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When it comes to solo travel, most people start in Southeast Asia.
Solo travel to Southeast Asia is one of the best ways to break into a solo travel lifestyle because it’s safe, easy to get around, and the people are so friendly.
That being said, it’s true that being a solo female traveler is more challenging than travelling with a group or as a man.
You may face unwanted male attention and are sometimes seen as an easy target for touts in the street.
Some countries in Asia may have different attitudes towards women that you need to be aware of too.
However, the hard experiences will make you stronger as a person and reward you with many unique travel experiences and insights (and lots of funny travel stories too).
If you’re thinking of traveling in Asia as a solo female traveler, below you will find some practical tips on how to travel Southeast Asia solo.
Solo Female Travel Tips For Southeast Asia
Despite how safe travel is in South East Asia, it’s always wise to take simple precautions to avoid getting into trouble.
Here are my tips for staying safe on the road as a female solo traveller, picked up from over six-months of full-time solo travel around Asia.
Walk with confidence
When you are travelling long term, you’ll arrive in new places all of the time.
For the first day or two in a new destination, you are particularly vulnerable to being seen as an easy target.
To avoid this, walk with an air of confidence in new places, even when you just arrive with your backpack on your back.
Stand up straight and if people hassle you pretend that you have somewhere to go. If you are seriously in trouble, walk up to another foreigner and pretend to be friends. 99% of the time they will understand and help you.
Relax when you arrive in a new place
Soak up the views of your beach bungalow
When you arrive in a new place, you are vulnerable and most likely stressed due to the swarms of tuk tuk drivers and people trying to escort you to their hotels.
Take a minute to adjust to the new place. Look around and acclimatise, maybe even buy a coffee and have time to adjust.
After a rest, you’ll be more alert and relaxed and be less vulnerable.
Learn the language
Many people have respect for you, when you make an effort to speak their language.
They may also think that you have a local husband so might go out of their way to be friendly and helpful.
Try to learn by downloading podcasts to listen to on long bus rides or by making friends with locals who speak English.
It doesn’t matter how much of the language you know; many people will be so proud and happy to hear you utter ‘Thank you‘ in their mother tongue.
Let people know where you are at all times
The more people who recognise you and know where you are going in your hostel, the more likely they are to worry about you if they don’t see you for a while.
I always make friends in the dorm and tell them what I will be doing on that day, hopefully they would spread the alarm if something happens to you and you’re not back at night.
I always try to update my Facebook as much as possible and let people at home know where I am and if I will be in an area with no internet for a while.
Don’t be alone
Group tours are a great idea!
This seems like a hard task for a solo traveller, but most incidences of assault happen when the victim is alone. Try to be around other tourists on transport and when sight-seeing in the day.
Try not to walk in a secluded area at night. Women in foreign countries will usually be helpful in times of need if local men are harassing you.
Wear a smile on your face
Many people in Asia react very strongly to people who become aggressive.
It’s hard to stay calm, when you have people surrounding you to sell you things.
Have a smile on your face, so people react more kindly to you and just say ‘no’ with a smile on your face and a shake of your head.
Arrive in new places in the daytime
I always try and avoid arriving in new places at night alone. It makes you more of a target and public transportation options may be limited.
If it’s impossible to arrive in the day, get a reputable taxi to your accommodation or try to travel with other travellers you meet on the way.
Carry a personal safety alarm
You’ll hopefully never need to use it, but carrying a safety alarm, such as a safety whistle, gives you an extra air of confidence and can make you feel safer when travelling solo.
Stay in safe accommodation
Stay in places that have high ratings on sites, such as Hostelbookers, and those that have a reputation for being safe. If the room does not seem secure, don’t stay there.
Accommodation is plentiful and cheap in South East Asia so you are bound to find somewhere secure easily.
Trust your gut instinct
This is the best tip that I could ever give you. Trust your intuition and gut feelings at all times.
If you meet a friendly person on the bus who wants to share a room, but something just doesn’t feel right, don’t share a room.
If you need to get out of a situation just lie and make up an excuse.
The good thing about being a traveller is that you are anonymous, no one knows who you are and you should use that to your full advantage to lie if you need to get out of a bad situation.
Have an itinerary
When visiting Asian countries, you will find there is so much to see and do, from historic temples to diving trips to beaches and waterfalls.
It’s easy to get caught up and want to do everything.
My top tip for beginners to solo travel is to have a list of the best places to see and prioritize which ones are important to you.
If it’s your first solo trip, then stick to the tourist trail and don’t go off the beaten path.
Join group tours if you’re nervous
Enjoying a group tour
Group tours are a great way to ease into solo female travel life.
They allow you to meet people, and who knows, you may even meet some travel friends to travel with after.
They are a great way to get introduced to a country and a way of life.
Don’t drink the tap water
In some places, tap water is safe in SE Asia, but in others it’s really bad.
Wherever you go, play it safe and drink bottled water.
