What to pack for backpacking in Southeast Asia

I recently went to Southeast Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia) for two months and I managed to do the trip with only a 28 litre backpack. For me, travelling light makes the journey far more enjoyable and travelling/packing is so much less hassle!

When you’re travelling light you really need to consider each item you are bringing with you so I spent a lot of time researching and reading reviews for each item. I was pretty happy with my purchases so I’ll list the main items here:

  • Berghaus Chromia 30 Rucksack — 28 litres expandable to 30 litres. Light, comfortable, correct size for carry-on luggage. Much easier to find and organize stuff than a top-loader backpack.
  • Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack — I saw people awkwardly bringing plastic bags with them on day-trips (and I watched them break), a daypack is essential. This one compresses down to less than the size of my fist and is waterproof.
  • Gelert lightweight anti-bacterial microfibre towel — Feels weird the first couple of times compared to a normal fluffly towel, but it packs down tiny and it gets you dry quicker. It also drys out much quicker than a normal towel.
  • PacSafe 55 Secure Backpack & Bag Protector — I used this a few times to tether my backpack to the bed. It gave me peace of mind when staying in hostels with no lockers around.
  • Gelert Sleeping Bag Liner – White Liner/Black Stuff Sac — You definitely do not need a sleeping bag in SE-Asia, it’s too hot. If you’re on a budget then sometimes you will get stuck in a hostel that hasn’t got the cleanest sheets. I felt much more comfortable sleeping in this.
  • Sea to Summit The Clothes Line — Laundry services aren’t always available (depending where you are). I used this to dry my clothes.
  • Dr Bronner’s 18-in-1 Liquid Soap — This stuff is magic. I used it for shampooing, shower gel, shaving, hand washing clothes. Saved a lot of space in my backpack.
  • Sea to Summit Event Compression Dry Sack (Small) — This compresses clothes down to be really small. Was handy for separating things in my backpack. I often used it for putting dirty items of clothing. It’s also waterproof, was super handy when I was on the water (canoeing etc.).
  • Macks Soft Earplugs — If you’re going to be sleeping in a shared room or a noisy part of town then these are essential.
  • ALokSak bags — These are waterproof, airtight and super durable. I stored important documents (passports etc..), Money and my Camera in these
  • Unlocked iPhone 3GS — It’s probably best not to bring an expensive phone with you, it will probably get damaged and it may also get lost/stolen. I was going to bring my old Nokia, but I wanted Google Maps for getting around so instead I bought a friend’s old iPhone from him for €50. Make sure it’s unlocked, roaming isn’t too expensive in Europe, but it is still quite expensive (especially data) in SE-Asia.

It’s better to buy the backpack after you’ve decided exactly what you want to pack and you’ve bought everything else for the trip; then you will have a better idea of what size bag you need. If you buy a 60 litre bag then you will feel the need to pack 60L of stuff into it. You should buy the smallest bag that can comfortably carry all your gear.

Also, you’re not going to need bulky jumpers and jackets like you would in other cooler destinations. Maybe one zip-up top, one lightweight pants and a summer rain-jacket… everything else should be summer clothing.

One last thing… Personally, I find cotton clothing makes me feel hot and sweaty in the extreme heat/humidity. Cotton is somewhat breathable but it absorbs sweat like crazy (and you will sweat for the first week or two at least), so I always pack at least one Polyester/Elastane top (like the material used in UnderArmour branded sports stuff). Might not be the prettiest thing for a girl to wear but if you plan on doing hiking or anything like that then this is essential. I also prefer polyester boxers/underwear but if you’re comfortable with the heat then you may be ok with cotton underwear. The polyester stuff is also much easier to hand-wash than cotton (important because laundry might not always be an option, depending on where you go).

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Mobile Phone Sim-only Plans (Updated: Christmas 2013)

If you’re lucky enough to not be signed up to a contract and you have an unlocked phone then you will usually find that sim-only phones are the cheapest option for you. Not only that, they also offer you the flexibility to easily change to a different network or plan because the contracts are only 30 days long.

