50 Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

50 Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

We’ve gone through many rounds of trial and error while traveling, especially during the time we spent in SE Asia. If you’re headed to this part of the world, check out our top 50 take aways from five months in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and the Philippines.

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16 of Our Favorite Hostels in Southeast Asia

16 of Our Favorite Hostels in Southeast Asia

There are definitely some universals you can expect from all hostels: dorm beds, community kitchens, the inevitable person who snores, the late nights and early mornings as people catch their budget travel in and out. But there are some places that just do it better than the rest. Here are our top 16 places from our five month experience of living the hostel life in southeast Asia.

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Kicking Back in Pai

Ahh, Pai. What is NOT to like about Pai? That's my question. 


Just a few hours, and a couple hundred turns, north of Chiang Mai, this mountain paradise was recommended to us from everyone we met who’d traveled across Thailand. It was usually referred to as “the place where you get stuck” or “the stoner’s paradise.” Everyone who mentioned it told us it was their favorite place in Thailand. 

Pai is full of amazing coffee shops - this one was right next to our hostel.

Pai is full of amazing coffee shops - this one was right next to our hostel.

Right they were. 

Not only is Pai absolutely beautiful, but it’s become a haven for travelers and expats alike who’re looking for a more laidback place to set up shop for a while. With a stunning natural backdrop, plenty of daytime adventures to take, and seemingly endless restaurants and bars, Pai is an easy paradise. 

I have to be fully honest, Anna and I spent 5D/4N in Pai doing nearly nothing. It was fantastic, we regret nothing. That was all we wanted to do after what felt like forever of constant go-go. We put our feet up and said NOPE to everything other than food, the night market, and a few solid nights out with some German friends we met at our hostel. 

So, without further ado, here’s a solid list of things I can personally recommend and the things my less lazy friends recommended to me.

How to Get to Pai


Simple enough. You’re probably getting into Pai from Chiang Mai, which is the largest city in northern Thailand. You can hop a bus from Arcade Bus station, purchase tickets from just about any accommodation or tour center, and you’re set. They run about 5x per day and take roughly four hours. 

WARNING: This road is turns on turns on turns. 762 of them to be exact. If you get motion or car sick, dramamine is a great idea. 

You can also fly to Pai from Chiang Mai. Seems a bit like overkill to me since they’re so close but if you’re looking to go straight through the airport that is an option. 

Your last option is to motorbike. This is probably the best way to see the drive if you’re comfortable on a bike. It is also the most dangerous due to weather, the roads, and other drivers. Please only do this is you’re comfortable on a bike and WEAR A HELMET! So many people get into accidents on this road and you don’t want to cut your trip to Pai short before you even get up there. 

Where to Stay in Pai

These are all hostels, though I’m sure Pai has some beautiful, slightly pricier options if that’s what you’re looking for. I recommend checking Trip Advisor!

Jikko Harem

This was where we stayed. It’s located slightly off the Pai’s main area, but the wonderful staff who run the place will give you a lift into town whenever you want. It’s beautiful, clean, quiet, and the hostel chain owns two bars in town that you’ll get awesome discounts at. We were going to stay for two nights before switching to Common Grounds and just never did. Highly recommend.

Hostelworld Link

P.S. I think now they have a more central location, though we never saw it. 

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Common Grounds

Probably the most popular hostel in Pai, Common Grounds is the place to stay if you want to be right next to the action and get your party on every night. Definitely a bit pricier than some of your other options, but that comes with demand.

Hostelworld Link

Green Hostel & Skatepark

The other hostel we looked at. Looks beautiful and has fantastic reviews as well as a skatepark attached.

Hostelworld Link

Where to Eat in Pai

This is a toughie because where do I begin? You’ve got so, so many fantastic options in Pai, especially if you’re vegan/vegetarian. Without going into too much detail, here’s a solid list of where we went/where we were sent:

  • Earthtone Vegetarian Cafe**

  • Ganesh

  • Cafecito (Mexican)**

  • Om Garden Cafe

  • FatCat

  • Oasis Bar & Restaurant 

  • Pen’s Kitchen

Breakfast at Cafecito.

Breakfast at Cafecito.

Where to Party in Pai

Let’s level here: if you’re headed to Pai it’s fair to assume that you’re looking to party, to smoke, to get a little twisted. 

If you’re looking to drink, there are endless options for you. Here are some we checked out and heard about:

  • C Bar**

  • Jikko Bar

  • Yellow Sun

  • Boom Bar

  • Why Not?**


If you’re looking for a little something more, there are two places you can go: Sunset Bar and Paradise Bar. We went to both to check them out, they’ve definitely got a lot of hype, and preferred the atmosphere at Paradise but the drinks at Sunset.

Warning: drugs are illegal in Thailand and you can 100 percent be prosecuted for purchasing/consuming them, regardless of how many people do it or whether or not a place is “chill” about it. In Pai, specifically, police raid the main drag and are stationed both near the bridge leading to Sunset/Paradise at night and at tourist hotspots like the Grand Canyon. They can and will search you if they suspect you!

Adventures in Pai

Heading to Pai to explore some of the natural beauties in the area? You’ve got plenty of options!

The trickiest element is getting from one or the other. The easiest way to zip around Pai is by motorbike. You can easy rent these in town or just ride yours around if you drove up on one. Your other option is a rental car, taxi, a tuk-tuk, or a tour, depending on what you’re trying to do. 

Some of your options for scooter rentals.

Some of your options for scooter rentals.


Some of Pai’s natural highlights include:

  • Pai Canyon (go for sunset)

  • Pai Hot Springs

  • Pam Bok or Mor Paeng Waterfall

  • Pai Piranha Fishing Park

  • Boon Ko Ku So Bridge


Night Market

Looking for something to do in the city? Explore Pai’s fantastic night market! You’ll find wonderful street food and tons of crafts, jewelry, and clothing lining the main walking street in Pai each night. 

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