Backpacking Southeast Asia Adventure Guide: 10 Best Safety Tips

Safety Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

If you’ve always wanted to visit Southeast Asia because of the breathtaking beauty, fascinating cultures, and fascinating people you’ll meet, now is the time to do so since it’s well worth the hype. Southeast Asia is one of the most breathtaking, bizarre, and beautiful countries I’ve ever been.

But, for all of its charms and laid-back culture, let’s just say that there are fewer safety requirements than in the Western world when it comes to safety. If you are considering backpacking Southeast Asia, it will be one of the most memorable vacations you will ever do, but you must first learn about personal accountability before embarking on your experiences in this incredible region of the world.

When I first went to Thailand for my first solo adventure, I ran into a lot of unexpected situations, and if I hadn’t had my eyes open the entire time, I would have gotten myself into a lot of trouble.

When you trek Southeast Asia, your daring side will come out, and you’ll do things you’d never do at home. For instance, partying all day with new friends while drinking cheap booze and not considering jumping into a motorboat with your mates and cruising the ocean without a life preserver.

While no one wants anyone to get hurt in these situations, safety isn’t always a top consideration.

If you’re concerned about mosquitos spreading malaria or dengue in the rainforests you’ll be hiking through, locals may just dismiss your concerns and inform you that “there are no mosquitos.” Many natives are used to mosquitos in the jungle and don’t mind them, but an unprepared tourist may encounter problems that you don’t want to deal with while you’re there.

Here are some backpacking safety guidelines for backpacking Southeast Asia if you are the type of traveler that enjoys adventure and wants to fly out to this region of the world to see something new.

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Look Out For Scams

10 Best Safety Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

Backpacking Southeast Asia – There are always travel scams waiting for visitors wherever they go in the world. While traveling in Southeast Asia is extremely safe, there is a 1% possibility that you will be the victim of a travel scam. 

Countries like Vietnam and Thailand were full of great individuals who were willing to drop everything to help you when I was backpacking Southeast Asia several years ago. However, there are still scams that unknowing travelers fall victim to, particularly in tourist zones of cities. Scams will differ by place, so do your research before you go.

So do some study before you go on the latest vacation scams, but here are a few to watch out for: 

Taxi drivers not turning on the meter; informing you an attraction like the Grand Temple is “closed” and bringing you somewhere else for a “private tour” with their friend where you’ll have to spend an outrageous amount are just a few of the prevalent ones in Bangkok. 

When it comes to scams in Vietnam, Hanoi has its own, including one where “shoe cleaners” can put gum on your shoe and try to clean it for you for a price. If this occurs, simply continue walking.


Know Where The Closest Hospital Is

10 Best Safety Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

Backpacking Southeast Asia – While there are decent hospitals in the larger cities throughout Southeast Asia, you will be disappointed if you expect the same level of care as you would at home.

If you’re travelling through Thailand, you’ll have access to some of the greatest medical care in Southeast Asia, but facilities in Laos and Vietnam are hit-or-miss.

Even in Thailand, with its half-decent facilities, some of the most popular travellers Asia backpacking sites, like as Koh Tao, lack a full-fledged hospital to assist. Sure, there are clinics, but if you need something more serious, you’ll have to travel to Koh Samui, which is a 1.5-hour ferry ride away.

To avoid the difficulty of finding over-the-counter medicine abroad, I always bring a first-aid kit with me. (Do you really want to try to find Imodium AD in a foreign country if you can’t get away from the bathroom?)

Let's Not Forget The Mosquitos

Backpacking Southeast Asia – There is a risk of contracting malaria while backpacking Southeast Asia. While there is debate among travellers about whether or not to take anti-malarial medication (I chose to take anti-malarial medication before my first backpacking trip to Cambodia because I planned to travel in high-risk areas such as the mountains and jungle), it’s important to note that dengue fever is a concern almost everywhere in Southeast Asia.

Dengue fever has no vaccination at the moment, and it can swiftly ruin your vacation, especially if your travel time is short. Just read this story for a peek into how much misery you’d be in for should you get it.

While I don’t want to panic you, as not all mosquitos carry dengue, but it’s easier to get in the habit of prevention early on in your travels. 

