Backpackers who have to travel for days in the wild need appropriate clothing. Although light and comfortable clothes work well for most places, there are some special considerations for Southeast Asia where weather is consistently warm in most parts of the region.
The type of clothing you need to pick depends on the season and while weather in most SEA countries is pretty predictable, you need to be prepared for sudden weather changes. Let’s have a look at weather patterns of the region to better understand the type of clothes backpackers should carry with them.
The Climate of Most Popular Southeast Asian Tourist Destinations
Most southeast Asian countries experience two main seasons i.e. wet and dry. With an exception of high-altitude regions, most of the region stays consistently warm throughout the year. Popular destinations remain crowded with tourists and backpackers from around the world in the dry season.
The rainy, wet or monsoon season is more like a mixed blessing. Although most people avoid trekking and hiking during the wet season due to rain and mud, that’s also the time you’ll encounter fewer visitors and experience nature at its best.
Thailand is one of the most popular SEA countries for backpacking and tourism. The wet or monsoon season starts in June and lasts until October with September being the wettest month. However, sometimes the rain can start earlier and linger longer than usual. Thailand’s north (e.g. Pai, Chiang Mai) stays cooler and cloudier than the southern region, while rains begin in April in the Andaman side (e.g. Phuket and Koh Lanta).
Despite being farther east than the rest of SEA, the weather patterns in Philippines are similar to Thailand. The rainy season starts from June and lasts until September. Typhoons are common between May and October, while massive cyclones can wreak havoc in August. January to March is considered the best time to visit many popular tourist destinations in Philippines such as Boracay.
Indonesia is a great place to visit during the wet season in Thailand. That’s because the wet/dry seasons in Indonesia are almost opposite to that in Thailand. The country experiences coolest and driest weather from June to September, while it rains between November and April.
The weather in Vietnam remains fairly consistent throughout the year, but differs significantly between the southern and northern parts (due to country’s elongated shape). Northern regions are hot/humid in summers and cool/wet in winters, while southern regions receive rain from May to October and remain dry from November to April.
Weather remains fairly consistent throughout the year in Singapore where showers come as a blessing to cool the scorching afternoons down. Such weather is perfect to enjoy several places to visit in Singapore. The country does experience some consistent rain from November to January, but it’s nothing like the monsoon rains in other SEA countries like Thailand and the Philippines.
The northern parts of the country have a tropical climate while the southern parts experience subequatorial climate. That’s why the weather greatly varies across the country and you need to make sure to pick up appropriate clothing according for the region you plan to visit.
What Kind of Dresses Should You Pack?
Light cotton clothes and comfortable sandals/flip-flops are a must regardless of the season or country you are visiting. The weather remains warm and humid in most parts of the SEA through the year. Thinner materials keep you comfortable and dry, while thicker materials such as jeans dry slowly and are hot and heavy. Many tourists and backpackers prefer wearing shorts, but we recommend wearing light and long pants as they provide more protection against the sun and mosquitoes.
Backpackers have to consider a few more things, especially if they are planning to visit northern areas or higher elevations. They might need a warm jacket and proper hiking boots when visiting such areas. Afternoon downpour can send backpackers running for cover in no time so they need to make sure they take waterproof clothing/shoe/backpack covers during the monsoon season.
Here is a checklist that includes the commonly used clothing articles you need when backpacking in almost all southeast Asian countries.
- Light and lose fit shirts or tank tops, should be breathable and preferably neutral-colored (3-4)
- Lightweight cotton pants 2-3
- Lightweight shirts with sleeves (2-3)
- A scarf for covering shoulders
- One pair of breathable and quick drying shoes like these or lightweight hiking shoes/boots
- One pair of comfy sandals like these
- One pair of flip-flops, preferably with arch support
- One ultra-light rain jacket like these for men and these for women
- One fleece, especially if you plan on trekking or visiting the north
- A hat for sun protection
- One light and warm jacket like this
- And a lot of underwear
Keep One Warm Piece of Clothing
Although packing warm clothing might seem counter intuitive considering the hot and humid climate of SEA countries, it’s better to keep at least one warm item with you such as a light jacket. That’s because you might want to cover yourself when traveling in the highly-chilled public transportation and local malls, especially at night. A long-sleeve piece of warm, yet light clothing can also double as a rain jacket or sun blocker.
Although flip-flops are the default footwear of the SEA region, they might not be suitable for backpackers who have to cover miles of difficult terrain. It’s better not to wear expensive sandals and shoes if you have to remove them often (they may ‘walk away’).
You can buy flip-flops at a cheap price from almost anywhere, but it’s better to bring along heaver shoes such as hiking boots (preferably waterproof boots like these) if you are planning to visit during the wet season. Flip-flops like these are more comfortable and provide better arch support, but come at an additional cost.
Instead of looking like a spectacle and attract thieves, one should choose conservative clothing that comply to the local customs. Neutral colored, plain clothing that covers most parts of your body help you abide by dress codes of most regions so you don’t have to worry about looking appropriate at different places. We also recommend to avoid wearing and carrying expensive items such as jewelry and stick to the basics.
Different colors represent political meanings so you also need to be aware of them. Although backpackers and tourists are usually exempted from such things, it’s always better to study the local culture a bit before the trip (e.g. black is considered as a funerary color in many regions, while red and yellow hold political meaning in Thailand).
Packing smartly is like an art we master over time. It might not be the best idea to bring along everything you could fit inside your backpack. It’s a good idea to shop from the local markets/malls if you don’t already have the appropriate clothing. Packing too much clothing can be a problem and you might not be able to fully enjoy your trips with a fully-loaded backpack.
You can buy quality clothing at local markets in all SEA countries in cheap prices. Buying from local markets also provide you with an opportunity to experience the local culture and meet new people. We suggest you avoid bringing unnecessary books, heavy coats, valuables and electronics (devices might not run due to difference in power outlet/voltage).
Backpackers also need to consider the exploding population of mosquitoes in the wet weather. Using mosquito repellents and nets, wearing earth-tone colors, keeping as much body parts covered as possible, staying clean and keeping windows/doors closed can help a lot to combat the real outdoor enemy. Also you should check out these tourist secrets things to do in Asia for great ideas!
Backpacking in SEA countries needs special considerations. It’s better to pick modest and neutral clothing and choose breathable fabrics that can absorb moisture and dry quickly in the rainy season. Most of the clothing items should be picked keeping hot and humid weather conditions in mind. That’s why you should buy breathable, light and breezy clothing that does not stick close to the body.