Packing for Southeast
The hardest things about packing for Southeast Asia is making sure your clothes are modest enough not to offend people yet don’t cause you to swelter. We’ll come to that in a bit…
This Southeast Asia packing list covers everything you need in your backpack as well as what clothes to wear in Southeast Asia for both men and women.
But first, before we get to the useful bits, I must plead with you: PLEASE don’t be that person who’s wandering around a holy temple in clothes that should be reserved for the beach. A bikini top with butt-skimming shorts is NOT appropriate attire for visiting temples and yet you can guarantee you’ll see at least a few people wearing just that. Save it for the beach guys…
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Right, on that note let’s dive into this Southeast Asia Packing List. Let’s start with what clothes to wear…
What you can expect from this article…
- 1 What to Wear in Southeast Asia
- 1.1 What to wear in Southeast Asia at temples
- 1.2 What to wear in Southeast Asia’s Cities
- 1.3 What to wear at Southeast Asia’s beaches
- 1.4 What to wear in the evenings in Southeast Asia
- 1.5 Buying clothes in Southeast Asia
- 1.6 Which shoes to wear in Southeast Asia
- 2 Women’s Clothes Packing List for Southeast Asia
- 3 Men’s Clothes Packing List for Southeast Asia
- 4 Documents to Pack for SouthEast Asia
- 5 Travel Essentials for your Southeast Asia Packing List
- 6 Electronics for your SouthEast Asia Packing List
- 6.1 General Electronics
- 6.2 Photography packing list for Southeast Asia
- 7 Toiletries to pack for Southeast Asia
- 8 Southeast Asia Travel First Aid Kit
- 9 Non Essential Items for your packing list
- 10 Backpack vs Suitcase for Southeast Asia?
- 11 Packing Tips for Southeast Asia
- 12 Other Packing Lists you may enjoy
- 13 Other Related Articles
What to Wear in Southeast Asia
It’s important to remember that even though it’s hot and humid in Southeast Asia, the culture is conservative. You risk offending local people if you don’t dress in appropriate clothes especially in holy places like temples.
What to wear in Southeast Asia at temples
In temples, make sure that your shoulders and knees and everything in between is covered. Maxi skirts with t-shirts are a great option that shouldn’t make you overheat. If you do choose to wear a strappy top, get a lightweight kimono to cover your shoulders with and wear longer length shorts or trousers that reach your knees. If you don’t have any, sometimes the temples will provide shawls which can be used to cover your shoulders or can be tied to make a skirt which reaches your knees.
For men, wear longer shorts which reach your knees and a t shirt with short sleeves. Avoid sleeveless vests at temples, especially the type which gape and show off your chest! Keep them for the beach!
What to wear in Southeast Asia’s Cities
The big cities, especially Bangkok, are slightly less conservative than some of the smaller towns and villages so baring your shoulders here is generally acceptable except when you are visiting temples. But I still recommend wearing shorts that fully cover your butt and tops which are not low cut and do not show your midriff off.
What to wear at Southeast Asia’s beaches
The popular islands and beaches are a lot more used to ‘beach clothes’ and so you should be fine to wear your short shorts and strappy tops here. But keep the bikinis for the beach and never sunbathe topless if you are a woman – it could really offend the locals. I would veer towards slightly more conservative bikinis and swimsuits. Perhaps use it as an excuse to invest in a pretty beach dress or kaftan?!
For men, stick to regular board shorts and stick a t shirt on when you are walking around the town, especially if you are somewhere more remote. You can get away with baring more flesh in places like Koh Phi Phi who are very used to having lots of tourists.
What to wear in the evenings in Southeast Asia
Long sleeves are ideal in the evenings to help avoid getting too many mozzie bites. Choose light weight floaty materials or you could even consider getting
It’s likely to remain warm at night but as you get accustomed to the weather, you may get chilly in the evenings so I recommend you pack 1 jumper. This is also useful on air conditioned buses when it might get cold.
