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Backpackers Ask: Is It Safe To Travel To Southeast Asia?

From the hustle and bustle of the legendary Koh Phangan Full Moon Party, to canyoning in Da Lat and cliff jumping in Bali, it’s no surprise Southeast Asia is a popular backpacker destination – attracting millions of visitors every year. But with horror stories posted online of injuries and scams, you may be asking yourself: Is it safe to travel to Southeast Asia? Read our handy guide of do’s and dont’s so you can make the most of exploring this amazing corner of the world!

DON’T try to cut costs

When you’re having the time of your life travelling, it can be tempting to prolong your trip as long as possible by stretching your dollar and spending as little as possible. But sometimes it’s worth shelling out a little extra dough. A lot of people who end up injured in Southeast Asia go on tours whose focus is less on safety and more on profit. Some providers aren’t as safe as your home country would be, so when you’re planning adventurous excursions, go by the company’s reputation and not on the price! Read reviews, ask friends and other travellers about their experiences. Better safe than sorry!

DO study up on culture

If you want to fully immerse yourself in a new culture, Southeast Asia is the place to go – it’s a cultural hub with incredible food, people, and traditions! It’s also known for its laid-back party environment, but its still important to be aware that you’re in a different country and it’s important to stay safe. Do some research on the area – common scams, areas to avoid, etc. – and you’ll seem like a local!

DO book a tour

It can be daunting to travel alone, especially in a foreign country. Planning your own solo travel around Southeast Asia is possible, but not as safe – or as fun – as going with a group! Booking a tour gives you access to regional knowledge and added safety. Not to mention, tour companies take care of everything so you can enjoy stress-free planning and focus on the fun!

At Ultimate, we handpick each adventure and accommodation, with your safety as priority! All of our Ultimate guides are fully licensed and first aid certified. And, as an added bonus: our guides are locals! They have loads of knowledge on the area, and know all the fun places to visit, swim, eat, etc! You’re in good hands! Our Ultimate Bali, Ultimate Thailand, and Ultimate Vietnam tours are a perfect way to kickstart your adventure around Southeast Asia in the safest way possible! 

Is it safe to travel to Southeast Asia?

DO go easy on the booze

You’re on holiday – obviously you want to celebrate! But don’t forget you’re in a different part of the world. Have fun, but don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home. You’re here for a good time, but you want to remember it so go easy on the drinking! Some friendly advice: sharing is caring! Yes those buckets full of booze you’ll pick up at the Full Moon Party in Thailand are delicious, but they’re pretty strong! And if the alcohol doesn’t kick you over the edge, then the “Thai Red Bull” (with 3 x the potency of red bull as we know it!) will! Be a good sport and split one with a mate.

Is it safe to travel to Southeast Asia?

DO stay with your group

A helpful hint: there’s power in numbers! Accidents happen when people decide to wander off on their own, hop fences, and go to restricted areas. Our advice: don’t wander off the beaten path and stay with your travel mates.  If you booked on Ultimate Thailand, our tour guide will take you to the Full Moon Party and tell you all the best places to go! You’ll also be with all your new travel mates, so you’ll want to party with them anyway. Want to prep for your Full Moon experience? Check out our blog on with the ultimate Full Moon Party survival guide

It's safe to travel in Southeast Asia if you stay with your group!

DON’T eat that

We’re all about trying new food, and Southeast Asia you’ll eat some of the best food of your life. But no one wants to get sick on a trip! Avoid “Bali belly” by sticking to bottled water and avoiding food from outdoor markets. Or, listen to your guide’s advice on what market food is okay to try – like scorpions! Would you dare?

Is it safe to travel to Southeast Asia?

DO trust your gut

The same gut that avoided “Bali belly”! Travelling is the best thing you can do so we hope you’re never in a situation when you feel uneasy while travelling. But just remember, you’re smarter than you think! If something seems sketchy, or makes you uneasy – go with your gut and don’t do it. (The reverse works too – trust your gut on trying crazy new adventures for the best experience!!)

DO have a great time

You’re on the adventure of a lifetime – make the most of it! Try new food, go on crazy adventures, party until the sun comes up! At Ultimate – it’s our mission to make sure you’re having an amazing time! Our guides will ensure you’re safe, and take any precautions necessary so you can focus on the fun!

Is it safe to travel to Southeast Asia?

So…the answer is YES!

Southeast Asia is safe to travel to – just travel smart! Ultimate’s here to ensure your safety and an unforgettable experience! Just follow our guide and get ready for the time of your life!

Want to travel to Southeast Asia? Check out our incredible Bali, Thailand, and Vietnam tours! If you have any more questions about travelling in SE Asia, register your interest and someone from our lovely crew will get in touch!

