Southeast Asia has long been a favorite for budget travelers, almost to the point of becoming a cliché. There is a reason that the place is so popular though and there are a lot of merits to including the region on any major trip. Once you look past the raging party towns and Australian kids on spring break, Southeast Asia has a lot to offer any traveler.
Plenty of people backpack Europe and South America- with good reason too, but in my opinion nowhere in the world is more backpacker-friendly than Southeast Asia. The combination of vivid cultures, fascinating foods and cheap prices make it the ultimate for backpacker living and a must for anyone planning an extended trip.
Here’s why Southeast Asia beats out everyone else:
1. Food to die for
Really, Asian food is the number one reason (and could justifiably be the only reason you need) for scheduling a visit to the far east. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s possibly the best food in the entire world. From the street snacks in Bangkok to Vietnamese banquets to Malaysian curry, there is a lifetime’s worth of deliciousness to sample. Nowhere else in the world can you find cuisine that compares to the diverse, vibrant, colorful, and flavorful food found here.
>> Find out what to eat in Bangkok
Most backpackers have to work hard to make their money stretch as much as possible. In many places in Asia the pressure is off, particularly in countries like Vietnam and Laos, where you can easily get by on $15 a day on most days. For backpackers and those traveling around the world, that cheaper cost of travel means you can travel longer. The same funds that might cover a month in Europe might stretch for several months there. And when it’s cheaper to eat out than to even try to cook, you can fully embrace and enjoy your visit without having to stress too much about your wallet.
>> See where you can travel for $40 a day or less
3. Ease of travel
While traveling in Europe and Australia can be pricey, Southeast Asia is one of the easiest and cheapest places to travel in the world. Scores of budget airlines and well established bus and train networks make it easy to around, often for just a few bucks. Additionally there is a strong infrastructure set up to help foreign travelers book tickets and get from one place to another.
Whether you are a blogger or just need to keep in touch with the folks at home, this area of the world is heavenly for flash-packers. Nearly all guesthouses and hostels have wifi and it’s fast and (mostly) reliable. This is great compared to other backpacker destinations like Australia or South America, where wi-fi can be slow, expensive, or non-existent.
5. Perfect beaches
Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are in Southeast Asia, and since the beach season never ends, you can live in a state of perpetual summer. Year round you can go snorkeling or scuba diving in the crystal waters off of Bali, Thailand or Malaysia, or just relax in a beachside hammock and remember all your friends suffering through winter back home.
6. Major metropolises
If you love the craziness of big cities, Southeast Asia has some of the craziest. Exciting and fast-moving cities like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Kuala Lumpur offer a dose of adrenaline every time you step out your door. Visiting many of these places is a unique mash up of old and new Asia, with futuristic sky scrapers around the corner from ancient temples, modern life against a backdrop of history and tradition. It’s this dichotomy that makes the cities here so special and intriguing.
7. Deep history
This was the stomping ground of some of the oldest civilizations of the world, from the Angkor to the Javans and the Champa. A lot of these ancient societies left beautiful structures and relics behind – you can visit the pagodas of Bagan, explore the ruins of Angkor Wat, or gaze at thousands of perfectly maintained ancient temples throughout the region.
This region also has a lot of modern history worth exploring, equally epic although not has pleasant. In the twentieth century alone the region experienced the Vietnam War, the terror of the Khmer Rouge and the near obliteration bombing of Laos. The ongoing protests in Bangkok and the constantly changing situation in Burma show that history is an ongoing process and that cities can change nearly before your eyes.
8. Rich culture
Culturally, Southeast Asia is far too vivid and diverse to sum up in any one paragraph. There are so many different traditions, languages, lifestyles, fashions, beliefs and customs to immerse yourself in and explore, all within a relatively small geographic area. Many Southeast Asian cultures work very hard to maintain their historical rituals and practices, even as modernity sweeps through the area, so finding opportunities to learn about the culture first-hand is never difficult.
9. Plentiful parties
Partying obviously isn’t all there is to Southeast Asia, but there definitely are plenty of opportunities to have raucous drunken fun. Many of the cities on the popular tourists routes will have bars and activities that cater to the young and reckless (see: Vang Vieng, Laos). The Thai islands in particular are popular for their party towns like Koh Phi Phi and Koh Samui. Then of course there is the queen of all the backpacker parties: the monthly Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan. For those who want to let loose a little on their travels, Southeast Asia is a cheap and easy destination to escape from real life for a while.
>> Learn more about Thailand’s Full Moon Party
On the flip side, although there are areas just crawling with other travelers, there are still many places to explore away from the crowds. One has only to step a couple of feet off of the backpacker trail or away from the hostel to discover unique un-touristy places that have yet to be changed by tourism.
>> Get tips for getting off the backpacker trail in Thailand
11. The people
Perhaps the most memorable part of a visit to this area of the world is the smiling, open, and happy people you encounter. Even though many of these countries have gone through some rough times in modern years, there seems to be an optimistic feeling most everywhere you go. Most visitors who spend a significant amount of time in the area will have at least one moving story of being invited to dinner during Tet in Vietnam or taking part in a Laotian wedding reception, or maybe just a really interesting conversation with a tuk tuk driver in Cambodia.
12. Things are changing fast
All over the world, but in Asia particularly, things are changing rapidly every day. A population explosion, an influx of new technology and foreign influence, and renegotiations of government mean that the culture and physical landscape is constantly evolving. This may be for the better or for the worst but one thing is for sure: the Southeast Asia you visit now will be very different than the one you’ll see ten years from now.
Get more Asia travel tips:
- How to Plan an Extended Trip in Southeast Asia
- 10 Reasons to Travel to Thailand Now
- Reasons to Fall in Love with Burma
Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” we share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.