Backpackers are a special breed of person - they all seem to have a love for adventure, for new experiences and challenges, and a desire to explore everything the world has to offer. In honour of all the real travellers out there, we've put together a guide to backpacking around the world. If these top backpacker locations don't make you want to grab your backpack and head for the unknown, then let us know. And if you are planning to go backpacking, make sure to check out our Great Backpacker Giveaway. Or if you'd like to tell us about your own backpacking experiences, then drop us a comment on our Facebook page or in the black box below.
You could write volumes about backpacking through the Americas, but we don't have that sort of time - and neither do you, most likely. So this month we've decided to pick out our favourite spots between them. Have you ever been backpacking through the Americas? We'd love to hear your stories, so send us a message on Facebook or leave a comment in the box below.
Canada is an unassuming beauty that rarely gets the level of credit it deserves. It has three essential elements for backpacking trips, in vast supply, that make it worthwhile: amazing scenery, excellent public transport and cool people. The only downside to speak of is the chilly weather (which also accounts for the great snowboarding, so we can't complain too much) and the semi-long flight time getting there – it's seven and a half hours to Toronto and roughly ten to Vancouver.
Vancouver is an incredible city that made the world take notice in 2010, after doing a superb job of hosting the Winter Olympics. The Pacific Ocean, city skyline and the Northern Mountains in the background create a lasting impression for first timers, and these different layers that make up Vancouver translate into a great all-round experience that is well worth the long flight over there. On one hand it's very trendy, lively and architecturally impressive. As a city, it's comparable to somewhere like Cape Town or San Francisco. There's a world-class aquarium, the Vancouver Lookout, ChinaTown, as well as a selection of art galleries, bars and restaurants to rival any big city. Then at an arm's reach away you've got the great outdoors, offering everything from world-class skiing to hiking, trail riding and watching. Even if your idea of connecting with nature is sitting down at a nice pub in the habour, watching the seagulls diving for bread crumbs, you'll get what you came for and more.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is only ten minutes from downtown Vancouver, and free shuttles are offered from four different locations. From start to finish it's 450 feet long and offers visitors a nice view of the Capilano River - as it streams along 230 feet below your feet! There is also a kid's Rainforest and a treetops adventure circuit that allows you to make a day of the trip.
Banff National Park, Canada
Banff National Park is the highlight of the Canadian Rockies. The snowy glaciers, mountains, lakes and hillsides explode with colours and moody contrasts throughout the year, making it one of the most picturesque outdoor havens on the planet. Each season paints a new picture, so there is never a bad time to visit, either. Whether you are hiking up or skiing down the various trails, you'll find yourself needing moments to stop and stare – there's not much else you can do, but appreciate it. A few of the must-do's include a ride on the Gondola, a walk to the glacial Lake Peyto and a dip in the natural hot springs – preferably with a serving of mulled wine to help you process the beauty of your surroundings.
For expert ideas on where to stay, what to do and who to call, visit the Town Of Banff website.
Where To Stay: SameSun Backpackers offer clean, secure and festive accommodation. Dorm and single rooms are available at all the SameSun branches, including Vancouver, Banff and four other locations. It's a highly respectable institution that was started by a pair of travellers, Craig Kelley and Jeff Gusdal, who wanted to use their experiences backpacking through Europe, Australia and New Zealand to create the same opportunity for travellers to their home country.
San Francisco is a package deal. It might not be the cheapest place to visit, but going there is like getting five holidays in one. The beauty is how the city is broken up into several neighborhoods that offer completely different experiences, but all share that unique San Francisco-ness that makes it such an off-the-wall place. As far as accommodation goes, there is a wide selection of budget-friendly hostels on offer, but if you can afford to rent a house, we'd strongly advise going down that road. Vacation Rental by Owners offer a great selection of user generated offers by home owners wanting to lease their houses to holiday makers. It's a pricier layout at first, but you get to pick your area, save on food and drinks by having a personal kitchen (which you're more inclined to use), and you'll have a genuine San Francisco experience – the iconic houses are a tourist attraction on their own.
It's a city built for people on foot. Public transport is affordable and reliable, so getting around is no problem. A ride on the old trolleys from Union Square is a must. You'll start at the cheesy (but unmissable) Heart Of The City and set off through China Town. As you get further uphill, the view opens up and you see the layout of the city from a distance - The Golden Gate and Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Coit Tower and Fisherman's Wharf. Taking a Saturday morning ferry to Sausalito for a farmers' market breakfast of oysters and beer is another great tour to do – it's a local favourite that has caught fire with tourists. You've got to people-watch in the historic Castro District, window shop in the hippie mecca of Height & Ashbury and get a clam chowder bowl at Pier 39.
General: Bolivia is very beautiful, rural and affordable, which attracts hordes of backpackers throughout the year. It's no picnic, though. Accommodation, food and booze may be cheap, but you'll cover the difference in comforts and amenities. The air is also thin, because of the high altitude – be prepared to walk and huff. It is the highest nation above sea-level in South America, but this also explains why there are so many incredible views. Like all rare beauties, Bolivia will make you work for its affection, but the rewards are worth it.