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Thousands of backpackers head to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia, every year.

In my opinion, Southeast Asia is one of the most exciting, interesting and beautiful places in the world and if it isn’t on your bucket list, it should be! I’ll never get bored of island hopping my way around Thailand, eating amazing street food in Vietnam and partying on the beaches in Cambodia! But how can you make sure you make the most of your time when you’re there?

Here are a few common mistakes made by backpackers (including myself) travelling to Southeast Asia and tips on how to avoid making the same ones!

1. Packing Too Much!

Every time I travel to Southeast Asia I commit the ultimate backpacking sin: packing too much. I overload my backpack and end up spending weeks carting around a massive heavy backpack full of things I don’t need. For some reason I always seem to forget that I’ll be spending the majority of my time in a bikini and shorts, occasionally throwing on a T-shirt and some flip-flops if I feel like it! One of the many beauties of travelling to Southeast Asia is that you can pick up almost anything you want in markets, and it’s usually a lot cheaper! Leave room in your bag for all the bits you’ll pick up along the way and leave your shoe collection at home! There’s something so refreshing about not taking much with you when you’re travelling. Less belongings = less to worry about. You’ll be less concerned about your belongings being stolen and you won’t break your back carrying things around. So girls, leave your hairdryer & makeup at home and embrace salty sea hair and a bare (bronzed) face instead!

2. Going It Alone!

When it comes to travelling to Southeast Asia, especially if it’s your first time, tours are the way to go. You’ll meet other likeminded backpackers, have the ‘safety net’ of an experienced tour leader with you and you’ll be taken to places you might have missed travelling solo, not to mention it’s a much safer way to travel around whilst you’re getting used to being in a new place. A mistake some backpackers make is landing in Southeast Asia for the first time, experiencing a bit of culture shock, not knowing where to go or what to do and not being able to relax and fully enjoy the experience. Having a plan and people to meet when you first arrive is a great way to get started! If you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia, get involved in Ultimate Thailand or Ultimate Vietnam!

Group tours in Southeast Asia

3. Overplanning

Whilst tours are an amazing way to have fun and explore in the safety of a group, once you’ve got your bearings and if you want to travel on by yourself it’s important to plan just the right amount of travelling. One of the best parts of travelling for me is the freedom to go where you want, when you want. Speak to locals and other backpackers for recommendations but don’t get too bogged down in the planning side of things. If you stay smart (carry just enough cash with you if you know there are no ATM’s in the area and keep your passport safe) the rest will fall into place – it’s all part of the experience! Hop on a boat, head over to that paradise island and see what you find there! Whilst it’s good knowing what you can do in the area so you don’t miss out, planning where you’ll stay and exactly what you want to do at your next destination can take the adventure out of your trip. Be spontaneous and go with the flow – you never know where it might take you!

Island hopping in Southeast Asia

4. Taking It For Granted

One of the biggest mistakes you can make travelling through Southeast Asia is forgetting that you’re in Southeast Asia! It can be tempting to book into a nice air conditioned room for the night, making sure you have constant access to wifi, ordering pizza for dinner and spending your time with other westerners but you’ll miss out on the most important part: actually experiencing the country you’re in. Turn off your phone, eat the local food, try the local delicacies, drink beer on a stool in the street, sleep on a hammock on the beach, use the local transport, chat to and visit the places recommended to you by the locals and embrace the culture. Looking back, you’ll regret that time you spent scrolling through Facebook in the comfort of your air conditioned room when you could have been exploring – make your time count!

Scorpion is a delicacy in Thailand

5. Spending Time Worrying

Horror stories of theft, scams and tummy bugs in Southeast Asia are all too common but with a big tourism industry and friendly locals SE Asia isn’t actually as scary as you might have heard! One of the worst things you can do is ruin your trip by worrying too much! Yes, you might get a tummy bug along the way after eating some dodgy street food, yes your bag might get stolen and yes, you’ll probably be ripped off a few $ along the way but spending your time expecting something bad to happen won’t change that. Instead of worrying read up on some travel tips before you go, ask other backpackers for food recommendations and keep an emergency stash of cash hidden somewhere safe.

Tuk-Tuk- in SE Asia

6. Trying To Do Too Much!

With so much to explore in Southeast Asia, it’s easy to try and fit too much in to your time but in doing so, you won’t be making the most of your trip. Travelling isn’t about ticking a thousand things off your bucket list and fitting in all of the ‘top tourist attractions’ just to get a good photo for Instagram. It’s about experiencing the country you’re in and taking your time to appreciate where you are and who you’re with. Some of the best travel memories I have are from the times I decided to spend longer in one place, getting to know the area and the people I was with, even if that meant missing out on my next stop. Create a list with the places you’ve always dreamed of going to and make a realistic plan so that you can take your time and experience those places properly. Where can you visit with the time and money you have? And if you don’t get to do everything you wanted in one go, you’ll have another excuse to go travelling again..as if you needed one! 😉

Want to travel but not really sure where to start? Get in touch! The Ultimate team have all been there and we’re happy to help! Check out our tours in Australia, Thailand and Vietnam.

