash and credit cards.  Unlike many other destinations, you can actually get a very good exchange rate without getting ripped off by exchanging your US dollars (or Pounds or Euros) to local currency at the hotel front desk.  This may vary from place to place, so check the rates offered at your own hotel with published official exchange rates which are easily found online using Google.  For credit cards and debit cards, my usual recommendations apply:  my primary credit card is the Capital One Quicksilver Visa, and my debit card is from Charles Schwab.  Both have no foreign transaction fees.

8) Sunscreen.  Bring enough, especially if you’ve got pale skin like me that burns easily.  My favorite is Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen.  It doesn’t feel greasy and works quite effectively even if you sweat a lot.  For me, a 3 ounce bottle is more than enough to use daily on my face, ears, arms, and feet for a month; and it’s small enough that you can put it in your carry-on bag.

9) Woolite.  As with any international destination, bring plenty of Woolite for washing your clothes.  I’d be very surprised if you’re able to find a product of equal quality in this region of the world.

Been to Southeast Asia and have any other helpful packing tips?  Feel free to comment below!


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