13 bad-ass South East Asia backpacking tips for ladies

13 bad-ass South East Asia backpacking tips for ladies

backpacking tips for ladies

Have you ever wanted to go on a challenging trip into the wilderness or to test yourself on a long adventure to remote lands? I know that limited access to western comforts (such as a hot shower or –just saying- a room with a window) might seem scary if you never backpacked before. But with the right clues, even a long trip through dirt cheap hostels and sketchy bungalows can be comfortable.

Today I share my backpacking tips for ladies and my must-bring items for all the wannabe bad-ass female travellers out there. Some of the points might also be useful for men, but most of them are for dha cool ladies out there. If you are really clueless on what to bring on your trip, check out my South East Asia packing list.

backpacking tips for ladies

1. Always carry a toilet paper roll with you

Yes, yes. More than half of the world actually survives without using toilet paper (say what?!) In rural Asia you will never find it in public restrooms, toilet paper being a rare sight even in restaurants or stations. So better be safe than sorry and always carry one roll in your backpack. Watch out: toilet paper is actually considered a luxury item in developing countries. Only tourists use it, therefore it is pretty expensive compared to the rest of the toiletries.

2. Embrace the bum gun

If you’re new to the notion, please go google it and come back. The bum gun is basically a weird hose hanging behind the toilet seat. If used properly it can be of great help, considering the shortage of toilet paper. Sometimes you’ll also find the cheaper version of the bum gun, aka the bucket + the plastic pan. This might seem even scarier but gurl, there will be times that you will need it. But that’s also why you should always carry wet wipes as well.

3. Bring a padlock and a bike locker for trains

Almost every hostel has some sort of personal safe or drawer that you can use to store your valuables or even your full backpack. This is more than great, but the bad news is that it never comes with a padlock. That’s why you need to bring your own from home. Just don’t bring a massive one: it probably won’t fit. If you’re travelling on a night train, like in India, consider bringing a bike lock to secure your backpack to your bench.

backpacking tips for ladies

4. Give shampoo bars a try – unless you have curly long hair

I’ve tried to like shampoo bars. I actually really wanted to like them! I turned to shampoo bars because no matter how few liquids I carry, one will always spill and make a mess in my beauty case. The thing is that no matter how fancy they might be (I used to buy the Lush ones) they won’t be creamy enough for curly hairs. Leave alone if you have long hair and you’re constantly in a tropical humid climate and/or in and out the ocean surfing. Big no for me, unfortunately. BUT! If you’re one of those lucky girls with naturally silky air, go for it! A shampoo bar (Lush also sell “conditioners”) can last up to a month!

5. Mini flat iron + mini hairdryer

This is my guilty pleasure. But in my defence I can say that I’ve tried to live without those for a year and a half, while I was a long-term traveller and man, it didn’t work. I have quite messy hair and, unless I want to constantly have them up in a bun, I really need some trusted styling tools. Imetec does these beautiful tiny versions that are carry-on friendly.

6. Bring a clothesline with a few pegs

On a normal basis, I will gladly benefit from the lovely ladies that take care of your laundry for a few dollars in Asia. I personally think it’s a nice way to contribute to the local women’s small business. Thus said, your laundry will usually take at least 24h to be ready. Sometimes you just don’t have that time. Because you’re staying only one night in a place or because you honestly run out of panties completely. I’ve been there many times and that’s when a clothesline comes in handy. You can quickly wash a few t-shirts and undies and hang them on the roof of your hostel or on a balcony. Or even inside of your room in desperate situations.

backpacking tips for ladies

7. Ditch the common flip-flops and invest in a pair of Birkenstock

Constantly walking in flip flops will seriously hurt your back sooner or later. On the other hand, Birkenstock will always feel comfortable, even on mild hiking trails. My first pair followed me for a year and a half of jungle hikes, desert crossing, city walks and even nights out. The fact that they have a decent sole will actually take your feet out of the mud (or worse) in many situations.

8. Buy a local sim card if you’re staying 3+ weeks

Having an internet connection to be able to find your bearings on a map, to use online translators or to call the hostel can be vital when travelling. Especially as a solo woman. And even when it’s not vital, it so damn practical. We use google maps and our telephones for everything at home, why shouldn’t we when in a foreign country. Sim cards in Asia are usually super cheap and easy to get on side-road technology shops.

9. Bring your snorkelling mask from home

I always, always forget my mask home just to be pissed when I’m on a beautiful beach with no snorkelling rent operation in sight. If you like snorkelling it’s a must. With your own mask, you will actually be able to snorkel everywhere (for free) and not only when booking a snorkelling trip. Also, the quality of rented masks can be pretty poor, and having your own won’t take up too much space in your backpack.

backpacking tips for ladies

10. Scan your passport and ID card, then email it to yourself and print it

I always suggest to carry photocopies of your passport and important documents with you, but also to email it to yourself. The email is actually the safest option, but you might need a copy of your passport handy in places where’s there not a copy shop in sight for kilometres.