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First stop in Southeast Asia: Hanoi, Vietnam. Population: 7 million. Motorbikes: 1.5 million. Girl from Albuquerque, New Mexico: 1. My first time to Southeast Asia, I couldn’t have chosen a better country to begin my journey. Vietnam is beautiful, historic and eye-opening. Tropical paradise, mountainous terrain, eat and drink like a king, buzzing night life, the list goes on and on! Here’s why I love Vietnam..

Halong Bay

Vietnam’s hidden wonder and absolute paradise. This World Heritage site is a must-see on every backpackers’ list. It’s a personal fave! Begin your trip on an authentic Vietnamese “junk boat” (nothing junk about it!) exploring the turquiose waters and viewing the never ending rock formations. Here you can kayak, rock climb, cliff jump, perfect for the adventure seeker. After one night spent on the boat, you arrive to your very own private island. Yes. That’s right, a private island for just you and your friends! Where else can you say you did that?! Play beach volleyball, drink cheap beer, watch the sun go down and karaoke the night away.

Explore Sapa

Want to see the real Vietnam? Venture to Sapa and hike through the endless rice fields. Meet our guide, Vu and her daughter Sho Sho, the giggliest child of them all. We spent two days exploring Sapa by foot and it wouldn’t have been the same without these two. Sapa is truly majestic. The people are colourful in both their attire and spirit, the views are breathtaking and it’s off the beaten path!

Same Same But Different

Anyone who has travelled Southeast Asia knows this common saying. If so – you probably still use the saying today. You may even own a vest with the same writing! Often used when purchasing, this phrase with no doubt will bring you confusion, understanding and most often laughter.
Example: “Are these real Ray Bans? Is this chicken? Is this the correct bus?”… “Same same but different.” All different questions, very same answer. Sometimes a good response, other times not so much.
Regardless, hearing this phrase post your travels will always remind you of your times spent in SE Asia and will most likely bring a smile to your face.

Same same but different!

Hoi An

My favourite place in all of Vietnam! Beach. Culture. Shopping. Food. You name it, this place has it! Ride a bicycle to the beach to watch the sunrise, get tailor-made clothing, see the beautiful lanterns at dark, join a cooking class and party the night away.

Hoi An lanterns

The Food

Some people take photos of the scenery. Others take photos of people or their adventures. My best friend/ co-traveller takes photos of me eating… So the secret is out, I like to eat. In fact “like” is a large understatement. If you’re a foodie like me, you will love Vietnam! A must-eat, the BBQ in Hanoi – we ate here not once, not twice but three times in one day. Also on the list: pho (noodle soup), banh mi (baguette) and fresh spring rolls!

The food in Vietnam - Another reason why I love Vietnam

Ride Like A Local

As the highest motorbike per capita country in the world, what better way to explore a new city than on your own set of wheels? But fair warning: if you’re brave enough to get on the back of a motorbike, let alone drive one yourself – I suggest you invest in some good travellers insurance. Nothing’s worse than letting a small accident spoil your trip. So if you have the guts, hop on board. Otherwise, master the art of crossing street traffic, a challenge in itself!

Riding mopeds in Vietnam is the norm!

Cheap Beer

A true necessity when travelling. Everyone enjoys a good party, but often the cost of drinking can add up. But when a large beer only costs you 50 cents, the round’s on me! Saigon, Tiger, 333 – all common labels. Try them each and see what tickles your fancy. Personal tip: Pull up a baby stool outside a restaurant, purchase a beverage, pair with sunflower seeds and mingle with new friends.

Grab a stool and drink in the street!

Never a Dull Moment

Just an average Wednesday morning. Meet Susie – my new best friend. Deathly afraid of snakes, this is not my ideal moment, but travelling pushes you to step outside your comfort zone. Hold a python, eat a scorpion, feed a crazy monkey – all part of the Southeast Asia fun!

Meet the locals in Vietnam!

Beach Bum in Nha Trang

Want to enjoy the sun and get your tan on? Visit the seaside town of Nha Trang. Known for its blue waters and Russian influence – this town has everything to offer. Partake in one of its numerous water sports such as kite surfing or snorkelling followed by a wild night out on the town. Personal recommendation: Why Not Bar, because why not?!

Nha Trang has got some great snorkel spots.