As for going out in the evening, most places are fine with flip flops unless you are visiting any swanky bars in Bangkok such as the Sky Bar for views over the city! In most places, a dress and flip flops or even shorts for a girl
Buying clothes in Southeast Asia
Lots of people travel with a fairly empty backpack planning to buy their clothes in Southeast Asia. If you’re short and petite, then fine, go for it! Elephant pants are super comfy! But if your averaged sized or larger you may struggle as a British size 12 (10 in the U.S) is classed as Large or Extra Large in Southeast Asia! I had to get a sleeping bag in Indonesia before I travelled to East Africa, and it only came up to my waist! (I’m 5ft8.)
If you want to wear elephant pants and you are a size 12 or larger, you can buy them online beforehand in your actual size.
Which shoes to wear in Southeast Asia
You will spend most of your days wearing flip flops. I recommend investing a little more and getting some really comfy ones like those made by Teva which will support your feet and won’t fall apart. It’s worth spending the extra to avoid having to buy 5 pairs along the way, all of which fall apart after 5 minutes. ( and there are many beautiful hikes)
If you are planning on doing some hiking or staying anywhere rural, then you will need a pair of comfy trainers or hiking boots. I’d choose trainers as they are lighter and easier to wear unless you are planning any serious hikes in which case boots may be necessary.
You may want to consider a 3rd pair of shoes but only if you think you won’t be comfortable in flip flops all day every day. I have flat feet so flip flops make my feet ache if I wear them too much so I usually pack a pair of super light and incredibly comfy TOMs shoes which don’t take up much space.
Read next: Long haul flight essentials checklist
Women’s Clothes Packing List for Southeast Asia
- 3 strappy tops
- 3 t-shirts with short sleeves
- 2 dresses, 1 shorter dress and 1 maxi dress
- 1 long sleeved top preferably impregnated with mozzie repellant.
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 1 skirt (below the knee length)
- 1 pair of gym-style leggings
- 7 x underwear
- 2 x bras
- 1 x sports bra
- 2 pairs of socks – you’ll be wearing flip flops and sandals mostly.
- 2 x bikini or swimsuit
- 1 kaftan or shawl
- 1 jumper or cardigan
- 1 set of PJs or a 2nd pair of leggings to wear at night.
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 1 pair of trainers or hiking boots.
- +/- 1 pair of super comfy flats.
- 1 pair of cheap UV-safe sunglasses – they’ll likely get damaged and you’ll replace them with some cheap “Roy Bons”
- 1 Sunhat. Again easy to replace if it gets damaged.
- A lightweight waterproof jacket
Men’s Clothes Packing List for Southeast Asia
- 6 t-shirts
- 1 short sleeved shirt
- 1 long sleeved top for the evening (preferably impregnated with mozzie repellant)
- 2 pairs of shorts, including 1 pair of knee-length shorts
- 1 pair of lightweight trousers
- 2 x board shorts
- 1 jumper
- 7 boxers
- 2 pairs of socks
- Flip flops
- Trainers or hiking boots
- 1 cap
- 1 pair of cheap sunglasses (UV protected)
- A lightweight waterproof jacket
Documents to Pack for SouthEast Asia
Check, double-check and triple-check that you have your passport! I speak from experience… Once having returned to the U.K. for an interview where I had forgotten I’d taken my passport it of its cover to show them as ID. Before I left for my flight back to Australia where I lived at the time, I grabbed my passport cover and only discovered the missing passport when I tried to check in…
Here’s a few other documents worth packing…
- Travel insurance details. I recommend using Nomads travel insurance who are great for
insuringfor adventure trips
- A paper copy of important addresses and contact numbers such as the hotel and flight details in case your phone runs out of battery.
- If you are travelling from a country with yellow fever, you need to bring proof of your yellow fever vaccination.
- If you are on regular medications, bring two copies of your prescription, one for your hand luggage and the other for your backpack.
- Some passport photos are useful in case you need them to organise a visa at any of the Southeast Asian borders.
- Cash + more than 1 credit or debit card. I use an Easy FX currency card which allows me to convert money into foreign currency instantly at the best exchange rate. It can also be used in shops and restaurants as a debit card. But always have a spare card and keep it somewhere safe. Always have some cash as not everywhere will accept card payments.