11. Travel pillow + earplugs + sleeping mask

This is the sacred trinity for sleeping in hostels or on planes/public transports. After a long day of travelling, the last thing you want is to stay awake because of someone else snoring or the complete lack of curtains. Always bring your sleeping kit with you and you will sleep like a baby.

12. Bring condoms

One of the most important backpacking tips for ladies is: Bring condoms. Condoms are not so easy to find in out-of-the-beaten-track destinations in Asia. Which -funny story- is EXACTLY where handsome backpackers end up to! That’s why you should bring your little reserve from home and restock when possible. Still in doubt? Picture this: do you really want to explain to a shy rural pharmacist that only speaks Burmese what you mean by “condom?!”

13. Try the moon cup

This is tricky. I know that moon cups are a bit scary for many women, but many others (myself included) find it revolutionary. It personally took me a while to get comfortable with it, but in the long run, taking the time to get used to it was a great choice. First of all, they are made of silicone which is way less irritating than tampons and pads. Secondly, you will never again run out of pads when in far-out locations or on Sunday mornings when every damn shop is closed. Third, it’s the most environmentally friendly choice you can made period-wise. Now. Sterilising can be tricky when travelling, as you may not be able to use a clean pot and a stove to boil your cup in. But FEAR NOT, I got you covered. Milton sterilizing pills (the ones that are used for baby’s pacifiers) can be used in a regular plastic container and will sterilize your cup in 15 minutes.

8 things to do in North Queensland besides the great barrier reef

8 things to do in North Queensland besides the great barrier reef

things to do in North Queensland

The coast line of Far North Queensland has nothing to do with the infinite expanse of waves, sharks and surfers of the South. In this part of Australia, the rainforest dips into the ocean with its enveloping mangroves and crocodile infested estuaries. Moving northward from Cairns, the ocean takes on a greenish colour due to its swollen and angry tributaries. Not that going for a swim is an option. Here the crocs eat a human or two every couple of years. But hey, even if swimming is highly discouraged, there is plenty of adventurous things to do in North Queensland!

1. Exploring Daintree National Park

What is really amazing about this piece of coastline is the intricate and chirping density of the rainforest. The canopy is so thick that in some places the light struggles to sneak in. The drive on the Mossman Daintree Road, which crosses the park, is an attraction in itself. Forty winding kilometres under a thick canopy inhabited by trees kangaroos, “flying foxes” bats, colourful parrots, snakes of all sizes and spiders bigger than a baseball glove. Along the road you’ll find several trail heads for forest walks that range from 10’ up to 6 hours. Check them all out here.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

2. Sunbath on stunning beaches (but don’t take a swim!)

Occasionally, you’ll pass a secondary road that stretches to the coast. In Daintree National Park, the beaches of Cow Bay, Thornton Beach and Cape Tribulation look like frames taken from a Robison Crusoe movie. Mangroves and palm trees stretch into the ocean, serving as a perfect hideout for crocs. The only beach furnishings that you’ll find here are cobwebs and fallen tree branches. In the evening, the backpackers’ vans are parked next to each other despite the empty parking, as to create a compact formation in the event of ranger raids (or crocodile’s). Free camping is not allowed here, but it’s kind of overlooked by the rangers. Vanlife tip: every beach parking has toilets and running water (one of the many reasons why I love Australia).

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

3. Jump with a liane in the Emmagen Creek (and actually have a swim!)

Between the things to do in North Queensland, swimming is not tipically an option. The swimming hole at Emmagen Creek is actually one of the few safe places to swim in the Daintree lowlands. Walk upstream along the creek for about 400 metres through the rainforest until you reach the deeper pools. Watch out: the water is pretty chilly because it doesn’t get a lot of direct sunlight.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

4 Climb Mount Sorrow on a jungle trail

This 7km trail climbs from the coastal lowlands of Cape Tribulation, up the rainforest-clad ridge of Mount Sorrow to a lookout offering views of the beautiful Daintree coastline, Snapper Island and beyond. It’s supposed to be a 6/7 hours’ trail, but it took us around 4 hours. The trail has some steep sections but as long as you are quite fit and you’re wearing decent runners you should be fine! Remember to bring along at least 2L water per person (in the cool season). Watch out: on the top you only have a small lookout platform, there’s not really a space to have a nice picnic.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

5. Chill by the fancy pool at PK’s Jungle village

If you are wondering where to stay in Daintree National Park, well you have plenty of options ranging from campgrounds up to fancy Eco lodges. We stayed at PK’s Jungle Village , a super cool backpackers that also offered campgrounds for van-lifers. After months of semi-solitude in the Outback, it was nice to hang out with other travellers around the common kitchen or by the wonderful jungle pool. Definitely recommended!