History

You can’t travel to Vietnam and not learn about the country’s history – it’s inevitable. But that’s what travelling is all about, learning about other cultures and what has happened in the past to shape a country. Travel to Ho Chi Minh and visit the Cu Chi tunnels to learn more about the war. I promise you’ll learn more here than you ever did from a textbook!

Learning about Vietnam's history is great!

Travel the Long Way

Travelling onward? How about to Laos or Cambodia? Don’t take the boring route! We did a 3 day journey from Ho Chi Minh to Cambodia via the Mekong Delta and it couldn’t have been better. Explore the canals, shop the floating markets and see more of Southeast Asia along the way.

Travelling along the Mekong delta was incredible.

Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out our 13 day Ultimate Vietnam tour and get in touch for info and advice!

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Why I love Vietnam

Travel changes you: fact. Wherever you travel, however long you travel for, be prepared to learn a few things about yourself along the way!

Here are a few ways I’ve found travelling has changed me:

It’s hard to settle in one place.

Once you’ve caught the travel bug, it’s pretty hard to shake! Settling back into a ‘normal’ routine at home after spending a few months or a year experiencing everything travelling has to offer is really hard! Travelling is fun and there are always new experiences just waiting to be had. Sure if you’ve travelled for longer than a few months, chances are you’ve had to snap back to reality for a little while to find a job and maybe rent a flat but with that next exciting adventure just around the corner, there isn’t enough time to settle in one place for long enough to get into a routine. Going from the buzz and excitement of travelling to getting a job at home, living and spending your time waiting for the weekend can be tough. Travelling made me realize how small the world is and how easy it is to travel to new countries which makes it so tempting to pack your bags and set off on the next adventure!

My advice to beat the bug? Plan the next trip if you can- having something to work towards and look forward to will make life more exciting! If you can’t do that, try to meet up with fellow travellers- sharing your memories and travel stories will make you feel like you still are and you’re not alone!

Believe in yourself

Working in the travel industry and having travelled myself it’s safe to say I love to travel! Saying that, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Sometimes travelling gives you lemons and (when there’s no tequila and salt around) you have to learn to deal with situations that you wouldn’t normally have to. The best thing I’ve taken from travelling is the ability to believe in my own strength and trust my instincts. I’ve learnt that I can deal with anything that comes my way and if I’m stuck in a sticky situation, I’ll find a way out. My mantra after travelling? “I’ll handle it!”

Adopt a ‘no worries’ attitude

This is one thing I definitely noticed after spending a year travelling around SE Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Life really is too short to sweat the small stuff! Yes you may have missed the last night bus to the islands and be stranded in a tiny Thai town but who cares?! You get an extra day to explore the area, eat Thai food, chill in the sun and chat to the locals! Don’t get me wrong- at the time, it seems like the worst thing in the world when you’re carrying a heavy backpack in the 30 degree heat however once you’ve accepted that these things happen (and in the grand scheme of things really aren’t that big a deal) you can say ‘no worries!’ and enjoy the ride! The little bumps you’ll encounter along the way are some of the most memorable travel experiences anyway!

Making new friends

One of the best things about travelling is how easy (and normal) it is to chat strangers and make new friends, especially if you’re travelling alone. Most people are in the same boat and will welcome a chat with a stranger! After a few months I noticed I was more confident chatting to people and more sociable. Be prepared to have a long list of new friends you can crash with in countries all over the world!

Be more open minded

When travelling, not only will you meet people who have different values and opinions to you but you’ll also be stuck in situations where you’ll be forced to keep an open mind and try out things you wouldn’t usually do. You never know where the day will take you when you’re travelling! I remember my first week in Asia, travelling to a remote island in Malaysia. We hadn’t booked accommodation on the island and when we arrived we found out that everywhere was fully booked! We ended up buying a couple of hammocks and setting up camp on the beach to sleep for the night. As a travelling virgin and being terrified of insects it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind but looking back it’s those experiences that stick with you!

Become less materialistic

I love my comforts and always will but after a year of travelling I realised that there is so much more to life and happiness than buying new things… at least not when there’s travelling to be done, new places to experience and people to meet! The experience of chilling on the beach with new friends means so much more than what you’re wearing at the time or which latest bit of technology you have! Of course, you need to buy the basics but as long as you have enough money to buy some street food, a couple of beers, a roof over your head for the night and a way to actually travel, that’s all you’ll need!

If you’re thinking of travelling, my advice is to just go for it! You never know where it will take you or what you’ll experience along the way. Whilst it’s good to have a rough plan, you can’t plan for everything in travel so just throw yourself in at the deep end and book a flight! If you need help planning any of your trip or want any advice at all, just contact us! We’re happy to help!

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