Salar de Uyani
It's a long way from La Paz and the ride isn't smooth – the roads are unpaved or full of potholes for the most part, which makes the journey feel like a bull ride in hell. But the end result is more than worth the effort. Salar de Uyani is what remains of a giant, prehistoric lake that dried out tens of thousands of years ago. Today it's a salt desert that'll do magic tricks with your eyes. The textures, colours and striking backdrops make it seem like you're on an entirely different planet. November is a great time to visit, as the salt flats become a breeding ground for several different species of Flamingos, which adds to the weirdness of the experience.
Good Advice: Remember to pack warm clothes – it gets freezing cold at night. We highly recommend doing a tour with Latorretours, who offer a range of tours options that include other sites (volcanoes, lagoons, wildlife tours and overland trips to other cities). It is slightly more pricey than staying in the town of Uyani and doing a day-tour, but you'll see more and travel comfortably. One of the biggest complaints from people is that Uyani day-tours are crammed and generally conducted by insanely bad drivers. You won't have that with Latorretours.
By comparison to Bolivia, Uruguay is modernised, developed and a lot more accessible to a wider range of backpackers. Over the last decade or two it's shot through the roof in popularity, but the crowds still pale in comparison to Ibiza or Tijuana. People who first visited (or like to pretend they did) in the late nineties are scathing of all the development in the country, but there is still an air of mystique to Uruguay amongst the conveniences. In other words, it's no sell-out.
Punta del Diablo
Punta del Diablo offers a mix of 1960's bohemia and traditional sea-side charm. All the activity revolves around the beach – there's no need to go anywhere else. It's not like you'll find any five-star resorts, modern condos or dress-coded restaurants, anyways. The houses are rustic-retro and probably looked the same way back in the 70's, and most likely won't get any fancier in another thirty years time. Everything is purpose-built and sturdy, as a seaside town facing the Atlantic Ocean needs to be. It does get very crowded over summer and you'll probably find yourself partying around a campfire with people from all corners of the world, sharing your views on the existence of aliens over a bottle or two of tequila.
This sleepy fishing village was once a hidden secret to beach lovers from bordering areas like Argentina and brazil, but over the last decade the seasonal crowds have gotten bigger and are staying for longer periods. Today it's a big fixture on the list of places to see for travellers from around the world. The chillier autumn and winter months are better for surfing (bad weather = good waves), which draws in a new crowd after the summer madness has ended. Winter offers a more chilled vibe and is probably the better season for travellers who aren't on a mission to party hard.
Ideally, renting a home in Punta del Diablo is the way to go, but you'll need to be there for some time to make it worth while. If you are on a shorter trip and smaller financial budget, you should check out El Diablo Tranquilo hostel – right on the beach and a guaranteed good time. For more backpacking hostel suggestions, check out our Top 10 Alternative Hostels article here.
South Africa is one of Africa’s most famous backpacker destinations. The natural beauty of the country, the exuberance of the cities and the allure of some of the world’s best beaches attracts tourists all year round. If you’re heading south for the backpacking adventure of a lifetime, be sure to check out our top picks of the best backpacking spots that South Africa has to offer. Or if you’ve experienced the best of SA, drop us a comment on facebook or in the black box below.
In the City: Cape Town
One of Africa’s most popular tourist destination, Cape Town is a hub of activity, creative freedom and potential. The city was also voted to be one of the top five in the world.
Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain stands as a majestic custodian of the city. One of the new Seven Wonders of Nature, it is a must-do for anyone stepping foot on South African soil. Take a trip in the cable car for mesmerising views of the city below, or hike up the well-developed trail for that feeling of really deserving the panorama that awaits.
To experience the real joie de vivre that the city so vibrantly exudes, head to Long Street. Lined with shops, restaurants and pubs, this street is always alive. For comfortable accommodation right at the heart of the city, book into Long Street Backpackers. One of the original backpackers in Cape Town, it prides itself on its laid-back atmosphere as well as some of the lowest rates in the city. Long Street Backpackers also provides a wealth of knowledge to ensure that you have the best possible experience of Cape Town.
So much of South Africa’s politically tumultuous past is embodied in Robben Island. Used for centuries as a place of imprisonment, it is now a museum and World Heritage Site, and has become a pertinent symbol of transformation, democracy and freedom. Robben Island Tours take place daily and advance bookings are recommended to avoid disappointment. The tour begins at the V&A Waterfront, one of Cape Town’s most popular shopping and entertainment hubs.
To really experience the natural beauty that surrounds this vibrant city, take a drive around the Cape Peninsula - from the impeccable beaches of Clifton, Llandudno and Hout Bay, along Chapman’s Peak Drive and all the way around to Noordhoek, Cape Point, Simon's Town and Kalk Bay - it is guaranteed to be a memorable experience. Helpful hint: Remember to have some cash on you for the Chapman’s Peak road toll, the tariff is currently R33 for light motor vehicles. Alternatively, you can enjoy the magnificent scenery with the ease of a guided tour.
