Southeast Asia is an irresistibly exotic magnet for backpackers, including women and solo backpackers who are looking to taste all the world has to offer. Explorers will encounter bustling modern cities, breath-taking archaeological sites, unique wildlife, the world’s most beautiful beaches, unforgettable food, and friendly people. From the party line of Bali’s beaches to the remote jungles of Indonesia’s 19,000 islands, adventurous backpackers will make memories to last a lifetime.
There is more to see and touch and taste in Southeast Asia than 1,000 backpackers could experience in 1,000 years. Adventurers say it’s best to keep your itinerary flexible, talk to the locals, and let chance carry you to unplanned destinations. That said, it makes sense to make at least a bare outline before you leave home. Here are 10 must-see destinations for solo backpackers in Southeast Asia.
Most backpackers make their way to Bangkok eventually. It’s worth a visit if only for Khaosan Road, which has been called the most international street in the world. Although it is only 410 meters long, Khaosan road contains an extraordinarily diverse array of dining and lodging options, including some of the most affordable hostels in Thailand. At night you can hear live music, drink with fellow travelers, and snack on local delicacies. Fill your backpack with last-minute purchases at the street stalls, where you can buy clothes, paintings, handicrafts, fake IDs, useful books, and more. Don’t miss the historic Wat Chana Songkram temple, which is just a few blocks away.
Once the capital of Siam, this ancient city is located on an island at the confluence of three rivers. This is a great spot for history buffs, amateur archaeologists, and anyone who wants a glimpse of historic Thailand.
Ho Chi Minh City
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest metropolis. It is very popular with backpackers, not least because of its inexpensive lodgings and restaurants. The Pham Nqu Lao district is a great spot to base your explorations, as you can catch a moto here that will take you anywhere in the city.
Located near one of Vietnam’s finest beaches, Hoi An is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great place to have clothes tailor-made at ridiculously low prices. Colorful silk lanterns light storefronts in this picaresque town, where you’ll dine on scrumptious dishes made from secret family recipes.
Everyone should visit the temples of Angkor Wat, perhaps the most awe-inspiring archaeological site in all of Asia. Visitors to the temples have turned the nearby village of Siem Reap into a tourist town with low-cost lodging and good restaurants. But don’t waste time in the village. You could easily spend weeks exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat, which extend far, far into the surrounding jungle. Absolutely unforgettable.
Koh Rong Island
When you’re ready to leave tourist sites behind and spend some time on the white sands of an untouched tropical beach, Koh Rong is the place to go. Powdery sand, turquoise sea, warm temperatures, coral reefs and jungle backdrop – this spot is as close to paradise as you’ll find anywhere on earth.
You’ll arrive in Sumatra via Medan, the capital city. With Medan as your base of operations you can explore the peaceful shores of Lake Toba (in the bowl of a volcano crater) and the wildlife of Sumatra Island – including orang-utans in the wild. Sumatra is inexpensive and it’s not crowded. It’s the perfect place to hike and explore.
This island is the favorite spot for snorkelers and divers. It’s surrounded by a gorgeous beach and an extensive coral reefs where you can encounter some of the most colorful and exotic sea life in the world. Sulawesi is also the home of the Toraja people, an ethnic group whose unique culture is still observed. If you arrive after the death of a rich or important villager you may be invited to a funeral feast that lasts several days.
Malacca is one of the world’s most renowned backpacking destinations. More than 600 years old, the city invites backpackers to explore. You’ll find friendly people, exotic cuisine, inexpensive drinks, and a laid-back atmosphere. Visit a selection of the city’s many, many museums to learn something of the history and culture of Malaysia.
Malaysia has political jurisdiction over part of the island of Borneo, which is the home to plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. If you’re looking to encounter nature on your hike through Southeast Asia, this is the place. You can take river tours through one of the planet’s oldest rain forests, dive at Pulau Sipadan among sharks and sea turtles, or climb Kota Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. Borneo is one of the last truly wild places on earth, and it is a fitting complement to the cities and towns you’ll visit during your visit to Southeast Asia.