Southeast Asia is the first place that I went as a solo female traveler. I didn’t know a soul on the other side of the world and I had absolutely no plans, and nothing accompanying me apart from my carry-on backpack.
Though I didn’t know it in my planning stages, it turned out that I couldn’t have picked a more perfect place to backpack alone for the first time.
Not only did its natural beauty stun and amaze me, but I came to find that I never had to be alone there, which was my chief concern. Additionally, it is such high value for the money, it’s safer than other parts of the world, the beaches are amazing, it’s warm year-round, and there is so much to do. Each country has its own unique culture, food, and landscape. I also loved that I could generally plan everything last minute or spur-of-the-moment, basing my decisions on who I met and wherever the wind took me.
If you are a woman who travels alone, consider going to Southeast Asia. This guide will help you make the most of your trip there:
The Best Spots in Southeast Asia for Solo Female Travelers:
Though most of Southeast Asia is great for women traveling alone, these spots in particular stood out to me for their welcoming vibes, the cool and laid back travelers they attracted, the feeling of safety, and the gorgeous scenery. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start:
Luang Prabang, Laos
This beloved city in Laos’ north is picturesque and full of things to do. The French colonial architecture, the waterfalls outside the city, the sunset cruises on the mighty Mekong River, the bowling alley that somehow stays open far after Laos’ curfew, and the night market all combine to make this one of the best spots in Laos and all of Southeast Asia for solo travelers.
Though the whole of Laos is fantastic, Luang Prabang in particular impressed me with its beauty and wealth of activities.
One thing that makes me love Pai so much is how many interesting, spiritual, and fun-loving people I meet there. Jack Kerouac might call them Dharma Bums.
It’s hard not to love a place where local kids are jumping into the waterfalls right after you, where a land split makes way for hibiscus jam and juice, where each adventure is just a motorbike ride away, and the local beauty is still wild yet accessible. There’s reason why I have been back twice – it’s just a nice place to be.
Otres Beach, Cambodia
Otres was the first beach area I visited in Southeast Asia and my, what a high bar it set! It was so laid back, with calm, crystal clear, bath-temperature water. The best part was that at night, I could swim in the water, confident that there was nothing scary in it, and watch as blue bioluminescence followed my fingers and hair. It was magical.
Otres is much less rowdy than its neighbor, Serendipity Beach. It also tends to cater to far fewer travelers, so the chances of seeing familiar faces day after day is higher there. You can get there by taking a bus to Sihanoukville and then a tuk tuk to Otres.
Gili Air or Gili Trawangan
I’ve logged some time on both islands, a speed boat away from Bali. Gili Trawangan (‘T’ for short), has become more and more of a party island over the last few years, while Gili Air has awoken from its quiet slumber and risen to the occasion as well, but to a much lesser degree.
Both islands are gorgeous, known for their fantastic diving and snorkeling spots, are affordable, and have a laid back vibe that I love. If you don’t have time for both, read my comparison of the two here.
Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand
Though Lonely Beach on Koh Chang, Thailand’s second-largest island, isn’t so lonely anymore, it’s still a far cry from the crowds you’ll find on Koh Phi Phi or Koh Samui. It’s another diving hub with just one main strip of open-air bars and restaurants along a dirt road. It’s easy to meet people there and it’s also one of the cheapest islands. Here’s a guide with more info.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, sitting on the beach, famous for its delicious food, where you can get custom clothes and shoes made for cheap. Need I say more? Read the guide here.
Boracay is one of few touristy places that I actually love. I spent New Year’s there a few years ago and despite the crowds, these beaches are gorgeous, the locals and the tourists are both fun to hang with, there is so much to do, and there’s even a mermaid school! Read more about the Philippines here.
What to Pack
Southeast Asia is hot and humid pretty much everywhere you go. So things like jeans don’t make a lot of sense. It is also more on the modest side, so bringing lightweight clothing that covers your shoulders and upper legs is also a good idea, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia.
I tend to like leaving some room in my backpack for purchases in Southeast Asia. If you want some of the funky tank tops and harem pants, they are much cheaper if you wait until you get there and haggle at the night markets. Here’s what I bring:
- 4-6 light tops
- 2 pairs harem pants
- 1-2 lightweight dresses or skirts
- 1 pair of lightweight trekking pants (if entering the jungle)
- 2 pairs of shorts, both for exercise and fashion (not denim – it sucks in humidity)
- 1 pair flip flops or sandals
- 1 very lightweight jacket
- 1 pair running shoes
- 2-3 pairs of ankle socks
- Hat to shade from the sun
- 1 sarong to cover up if needed and for the beach
- 2-3 swim suits
- Enough undies for at least a week
- Cute sunglasses
How to Meet Others
One of the reasons why I think Southeast Asia is so fantastic for beginner solo travelers is because it is so easy to meet other people. It is as simple as picking a hostel on Hostelworld that you like the description of, and sitting in the common room. You almost have to work hard not to meet other people.
Even if hostels aren’t your thing, I have also met other people on buses, boats, in restaurants, bars, and on diving trips. I generally find that travelers are friendly people and since Southeast Asia has a well-trodden backpacker trail, you can pretty much count on meeting others, even if you’re the shy type.
How to Stay Safe
Another reason why I love Southeast Asia for solo female travelers is the safety. Though some of the countries do have a bit of political unrest from time to time, it hardly ever affects tourist safety. For example, I was in Thailand a few years ago during the coup d’état and other than a curfew, it was not all-out mayhem like I would have pictured a coup to be.
Your biggest concerns will be bag snatching thieves. They run rampant in the big cities in Vietnam and Cambodia. Usually they target people who have straps that look easy to cut. I have a listing here of bags that are harder to slash and go across the body. It’s also advisable to keep your phone and other valuables hidden until you are in a place where you can safely check them. You can also turn your back towards the buildings and face the street if you absolutely must check your phone, as it makes it harder for thieves on motorbikes, which is their usual method, to drive up behind you snatch your phone without you seeing them coming.
The other thing is poisoned alcohol. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s usually all over the news. To avoid this, I would suggest buying beer which is opened right in front of you and is much harder to tamper with. Alcohol also presents a big problem if you drink too much of it, regardless of whether you are at home or abroad. Take it easy, and if you know that you have a problem with limiting your consumption, consider abstaining.
How to Make the Most of it
Once you arrive in Southeast Asia, it will be easy to see why so many people love going there and spend years traveling around the region. If you can stand it, try to leave your trip as open ended and unplanned as possible. Major holidays are a time when you do have to book ahead, but otherwise Southeast Asia is the perfect place to coast without any hard plans.
I go into a lot more detail about how to travel alone for the first time in my book, Conquering Mountains: How to Solo Travel the World Fearlessly. You can also find more resources on my solo female travel page.
I came to find that Southeast Asia is ideal for solo female travelers, or really any kind of traveler at all. It is a fantastic part of the world, welcoming, warm, and easy. I also found it to be incredibly social, beautiful, easy on the budget, and full of friendly people. It groomed me for adventures all over the world, and I will always feel at home there.
So if you get a chance, go there on your own, it’s a fantastic life experience.