We’re going to do a quick review of what’s available from the Irish mobile networks and we’ll try to find out who is offering the best value. For our comparison, we will have two different use cases. A light user and a heavy user, here’s what each of these users is looking for.

Light: 200 minutes, 200 texts, 250MB internet (monthly).
Heavy: Unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB internet (monthly).

We have configured the plans for each of the big four networks to closely match the needs of these two fictional users.

Light User

Plan Minutes Text Data Price
Vodafone My Way Plus 1 200 200 250MB €35
O2 Open Sim 500 2 250 250 250MB €25
Meteor MAXI-SIMO 3 200 Unlimited 1GB €20
Three Classic Flex Max 350 4 ~250 5 ~200 5 Unlimited €20.33

1 Includes free Vodafone-to-Vodafone calls and texts.
2 Includes free O2-to-O2 calls or texts (not both).
3 Includes free Meteor-to-Meteor calls and texts.
4 Includes free Three-to-Three calls
5 Three uses ‘Flexi units’, the plan includes 350 flexi units. 1 unit = 1 minute or 2 texts. For the sake of simplicity we have converted that to 250 minutes and 200 texts, but you can break it down however you like (i.e. 100 mins and 500 texts).

Conclusion

Meteor win this and are all-round best value. O2 are a solid second-choice for those who want reliably good customer support and a strong network. Three are good value but their customer support is weak and their data network (internet) is renowned for being over-contended which leads to poor & unreliable speeds. Vodafone’s offering is over-priced.

Heavy User

Plan Minutes Text Data Price
Vodafone Red 30 Day Unlimited Unlimited 1GB €40
O2 Open Sim Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 1GB €32
Meteor 4G Unlimited Unlimited 1GB €30
Three Classic Flex Max 350 Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited €39.75

Conclusion

There is little to choose between O2 and Meteor, I would personally go with O2 because I have found their customer support to be very good and I have a lot of friends on O2; Meteor are a very close second though. Vodafone are definitely a little bit more expensive, but I would recommend taking a look at them if you don’t mind paying a bit extra for a mature network with good customer support. Three have unlimited internet but be wary that they often have an unreliable/slow data connection.

Brief notes about the networks

(if you think I should add some more notes to this section then please add a comment and I’ll review)

Vodafone

I think it’s generally accepted that Vodafone have the best reception nationwide, this is less true recently as O2 and Meteor have caught up. Still, my father is with Vodafone and he often has good reception when I have none (I’m with O2). They have 4G rolled out in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny. In my experience they have the best over-the-phone customer support, I don’t know if that’s enough to justify the price difference though.

O2

Along with Vodafone, O2 offer good over-the-phone customer support. They tend to be a little more expensive than Meteor but it might be worth it for a company that has been around for longer.

Meteor

Meteor’s over-the-phone customer support is hit and miss but I’ve had good luck reaching out to them over Twitter. They’ve recently begun rolling out their 4G service and it is available in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Athlone and Carlow.

Three

I find it hard to recommend Three because I have bad experiences with them. In general, their 3G network is over-contended which means that speeds are poor and patchy. Whenever I’ve had to deal with them on the phone (admittedly over 2 years ago so this might have changed) it has been a horrible experience. With that said, they do offer unlimited data, so if you are a heavy internet user on a tight budget who doesn’t mind a patchy internet connection then they are worth a look at.

What about 48 Months?

48Months are only available for the 18-22 age group. They are also a bit different because you pre-pay a subscription fee which is different to the other plans which are bill-pay. With all that said, they are fantastic value so if you fall within the age group then I would highly recommend them. Be aware though that they don’t offer any over-the-phone support so you will have to get in touch with them thorough their online channels.

Plan Minutes Text Data Price
48 The Guido
300 Unlimited 1GB €10
48 The Don Unlimited Unlimited 5GB €20

Bonkers.ie — A new Irish price comparison site

Bonkers.ie is the latest string of price comparison sites launched to help make Irish consumers aware of the savings they can make to their household bills by simply shopping about.

