Uitzicht vanuit de Sanafe Lodge om kwart voor acht 's ochtends

Travel South East Asia: what to bring?

For people coming from countries which are not always warm, packing a bag for hot SE Asia is a hassle. What to pack? Or better: what not to pack? Why is there no decent list? Or at least not one which suits my needs? Because I never jotted one down.

My “rule” for packing is to do it in advance and only pack exactly what you think is essential … and then the next day, take half of what you packed out of your bag! After a few times it’s clear: you need hardly anything ‘over there’, unless you go hiking up in the mountains somewhere. And even then…

Always bring:

  • Your Basic Toiletries, depends on who you are, what you do, etc. For me: glasses and contacts. The rest of the stuff you can easily buy anywhere in Asia, like the top brands contact lens fluids. But you’ll need it anyway, so bring: toothpaste, toothpicks, EARPLUGS, nail clipper, paracetamol, aspirin, loperamide (against diarrhoea), THERMOMETER (always nice to know for sure if you have a slightly elevated temperature or a real fever before you go to a doctor)
  • Mosquito repellent (!) and maybe even a mosquito net (for if you’re not in an air-conditioned room: most hostels supply those nets, albeit not always in the best condition)
  • SUNGLASSES (you can by them everywhere, but never when you need them most)
  • Sunscreen (need I say more? SPF 30 or 50, don’t be fooled by a beach parasol: sun reflects of the water and of the sand!)
  • Underwear (5)
  • Socks (1 ‘regular’ and 1 or 2 footies)
  • Flip-flops (I always forget that I honestly hardly ever use shoes in SE Asia)
  • Light sneakers
  • Shorts (2)
  • Zip off pants (1, immediately functions as an extra pair of shorts! But also useful in cold planes or ditto buses)
  • Swim short or swim trunk (1, I prefer swim trunks because they take up less space than swim shorts, but the latter can be used as…  regular shorts)
  • T-shirt (3 or 4, you always think you need more because you think you would change them as much as you would back home when you sweat as much as over there, but that’s probably not gonna happen anyway!)
  • Shirt (1 or replace all your T-shirts by shirts! A regular shirt (with short sleeves, yes, an anti-fashion statement in the West) is much easier to take off or to cool down by just unbuttoning a few buttons)
  • Long sleeve or hoodie (1, not because of the cold, no, much worse: mosquito’s. Also the reason for bringing zip off pants. Hoodie is ideal for the cold buses: a cover for the head and neck)
  • Hat (1, or a baseball cap or a bandana or anything that covers your head against the sun)
  • Pen and paper
  • Small flash-light
  • Sellotape (so handy to seal those small bags of detergent or instant coffee!)
  • Your favourite electronic equipment. Don’t forget the chargers! (phone, tablet, laptop, MP3-player, eReader, you name it)
  • Camera (depends on your need, I travelled using my phone as a camera for years: I take snapshots. Beautiful pictures ‘you could have taken yourself’ are probably already shot by professional photographers)
  • A small umbrella (definitely when it’s monsoon season!)

And yes, even a few things you brought you’ll wear on the plane! Your zip offs, your sneakers, one pair of socks, a T-shirt. This means your luggage became: hand luggage! You’ll be the first out there. Don’t forget: don’t bring knives and stuff when all your luggage is carry on!


As for vaccinations,  you should check with a travel/tropical disease doctor but likely you’ll not need many/anything.  I never used malaria pills and apparently you don’t need them in many places anymore, unless you’re going to very remote jungle areas. More common these days is Dengue. But the general rule is: if mosquitoes bother you, then you should bring a good repellant with you (and those are easy to get over there!). If you sleep in an air-conditioned room mosquito’s won’t bother you, otherwise a mosquito net is a pre.

The Maybe Section

  • Rain cover for your bag. Depends a bit on modes of transportation. Most modern backpacks have one tucked away somewhere.
  • Towel. Most hostels, hotels, inns, etc. supply clean towels. I always bring one, but I really should get one of those ultra thin ultra light ones. Never used my towel.
  • Trekking shoes: if you are really really into heavy trekking. I mean, according to Asians you can do it all on flip flops!
  • Fleece, can be nice in a freezing bus or if you are somewhere in the mountains.
  • Pocket knife or Leatherman, when you use check-in luggage only!
  • Binoculars (I love those things!)
  • Decent clothes, for when you are about to go clubbing or to fancy restaurants in cities, but shorts and a neat shirt are good enough, you’re a tourist. They’ll see!
  • Snorkelling gear. It’s not expensive to rent, but if you go snorkelling ten times, you should consider…

NEVER forget

Easy section:

  • Passport (make sure it’s valid for at least six (6) more months! (and Drivers licence if you want to rent a car or just as backup ID in a different bag!)
  • eBook/book/travel guide
  • Credit/Debit Card (preferably in separate bags)
  • Dollars/Euro’s (for if there is no (functioning) ATM, it happens every now and then!)
  • Sunglasses (extra important if you have prescription sunglasses!)
  • Sunscreen
  • Flashlight
  • Phone

This never forget section is enough to start your holiday. The unfortunate thing is: it will cost you a lot of money for starters as you have to buy everything else over there.

The maybe-get-over-there-list

When I wrote this in 2013, life was different. You would use WiFi! Stuff like that. Now, 10 years later in 2023 I think some one could use some more stuff:

  • Local SIM-card with Internet Bundle, easiest when you have a dual sim phone, if not: you are constantly simswapping, or maybe you have an e-sim, or something else. Otherwise you can sometimes rent a 4/5G access point.

If you think travelling like this is still too heavy, leave a note! Or if you think something of considerable importance is missing…

Downloadable list of items you shouldn't forget.
Downloadable list of items you shouldn’t forget.

Update: 10 March 2023


Krijn Soeteman is a Dutch science and technology journalist. He majored in the history of art and architecture. After his studies he started as a music video producer. This led to producing a Museum Night at the NEMO Science Museum, which eventually led to science journalism. And much more.

1 thought on “Travel South East Asia: what to bring?

  1. You’re missing this one: Point-it.

    Helped us a lot when communicating with Chinese and especially Japanese people (the latter didn’t even understand our gestures). It’s a small and lightweight book. Even if speaking English during your meet is an option, Point-it induces a sense of wonder and enthusiasm with almost anybody, which is a nice way of breaking the ice.

    A must-buy!

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