For more ideas on how to spend your time in South Africa's Mother City, check out our 24 Hour Guide to Cape Town.
At the coast: Wild Coast
The breathtaking coastline of South Africa’s Wild Coast stretches from East London in the south to the border of KwaZulu Natal in the north. Rugged landscapes and unspoilt grasslands converge with secluded bays and desolate beaches, to form nature at its finest. The simplest way for backpackers to reach these destinations is to book a ticket on the Baz Bus, the convenient hop-on-hop-off bus service for backpackers.
The laidback coastal village of Chintsa boasts unspoilt white-sand beaches backed by dunes and meandering rivers. Head to Buccaneers Backpackers for a friendly and down-to-earth atmosphere. The backpackers also offers horse-riding on the beach, surf lessons, canoeing and volleyball, amongst other activities. On top of that, it is situated on the banks of the Chintsa River, overlooking the river mouth and the beach, has a well-stocked bar and provides breakfast with your stay there.
Coffee Bay is a popular stop on the Wild Coast. Follow the untamed wilderness to the coastal village with great surf and a backpacker-friendly atmosphere. Bomvu Backpackers is backpacker utopia. Situated right at the beach, Bomvu has various accommodation options and numerous activities - including adventure tours and drum-making. Hole in the Wall is just a short distance away and is perfect for surfing, fishing, cliff-diving or just relaxing at the water’s edge. For a South African’s point of view on Coffee Bay, check out the video below.
When it comes to the best backpacker locations around the world, travellers may sometimes be hesitant to spread the word about their favourite spots - there’s nothing worse than your most cherished backpackers being overrun by naive tourists. Mdumbi Backpackers is one such gem. For anyone willing to make the drive down the bumpy dirt road to Mdumbi, backpacker paradise awaits and you’ll be met with rolling green hills, a meandering river and some of the most exquisite coastline South Africa has to offer. The backpackers itself is rustic with all the amenities needed to make sure your stay is as tranquil as you’d like. Hire a surfboard and head for the waves, try your hand at fishing, canoe up the river, enjoy a trail through the untouched wilderness or meet like-minded travellers around the campfire back at base. Don’t go unless you’re looking to enjoy everything that a backpacking experience should be.
Where the mighty Umzimvubu River can taste the sea, the forested slopes of Mount Thesiger and Mount Sullivan tower above as the Gates of St John. Beyond these gates, the coastal town of Port St Johns welcomes travellers with open arms. The relaxed lifestyle and cultural richness attracts anyone in search of an authentic South African experience. Head to Amapondo Backpackers for a memorable backpacking experience. Surrounded by tropical rainforest and situated on a hill overlooking Second Beach, the view alone makes it worthwhile. Above and beyond the incredible scenery, Amapondo also offers activities such as hiking and surfing, and runs a very successful volunteer programme. Port St Johns is one of our favourite coastal backapcking destinations in South Africa, but not all the beaches are appropriate for swimming: Where the Umzimvubu River meets the sea, the beautiful First Beach can be experienced from the safety of the shore - river mouths are notorious for being home to sharks. Second Beach on the other hand is a wide, white-sand beach that is perfect for spending hours in the warm Indian Ocean.
In the Countryside: Drakensberg
Backpackers wishing to experience the beauty and biological diversity of South Africa’s countryside should head to the Drakensberg. The Drakensberg Mountain Range spans just over 124 miles and boasts Southern Africa’s highest mountain peak, Mafadi, which reaches up to 11,320 feet. Known as the soul of the Zulu Kingdom, the Drakensberg is an example of nature at its finest. To make the most of the incredible landscapes, head for a hiking route, try rock climbing or go whitewater rafting. Or take a helicopter ride that lets you experience the panoramic views without having to climb all the way to the top.
The Royal Natal National Park in Northern Drakensberg boasts the grand Amphitheatre, a natural rock structure that reaches straight up to the sky for over 3,000 feet, and the Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world. Amphitheatre Backpackers offers travellers the perfect basecamp to explore the Drakensberg. Besides the variety of onsite leisure activities, the backpackers also organises various day trips to make sure that you get to really explore the area.
For anyone wanting to experience the full magnitude of the Drakensberg’s beauty, don’t miss out on the opportunity to hike to the summit of Cathedral Peak. The hike isn’t easy, but the views are unforgettable - marvel at the majestic Drakensberg scenery below and the panoramic view of the Lesotho on the other side of the mountain.
To experience the Drakensberg’s other famous peaks, head to Champagne Castle. This area is said to be a hiker's and backpacker's promised land, and its very name comes from the champagne indulgence of two hikers who attempted to reach the summit of Cathkin Peak. Inkonsana Lodge has been welcoming backpackers to this area for 25 years. Besides the hikes, horse-riding, river rafting and canopy tours that they offer, Inkonsana Lodge also provides the perfect jumping off point for exploring the surrounding caves and their famous San Art paintings.
