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It can be hard to decide what to pack when you’re visiting a new country, and quite often that translates into literally everything, or practically nothing. We’ve rounded up a few packing tips for Southeast Asia so that you don’t forget anything vital, can tackle the unique climate, and look good doing it. You’ll soon be swanning around Southeast Asia like a local, haggling for new clothes and covering yourself in Tiger Balm from head to toe.
What to pack:
Light, loose cotton clothing is what you want to get you through the hot, humid climates of Southeast Asia. It is best to bring things that you don’t mind getting lost or dirty, rather than a prized array of fabulous beach outfits. Many cultures in Southeast Asia are very conservative so, as Brooke Schoenman from female travel gear site Her Packing List notes, “make sure you have clothing that isn’t too revealing and will work when visiting temples and other religious sites. A good rule of thumb is to cover the shoulders and down to the knees, avoid low-cut tops, and pack a scarf for just these occasions. Sun protective clothing will be helpful, but also consider the humidity factor and go for looser garments if possible.”
It can be a good idea to buy some clothes as you travel, beautiful items can be purchased for just a few dollars at the markets, or you can even have something made to measure. Not only will these give you a lovely holiday memento, but they are also designed for the climate.
A scarf, sarong or bandana is a really handy thing to have with you in Southeast Asia. They can be used to protect you from the sun, dry you after an impromptu swim, cover you at a temple, or be dipped in water and worn around your neck to keep you cool. The sun is very powerful and the climate can feel unbearably warm for the first few days, so it is good to be prepared.
Whilst the climate in Southeast Asia tends to be warm and hot all year, it is also very wet and can experience a lot of rainfall. If you are planning to bring a waterproof, make sure that it is very light and the right material for the climate. If you aren’t planning on doing any strenuous activity it can be good to pack an umbrella instead, allowing you to keep dry and cool at the same time!
If you are planning to do a lot of trekking, a pair of lightweight training shoes can be a good idea for comfort and breathability. For other activities, however, a pair of comfortable, sturdy sandals are a better option. Wearing your shoes inside is considered rude in Southeast Asia and you’ll often be asked to remove them before entering a building, so it’s best to pick a pair that can be easily removed.
Sunscreen can be expensive in Southeast Asia since the locals don’t use it, and it becomes pricier the closer to the beach you get. It is best to bring sunscreen with you from home, but make sure it is a suitable SPF because the sun is really strong in this part of the world. If you’re flying, don’t forget to check the volume of liquids you are allowed in your luggage.
One for the ladies, sanitary products are not widely available in Southeast Asia and tampons, especially, can be hard to find. A brilliant solution to this problem is to pack a menstrual cup (Diva, Lunette etc.), once the preserve of the hippy community, these amazing products are moving into the mainstream for good reason. They are reusable, so you don’t need to worry about packing any other products, and can be easily wiped or rinsed with water between uses. Plus, they are much better for the environment, what’s not to love?
What NOT to pack:
Toiletries from recognisable brands can be found in Southeast Asia, so it can be a good idea to save that space in your luggage for something else. If you do want to bring your own, a multipurpose soap can be a good idea, if only to save room on packing.
Tiger Balm is incredibly useful, but don’t splash out on it in a specialist shop before you set off. It can be purchased for as little as one dollar in Southeast Asia and is readily available almost everywhere. If anything, stock up before you go home!
As mentioned above, Southeast Asia is extremely hot and humid, possibly the worst conditions to wear make-up. Thicker products will simply slide off your face, so if you can’t face leaving your entire beauty regime at home it might be best to just pack a light tinted moisturiser.
Jeans: just don’t. It’s hot, it’s humid, they’ll chafe, they take hours to dry. Should I go on? Leave the denim at home and invest in an amazing pair of printed trousers from a market when you get there.
Do you want to make sure you don’t miss anything? Our friends at Coworker put together the Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist for you become an expert at packing. Also, if you want to get to know the region a bit better, check out Cruise1st’s in-depth guide to Southeast Asia!