Travel Essentials for your Southeast Asia Packing List
- Travel Towel. Look for one which is sand-free, anti-bacterial and quick drying. I love these fun colourful ones from Dock and Bay.
- Sleep sheet – packing a silk liner will weight barely anything at all and will be really useful if you are staying in budget accommodation as there may be times where you don’t fancy sleeping on the dubious bedding provided…
- Earplugs. If you are planning on staying in any hostels, you will want to have some noise-cancelling earplugs just in case you get unlucky with a snorer or a 4 AM party animal!
pillow. I was so excited when they bought out this 3-in-1 travel pillow so you no longer have to choose between bringing a pillow for sleep and a neck pillow for journeys. It even converts into a backsupport as well. Genius.
- Water bottle. You won’t be surprised to learn that the tap water is not safe to drink in most places in Southeast Asia. So to avoid paying for bottled water (which is also pretty environmentally unfriendly) get a water bottle with a filter system. This clever water bottle filters the water as you drink therefore keeping you safe. Its environmentally friendly and cost saving. Get a 15% discount with the code GLOBETROTTERGP if you order through their website Watertogo.eu
- Padlocks. Paying attention to security is important when you are travelling in Southeast Asia. Consider using padlocks, or for more subtle security, use some cable ties. Though make sure you have a penknife handy to cut them open again when you reach your destination! Another option is a theftproof bag. Some of them are really pretty these days so you wont have to sacrifice style for security.
- Laundry line – especially if you will be on the move a lot as you won’t necessarily be able to get your washing done for you. Have a laundry line and you can wash your laundry in the sink and hang it out to dry overnight.
- A head torch. Useful in poorly lit streets and also in hostels when you need to find something in your bag without waking up the whole dorm.
- A swiss army knife. So so useful. Be it for trimming your cable ties mentioned above, opening your bottle of beer or peeling fruit bought at street food stalls.
- A journal. Make sure you record your memories as you go. Be it by writing a blog or note keeping in a good old fashioned journal. You’ll enjoy looking back on this in years to come…
- Waterproof backpack cover. When it rains in Southeast Asia, it REALLY rains. So make sure you have a waterproof cover for your backpack just in case!
- Duct tape. Comes in handy for mending EVERYTHING.
- Dry bag. An essential if you are spending time at the beach or on boats. A dry bag will keep all your belongings dry and will float if you happen to drop it in the water. It’s great to have peace of mind.
- Cable organiser. If you are like me, you will have a lot of technology and electric devices with you when you travel. Help to keep them organised and tangle-free in a cable organiser.
- Biodegradable fabric wash. If you are planning on doing some of your own washing then get some biodegradable soap. You can even wash your clothes in a stream if you are doing some multi-day trekking.
Electronics for your SouthEast Asia Packing List
- Headphones. I took some fancy beats
bluetoothheadphones with me on my last trip and whilst the sound was brilliant quality, it annoyed me that I had to charge them every few days – I have enough to charge! So I think I’ll be reverting to some good old fashioned headphones next time and I’ll reserve those for the gym instead.
- Worldwide Plug Adapter. Different countries in Southeast Asia will require different plug sockets. So splurge on a worldwide adapter. It’ll save you money in the long run.
- Kindle. If you’re anything like me you’ll get 1 chapter into a book, decide
itsnot working for you and wish you bought a kindleinstead with a huge library of potential books. The latest kindlesare both great for reading in bright sunlight and are also waterproof so they are great for reading at the beach.
- Power bank. You’ll want to keep your phone charged up for use on long journeys. A power bank is always one of the most important things on my Southeast Asia packing list. Also, you may only have access to one charge point if you are staying in a hostel. If you charge a power bank overnight, you’ll be able to charge all of your devices on the go the next day. This one can also be charged by solar power too.