Europe is a gentle option for backpackers. The distances between destinations are shorter than the larger continents and locals have got quite used to the endless stream of the rugsack-wearing sandal brigade. It's not only fun, but culturally rich and welcoming. We've chosen two popular backpacking destinations and explored the city, countyside and coast of each. Have you ever been backpacking through Europe? Let us know about your experience and message us on facebook or in the comment box below.
The Netherlands is a popular backpacker destination for many reasons - it’s rich in culture and tradition, and the sheer beauty of it makes it a pleasure to be there. Backpackers from around the world flock to this vibrant country, whether they’re there for the culture, the partying or the sightseeing.
In The City: Amsterdam
Amsterdam is often considered to be a party destination, somewhere to meet up with mates and experience the many delights it has to offer. While this is true, you need to also experience its beauty: The outstanding architecture, the glistening canals and the famous museums are also reasons why Amsterdam is one of the top backpacking spots in the world.
There are so many things to see and do in Amsterdam, so an organised tour is a good way to make sure that you really get to see this wonderful city properly. New Europe Amsterdam offers a free walking tour. This three hour walk takes you to all the landmarks and main canals and really shows off the city. Another way to see the city is to rent a bicycle. Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in Europe and you will feel right at home exploring the city by taking a long bicycle ride along the canals. You can also make use of the trams, but cycling is definitely recommended if you really want to have an authentic experience.
Amsterdam isn’t only about the nightlife and the canals. You’ll definitely want to visit Anne Frank’s house - the famous house where she and her family were in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. Here you get to see the annex where she wrote her diary, a truly humbling experience.
The city is also home to the Van Gogh Museum where you can view many of his most famous pieces. And if it’s a sunny day and you don’t feel like being inside, Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s most popular park, bringing in over 10 million visitors each year. Enjoy a picnic on the lush grass at the open air theatre or visit the Netherlands film museum situated in the park.
As a backpacker, you will want to save as much money as possible but good accommodation is important too. The Flying Pig is a fantastic hostel as it includes breakfast, linen, wifi and even tours. Amsterdam’s restaurants are quite pricey, but there are tons of stalls and markets on the streets where you can buy food for cheap, such as raw herring (a cheap Dutch delicacy) and pannekoeke (traditional Dutch pancakes). It might also be worth it to stop at Leeman Doner for an amazing Turkish burger for only £1.50. If you (unfortunately) only have one day to spend in Amsterdam, take a look at our 24 hour Amsterdam guide.
For more information on Amsterdam, take a look at the video below:
In The Countryside: Zaanse Schans
If you really want a taste of the traditional Netherlands, pay a visit to the village of Zaanse Schans. This quaint village is often known as an outdoor museum because of how much it embodies traditional Holland. Situated just nine miles from Amsterdam, this is a very popular place for backpackers to spend the day outdoors on the cheap.
Zaanse Schans is home to the six historic windmills along the Zaan River. These are the only working windmills here and they, along with the little green houses all over, add a lot of character to this small village. Because it’s only nine miles from Amsterdam, it’s a great place to spend a sunny day and dig deep into the rich culture of the Netherlands.
Besides the windmills, you can visit The Wooden Shoe Workshop and see clog-makers at work - perhaps even buy yourself a pair. After that, make your way to the cheese-maker to learn about the making of cheese. Best of all, it’s free of charge to visit these attractions, so you get to really experience the culture of the country without having to dip into your travelling funds.
If you have some cash to spare, you can also go on a guided tour to Zaanse Schans with Holland Tour Guides. Zaanse Schans only has two restaurants and a cafe, and with this being a popular tourist attraction, the prices aren’t very backpacker-friendly. Take a picnic basket with you and enjoy a snack along the river while taking in the beautiful scenery of the countryside. Renting a bicycle is a great way to explore this small village, you can check out Amsterbike for more information. The trip to Zaanse Schans is also friendly on your wallet as a train ride from Amsterdam costs less than £4 return and takes just 20 minutes - perfect for a day trip.
At The Coast: Noordwijk
If you’re more of a beachbum, you’ll no doubt want to have a splash in the waves sometime. Noordwijk has long, sandy beaches and has become a popular spot for backpackers - especially for youngsters. Around Noordwijk you also get to see an iconic part of the Netherlands - tulip flower fields. This coastal town is also home to beer extraordinaire, Freddy Heineken.
If you need a good place to stay, once again The Flying Pig Beach is a great option as it also has a hostel in Noordwijk, situated less than 200 feet from the beach. They will also be able to organise surfing lessons for you.
Noordwijk has the best beaches in Holland. Put your balancing skills to the test and try out kitesurfing, one of the most popular watersports in Noordwijk. Beach Break offers fantastic lessons in watersports so you can make the most of your time and enjoy the warm ocean. Don’t forget that the tulip flower fields are also a must-see if you plan on visiting Noordwijk. Bollenstreek, an area within Noordwijk, is the most popular place to see these magnificent flowers, especially in April when they are in full bloom.