6. Feel some off-road adrenaline on the Bloomfield Track

Once you reach Cape Tribulation, the northern tip of the park, the asphalt road ends abruptly and turns into an off-road track: The Bloomfield Track. To continue, you need a 4WD. Even in the dry season, you have to cross a couple of streams and face extremely steep rises and slopes that usually end with a sharp turn. Without a 4wd you will likely roll ruinously in the jungle. The Bloomfield track is actually a shortcut to reach Cooktown faster, but you have to be kind of an adrenaline junkie to take it.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

7. Sip a coffee in old Cooktown

Once you’re safe and sound and out of the Bloomfield Track, in a hundred rough kilometres you will reach Cooktown, the last proper town before the wild Cape York peninsula. Despite its epic past, the town itself is not super interesting. Exploding from two hundred to two thousand inhabitants in just over a decade, at first glance Cooktown might look more like an open-air yard than a real community. But willing or not, Cooktown is the northernmost point you can reach without having a serious off-road vehicle.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

8 Venture to the Cape York Peninsula (only for the bravest)

The Cape York Peninsula is the largest unspoiled wilderness in northern Australia and one of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth. Also known as “The Tip”, it is crossed by a long dirt road of nearly four hundred kilometres, crossed by actual rivers and countless off-road side tracks: a paradise for Australians adventure lovers. The ultimate trip to discover the Far North, that leads to the narrow strait that connects Australia with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Only for true explorers with seriously pimped up rigs!

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

Want more?
Browse my Australian Photo series:

THROUGH THE JUNGLE

BEACH AUSTRALIA

OUTBACK AUSTRALIA

GREAT CENTRAL ROAD

Life-saving tips to travel in South East Asia by motorbike

Life-saving tips to travel in South East Asia by motorbike

South East Asia by motorbike

This is not a post for people that have never driven a scooter in their lives and decide to give it a try in Ko Phangan to reach the Full Moon Party. Which, by the way, it’s something that I don’t recommend considering that Ko Phangan has probably the steepest roads of Thailand, usually followed by sharp turns. You’ll see plenty of bandaged backpackers there; they call it “the Thai kiss”. Anyway, this post is for the experienced drivers, the ones that are comfortable with bike riding at home and want to travel independently and adventurously. Long distance travel by motorbike in South East Asia is for motorbike lovers, those who do not fear dust, misadventures and a fair amount of super-fast and life-challenging decision making.

If you fit this description, check out my guide for travelling around South East Asia by motorbike!

Getting the bike:

  • Get an international driving licence before you leave home. Not that it’s really needed, but this is just one of the trillions of excuses that a local policeman will find to fine you.
  • Make sure that your travel insurance covers motorbike accidents.
  • If possible, rent (or buy) from a local place that has been suggested to you by fellow travellers (either online or live). This way you will probably find a seller / renter that speaks English and is kinda trustable. Otherwise, if you feel rich, rent from a foreigner business. You will find them in major cities. They are definitely twice or trice more expensive than local business but you will actually get insurance and a customer service.
  • Choose the most common model on the market. In Asia it’s Hondas. Choosing a common model is fundamental to be able to find spare parts easily along the journey (yes, the bike will break down, it’s a matter of fact).
South East Asia by motorbike
  • If your bike breaks down, you will have to pay for the mechanic even if it’s not your fault and you just rented it 2 days ago. Don’t be afraid, it’s usually minor fixies that will cost you a few dollars. Anyway, it’s always a good idea to have the mechanic to call the renter. This way they can agree on the solution to the bike problem and you’ll probably get a better deal.
  • If the bike gets stolen, you’ll have to pay for it. Same for accidents. This is always true, road insurance is almost never included (it never was in my experience)
  • It is normal to leave your passport to the renter as an insurance that you won’t stole the bike. It’s a common practice that everyone requests. Just take a big breath and trust the renter (but carry photocopies on you). If you’re pulled over, the police will ask for your licence but is well aware that the renter has probably kept your passport as a guarantee.
  • Renting from locals is cheap, but you won’t have a big choice of bikes. Usually they rent only 100cc or, when you’re lucky, 250cc up to 600cc (that only happens in the most tourist destinations like Bali). If you’re planning a long trip, rent one bike per person. Please don’t assume that you can travel with your girlfriend behind you just because you do it back home. Even if you rent the biggest and “comfiest” bike, you will still have to secure some luggage behind the passenger. The restricted space, the dust, corrugated or semi paved roads and the hectic traffic will be a little too much if you’re travelling on the same bike of your partner. I tell you this from experience.
  • Always ask for a helmet. I know that wind in your hair is the best feeling ever and that locals almost never wear helmets, but please, do. First, because driving in South East Asia is crazy dangerous most of the time. Secondly, because not wearing a helmet is a popular excuse for police to fine you (even if no one else wears it).
  • On police: avoid them. If you see a patrol on the right side of the road, drive as left as you can. Do not stop unless you really have to (like there’s a bunch of cops on both sides of the road).
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