- Laptop or Ipad. An Ipad mini is really useful when you are travelling for watching films on journeys, editing and storing your photos and sending emails home. For most people, an Ipad or equivalent tablet is all you need. If you are a blogger like me then I’d recommend taking a travel-sized laptop as an Ipad just isn’t convenient for all that writing! I use the Macbook as it is incredibly light but also powerful.
Photography packing list for Southeast Asia
- Waterproof camera. There are so many pristine reefs along the coastline of Southeast Asia, you are going to want to capture it on camera. I have a GoPro hero 6 which takes brilliant photos and videos but if your budget won’t stretch to a GoPro, there are plenty of cheap alternatives under $50 like this one.
- Regular camera. This will all depend on your level of photography. But since Southeast Asia has some absolutely wonderful landscapes, I’d encourage you to bring a good camera if you have at least a little interest in photography. If you’re looking for an entry level DSLR, you can’t go wrong with the Nikon D5600. I learnt on its predecessor the D5500 which I loved for many years. These days I use a mirrorless camera which is lighter. I use a rather pricey but fabulous Sony A7iii. However I’d recommend for those just dabbling in photography, the A6000 (cheaper) and A6500 are fantastic options.
- Lenses. If you are bringing a DSLR or mirrorless camera you will need some lenses for it. I recommend a telephoto lens and something a bit wider so you can capture wildlife, landscapes, portraits and street photography, For the Nikon
DSLRS, I loved my 18-105mm and 55-300mm lenses. For Sony, I’d recommend a 16-50mm and a 55-210mm.
- Tripod or Gorillapod. If you are travelling solo and want some piccies of yourself or you are a serious landscape photographer, you’ll be needing a travel tripod. I use the Benro travel tripod but if I’m short on space, I’ll just use a Gorillapod which can even be attached to fences and branches to get the right angle and perspective.
- Polariser filter. The one filter I wouldn’t leave home without is a polarising filter. This inexpensive accessory will help boost the colours, decrease reflections and prevent washed out skies in your photos.
- Theft proof camera bag. You need to think about how you’ll protect your camera as petty crime is common. A theft proof camera bag will give you some peace of mind. Here is a list of some of the best theft proof bags for travel
- Memory cards. Always take a few spares, you never know when one might fail. I personally don’t like deleting photos until I get home so I can back them up in a few places so I always take several memory cards. I usually use 32gb Ultra San Disk SD cards which are fast enough for photos and video.
Toiletries to pack for Southeast Asia
- Sunscreen – I recommend getting reef safe sunscreen if you are snorkelling
- Mosquito repellant
- Deodorant – you’re going to sweat – a LOT!
- Body wash
- Eco-friendly refillable squeezy bottles for all your shower lotions and potions
- Travel sized moisturiser – can also be used as after sun.
- A Tangle
teezerhairbrush – the only hairbrush I take with me now
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Wet wipes – keep these in your
hangluggage – so handy!
- Hand sanitiser – trust me, you’ll be using this a LOT.
- Blister plasters and regular plasters.
- For women; Feminine hygiene products. Tampons are especially hard to find in many Southeast Asian countries.
- Basic make-up. I don’t take much but I like to have a foundation, mascara and a clear lip gloss at a minimum. Find out what is in my travel make-up bag.
- For men; shaver
Top Tip: Ladies, if you have wavy frizz-prone hair like me, consider getting a Brazilian blow dry before you leave. I always do this before I travel now which means my hair stays smooth and straight whilst I’m away with minimal fuss. You can have it done properly in a salon or if you don’t have the cash, you can get DIY keratin kits to do at home.
Southeast Asia Travel First Aid Kit
- Your Regular medications – split these between your hand luggage and main bag just in case they go missing. If you are a diabetic travelling with insulin then read my guide about travelling with diabetes.
- Anti-diarrhoea medication – loperamide. Trust me, long journeys without this when you get an upset stomach will NOT be fun.
- Paracetamol – your go-to medication for a headache or fever.
- Ibuprofen – great for muscular injuries though always take with food
- Consider speaking to your GP about some broad-spectrum antibiotics – just in case.
- Antihistamines – useful for allergic reactions.
