Backpacking in Asia


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If you have yet to explore the magnificent continent that is Asia, you are in for the treat of a lifetime. Covering almost 30% of earth’s land surface, it requires time and patience to discover it’s many gems. However, it doesn’t require a fat wallet. Whether you want to follow the Banana Pancake Trail or create your own route, traveling within Asia is incredibly cheap.

You can get by on as little as $15 USD per day if you want, though $25 is more realistic. A bus crossing country borders often costs as little as $2, and plane tickets within the continent are at times so inexpensive that you will find yourself double checking the price to see if it is accurate. You can find rooms for as little as $2-5 USD in parts of Cambodia and Laos. In Thailand, you will typically pay $6-13 USD per night. In Vietnam, expect to pay $5-8 USD. In Indonesia, between $8-10 USD. This opens a world of opportunities for a curious traveler hungry for an adventure in a continent that functions entirely different from it’s western siblings.

It would be insufficient to describe Asia as a whole, because apart from its geographical reach it is vastly diverse in culture, landscape, climate, languages, cuisine and nature, to mention some. Therefore, it would be a travel crime to visit an Asian country without hopping on a bus, train, bike, boat or plane to nearby countries and seeing this diversity with your own eyes. The warm months of November through April draw the biggest crowds. Even for the most experienced traveler, Asia can be overwhelming. So here’s some friendly advice from one travel addict to another.

Don’t Overplan Your Trip

Don’t book all tickets and accommodations in advance, leave room for spontaneity.  Lets say you meet a nice group of locals in Singapore that tell you about a village in Malaysia that you simply have to visit, and they happen to have relatives there that will show you around and treat you like one of their own – wouldn’t it suck if you missed out on that opportunity because you couldn’t change your ticket to Vietnam the following day? After all, that’s what adventure is all about – being free from schedules and time limits, leading with your gut and heart, meeting interesting people and seeing places that change your perspective of your own circumstances and habits. Accommodation is best found by walking around a new place and taking a look, while everything from tours, sightseeing, planes, trains and buses doesn’t need to be arranged more than a day in advance at the most. Overnight buses are a great way of maximizing your time and minimizing your accommodation budget  Less planning provides more flexibility and less stress. You’ll have a lot more fun with a blank itinerary.

Live Like a Local

The local food will always be much fresher, tastier, cheaper and just all round better than the cook’s attempt at anything Western.  Don’t shy away from street vendors, especially busy ones or those that cook to order. If you eat western meals, then expect to pay anywhere between $4-20 USD per meal depending on how nice an establishment you go to. The same goes for the beer, the local beer is always the best choice for your taste buds and your wallet. Bottled water is inexpensive and available everywhere. Regardless, you should do your research on the area you’re in, the tap water might be safe to drink.

Rent bicycles to get around town, you will see more and your feet will thank you at the end of the day. Some hostels and guesthouses provide bikes for free to guests, and if yours doesn’t it only costs just around $1 for a day. As mentioned above, be flexible and give yourself plenty of time to allow for the unexpected.  There will delays from sunrise to sunset, strict deadlines are rarely a part of local life there, they shouldn’t be part of yours either.

Expect plenty of communication barriers and misunderstandings no matter where you are and learn how to play charades. English is widely spoken in some of the tourist areas, and not spoken at all in many others.  Knowing a few words of the local language is always a plus, nobody will get offended by your mispronunciation. Most people are more than happy to help if they can, so take the time to get to know the locals wherever you are. I guarantee that some of your most cherished memories will be the interaction you had with the local fisherman, guesthouse owners, taxi drivers or random strangers along the way.

Be respectful wherever you go. Keep your eyes opens to notices regarding removing your shoes, touching people’s heads or pointing your feet at them, covering up in temples, etc.  If you’re not sure, pay attention to what other people are doing.

Hike At Least One Mountain

Home to 10 of the highest mountain peaks in the world, Asia is a popular hiking and climbing destination for good reason. A few stellar suggestions are below:

Mount Kailash Pilgrimage, Tibet

Distance: 32 miles

When to Go: April through September.

Yoshida Trail, Mount Fuji, Japan

Distance: There are several trails to the top of Fuji but the most popular, the Yoshida Trail, covers about eight miles.

When to Go: The official season is July through August.

Great Himalaya Trail, Nepal

Distance: The Nepal section covers over a thousand miles in the high Himalaya, broken down into ten relatively easier-to-manage sections. The trail can be completed in four to six months if all goes according to plan and the weather complies, and it’s been speed hiked in under 50 days.

When to Go: Weather is always iffy in the high Himalaya. April and October are best bet months.

Pack Light and Smart

Temperatures range from steaming hot to freezing cold depending on areas, hence packing may be challenge for many aspiring Asia travelers. Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a backpacker, a wheeled suitcases are a terrible idea when many roads and footpaths are so clogged and potholed and you will be much less mobile with wheels. However, carrying around a 20 kg backpack for hours in scorching heat and humidity is likely to drive you insane. Keep your backpack light by packing essentials only.

Leave your fleece at home. If you do take a trip into cooler mountainous areas, clothes can be bought cheaply, and they make a nice souvenir. The same applies to a sleeping bag. You won’t need one, buy a sarong instead to wrap yourself in. Hotels and backpacker hostels in cooler areas normally supply blankets.

Although it’s always good to be well prepared, keep in mind that almost anything you leave at home can be bought in Asia for a few dollars. Here are a few essentials that you should bring from home:

  • Microfibre towel
  • Flip flops and lightweight hiking/walking (closed) shoes
  • Sunscreen
  • Anti-malarial tablets and DEET-based insect spray
  • Electronics and chargers (keep to an absolute minimum)
  • Quick-drying clothes (including underwear) that can be hand-washed as you travel and dry overnight
  • A wide-brimmed hat should also be considered

Don’t forget to visit your doctor prior to your trip, to inquire about vaccination and anti-malarial gear. For more savvy tips, you could check out this article from a guy who traveled the world in 365 days and shares 20 valuable pieces of advice for like-minded travelers.