A few ways to lessen your chances of being bitten: Wear mosquito repellant, avoid being outdoors at dusk/dawn, stay in hostels with air conditioning, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and use a mosquito net if there’s no A/C, the windows are open, or if you’re camping. (Most places will not provide you with a mosquito net, so bring your own.)

Side Note: If you choose to take Malaria pills for your trip you should be aware of the side effects. Possible side effects – dizziness, headache, sleep disturbances (insomnia and vivid dreams) and psychiatric reactions (anxiety, depression, panic attacks and hallucinations). Make sure to tell your doctor about any previous mental health problems, including mild depression.

The reason I mention the side effects is when I was backpacking in Cambodia and visiting the Killing Fields, I was hallucinating pretty badly when I was hearing the stories of the survivors recounting their experiences of that horrible massacre.

Say No To Drugs

Backpacking Southeast Asia – While in some western countries, certain drugs may be legal and some are not. But when it comes to Southeast Asia, the repercussions for doing drugs or handling drugs are way stricter than back home. 

If caught with drugs, you’re looking at massive fines and potential life-long jail sentences in Thailand, death sentences in Singapore or Indonesia if suspected of trafficking. (For a longer and more detailed list of other countries, read this list of drug laws in Southeast Asia.) 

If you choose to light up knowing these risks — and several thousand still do — be smart about where and how. Do not walk along Khao San Road in Bangkok, holding a joint as you will get caught.


Trust Your Gut In Terms Of Safety

10 Best Safety Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

Backpacking Southeast Asia – Trust your instincts and go with your gut, even if you’re on a professionally guided tour and the tour leader says something is safe. While professional led tours provide structured and safe excursions for backpackers and travellers, what is safe for some may not be safe for you.

I chose a guided Deep Water Soloing adventure in Tonsai/Railay, which is located in the Krabi province of southern Thailand, while in Thailand. Deep Water Soloing is akin to high-octane rock climbing. It’s a type of free-climbing that entails bouldering and scaling cliffs without the use of ropes, harnesses, anchor points, chalk, or other climbing equipment.

Climbing is the only way up, and jumping from the edge is the only way down, whether you’re 10 feet or 100 feet in the air, crashing into the sea below. Only you, the rock, and the sea are left.

As long as the waters are deep enough and devoid of garbage and rocks, it’s an adrenaline-pumping and enjoyable exercise. The trouble was that, regardless of what the advisors said, my gut instinct was telling me that it was a horrible decision.

It was exceedingly slippery because the rocks were misty and there was no dry area, and you had to avoid the numerous jagged rocks projecting from the water, and it was impossible to know how deep the water was. Some of the jumpers jumped between two boulders protruding from the water’s edge.

Even though I had paid for the tour, I ultimately decided to stay on the boat because it was the adventure I needed for the trip.

Don't Underestimate The Ocean

10 Best Safety Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

Traveling Southeast Asia – I remember swimming in the ocean on an empty beach one day when backpacking across the Hawaiian Islands. While I thought it would be a great way to gain some shade from the blazing sun, I was whisked away by a rip current, which turned into an adventure I had not anticipated.

While I was panicking, I realised that since it was just me and the water, I should not battle the current and instead allow it take me to a spot where I could swim back in control. When I gently swam back to shore, I made a mental note to never swim alone again.

While this did not happen in Southeast Asia, it was enough of a scare for me to learn that, while solo travel is liberating, I needed to tread carefully while making judgments.

Wear a life preserver and swallow your pride if you’re going to be alone in deep water for an extended period of time. Even if the water appears to be calm, you never know what lies ahead.

For example, areas of La Han Bay (near Halong Bay) open up onto the South China Sea, implying that powerful currents can transport you out to sea.

Learn How To Ride A Motorbike Before You Travel

10 Best Safety Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

Backpacking Southeast Asia – Because I have a motorbike license, I didn’t have to worry about this while backpacking in Asia, but I’ve witnessed other travelers have unpleasant situations that nearly destroyed their journeys. 

