Southeast Asia, a region celebrated for its lush landscapes, rich cultures, and affordable travel options, has long been a favored destination for backpackers and other types of travellers.
The region is relatively cheap, people are nice and hospitable and it is safe which is the perfect combination for a great travel experience and memories.
The beauty of backpacking in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, lies in its accessibility and diversity, offering a range of activities that don’t break the bank.
From the historical allure of Angkor Wat to the vibrant underwater life, there’s something for every traveler. Lub d will take you to explore the top things to see and do in Southeast Asia, focusing on budget-friendly activities for backpackers.
1. Jungle Trekking
Jungle trekking is a quintessential experience for anyone on an Asia backpacking trip. Southeast Asia’s rainforests are teeming with unique wildlife and flora.
Countries like Vietnam and Thailand offer numerous trekking trails that cater to different fitness levels. Most importantly, these treks can be done inexpensively, with local guides providing affordable tours that include meals and accommodation.
Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia
If you’re aiming to conquer Southeast Asia’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo might be on your list. But, it’s interesting to note that Mount Kinabalu, standing at 4,094 meters, is actually the fifth highest in Southeast Asia, not the first — that title goes to Burma’s Hkakabo Razi at 5,881 meters. Despite this, Kinabalu remains more accessible, with a two-day climb from the nearby town.
In Kota Kinabalu, people of various ages annually ascend the mountain, guided by numerous tour operators. The journey up, passing through clouds and overlooking mystical landscapes, highlights why many cultures revere mountains as divine.
Volcano Trekking in Indonesia
Indonesia offers an unparalleled trekking experience with its numerous active volcanoes, the most in the world. The journey across these volcanic landscapes is nothing short of spectacular.
In East Java, popular hikes to Mount Semeru or Mount Bromo begin in Yogyakarta. Mount Bromo, standing at 2,329 meters and known for its photogenic qualities, is steeped in local beliefs, where offerings are thrown into its crater for good luck. However, due to its activity, a 2-kilometer exclusion zone was established around it in 2011.
Sumatra’s Gunung Sinabung, Mount Singgalang, and Mount Merapi offer early morning treks for breathtaking sunrise views. Bali’s Gunung Batur and Gunung Agung provide easier day treks through unique landscapes, reminiscent of a primordial earth.
Lombok’s Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s fifth-highest peak at 3,762 meters, presents a more challenging two-day trek, offering stunning views of its blue crater lake.
Jungle Trekking & Homestays in Northern Thailand
Northern Thailand, particularly Chiang Mai and Pai, serves as a gateway to jungle treks and cultural experiences with local hill tribes like the Hmong, Karen, Lisu, and Lahu. These tours often include overnight stays in local villages, providing a glimpse into traditional lifestyles.
Chiang Mai, easily accessible from Bangkok, offers trekking combined with activities like rafting.
Pai, a short journey away, is known for its yoga and trekking opportunities, with nearby attractions including hot springs and waterfalls. Don’t miss the Tham Lod Cave, one of Asia’s longest cave systems, reachable through a two-day trek from Pai.
Trekking in Laos and the Philippines
Laos’ Luang Prabang is a laid-back base for treks into the region, including visits to the Kuang Si Waterfall and hill tribe villages. Northwards, the wild landscapes of Luang Nam Tha beckon the more adventurous.
In the Philippines, the ancient rice terraces of Banaue, a 300km journey from Manila, showcase a 2,000-year-old marvel created by the Ifugao tribespeople.
Hiking in Sapa, Vietnam
Sapa, home to Black H’mong and Red Dao communities, offers hikes through misty rice terraces. The local markets and the unique Love Market are must-visits, with the latter known for its ancient matchmaking traditions.
Vietnam’s highest mountain, Fansipan, presents a rigorous two-day hike with rewarding views of the Sapa Valley.
2. Scuba Diving
For those who are passionate about marine life, scuba diving in Southeast Asia is a must. Countries like Indonesia and the Philippines boast some of the world’s most beautiful dive sites at a fraction of the cost you’d expect elsewhere. Witnessing the rich underwater world, with its colorful coral and diverse marine species, is truly unforgettable.
