Tourists come to Southeast Asia from all over the world and many people who go backpacking choose one or more countries in this region. There are several reasons why Southeast Asia is popular with backpackers. You can travel there on a very limited budget, you can stay cheaply and you can also find food at an attractive price. Traveling around is easy and there are plenty of activities for both those who like action and those who prefer to take it a bit easier. Southeast Asia consists of the countries Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.
Some vaccinations are mandatory for those traveling to Southeast Asia. Have your vaccinations for tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and polio arranged. Anyone traveling to Asia or Oceania must be protected against hepatitis A, and a vaccination against hepatitis B is also recommended. To prevent diarrhea, a vaccination against typhoid fever is wise. Vaccination against yellow fever is not mandatory if you travel from Europe. Vaccinations against Japanese encephalitis and rabies should be considered. Before you leave, check which vaccinations are required for your destination on the GGD website.
Anyone traveling to Southeast Asia needs a passport, which you can apply for in your own place of residence. You need a visa for most countries in the region, sometimes you have to apply for this in advance and sometimes you receive it upon arrival.
- Brunei: you do not need a visa for a maximum stay of 30 days.
- Cambodia: You must purchase a visa upon arrival that is valid for 30 days. You need two passport photos. You can also apply for a visa online at https://www.evisa.gov.kh/
- The Philippines: you get a free visa on arrival that is valid for 30 days. You need a ticket that shows that you will leave the country within 30 days.
- Indonesia: You must purchase a visa upon arrival that is valid for 30 days. You need two passport photos.
- Laos: You must purchase a visa on arrival that is valid for 30 days. You need two passport photos.
- Malaysia: you do not need a visa, you will receive a stamp in your passport upon arrival that allows you to stay in the country for 90 days.
- Myanmar: you need a visa that you apply in advance at the Myanmar embassy in a neighboring country or your home country, or online at http://evisa.moip.gov.mm/ It is valid for 28 days, you need a passport photo . Anyone who goes to Myanmar to extend their visa for Thailand will receive temporary permission for the border area but must leave the same day.
- Singapore: upon arrival you will receive a stamp in your passport that allows you to stay in the country for 90 days.
- Thailand: you get a free visa on arrival that is valid for 30 days. You can purchase a visa for two months in advance at a Thai embassy in a neighboring country or your home country.
- Vietnam: You must apply for a visa in advance at a Vietnamese embassy in a neighboring country or your home country. It is valid for 30 days, you need a ticket that shows that you will leave the country within 30 days.
This information applies to people with a Belgian or Dutch passport and is valid as of January 2016. Please note that regulations can change at any time.
Southeast Asia has a tropical climate, is very warm and has high humidity all year round. There is a dry season and a rainy season. The seasons can vary greatly from country to country and even within one country. In Thailand, for example, the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai are best visited from November to February, but on some islands it is the rainy season just then.
Backpackers usually travel on a budget, so you have to look for the cheapest places to stay. Prices in Southeast Asia are cheap compared to European prices. You can sleep very cheaply in a guesthouse or a homestay and smaller hotels are often not expensive. If you have a little more money to spend, you can go to a nice hotel or luxury resort, although you will get some strange looks when you walk in with your backpack. For guesthouses, booking in advance is not customary, you usually do not know in advance how long you want to stay or where your next destination will be. If you are going to stay on a low budget, you should not expect too much. Hot water is a luxury in the region and a room without furniture is not entirely unusual, the mattress can still be placed on the floor.
In Southeast Asia, food can be found on every street corner. Local, quick dishes are dirt cheap, so most people eat out every day. Be sure to try the typical dishes of the country or region, but be careful with chicken, fish and shellfish. Only eat a dish that is still warm. The portions are usually small because it is common to eat five to six smaller meals. In Southeast Asia, people eat rice or noodles with every meal of the day, even breakfast. Be sure to try a rice dish or a delicious noodle soup for breakfast, it gives enough strength and energy for the whole morning. Where many tourists come, there is an extensive choice of western food. Hamburgers and pizza are easy to find, but other tasty Belgian, Dutch, German and English meals are also offered.
Tuk tuk and taxi
There are plenty of transportation options throughout Southeast Asia. A short distance within a city, to the airport or bus station, you take a taxi or tuk tuk. A tuktuk is a three-wheeled motor vehicle with a bench for 2 to 3 people. This mode of transport is typical for the region and an absolute must for every traveler. Please note that drivers usually do not drive very carefully. Always agree on a price for your ride in advance and don’t forget to negotiate. If you take a taxi, it is wise to choose a taxi with a meter, and insist on turning the meter on.
Bus and train
You go from one city to another by bus or train, because the distances can sometimes be long, a night bus or night train is often taken. This saves you a night’s accommodation, but a good night’s sleep is not guaranteed. In general, the buses and trains in Southeast Asia are of reasonable quality, if you go to popular destinations you can travel quite comfortably. In less touristy areas you often sit in an old, rattling bus with the windows open. Don’t be alarmed if some chickens take the bus in addition to the passengers. The bus often takes more passengers than there are seats, so they sit close together or on a plastic chair in the aisle.
You can often travel between two neighboring countries by night bus or train and this is usually the cheapest solution. But be sure to keep an eye on the promotions of the low budget airlines. AirAsia, Nok Air, Jetstar, Lion Air, Tiger Airways and many others often have flights on offer. The larger airlines such as Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways or Malaysia Airlines sometimes also have attractive promotions.
There is a market in every country, in every city and every village. Larger cities have several markets every day where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, but also grilled meat, full meals and desserts. Don’t be alarmed by the live fish, frogs, intestines and fried insects. You need a strong stomach to visit some markets, but here you can find the real atmosphere and culture. In addition, there are the tourist markets where you can buy a nice souvenir, but you always have to bargain here. However, don’t go too far, because many of the beautiful things you can buy are made by hand, and therefore with a lot of time and love.
Southeast Asia has places for lovers of paradise beaches, remote islands, mountains and nature alike. But the region also has a lot to offer for those who love vibrant cities with beautiful architecture. The people are friendly and the food is tasty and cheap. It is the ideal destination for those who want to travel with a backpack, but also for those who want a little more luxury.
- Backpacking: what to take with you and what not
- A journey through Malaysia
- A journey through Cambodia
- A journey through Laos
- A journey through Thailand