Although technically part of Asia, this part of the world is so well ingrained in the backpackers psyche that it deserves a category all of its own. South East Asia has been a favourite haunt of backpackers for the past 50 years with popular and well trodden routes commonly and lovingly referred to as the banana pancake trail, and it is more than easy to see why.
South East Asia is a microcosm of the larger region, and like Asia, it boasts a unique fusion all of its own that blends a variety of religions, cultures, ancient temples and bustling cosmopolitan cities that are surprisingly easy to travel through with fantastic travel infrastructure and for the most part very few visa hassles. South east Asia is basically backpacker paradise.
Perfect tropical islands with long stretches of untouched white sand litter the landscape like sparkling confetti, you can sample some of the tastiest and most diverse cuisine in the world and meet some of its most friendliest people, and all at prices that could see even those travelling on a budget live like a king. South East Asia has been described as a backpackers paradise, and it has done more than enough to earn that moniker.
Unfortunately in recent years the package tourists have started to cotton onto this beautiful corner of the world, prices have started to rise, the beaches are becoming filled with high rise complexes, to the extent overtourism is becoming a problem and many governments are starting to clamp down and the backpackers are beginning to move on to more untouched countries. However, South East Asia is still one of the most popular destinations for first time and experienced backpackers and travellers alike, and that is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.
Know Before You Go.
South east Asia is a backpackers paradise! It is so ubiquitous with backpacking that the traditional banana pancake trail of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam has been a traditional rite of passage for over 50 years! The best thing about south east Asia though is that you can stick to that trail as much as you like, or you can change it as much as you like and add Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia or anywhere else into the mix because the overwhelming theme of travelling through the region is that it is so safe, so cheap and so easy!
South east Asia is tailor made for independent travel, with incredible experiences, life changing adventure, an extensive travel infrastructure and a lot of other first time travellers to talk to and help you along the way, which is one of the reasons it is the first stop on many a first time gap year!
When To Go.
There is no bad time to visit south east Asia. The region is tropical, and is warm or hot all year round with high humidity and rainfall. Basically people put too much stock into when to avoid the rainy or monsoon seasons but it is not always necessary. Travel is possible and easy throughout the region all year round and quite often the rainy season is the best time to travel!
Equatorial areas such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Borneo and the Philippines have two seasons, wet, usually in the winter months, and dry in the summer months. Indochina, including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos has three seasons, hot, wet and dry. These seasons can vary quite considerably from country to country, and even from year to year. The Monsoon season sweeps upward through the region from roughly June to November, and again although many travellers decide to head to the region outside of that time, it is still quite easy and pleasant to travel during the monsoon season, the weather will still be warm and sunny most of the time. The only considerations that should be made is to head to islands where the monsoon has either passed or has not yet hit if you want to island hop or dive, as services can sometimes shut down.
Although generally the dry season is peak tourist season with warm but comfortable temperatures, bright sunshine and calm conditions, you should not be put off by travelling to South East Asia at any time of the year. The wet seasons typically see sudden, short and sporadic bursts of rainfall, most often in the afternoon or overnight, and then it is often blue skies and bright sunshine for the rest of the time, plus there is the advantage of less tourists and cheaper prices. The hot season is still quite comfortable to travel in provided that you take precautions for the heat, and this is the time many people choose to head to the cooler highlands or mountain regions.
South east Asia is an incredibly cheap region to travel round in very general terms which is part of the regions appeal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a fortune if you want to! Even Singapore and Brunei, the two most expensive countries in the region are great value for money by western standards.
Travellers on an extreme budget can get around by sticking to the cheapest countries, hostels and street food for as little as £10 – £20 GBP a day, but you will really be limiting yourself at that budget. A mid range budget of £20 – £30 a day will allow for a lot more comfort, private rooms and will ensure you won’t miss out on those once in a lifetime trips and experiences too. Of course if you want to treat yourself and flashpack around the region the sky is the limit, but comparitavely amazing value for money too. You can get an amazing private hotel room in a boutique hotel in Singapore for the same price as a basic budget chain brand in the UK, and I once splurged on a once in a lifetime luxury experience with a presidential suite in Surabaya for around £20 a night, that is a level of luxury you could not get in the west without spending thousands a night!
Vietnam and Myanmar are the only countries that require a visa in advance for most western backpackers. Everywhere else either does not require a visa at all and allow visitors a period of time to stay in the country dependent on where they are from, or offer visas on arrival at little or no cost. See individual country guides for more detailed information.