Sipadan, Malaysia’s unique oceanic island, became famous in the 1970s thanks to Jacques Cousteau. It’s known for its deep underwater trenches, over 600 meters, drawing a diverse marine life including turtles, rays, sharks, and barracuda.
Diving here offers a chance to see numerous fish, nudibranchs, and seahorses, typically accessed via liveaboard. The best time to visit is from April to December. Renowned for its beauty, Sipadan ranks among the top 10 global diving destinations in 2024.
Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
Since Myanmar opened to tourism in 1997, its Mergui Archipelago has remained relatively unexplored. This pristine diving spot consists of hundreds of coral reef islands, teeming with lobsters, frogfish, giant moray eels, and schooling fish like tuna and barracuda.
The area is notable for its large gorgonian fans, soft corals, and shark-populated swim-throughs, offering a serene escape. Dive season here runs from October to May.
Similan Islands, Thailand
Beyond the bustling Koh Tao and Phi Phi islands in Thailand lies the serene Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea. Known for calm waters and relaxed diving conditions, the islands feature bommies, mini pinnacles, and a variety of marine life including groupers, turtles, and occasionally whale sharks.
Ideal for beginners or those who enjoy vibrant reef scenes, the Similan Islands are a diver’s paradise. The diving season extends from October to April.
Atauro Island, Timor-Leste
Located near the Coral Triangle and 25km north of Dili airport, Atauro Island in East Timor offers rich, nutrient-filled waters. Its underwater landscape boasts deep walls adorned with gorgonian corals and barrel sponges, attracting whales and dolphins.
Closer to shore, there are shallower reef dives. Clear visibility throughout the year is a result of the island’s dry climate. Notably, a 2012 study ranked Atauro Island’s fish diversity 7th out of 49 in the Coral Triangle.
Despite its growing tourism, East Timor maintains its charm with simple accommodations and unspoiled beaches. The best season to visit is from April to November.
3. Motorcycle Adventure
Exploring Southeast Asia on a motorcycle is an exhilarating and cost-effective way to see the countryside. Countries like Vietnam are famous for their scenic motorbike routes. Renting a bike is relatively cheap, and it offers the freedom to explore remote areas that are often inaccessible by public transport.
4. Learn To Cook
Southeast Asia is renowned for its culinary diversity. Participating in a cooking class is a great way to learn about local cuisine. These classes often include a market tour to purchase fresh ingredients, followed by a session on preparing local dishes. It’s an affordable and enriching experience that also equips you with skills to take home.
5. Chase Waterfalls
Chasing waterfalls is a thrilling and budget-friendly activity in Southeast Asia. Countries like Laos and Malaysia have some of the most beautiful waterfalls that are free to visit. Trekking through the jungle to find these hidden gems is part of the adventure.
Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls, Chiang Mai
Ever wondered about climbing a waterfall? The Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls in Chiang Mai offer just that. Their unique mineral-coated rocks create a ‘sticky’ surface, allowing you to ascend like Spiderman. It’s an extraordinary experience, blending the thrill of climbing with breathtaking natural beauty.
Erawan Falls, Kanchanaburi
Regarded as one of Thailand’s most stunning waterfalls, Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi dazzles with its emerald-green plunge pools and hidden caves. Nestled in the lush Erawan National Park, it’s a perfect spot for a full day of exploration or simply unwinding in the serene pools.
Tibumana Waterfall, Bali
While not Bali’s largest, Tibumana stands out for its tranquility and beauty, making it an ideal day trip from Ubud. At just five meters high, it offers a peaceful retreat, especially in the early morning. Immerse yourself in its bright blue pool and embrace the surrounding natural chorus.
Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang
Kuang Si Waterfall is a renowned gem in Luang Prabang, known for its stunning turquoise waters cascading down into picturesque pools. Despite its popularity, the enchanting beauty makes it worth the visit. Refresh yourself in the mystical waters, explore nearby stalls for snacks, and don’t miss the sun bear sanctuary focused on wildlife conservation.
