If you’re young, wild, and free, backpacking in Asia should be on top of your bucket list. With its rich culture, stunning landscapes, delicious food, and friendly people, Asia is a backpacker’s paradise. From the bustling streets of Bangkok to the pristine beaches of Bali, there’s something for everyone in this diverse continent. In this guide, we’ll take you through the best destinations, tips, and tricks for backpacking Asia.
Thailand is a backpacker’s paradise with a plethora of experiences to offer. It’s a land of affordable prices, vibrant nightlife, and stunning temples. When backpacking through Thailand, Bangkok, the bustling capital, should be your first stop.
The city is filled with energy, and a tuk-tuk ride to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho will immerse you in the intricate architecture and beautiful Buddhist statues. Here you can experience the hustle and bustle of the city, see traditional Thai architecture and explore the Grand Palace, which is the former residence of the King of Thailand.
Experience the Rich Culture and Delicious Cuisine of Thailand
Once you have soaked up the culture of the city, it’s time to head north to Chiang Mai for a more relaxed vibe. Nestled in the lush green hills of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is the perfect destination for backpackers looking for a slower pace.
With a wealth of ancient temples and lush rainforests to explore, Chiang Mai is an ideal place to indulge in nature and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here, you can try your hand at meditation, attend a cooking class, or simply relax in one of the city’s many rooftop bars while taking in the stunning scenery.
No trip to Thailand would be complete without indulging in some of the best street food in the world. From spicy curries to delicious noodle dishes, Thailand’s street food is a must-try for any backpacker. In Bangkok, head to Chinatown, where you can sample some of the best street food in the city. In Chiang Mai, make sure to visit the night market, which is home to a variety of food stalls offering traditional Thai cuisine.
3 things to experience when backpacking in Thailand
- Island hopping: Thailand is home to some of the most beautiful islands in the world, and island hopping is a must-do activity for backpackers. Take a ferry or speedboat from the mainland to islands like Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, or Phuket. Enjoy crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and exciting water sports like snorkeling and scuba diving. You can even stay in rustic beach huts and experience a true island lifestyle.
- Full Moon Party: If you’re looking for a party, head to Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party. Held once a month during the full moon, this beach party attracts thousands of backpackers from all over the world. Dance to live music, enjoy fire shows, and drink buckets of cheap alcohol. Just make sure to stay safe and drink responsibly!
- Thai culture and history: Thailand has a rich cultural heritage, and backpackers can experience it firsthand by visiting historical sites and attending cultural events. Visit ancient ruins like Ayutthaya or Sukhothai, or learn about Buddhism at temples like Wat Arun or Wat Saket. You can also attend festivals like Songkran (Thai New Year) or Loy Krathong (Festival of Lights) to experience Thai culture at its best.
Vietnam is a country that boasts a unique blend of old-world charm and modern excitement, with plenty of natural beauty to explore.
Discover the Vibrant Cities
Start your Vietnam backpacking adventure in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in the country, where you can explore the bustling streets and vibrant energy. Visit the War Remnants Museum to learn about the country’s history and enjoy some delicious pho, a traditional Vietnamese soup made with rice noodles, herbs, and meat or tofu.
Experience the Serenity of the Countryside
For a change of pace, head to the countryside to experience the serenity of Vietnam’s rural landscapes. The lush green rice paddies and majestic mountain ranges provide a breathtaking backdrop for outdoor activities like trekking, cycling, or motorbike riding.
Marvel at the Natural Wonders
No visit to Vietnam is complete without a trip to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features towering limestone cliffs, crystal clear waters, and hidden caves. Take a boat tour to explore the area and soak up the stunning natural beauty of this unique destination.
Get Lost in the Culture
In Hoi An, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can wander through the colorful lantern-lined streets and explore the local markets, sampling some of the best banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich filled with meat, vegetables, and condiments. The city’s ancient architecture and historic temples provide a glimpse into the country’s rich cultural heritage.
Vietnam is a must-visit destination for any backpacker seeking a blend of adventure, culture, and natural beauty.
3 things to experience when backpacking in Vietnam:
- Take a motorbike ride through the countryside: Rent a motorbike in cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and embark on a scenic journey through the country’s rural landscape. You’ll pass by rice paddies, small villages, and lush green mountains, experiencing the local culture and lifestyle along the way.
- Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels: These underground tunnels were used during the Vietnam War and are now a popular tourist destination. Located just outside of Ho Chi Minh City, visitors can crawl through the narrow tunnels and learn about the history of the area.
- Sample the street food: Vietnamese cuisine is known for its fresh and flavorful ingredients, and the street food is some of the best in the world. Don’t miss out on classics like pho, banh mi, and fresh spring rolls, as well as local specialties like bun cha (grilled pork with noodles) and cao lau (a noodle dish with pork and greens).
Indonesia is a diverse and captivating destination that offers endless possibilities for backpackers. With over 17,000 islands to explore, it can be overwhelming to plan your trip. However, starting your journey in Bali is a great way to experience the country’s unique culture and beauty.
Bali is the most popular destination in Indonesia, and for good reason. The island offers a mix of stunning beaches, lush rice paddies, and picturesque temples. Surfing is a major draw for backpackers, with famous spots like Uluwatu and Canggu providing some of the best waves in the world. Be sure to also explore the lively beach towns of Kuta and Seminyak, where you can party until the early hours of the morning.