France is undoubtedly a must-see country for anyone backpacking around Europe. The combination of exquisite cuisine and historic landmarks gives France that certain je ne sais quoi - the awe-inspiring beauty of this country is indescribable.
In The City: Paris
Ahh, Paris. The city of lights, love and the Louvre. Paris is the city where you get to see Parisian artists in the parks, rich trend-setting women walking with Gucci shopping bags, and bohemian street performers and buskers - all in the same place. Although it’s one of the more expensive cities in Europe, it’s still visited by backpackers from all over the globe - people thirsty for some proper sightseeing and culture. It may seem impossible to spend only one day in this city, but if that's all you have, you might find our 24 hour Paris guide useful.
Finding a place to stay in Paris isn’t always easy, so it’s best to book beforehand. Try booking through Hostel Bookers where you can find hostels in the heart of Paris from as little as £19 a night. If you’re looking to eat on the cheap, there's an abundance of delicatessens and cafes all over the city. Also try to stay in a hostel where you could even cook your own food or else take a picnic and eat in one of the lush green parks. If you want to eat out, Frommer's suggests the Chartier Restaurant - a historic building where you can eat on the cheap, with mains costing you as little as £6 and desserts for as little as £1.50. While you’re in Paris, make sure not to miss out on the decadent crepes - a true Parisian delight.
Of course, the postcard icon of Paris is the Eiffel Tower at the end of the Champs de Mars park. While seeing it up close is to witness the incredible feat of engineering, it would be a shame to miss going up the tower and seeing the entire city below in panoramic view, especially since it only costs £11 to get to the top. There is an equally spectacular view from the steps of Montmartre, an even cheaper alternative. Make sure to take a stroll along one of the world’s most famous boulevards, Champs Elysees, adorned with high end shops such as Louis Vitonne and Prada. Although not backpacker-budget friendly, the walk is definitely worth it to see the sites, possibly do some celebrity-spotting and best of all, it takes you all the way to the magnificent Arc De Triumph.
Whether you appreciate the beauty of art or not, seeing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is truly a memorable moment for anybody. The Louvre Museum houses over 100,000 pieces of art and of course it’s where you can also see the original artwork of Raphael and Rembrandt.
At night, if you’re up for some Parisian entertainment, look no further than the Moulin Rouge. Vibrant shows full of loud music, glittering costumes and beautiful choreography is what this place is all about. A wonderful night out in Paris.
For a sneak peek at what you get to see at the Louvre Museum, check out this video:
In The Countryside: The Luberon, Provence
If you want to escape the city for a bit and get in touch with nature, then you definitely will want to pay a visit to the Luberon in Provence - French countryside at its best. The alluring, hilly landscape consists of three mountain ranges that are just begging to be hiked.
The Luberon is a popular spot for backpackers seeking some adventure. It’s the perfect place to breathe in some fresh air while hiking one of the hundreds of trails. The best thing about hiking is that it’s free, so you and your mates can have an exhilarating walk through the natural French scenery without even having to pay for the incredible experience. If you would prefer it, you could take a guided day tour through the Luberon National Park with Tours in Provence - although this will set you back a bit. If you are travelling with a large group of friends then the tour will be cheaper.
Besides hiking and exploring the countryside, the Luberon has fresh food markets every day of the week. The markets sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to baked goods, which is perfect for anyone wanting to eat on the cheap. As a backpacker, you can experience French authenticity and buy some fresh baguettes, fruits and vegetables at the market and have a picnic. Saving money on food also allows you to splurge a little on accommodation. Campagne La Royere Guest Rooms is a little steep at £43 a night, but it's worth it for the magnificent setting in the vineyards and the complimentary full French breakfast, which of course includes freshly baked croissants. In a place like this, getting around on foot and bicycle is really the best way to discover the countryside.
At The Coast: Nice
To really experience the beaches of France, a trip to Nice with its sandy beaches and turquoise Mediterranean coast of the French Riviera, is a must-do. There are so many activities to do in this city for free, it’s no wonder backpackers swarm to Nice all year round.
The beaches of Nice are some of the finest in Europe. The most popular beach is Les Baie des Anges, meaning Bay of Angels. As it begins to cool down in the late afternoon, make sure to take a stroll along Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais (English Promenade) where you will see many little shops and cafes along the way.
If you’re willing to spend a little cash, there are many guided tours of Nice and the French Riviera available, where you’ll be whisked around to all the famous promenades, squares and museums. If you prefer to explore alone or with friends, then take a walk to Zone Pietonne or known more commonly by backpackers as The Pedestrian Zone. No cars are allowed in this unique area, which is has an abundance of cafes and restaurants. For your more artistic side, the Matisse Art Museum has breathtaking original masterpieces.