Kawasan Waterfall, Philippines
Kawasan Waterfall, set on the picturesque Cebu Island, epitomizes the beauty of waterfalls with its emerald waters and stunning backdrop. It’s a photographer’s paradise, offering a blend of natural wonder and scenic tranquility.
6. Go Caving
Southeast Asia’s landscape is dotted with fascinating cave systems. Countries like Vietnam offer world-famous caves that can be explored on a budget. These natural wonders are a testament to the region’s geological diversity.
Caves have always captivated us, from their narrow passages to vast underground chambers, tapping into our primal intrigue. In Southeast Asia, the allure of spelunking is undeniable, offering remarkable natural sanctuaries.
Phong Nha Natural Park, is a spelunker’s paradise, housing over 300 caves. Among them, Son Doong Cave stands out as the world’s largest, with chambers stretching 5 kilometers long, 200 meters high, and 150 meters wide.
While tours to Son Doong can be pricey, the park’s other gems like Phong Nha Cave and Thien Duong or “Paradise” Cave are more accessible, boasting incredible rock formations.
In Ninh Binh, the Tam Coc caves offer a unique experience where small boats glide you through river caves with incredibly low ceilings.
Ha Long Bay, known for its sea-emerged rock formations, also hides spectacular caves like Trinh Nu Cave, Sung Sot Cave, and the remarkable Thien Cung Cave, where colorful lighting transforms the space into a natural art gallery.
Laos, rich in caves, presents various spelunking experiences. Chom Ong Cave, at 16 kilometers, is Laos’ deepest, while the Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang are culturally significant, housing thousands of Buddha statues. Vieng Xai caves in Hua Phan province served as an underground city during the Secret War.
Vang Vieng’s Tham Nam offers a unique wet-season adventure, where you can tube through a river cave. In Khammouane Province, the massive Tham Kang Lor features an emerald pool, and its “little brother,” Tham Pa Seuam, offers a boat journey to its main
Thailand’s best caving is in the north at Lod Cave, perfect for a motorbike trip with its stunning formations, fish, and bats. In the south, Tham Khao Luang offers a spiritual cave-shrine experience, adding to the region’s diverse caving attractions.
7. Island Hopping
Island hopping is synonymous with backpacking in Southeast Asia. With thousands of islands, each with its unique charm, this activity is a budget traveler’s dream. Countries like Indonesia and the Philippines offer inexpensive boat tours, allowing you to explore multiple islands.
Stay In A Coworking-Social Hostel
Make this to your backpacking Asia list as staying in a co-working hostel is an emerging trend among backpackers in Southeast Asia is staying in coworking hostels.
These hostels provide affordable accommodation and a workspace with Wi-Fi, making them ideal for digital nomads or those mixing travel with work.
The Vibrant, Social World of Lub d!
the ultimate destination for modern travelers seeking affordable yet chic accommodations. Strategically located in some of the most exciting cities across Asia, Lub d boasts prime locations in Bangkok, Koh Samui, Phuket, Makati, Siem Reap, and Osaka.
Each Lub d property is uniquely designed to cater to the dynamic needs of today’s travelers, offering a blend of co-working spaces and sociable environments.
Whether you’re a digital nomad in search of a creative co-working hub or a leisure traveler eager to explore the local culture, Lub d provides an ideal base with its budget-friendly, comfortable, and stylish accommodations.
Costs of Backpacking in Southeast Asia
Backpacking Southeast Asia is incredibly cost-effective. Here’s a rough idea of daily budgets:
- $20 – $30 / day: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia
- $25 – $35 / day: Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia
- $30 – $40 / day: Indonesia, Philippines
These estimates cover accommodation, food, local transportation, and entry fees for most attractions. However, prices can vary based on your travel style and preferences.
Backpacking in Southeast Asia is an experience like no other. It’s a region where adventure meets affordability, making it a haven for backpackers.
By engaging in these budget-friendly activities, you immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of cultures, landscapes, and experiences that Southeast Asia has to offer. So pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable journey through one of the most vibrant regions in the world!