What to do if the police stop you

In South East Asia you will notice that locals travel on motorbikes in a very creative way. You will cross entire families of six on the same scooter, people carrying animals (dead or alive) or transporting massive loads of goods. Sometimes I even crossed people driving with a sick relative behind them, who was carrying a medical drip along. Despite this street anarchy, you will notice that policemen tend to stop only pale foreigners. They will then fine them for whatever tiniest problem they may or may not have (no helmet, no local licence, lights not working, speeding, running a red light, you name it). This happens because fines are a big part of their wages. That’s exactly why you should avoid them as much as possible, but if the police stop you, remember to:

South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike
  • Take the keys out of the bike and put it in your pocket. This is the first and most important thing to do straight away. If a policeman gets hold of your keys he will be able to ask you whatever amount of money to give them back to you.
  • Have a close look on where your documents go if you hand them out to the police (for the same reason of above).
  • Don’t be scared by the random menaces (“you will have to come to the police station with me” / “we will take your bike”). Try to play it cool and negotiate your way out.
  • Start haggling the “fine”. Propose at least half of what they ask and keep on bargaining. Police “bribes” standards vary a lot from Country to Country. In Cambodia, 1 to 5 dollars is considered ok for minor issues, while in Bali they asked us 30$. Just keep it cool and work it out like it was just another market negotiation.
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

Unwritten rules of the road

In Asia they honk a lot. But fear not, there’s always a good reason. With so many vehicles doing whatever on the road, honking means “watch out I’m moving close to you”. So it is usually a life-saver used to signal overtaking, turning, sudden U turns or simply that someone close to you is going to do something risky.

South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike
  • Before overtaking, always check that no one is overtaking you already and then honk while you accelerate. While you do this, you may notice that someone else is doing the same manoeuvre in the opposite direction. Try to stay cool, zig zag the least possible and move quickly.
  • Cover yourself up with long sleeved T-shirts and long trousers if you do not want to be beaten up by the strong sun and the dust. For the same reason remember sunglasses and a scarf to put on your mouth when the dust / smog situation becomes too much. Put heavy sunscreen on your hands and knuckles. If you burn them, you will have to buy gloves (not the easiest task in rural Asia) to be able to drive again.
  • Secure your backpack behind you with hooked elastic bands. Don’t carry it over your shoulders or you’ll suffer from back pain for the rest of your life.
  • Always carry a rain cover for your backpack and a plastic poncho that is large enough to cover your legs as well. Tropical rain is sudden and strong.

A SUV that overtakes a bus in the opposite direction
while you’re overtaking a massive truck full of rocks
which is exhaling black exhaust gas will soon become familiar.

  • It’s cool to have a local sim card to be able to use data and google maps while driving, but bringing a good old paper map is a good idea. If you’re lost, ask the locals. In the most faraway places they may not be able to read a map but they will be more than happy to point out the direction of your destination.
  • If you can, refill in gas stations, but don’t be afraid to stop along the road to the local mamas that sell gas in old coca cola glass bottles. It’s a bit more expensive but a life-saver in most cases.
  • Never underestimate distances. What looks like a major state road on a map can turn out to be a super busy, one-lane road used by oxcart, scooters, huge trucks, SUVs, local bus, etc. In Sumatra it took us a good 12h a day to cover 350km.
  • When you park in crowded areas, along with many other scooters, it’s normal to find your bike somewhere else. People will move it in order to get theirs out. Before panicking, have a look around. Top tip: if you just rented the average black scooter, try to personalize it with a ribbon or something that will help you spot it easily.
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

In general, keep it cool, travel at slow pace and enjoy the journey. Sometimes you will be driving through horrendously polluted and busy cities. Other times you’ll peacefully ride along jungle roads or close to the ocean. You will end up in places that are impossible to reach with any other mean of transport. You will really eat and sleep with the local communities and you will find yourself laughing together even if they don’t speak a word of English. You’ll break the bike, repair it, and then break it again. You may get sick. Or very sick. And convince yourself that you’re gonna die that night, in the middle of nowhere.

Well, It may not be for the faint-hearted but it’s very, very rewarding. So good luck and enjoy travelling South East Asia by motorbike!

Want more?
Browse my Cambodia photo gallery:

CAMBODIA ON TWO WHEELS