There’s an old section of Nice called Vieux Nice - which literally translates as “Old Nice”. This is where you will find all the bargains, including cheap places to eat. Another moneysaver is to visit the Nice markets in the side streets where you can buy lots of fresh ingredients. If you’re lucky enough to be backpacking in Nice, staying at the Chez Patrick Backpackers Hotel is a great option. It is located in the heart of Nice, just ten minutes from Promenade des Anglais, close to markets and cafes and is as cheap as £14 a night. If you don’t feel like walking around all day, take one of the city’s trams or help yourself to a bicycle for 80p from one of the ninety self-service bike stations around the city.
If you want to backpack in destinations that are diverse, traditional and completely soaked in culture, then Asia is your place to go. Asia is the largest continent in the world and depending on which country you pick, it could be a really cheap backpacking experience. From strong religious views, to gold and bronze statues, to long stretching beaches, Asia has something for every type of traveller. Have you had a great trip to Asia? Drop us a message on facebook or in the comment box below.
India is one of the most populated countries in Asia and it proves to be a favourite with backpackers from all over the world. The hot weather and cheap lifestyle are definitely factors as to why it’s so popular, but that’s not all it has to offer. India is a busy, colourful, noisy, vibrant country - and somehow this comes together in perfect harmony to create a place that is completely awe-inspiring, and humbling at the same time.
In The City: Mumbai
The Indian city of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) is a top choice for backpackers. Mumbai is India’s “city that never sleeps” and with its Gothic architecture and hot weather, you’re guaranteed a memorable time.
There are so many things to do in this compact city that we really struggled to narrow it down. Firstly, you can’t go to Mumbai and not see the Gateway to India - the iconic symbol of India. This large structure was built in honour of King George V and Queen Mary on their visit to India. From here you can take a ferry to the historic Elephanta Caves. There are Buddhist caves and Hindu sculpted caves - many of them depicting Indian gods. Entering this UNESCO World Heritage Site will only cost you £2.80. Why not enjoy a picnic at the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai afterwards? The elaborate gardens have beautiful topiary hedges.
If you feel like doing something a little different from the usual sightseeing, pay a visit to the Nehru Science Centre. This is the largest science centre in the whole of India, and even better, it’s largely interactive. If learning about science sounds a bit too much like the good ol’ school days to you, then you should definitely visit what India has become best known for: Bollywood. Take a tour with Bollywood Tour Packages and you could even sign up to be an extra in one of the films - definitely a great Indian experience to have and take home with you forever.
As a backpacker, eating and sleeping on the cheap is kind of vital. Backpackers from all over recommend Leopold Cafe - standard mains start from a ridiculously low 90p, traditional meals are only about £1.50 and delicious rotis will cost you just 50p. The portions are generous and you really get to relish in the Indian authenticity at this restaurant. For a proper backpacking hostel vibe, stay at the Travellers Inn - rooms here cost from £7 with breakfasts and wifi included. Along with the cheap, backpacker-friendly food, attractions, and places to stay, you can get around Mumbai for cheap too. Tuk Tuks are available throughout the city, but make sure that they use a meter. Or for just £9, you can take a taxi basically across the whole city.
Take a look at the tranquil Hanging Gardens of Mumbai in the video below:
In The Countryside: Kodagu
There are very few rural areas as breathtakingly beautiful as Kodagu. Kodagu is better known as 'Coorg' to tourists and its scenery of mountain ranges, great wildlife and coffee plantations makes it a perfect destination for any backpacker looking for some fresh air and adventure.
Kodagu has great wildlife, so it’s definitely worthwhile to visit the Nagarhole National Park - filled with antelope, elephant, and if you’re extremely lucky, you could spot one of the sixty tigers living there. It will cost you about £11 to get in, but why not save some money and take a tour with India Jungle Tours. Another scenic attraction in Kodagu is Abbey Falls. The cascading waterfalls can be heard for miles and they’re surrounded by the alluring coffee and spice plantations. If you have the time and you’re in the mood for some culture, take a tour with Coorg Tour so to visit the Madikeri Fort, a 17th century fort that’s home to a temple, prison, church and museum. If you love animals and want to see the largest mammal up close, put a visit to Dubare Elephant Camp on your to-do list. Elephants are trained at this ethical naturalist project and entrance is only 22p. For £1.14 you can either ride an elephant or bath one in the morning - a truly great experience for those who appreciate the elegance of this giant creature.
Despite Kodagu becoming more of a tourist destination, they have kept the backpacker's wallet in mind and eating here is still relatively cheap. There are plenty of food stalls along the streets, which sell a variety of traditional Asian food. Kodagu food is known for its combination of chilli, coconut and mushrooms along with many other spices, to tantalise your taste buds.
It's best to book accommodation in advance in Kodagu. There are many cheap backpackers hotels and most of them have an en-suite bathroom (very rare for a backpackers). As for getting around in this city, it’s best to take a rikshaw (tuk tuk) or taxi.