Get a local sim card
The best way to get connected is to get a local sim card.
You can get many different plans, but sim cards are really cheap and the coverage is good in SE Asia.
You can get a sim card from most 7-Eleven stores, or look for telecom providers in that city and go to a shop.
Don’t get a sim card from the airport, if possible, it’s ridiculously overpriced.
The best option if you have an unlocked phone, is to purchase an eSim. It’s easy, and automatic, and you don’t need to run around the destination trying to find a sim and then understand how it works. Airalo is our preferred esim provider.
Try the street food
Delicious street food in Bangkok floating markets
Street food in Asia is a way of life. You might think that it’s unclean and you’re going to get sick, but you honestly won’t if you know what to look for.
When trying street food, make sure you follow these tips:
Make sure the food is piping hot
Pick a place that has lots of people
Pick a place where you sit outside on little stools
Make sure they are cooking on an open fire
If the chef is an old woman, you know it’s going to be good.
Look out for flies. If there are a lot of flies over the meat, it’s probably not good.
Check the visa requirements
Most countries need a visa for Vietnam and Laos, so make sure you have the documentation and everything you need prepared weeks in advance!
I had to extend my trip in Laos because I had to wait for my Vietnam visa to be approved.
Make sure you have all the documents exactly how they wanted it.
The first time I applied for a Vietnam visa, the photo wasn’t clear enough so they declined it.
The immigration officers are incredibly picky, so save yourself some time and make sure all your application steps are perfect.
Other Safety Tips
Here are some tips that you may have heard many times before. It’s always good to have a recap once in a while though:
Don’t flash your valuables about
Try not to walk alone late at night
Don’t accept drinks from strangers in bars
Lock your valuables in lockers when you can
Wear your bag over your body to avoid bag snatchers
Wear clothes that are appropriate to the country you are visiting
If you rent a scooter, test the breaks thoroughly. Most bikes in SE Asia are not well maintained.
Best Places to Solo Travel in Southeast Asia
If you’re not sure where to start your solo travel adventures in Southeast Asia, here are some places I recommend:
Singapore – it’s expensive, and there’s not much to see and do, but the culture is not too far off what you might find in Europe or the United States, so it’s a great first destination to get used to the climate and fast-paced Asia life without being too culture shocked.
Siem Reap, Cambodia – this is the gateway to the famous Angkor Wat and is a relaxing, chilled city with friendly locals and a backpacker vibe. Phnom Penh is great for museums and learning about the country’s history, but Siem Reap has a special vibe. Here are things to know before visiting Cambodia.
Luang Prabang, Laos – this is a small city with a river running through it. Like Siam Reap, it has a small backpacker vibe with a relaxed atmosphere.
El Nido, Palawan, The Philippines – you won’t find nature anywhere in the world more stunning. Plus, there are lots of travelers here to meet.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – it’s a bit like Singapore in the way that it’s quite modernized, so it makes a great first stop for first time solo travelers who might be nervous.
Bali, Indonesia – you will either love or hate Bali. It’s overrun with tourists nowadays, but it’s still undeniably beautiful. If you want to meet other travelers, you will have to try very hard not to meet people in Bali.
Taiwan – this is a very safe, very small country that’s really easy to get around. It’s not the cheapest country in SE Asia, but it has a very unique culture and is very easy to feel at home in.
Chiang Mai, Thailand – this is another popular place in SE Asia to meet people. Northern Thailand has some of the most beautiful nature, and unlike Bangkok, it’s a lot more chill. In fact, Pai is a backpacker’s haven.
Hoi An, Vietnam – Vietnam can be chaotic, especially in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi where scooters drive on any path they find. Hoi An is a lot more chilled and relaxing, but still cheap and pretty. Hue is also a great city for solo female travelers as it has lots to see and do and places to meet people.
Flores, Indonesia – if you like island life, Flores is for you. It’s laid-back and peaceful, and not quite as overcrowded as Bali. Lombok is also a cool island with volcanoes, hikes and a breathtaking landscape.
Final Thoughts on Solo Travel in Southeast Asia
There is always a lot of scare mongering whenever people talk about solo traveling, especially as a woman, but don’t let them put you off travelling solo.
It’s one of the greatest things that I have ever done in my life and has changed my personality for the better.
After you have travelled solo you can do anything.
Keep alert and stay safe to ensure that your trip is memorable for the right reasons!
Bio: Pearlsandpassports is a solo female travel blog that will tell you the realities of travelling solo through Asia and Oceania. At 26 Stephanie embarked on the trip of a lifetime after securing a sabbatical from her high stress job. She has one goal: to discover her passion in life. Six months and Eight countries later Stephanie has a wealth of travel stories and advice that will help and inspire new or experienced backpackers. Follow Stephanie on her adventures as she learns about herself and the world around her.
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What’s your best tip for solo female travel in South East Asia? Let us know in the comments.