- Buscopan – this can help with abdominal cramps if you get gastro.
- Anti-malaria medication. Most places in Southeast Asia have low or no risk of malaria but there are some places you will need to take anti-malaria medication for. Check the Fit For Travel website for malaria maps to see if where you are going, requires them.
Non Essential Items for your packing list
- Yoga matt. If yoga on the beach is your thing then you may want to consider a travel yoga matt. This would not be necessary if you just plan to take the occasional class.
- Travel hammock – a nice luxury if you have space in your backpack. I’m imagining being in a hammock right now sipping a pina colada and reading a good book… Bliss! But it’s certainly not essential…
- Travel speakers. Only really necessary if you want to host beach parties! But they do come in tiny compact travel size these days.
- Snorkel set – if you’re planning on skipping the tours and want to do some DIY snorkelling, you may want to bring a snorkel set with you.
- Pair of high heels. Only necessary if you want to visit the super trendy city sky bars where the dress code is significantly smarter than most bars in Southeast Asia.
- Travel guidebook. You could just read my blog… But if you insist on taking a guidebook, I’d recommend lonely planet and the rough guides which are regularly updated and full of really useful information.
- Waterproof phone case. Great for keeping your phone safe on a boat or a beach and if you don’t have an underwater camera, you could even use it to get some photos. That said, I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to submerge my phone completely unless your phone is water resistant as most are these days! Or at least test it first…
- Travel straighteners. Like I mentioned earlier, I always get a brazilian blow dry before I travel so my hair stays frizz free and straight. But if you really want to take straighteners with you to fight the humidity frizz, then make sure you get the lightweight travel ones. These ones allow you to both straighten and curl hair.
- Scrubba bag. The scrubba bag is actually a travel washing machine! Yes really. It requires a little more effort than a regular washing machine but it doesn’t take up much space in your luggage (it fits in the palm of your hand) and it will wash your clothes faster and better than you will manage in a sink! But don’t take my word for it, read the reviews.
Backpack vs Suitcase for Southeast Asia?
If you are going straight from the airport via a taxi to a plush hotel in the city or resort by the coast then it would be fine to take a suitcase.
However, if you are planning to travel around Southeast Asia, a backpack will be essential. The road and paths are often bumpy, dusty and broken and the wheels on your suitcase
Short stay, 1 hotel = suitcase
Longer stay, multiple locations = backpack
You will also need a day bag and if you have lots of camera gear then you may want to consider an anti theft camera bag which is big enough to include the other essentials you may need on a day out in Southeast Asia such as water, sunglasses, currency, a phone and your camera.
Packing Tips for Southeast Asia
- Do not over pack. You will always wish you bought less. I have never once thought “I wish I bought more stuff with me…”
- Packing cubes will be your best friend. They’ll help you organise your clothes and keep your clean and dirty clothes separately.
- Roll your clothes rather than fold them to avoid creases
- Take non-crease clothes – SO much easier
- Take plenty of ziplock bags to organise your belongings
- Maximise space by packing socks and underwear into your boots or trainers
- Make sure you adjust your rucksack to fit you so that it will evenly distribute the weight.
- Leave some space in your backpack so that it’s not a logistical challenge every time you need to pack and move to a new hotel. Also, you’ll want space for a few souvenirs.
Hopefully, you feel a lot more confident about what to include in your Southeast Asia packing list now. Here are a few take-home messages I hope you’ve gleaned…
- Choose lightweight materials which dry quickly.
- Cover shoulders to knees whenever you are visiting a temple.
- Take plenty of reefsafe sunscreen and mosquito repellant with you.
- Packing cubes will help you pack smart and save you a lot of stress.
- If you’re going to be travelling around Southeast Asia, then use a backpack.
Other Packing Lists you may enjoy
- Galapagos packing list
- South America Packing list for hot and cold climates
- Skiing Packing List
- Backpacking Essentials
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Do you have any questions about this packing list for Southeast Asia? If so, drop them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them!
In the meantime, here are some pretty pins for your Pinterest boards…