At The Coast: Goa
Goa is a popular coastal state for many backpackers travelling in India. The beaches run along the Arabian Sea and the architecture features alongside world heritage sites. Originally a hippie homeland, people flock here for the cheap food and alcohol, and of course for a bit of relaxation and sightseeing.
The food in Goa is often a memorable treat. Besides the streets being full of stalls offering local Indian cuisine at very reasonable prices, there's also a restaurant called Fisherman’s Cove that has been highly recommended by tourists and backpackers alike. Main meals start from as little as £1.20 and the portions are guaranteed to satisfy your hunger. If you book in advance and look around carefully, it will be very easy for you to sleep on the cheap too. You might want to take a look at Silver Moon Guest House where you can get a bed from just 23p a night. And best of all, this guest house is in Anjuna - where you get to experience the famous Wednesday market.
Goa is home to amazing markets, one of them being the Anjuna Flea Market. The market was started by the free thinkers of the 1960s and it’s been happening every Wednesday ever since. You can buy anything from jewellery and clothing to spices and traditional healing herbs. For all the party animals out there, you'll appreciate the fact that Anjuna is famous for its trance music parties. For night owls, every Saturday night features Ingo’s Night Market, similar to the Anjuna one except it’s beautifully illuminated. A more relaxing experience here usually means going to the tranquil beaches of Goa, but also have some fun and join in on one of the many watersports happening there.
For a rich cultural experience, make sure to visit Goa’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated in Old Goa, the Basilica of Bom Jesus is the most popular church in Goa, as well as one of its finest pieces of architecture. What makes this church even more unique is the fact that it houses the remains for St. Francis Xavier - the saint appointed to spread the word of Christianity way back in 1541. You will need some form of transport to get to all these places - a scooter or motorbike is the most popular choice of locals and tourists. Check out Safe Special Services and hire a bike in Goa from as little as £3.50 a day.
Over the past few years, the Kingdom of Thailand, formerly known as Siam, has become one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. The natural beauty, array of activities, exciting nightlife and inexpensive lifestyle is what attracts people the most. Thailand is ruled by King Rama IX and it’s also home to warm seas, Buddhist monks, tropical wildlife and towering temples.
In The City: Bangkok
The capital of Thailand almost overflows with backpackers. The scenery, alluring nightlife and golden temples make Bangkok a great destination to stop at when backpacking through South-East Asia. Backpackers also enjoy the cheap lifestyle and the amazing weather here.
Besides the nightlife, there’s plenty of things to do in this stunning city during the day. Bangkok has many temples and among them is the Wat Arun Temple, also known as the Temple of the Dawn. The temple is covered in shiny porcelain and the highest point of it reaches a staggering 282 feet. It will only cost you 60p to see the inside of this majestic structure. While we’re on the subject of temples, it is definitely worth your while to see the Temple of the Golden Buddha - this is where you will see the amazing statue made entirely of solid gold. Another famous architectural feat is the Grand Palace. Built in the late 1700s, it’s the official home of King Rama IX. A peek inside will cost about £7.
Markets are clearly very popular throughout Asia as they provide fresh goods, clothes and jewellery all at very affordable rates. When in Bangkok, you will need to experience a market with a difference - a floating market. Bangkok's many canals have become a popular place for shopping - locals sell their goods off of their small boats floating in the water, making it a unique way of shopping for any backpacker. If you’re not sure which floating market to attend, the Damnoen Saduak is a very popular choice.
If you really want to get in touch with nature and you have a little extra cash to spare, check out the - somewhat controversial - Tiger Temple, which is where the monks live amongst tame tigers. For £72 you get to spend the day there playing with the cubs, stroking adult tigers and even bathing them. If you only have 24 hours in Bangkok, take a look at our 24 hour Bangkok guide.
Sometimes it’s a struggle to find affordable accommodation in very touristy cities, but in Bangkok, Khao San Road is the place to stay. Khao San is backpackers' paradise and is filled with budget hostels, pubs and street stalls that sell everything from bikinis to fried insects for you to try. A place such as the Buddy Lodge Hotel will cost you £29 a night. This may be a little bit more expensive than usual, but it’s the place where you’ll meet fellow backpackers and enjoy Bangkok to the fullest. Most of the city’s main attractions are within walking distance of Khao San Road. To get from one place to the other in Bangkok is fairly cheap. You could hire a scooter, although it might be less stressful to walk or take the ever popular tuk tuk (just remember to check the price before you get in) as traffic can get very hectic. Food in Bangkok is backpacker budget friendly and the many food stalls sell authentic Thai cuisine. Do yourself a favour and don’t buy western take-aways in Bangkok, as they're overpriced. Stay true to the country you’re in, do as the locals do and enjoy the local cuisine on offer.
Take a look at the Damnoen Saduak floating market in the video below:
In The Countryside: Mae Hong Son
To truly experience the fresh Thai countryside, you’ll need to take a trip to Mae Hong Son. This small town is surrounded by majestic mountains and it’s every adventurer’s dream. Backpackers often use this town as a stop-over on their way to the popular backpacking town of Pai – but if you are a true opportunist, you’ll want to make the most of the chance to stay a little longer in Thailand's scenic countryside.
