At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks

GloboTreks is reader-supported through affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support! – Norbert

You always hear backpackers talking about their love for Southeast Asia (SEA), about wanting to go there really bad, or raving about the many times they’ve been there and their crazy experiences. 

So, why is SEA so popular? I include myself in this category of SEA lover, so here are five reasons why I think SEA is so popular with backpackers:

1. It is cheap

This is one of the most attractive factors that bring backpackers to SEA. It is obvious that most backpackers try their best to travel on a budget, and SEA makes this easy.  Street food, cheap restaurants, cheap hostels, cheap transportation… they are all there.

Whether you want to see the Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills (Vietnam), the stunning beaches at Phi Phi Island (Thailand), or the incredible architecture at Anchor Wat (Cambodia), Southeast Asia does have an extensive travel infrastructure that will make it cheap to go from place to place and spend as little as possible in each destination.

Southeast Asia travel Thailand

2. Easy access

Unlike cheaper countries like India (which is also very popular among backpackers), SEA countries provide easy access through their borders. 

Some countries, like Thailand and Singapore, don’t require a visa for most nationalities, and other countries, like Cambodia and Indonesia, might require a visa, but it can be easily acquired at the border by just paying the fee. Also, Bangkok and Singapore are well-connected hubs.

In addition, SEA is composed of many bordering countries, so it is easy to jump from one country to another by simply taking a train, bus, or ferry.

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3. There’s something for everyone

From crazy parties to cultural richness, there’s something to please everybody. You can spend all day sightseeing at temples, laying on the beach, doing adventurous stuff, or even shopping, and then spend the night partying, watching shows, just drinking on the street with friends, or having fun with ladyboys (if that’s on your list). The options are endless.

For me, SEA is the perfect combination of culture, laziness, and fun!

Southeast Asia travel Thailand

4. Culture shock

While in recent years it has been toned down a little bit in some of the countries, the culture shock is still present and very visible. 

Things like visiting tribes, “happy ending massages,” “ladyboys,” ping-pong shows, fish massages, strange delicacies, and lack of regulations, to name a few, are strange things in the Western world. But they are here open and willing to be explored and shocked about.

I personally was impressed, shocked, and even grossed out by some of the things I mentioned above. Cockroach snack, anyone?

Southeast Asia travel Thailand

5. Good backpacking infrastructure

As a reaction to the initial backpacking boom the area saw many years ago, they developed a “backpacking infrastructure” that makes it extremely easy to visit the most popular places in every country (or what today is the backpacking trail). 

Most cities have high flexibility when choosing cheap hostels, train or bus options, budget airlines, and even tour operators. Nowadays, it’s easy to figure out where to stay in Cebu, Philippines, or Chiang Mai, Thailand, or Bali, Indonesia, by just browsing websites like

And, of course, the good old “walk-in” option can help you save money on last-minute accommodation if you want to plan your trip in a play-it-by-ear type.

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Of course, there are areas, like in Laos and Vietnam, that might be a bit hard to get to, but with a bit of research, you can find your way there. You can still see villages with no water and electricity, and details like that are some of the things that make you appreciate things even more.

Still, in general, the travel infrastructure is so well developed that all you need to do is get there, hop around, and enjoy SEA.

Southeast Asia travel Cambodia
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  1. Great post; I didn’t realize Southeast Asia was so diverse and backpacker-friendly. I’ve always wanted to backpack through Europe, but now I’ll have to add Southeast Asia to my traveling bucket list. It’s becoming a very long list, haha.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey Lauren –

      Oh yes, Southeast Asia is extremely diverse and you can find everything from dirt cheap to super fancy, and from passive to hard core adventurous. This is one of the things that make SEA so appealing, among many others!

  2. I think it is normal to have a cultural shock when you visit a strange country. But for me I will feel more amazed than shocked. πŸ™‚ I want to learn different cultures. Its fun to know the story of other people and how they deal with certain things.

    1. You’re right, Leslie. It is normal to have cultural shock, especially when you visit places that are completely foreign to you. In my case, I’m also amazed and curious, rather than plainly shocked. πŸ™‚

  3. u should try indonesia i think, a bit difficult to be backpacker here, but it is worth.
    jurrasic park in real?yes we have,it’s in komodo island,this is my fave place in indonesia.
    here is heaven in earth! come to my country.

    1. I really want to go to Komodo Island to see the “dragons”! Indonesia is such a beautiful country.

  4. Awesome post and I should say, I agree! I had been to Cambodia and Vietnam on the holidays last year and I’m rather impressed. Everything is plain and simple and affordable. I liked also the kindness of the locals and being Asian too is an advantage but as I see it there, everyone from anywhere in the world are embraced like a visiting family member. It’s easier to build on lasting family-like relationship in SEA actually.

    Cheers from the Philippines!

    1. Hey Doc –

      Thanks for your share! Yes, the people from many of those countries are super friendly. ANd of course, many of those places are really cheap, which is one of the reasons why they are so attractive to backpackers.

  5. This is so true. Backpacking in SE Asia is really convenient and provides such an interesting set of cultures to experience. I live in Taiwan with my husband and even though it is more urbanized than other islands in Asia, backpacking is still strong. We love that it’s so quick and easy to hop from one place to another. I’ve always found the people to be extremely friendly and helpful, even when I didn’t know the language.

    Great article πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Lauren! Oh yes, all of the reasons you mentioned on your comment, and more, are the things that make me want to go back to SEA over and over. It’s such a unique region, and so friendly in general. πŸ™‚

  6. Here I was being all cynical wondering if “It’s cheap” would be all five. But of course you’re right, that’s just number one. Southeast Asia is an amazing place. I’ve been to Singapore (the caviar of SEA) and Kuala Lumpur (dirty Singapore) and loved them both. I stayed with friends in Singapore and did the hostel thing in KL. Also both awesome.

    But I’m deeply looking forward to exploring a few more places around the region. Thailand and Bali top the list for sure, but just about everywhere seems awesome. Did you have a favorite location that I should hit? I’m based in Taiwan, so I tend to head out for a week or two and then come back. Where can I get the most experience for time invested? πŸ˜‰

    1. Dan, I really love Thailand, and as I saw, it is on top of your list – so I really recommend you head there for sure. Great experience and so diverse. Cambodia is also well worth visiting. SEA is so interesting and so diverse that I believe all countries there deserve some time. I’m actually looking back to return as I do want to do some more exploring in the region.

  7. Indonesia is a part of SEA, and it also has interesting place to visit. it has rich culture and various kind of food as well.

  8. Fully agree with all that you’ve listed. I think Southeast Asia has the most competitive budget airline industry too. A number of budget airlines like Airasia, Tiger airways, Jetstar to name a few also helps facilitate the travel plans of a budget traveller.

    Also, only in Southeast Asia can you get unsual travel experiences like learning to make a crossbow from an 80 year old local Hmong tribesman.

  9. Been in Thailand for the first time this year and this is all true. It’s Asia in “easy mode”. Everything is pretty much set up, easy to navigate, friendly people, safe environment and… everything is so cheap! Couldn’t help myself with the shopping frenzy!