For a more off-the-beaten-path adventure, head to the lesser-known islands of Flores and Komodo. Here, you can witness the famous Komodo dragons in their natural habitat and swim in crystal-clear waters. Flores is also home to some of the country’s most stunning waterfalls and volcanoes, making it a great place to explore the great outdoors.
Exploring the Hidden Gems of Indonesia
Another must-visit destination in Indonesia is Yogyakarta, located on the island of Java. The city is known for its vibrant street art, stunning architecture, and delicious street food. Be sure to visit the famous Borobudur Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is considered one of the world’s greatest Buddhist monuments.
Check out this other guide to backpacking Indonesia
Indonesia’s natural beauty is also a major draw for backpackers. Raja Ampat, located in the West Papua province, is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world and offers incredible opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. The island of Lombok, located just east of Bali, is also a great place to explore, with stunning waterfalls, epic surf breaks, and the towering Mount Rinjani.
Overall, Indonesia offers a wealth of experiences for backpackers, from cultural immersion to natural wonders. With its friendly locals, affordable prices, and stunning scenery, it’s no wonder that Indonesia is becoming an increasingly popular destination for young and adventurous travelers.
3 unforgettable things to experience in Indonesia:
- Witness the sunrise at Borobudur Temple – this 9th-century Buddhist temple is one of the largest in the world and offers a breathtaking view of the sunrise over the lush surrounding landscape.
- Trek to the top of Mount Bromo – an active volcano located in East Java, Mount Bromo offers an unforgettable hiking experience with a view of the otherworldly landscape.
- Swim with manta rays in Nusa Penida – off the coast of Bali, Nusa Penida is a stunning island where you can swim with giant manta rays in crystal-clear waters. It’s a truly unforgettable and unique experience.
Cambodia is a fascinating country to visit, offering a mix of ancient history and modern-day life. One of the top destinations in Cambodia is Siem Reap, where the impressive Angkor Wat temples are located. This archaeological site is considered one of the most breathtaking in the world and offers a glimpse into the ancient Khmer civilization.
Another must-visit location in Cambodia is the capital city of Phnom Penh. Here, visitors can explore the somber history of the country’s recent past at the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. These locations offer a sobering reminder of the atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Aside from the historical sites, Cambodia also offers plenty of natural beauty to explore. The southern coast of Cambodia, with its white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, is a popular destination for beach lovers. And for those seeking adventure, the northern region of the country offers trekking opportunities in the jungles of Mondulkiri or the Cardamom Mountains.
Overall, Cambodia is a country that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty that is sure to leave a lasting impression on any traveler.
3 things to experience when backpacking in Cambodia:
- Explore the Temples of Angkor: No trip to Cambodia is complete without a visit to the magnificent temples of Angkor, including the famous Angkor Wat. Take your time to explore the intricate carvings and stunning architecture of these ancient temples, and watch the sunrise or sunset over the iconic Angkor Wat.
- Learn about Cambodia’s History: Cambodia has a rich and complex history, including the ancient Khmer empire, the French colonial period, and the more recent tragic history of the Khmer Rouge. Visit the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh to learn about the country’s recent past and pay your respects to the victims of this dark period.
- Try the Local Cuisine: Cambodian food is delicious and often overlooked. Sample some of the country’s unique dishes, like fish amok (steamed fish in coconut curry), lok lak (stir-fried beef with peppers and onions), and kuy teav (noodle soup with pork or beef). Don’t forget to try some of the famous Khmer desserts, like sticky rice with mango or pumpkin.
Tips and Tricks
Backpacking in Asia can be very affordable, but it’s important to budget wisely. Accommodation, transportation, and food are generally cheap, but be prepared to spend more on activities and tours. Keep track of your expenses and stick to a budget to make the most of your trip.
While Asia is generally safe for backpackers, it’s important to take precautions to avoid theft and scams. Keep your valuables close, be wary of strangers offering unsolicited help or advice, and research common scams before you go.
Respect for local culture is important when traveling in Asia. Dress modestly when visiting temples or religious sites, remove your shoes when entering someone’s home, and learn a few basic phrases in the local language.
Transportation in Asia offers a wide range of options, from tuk-tuks to overnight trains. It’s important to research and book in advance for popular routes, negotiate the price and route with drivers, and be prepared for long journeys and delays. Buses and trains are often the best option for longer distances, with sleeper options to save on accommodation. Use the meter or agree on a fare upfront when using taxis or ride-hailing services, and have your destination written down in the local language. Remember to plan ahead and take necessary safety precautions for an enjoyable journey.
Backpackers in Asia have plenty of options for budget accommodation, from hostels to guesthouses to homestays. Research your options and read reviews before booking, and be prepared to be flexible with your expectations. In some areas, you may have limited options or basic amenities. However, many budget accommodations in Asia are clean, and comfortable, and offer a chance to connect with fellow travelers.
Hostels are a popular choice for backpackers, with dorm rooms and communal spaces that encourage socializing. Many hostels also offer private rooms for those who prefer more privacy. Guesthouses are another common option, often run by local families and offering a more homey atmosphere. Homestays provide a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture and customs, stay with a host family, and participate in daily life.
Keep in mind that accommodation prices can vary widely depending on location and season, so it’s always a good idea to research and compare options. Many backpackers also opt for last-minute bookings or walk-ins, which can often result in lower prices.