This is my ultimate packing list for Southeast Asia, a place known for its humid hot weather and drastic changes from south to north.
I found it both easy and difficult to pack for my trip. South Vietnam and Cambodia are known for their hot climate. It regularly hit 36 degrees. The further I went north, however, the colder the weather got. My weather app could never predict the weather either, it was always changing. It kind of reminded me of the bio-polar weather here in Vancouver. So, to be safe I had to prepare for the worst.
Below I created a list of things I brought for my month stay in South East Asia. In the end, everyone’s packing list will vary and there’s nothing wrong with that. The length of stay and the number of destinations will all determine what kind of things you end up bringing.
Items listed below can be purchased from MEC, REI, Atmosphere, and Valhalla Pure.
- 4 tanks – airy breathable tanks made from polyester, organic cotton or silk are super packable. it’s a bonus if they have UV protection.
- 2 t-shirts
- 1 long sleeve – preferably moisture wicking polyester/merino material. Icebreaker and Smartwool are great brands.
- 1 cardigan – I brought a thin cardigan to cover my arms for the temples I visited.
- 2 bras – I brought two sports bras I could sweat in.
- 1-2 dresses – choose lightweight airy summer dresses. Bring one maxi dress and one sun dress.
- 1 bathing suit
Pro tip: Sometimes planning outfit combinations will help limit the number of clothes you bring. Leave all the “maybes” at home. You will have many opportunities to buy cheap dresses, hippie pants, and tops in SE Asia. Lastly, try to stick to synthetics when you are in need of washing/drying clothes quickly.
- 1 mid-layer – thin fleece hoodie or down jacket for cold nights. Weather in northern Vietnam can drop down to 6 degrees. Down jackets can also fully compress into their own pocket.
- 1 rain jacket – Soft-shell or hard-shell waterproof jacket depending on your preference. Choose one that can pack into its own hood. Click here on how it is done.
- 3 pairs of shorts – one pair of gym shorts for sleeping. one dressy pair of shorts and one technical pair.
- 2 pairs of pants – one quick drying pant and one basic cotton pant. MEC’s amanita pants are my favorite traveling pant.
- 7 pairs of underwear – I did half cotton half quick-drying underwear.
- 1 pair of leggings or long johns – for long days on air-conditioned buses.
- 3 pairs of socks
Pro Tips – Convertible trousers are also a good option if you want to minimize space. Don’t feel pressured to buy them they aren’t for everyone.
Avoid bringing jeans. They take up a lot of room and take forever to dry.
When visiting temples or any religious areas, it is recommended to wear clothing that does not reveal too much skin. For tops, anything that does not show your belly or shoulders. For bottoms, wear anything below the knee.
- 1 pair of hikers
- 1 pair of sandals – KEEN is a great brand. Absolutely the most durable and comfortable sandals ever worn! I brought both my hikers and Keen sandals on my trip to Asia. I’m pretty sure I ended wearing my sandals 90% of the time.
- 1 pair of flip flops – optional, if you want a pair to match with one of your dresses.
Pro Tip: On days you visit the temples, I’d recommend you to wear sandals as you will be asked to take off shoes before entering.
- 2 hats – one baseball dry-wicking hat and one bucket hat.
- 1 pair of sunglasses
- Sarong – get one while you are there. It’s great to use as a skirt over your bathing suit or to cover yourself on cooler nights.
Pack travel-sized toiletries. Leave the full-sized toothpaste at home because you’ll have plenty of opportunities to find toiletries in Asia. Some Hostels may even supply shampoo and body wash.
- Toothbrush and toothbrush holder
- 1 Toothpaste
- Shampoo, soap, conditioner
- Hair brush/hair ties/hair pins
- Hand sanitizer/wet wipes
- Lip balm
- Tissues – most restrooms in Asia will not carry toilet paper.
- Nail clipper
- Makeup – take it at your own discretion. Remember, the weather is humid down the South. Mascara and eyeliner are most likely to rub off than to stay on.
- 2 pairs of ear plugs
- Sleeping aid
- Tampons – surprisingly hard to find there.
- Diva cup – great investment for your monthly gift. Super convenient to bring as it doesn’t take up space. Huge bonus: it’s reusable.
- Sanitary napkins
- Small first aid kit – make sure it includes band-aids, antiseptic wipes, gauze pads, etc. Brook, from herpackinglist.com, has a great article on essential items to have in your own first aid kit.
- Moleskin – for blisters
- Bug repellent– make sure it has 30% DEET. An alternative is 20% Picaridin. I brought one of each.
- Aloe Vera cream – to sooth sunburns and bug bites.
- Sunscreen – I brought Aloe Up Pro SPF30 lotion
- Pepto-Bismol – for upset stomach and diarrhea relief. I brought a bottle of 30 tablets.
- Purification tablets – It’s good to bring some in case.
- Rehydration salts
Pro tip: Consult with your travel clinic about any vaccinations/ anti-malaria pills you need to take. They will provide all the necessary information based on where you plan to go and how long you plan to stay.
- Travel adapters
- Electronic chargers
- Portable charger
- SD Cards
- Go Pro
- Camera – Bring the camera you’re most comfortable with. If you plan to bring a pro camera, take extra care, and keep it on hand at all times or have it locked back at the hostel. I really wanted to bring my Nikon D7000, but I was afraid of getting it stolen. I brought my Olympus Tough Digital camera instead.
- Music player
- Headlamp – can come in handy when in rural areas or exploring caves.
- Laptop – It’s up to you whether you decide to bring it or not. Having a laptop is great for uploading pictures, updating your blog, or watching movies. I didn’t bring mine because A) I wasn’t staying there for over a month B) my laptop is too bulky.
Pro tip: There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to bringing a phone. Data costs and roaming charges can be expensive overseas, so do plenty of research before considering it. I was able to get away with having my phone on airplane mode the entire trip and contact friends and family via Whatsapp and Facebook.
- Backpack – you need something to put everything in, right? A backpack between 40-55L is ideal. Anything above is too bulky and not worth dragging around, trust me. Try to save at least 30% extra space for any souvenirs you plan to return with. Your backpack is probably one of the most important things worth investing in. After all, you will be living out of a bag, so make it worthwhile to get the right backpack fitted for you. I got mine from MEC.
- Packing cubes – Packing cubes are the answer to keeping yourself organized. I never leave without them. They weigh nothing and can surprisingly fit a lot. I brought five cubes for my trip to SEA. I used the larger cubes for storing tops and bottoms. Underwear, accessories, and toiletries were organized in smaller cubes.
Pro tip: You can also use zip lock bags and label each one with a marker. Although they aren’t as durable, they still do the job. Bonus: Insert a straw into a small opening of the plastic bag and suck in all the air. This will compress your clothing together.
- Micro Fibre towel – another great investment. Many places won’t supply towels. My Packtowel is ultra lightweight and dries fast. I also brought a face-sized pack towel.
- Water bottle – bring a 750ML to 1L water bottle.
- Pad Locks – small locks with keys for locking your day pack. TSA approved locks for locking your backpack for flights and hostel dorms.
- Ear plugs
- Passport sized photos – for visas