What to pack for South East Asia

What goes in the sack, ain't comin' back.

The biggest question everyone has when planning their first trip is what to pack. There are tons of articles out there and they all make me cringe. After 12 years of travelling around Asia, here is my list of things to bring, and, more importantly, things not to.

This list is for guys and girls both. The only real difference is the swimsuit, hair dryer and tampons. You may assume that packing for a year is different than packing for a week, but it's really not. If i'm traveling for week I actually bring MORE stuff, because I'll be changing locations more often and may not have time to wait for my laundry. So, with no further adieu, here it is:

Me and my bag
A lame picture of me and my bag

  • Passport
  • cash, credit/debit cards
  • Flip flops
  • 6 pairs underwear
  • 6 t-shirts/singlets (and maybe one extra to sleep in ladies)
  • 2 pairs shorts + 1 skirt/sundress for girls (you're gonna buy loads in thailand)
  • 2 bikinis for girls, one swimsuit for boys
  • 3 sarongs (buy them in Bangkok if you don't have them already). Click here to see why you need a sarong.
  • a camera/Gopro/accessories and chargers and extra memory cards
  • phone and charger
  • a USB power pack
  • a USB rechargeable flashlight
  • bathroom and personal hygiene stuff - Go to Boots or Walgreen's and get those little bottles for shampoo, face wash etc.
  • Passport photos
  • a pen
  • a good, sandwich size Ziploc freezer bag
  • a roll of toilet paper
  • band-aids/plasters
  • headache tablets
  • tampons (Bring loads! You cant easily find them in SEA)
  • hairdryer
  • sunglasses
  • lip balm
  • motion sickness tablets - the drowsy kind
  • a light sweater/jumper for the flight and the occasional cool evening
  • a book
  • a little day bag that can roll up and fit inside your main bag - I highly recommend buying a roll-top waterproof day bag when you arrive in Bangkok. They sell them all over the place on Ko San Road.                                                                        And that's it!

Make sure it's all inside a carry on sized backpack with NO WHEELS. Mine is 35L and I carry loads of camera gear and cartons of cigarettes and it's still not full. Anything you forget to bring can bought for cheap in Bangkok. When you get to Thailand, go to Boots and get a bottle of sunscreen and a bottle of mosquito repellent. Can't take those on the plane.

What I pack for a year
Whats in my bag

DO NOT bring socks or shoes (unless you are heading somewhere else after SEA) or malaria medication or or a raincoat or an umbrella. Americans, don't bring any electronics that aren't dual voltage or cant take 220v. Europeans, you can buy plug converters for pennies anywhere in Asia, they use US power outlets. Do not bring any synthetic or quick dry clothing. You want cotton. Its hot, and that plastic stuff is gonna feel like you are wearing plastic, because you are.  Do not bring a towel, i will get smelly and mildew and its bulky and heavy and you'll have to pack it up wet. That's what sarongs are for. Do not bring a sleeping bag or camping gear or a water filter or survival gear. Can't take a knife on the plane, but a little pocket knife (or even better scissors) is nice to have. Keep in mind you'll seldom use it and you'll have to throw it away at the end of the trip. Bring perfume if you must, but keep in mind that will attract insects.

Doubters: I have shared this list with lots of people before and I've noticed that about 50% of people still bring tons of shit they don't need. I attribute this to a fear of the unknown. If you cant take advice from seasoned travelers and think you might know better, I cant stop you, but I'll leave you with this: You are gonna look stupid walking down Ko San Road with your huge bags and wheeled luggage and high heels, and you are gonna feel stupid when you pay a fortune to ship your fancy camping gear back home.

Lastly, keep in mind that you really don't need to worry about bringing everything. It's much better to bring less. You're gonna do loads of shopping, and the only thing you really need to bring from home are underwear and tampons and your passport.

Need some help? Got specific questions? Leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

2 Comments on “What to pack for South East Asia

  1. How about those knifes?
    e.g. Swiss army knife or hiking knife when I want to do a lot of hiking with the tent…
    thanks. Vlad

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