Motorcycle accidents are one of the most common injuries among backpackers traveling around Asia. Why? Because riding a motorcycle in Asia is a fun and inexpensive way to see a new country, and you only need a driver’s license from your own country to do so.

However, if you want to learn to ride a motorcycle while you’re there, start with gentler places. By driving through quiet areas, you can get a feel for the bike and see if you like it. Many travelers I’ve met have ended up in the bar with serious injuries as a result of a motorcycle accident. 

Some backpackers exclusively travel in Southeast Asia by renting a motorcycle, while others choose not to. If you opt to rent a motorcycle for your backpacking activities, make sure to wear a helmet and long pants (this will help avoid road rash should something happen).

Don’t Drink The Tap Water

Backpacking Southeast Asia – This is something I learned the first time I visited Pattaya Thailand: don’t drink tap water! Even if it’s a tourist destination, your body may not be prepared for the city’s drinking water. And don’t anticipate anything better in terms of drinking water quality if you visit a less developed section of the country.

Bottled water is cheap and plentiful, so stop at a 7-11 along the way and stock up on enough to last the entire day. Alternatively, you could just drink beer because it’s about the same price as water. If you’re traveling across the country and want to avoid wasting plastic bottles by drinking tap water, invest in a SteriPEN UV Water purifier or a UV water bottle to keep you safe from tainted water.

Related Article: 6 Amazing Smart Water Bottles Reviewed – Stay Hydrated

Eat Street Food, But Be Cautious

10 Best Safety Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

Backpacking Southeast Asia – There’s nothing like eating like a native when it comes to being adventurous. Consider how much it costs you to dine at a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant in your home country against how much it will cost you in these countries. 

When I first backpacked Southeast Asia, I was hesitant to consume street food since I was concerned about a variety of factors such as refrigeration quality, food safety, and so on.

However, near the end of my first trip, I was introduced to street cuisine, which I discovered to be some of the tastiest food in the world. Street food is frequently fresher, faster, and less expensive than restaurant fare. 

However, when it comes to eating street food, my safety advice is to always look at where the locals queue up to eat. Because if there’s a lineup, there’s a decent chance it’ll be good.

Buy Travelers Insurance

Backpacking Southeast Asia – I recall getting a stomach pain halfway through my first long-term solo vacation. It didn’t seem too severe at first, as it seemed like ordinary food sickness that can occur while travelling through Southeast Asia, but the agony worsened during the night.

I decided to go to the hospital when the pain became unbearable and I could no longer stand. I discovered that I was suffering from appendicitis.

The biggest problem was that I was staying in Pai, Thailand at the time, which is a grueling 4-5 hour drive on a bumpy gravel mountain road from Chiang Mai, the nearest city.

I had to travel a “ambulance” to Chiang Mai for emergency surgery since the local hospital was too small and ill-equipped to handle me. On that strewn-across gravel road. An appendix that has burst.

When I eventually arrived in Chiang Mai, I was brought into the surgery that ultimately saved my life. As it turned out, if I had waited any longer, I would have most certainly perished.

The only reason I went to the hospital was because I knew I was covered by my travel insurance. Will you have enough money to justify spending thousands of dollars out of pocket in case of an emergency while backpacking? Having travel insurance will help you feel safe and confident knowing that if an emergency happens, you will be covered.

They not only reimbursed all of my medical bills and several nights in the hospital after I filed all of my claims, but they also paid for my ambulance and two weeks in a hotel in Chiang Mai while I healed enough to travel again. It saved my life, and I’ll never travel without insurance again.

So get travel insurance if you are traveling alone. It might save your life.


The first time I traveled solo overseas, a lot of my family were apprehensive of me going because of the unknown, but over time and after showing them my planned itineraries, stunning pictures, and the amazing memories I shared they all ended up being a little jealous.

The world is only as frightening as you make it, and if you go in with your eyes wide open and a feeling of adventure, you will have fantastic adventures ahead of you.

You will have the best adventures of your life ahead of you as long as you are aware of certain safety components like as coping with strong currents, lax safety tours, mosquitos, unsafe tap water, and so on.

Have fun on your journey!

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About the author: Trent (IMDB Youtubehas spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

10 Best Safety Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

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