Mae Hong Son is so small that you can practically get anywhere on foot. Alternatively, there are places where you can rent cheap bicycles or scooters. There are also buses available, but this is a more expensive option. With regards to accommodation, Mae Hong Son is filled with authentic, homely and cheap guesthouses, many of which will welcome you without a booking. Eating in this town is also very cheap, although its increased popularity for tourists means that backpackers need to be careful where they end up eating to avoid spending more that your budget allows. A recommended restaurant is the Salween River Restaurant where you can have traditional main meals from only £2.20 – and these meal portions are apparently huge. The markets sell fresh food at good prices, so a fun option for you (and your wallet) would be to buy some ingredients at the market and have a picnic. Plant yourself down and enjoy the fresh food, while relaxing in the beautiful scenery – after the sightseeing and adventures of course.
This may be a very small town, but any backpacker who loves the outdoors and culture will find lots to do here.Trekking and river rafting are very popular activities to do here. With the mountainous landscape, there are many trails for you to explore Mae Hong Son. Along the trekking trails there are also hot springs for you to enjoy. Or why not organise a rafting mission with a guide to experience the exhilaration of adventure. If you feel like something more relaxed, visit Fish Cave to explore the beauty of the lake and feed its countless fish. It's also the perfect spot to relax with a picnic.
If you’re not really up for so much exercise on your holiday, why not check out some of the culture? The Hilltribe Valley and its people are a popular tourist attraction, as are their markets filled with handcrafted goods. Speaking of villages, if you go just over the border of Mae Hong Son, you will reach Burma. Burma is home to the village of the infamous Kayan people – also known as the “long neck” people. This is where you can see and meet the women who, since their early childhood, have worn rings around their neck in order to eventually elongate them. It will cost you about £5 (including the boat trip) to enter the village. Another must-see attraction in Mae Hong Son could be considered the symbol of this town - the tall temple of Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu - quite a mouthful. Built in 1860, the gleaming white architecture can be seen from anywhere in the town. Backpackers can enjoy going up to the top where you can see the entire town and watch the sunset. If you don’t have much time to spend here, try to take an organised tour with Green Earth Adventure .
At The Coast: Patong Beach, Phuket
Imagine white, soft sand between your toes as you walk along the calm, turquoise Indian Ocean. Phuket is one of those ultimate backpacker destinations with its amazing beaches, friendly people, delicious food and cheap lifestyle. Patong Beach is undoubtedly the most popular coastal attraction among all tourists. The sea is as tranquil as a lake here and the overall experience will not disappoint.
Patong Beach, well Phuket in general, is very hot and humid throughout the year, so the beach is definitely the top spot to hang out during the day. You can even hire a beach chair and umbrella and sip on a cocktail on the beach. If you feel like exploring Phuket more but not venturing too far away, spend the day at Karon Beach. This beach comes second to Patong but it is home to something that might appeal to your childish side - Dino Park. Dino Park has a mini golf course filled with dinosaur statues, as well as the Dino Bar which is a bar and restaurant set to look like the Stone Age a la The Flintstones. You can generally walk everywhere in Patong Beach, but getting from Patong to Karon may take you a while on foot, so rather rent a scooter and ride like the locals. It might also be a good idea to make sure that your accommodation is central and within walking distance of attractions – try to book at a place like Phuket Backpacker so that you get exactly what you’re looking for within your budget.
Besides discovering the beaches, there’s so much more to do in Thailand. While shopping is very cheap here and you're encouraged to haggle over prices, make sure that you keep an eye on how much is going into your backpack if this isn’t your last stop. A beautiful way to experience Phuket’s surrounding islands is to take a boat trip to James Bond Island . Situated in Phang Nga Bay, this island was featured in the 007 film The Man With The Golden Gun, making this a worldwide attraction. Once you reach the island, you can choose to relax there or you can go canoeing in the many caves. If you want to get more in touch with nature, £6 will get you access to the Phuket Butterfly Garden and Insect World, where you walk into a colourful world of butterflies all around you.
As the sun sets, Patong Beach really comes to life. The nightlife here is incredibly vibrant and never boring. To start the night off, you have to experience a live show of Thai Boxing, or Muay Thai. From all ages, Thai locals train in their most popular sport to become true fighters. Tickets are cheap and the show is likely to get your night off to a good start. And then… there’s Bangla Road. This road has become infamous for its nightlife. The street closes off to cars after sunset so people are free to roam around from pub to pub without worrying about any traffic. The colourfully lit street is absolutely filled with restaurants, pubs and clubs and it doesn’t die down until about 6 in the morning. If you stick to the local cuisine, you can get away with spending less than £2 on a full, main meal.
If you travel to Phuket, you're guaranteed a most memorable experience, you probably won't want to leave and there’s not a chance that you won’t be going back there again.
Last Updated: September 2012