You can compare the costs of credit cards, electricity prices, personal accounts, and loans on the site by using their online calculator.

From their about page:

bonkers.ie is a free-to-consumer, impartial online comparison and switching service which helps you to compare prices on a range of products and services including electricity and personal finance products. Our aim is to help you take advantage of the best prices and services on offer from suppliers.

Bonkers.ie is competing with existing Irish price comparison sites such as Compare.ie and freetocompare.ie.

We are now on Twitter!

I’ve found that a lot of the blog posts that I’ve wanted to write were too short and insignificant to warrant a new blog entry.

So now you can get lots of little tips by following me on twitter at: http://twitter.com/irishconsumer

Shopping in the UK

As I write this, €1 will buy you 85p in sterling (GBP) and from next Monday the British government will reduce VAT to 15%, that’s a 2.5% reduction. You can make fantastic savings if you decide to shop in the UK.

Groceries

The big boys in the UK grocery market are Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Make sure that you check out mysupermarket, It is a fantastic resource for research on how to get the best value out of your shopping basket. According to their latest report, Asda are the cheapest by a long way.

Christmas Shopping

A good way to get an idea for the savings that you can make is to compare argos.ie and argos.co.uk. For Electronic goods Currys are very competitive. If you don’t fancy the drive across the border then Amazon.co.uk offer great value and will deliver to your door (Note: Amazon.co.uk will not deliver electronics outside of the UK).

Traveling to the UK

Crossing the border by car is relatively painless, Irish citizens don’t need a passport but you should carry identification with you. You could also go to Wales — Irish Ferries have a special offer at the moment which ends at midnight tonight (Tuesday, 25th November). You can take yourself and your car to Wales from either Rosslare or Dublin for €49.

Caveats

The vast majority of products are cheaper in the UK at the moment, one exception is petrol prices which are marginally cheaper in Ireland than the UK. Generally there are no restrictions when bringing back items from the UK but watch out for cigarettes (no more than 800) and alcohol, have a quick look through the customs regulations.

But buying from abroad hurts the Irish economy!

On my Soapbox: Especially during these tough economic times there is a big push to encourage consumers to buy Irish. The fact is that Irish retailers are not competitive enough (I’m not suggesting that all the blame lies with retailers). Subsidising Ireland’s lack of competitiveness isn’t going to solve the problem, it will exacerbate it. If the Government wants to ‘Stem flow of shoppers across border’ then prices will have to become more competitive.

Check out the latest EUR » GBP exchange rate at xe.com.

Avoid the credit card charge when booking with Ryanair

Ryanair have a free flights offer running at the moment which expires today (21st November). Of course they whack on a credit card charge of €5 per journey when booking with a standard credit card.

There is an exception however. If you book with a Visa Electron they will waive the credit card booking charge, which means that you will be paying €0.01 per flight including all charges.

I rang around a few of the Irish banks (AIB, BOI, Halifax, Permanent TSB) and none of the banks offer a visa electron card. I was determined to see if I could get my hands on an electron because I wanted to book in bulk a series of about 30 flights. 15 return trips, 30 x €5 = €150. Which could come in handy with Christmas coming up.

A bit of research and a few emails to some helpful people and I found EntroPay who provide virtual visa credit cards but crucially they are recognised as Visa Electron cards by Ryanair.

An Entropay Virtual Credit Card

  1. Sign up for EntroPay but make sure that your chosen account currency is GBP (This is because your card will not be recognised as a Visa Electron if you choose EUR). Postal code is required so type in EIRE or some random postal code.
  2. Use your regular credit card to fund the account.
  3. Activate the account using the activation email that they send you.
  4. You will need to load at least €10 on to the account from your existing credit card, they also take a 4.95% commision, so it will cost €10.50.

That’s it (Well almost, see appendum below), you should be able to log on and get your new visa electron credit card details. Make sure that you choose Visa Electron when booking your flights with Ryanair and you will only pay €0.01 for your flight.

Appendum: EntroPay are now asking for you to email them identification once you have registered, this is because Sterling (GBP) is not the currency of Ireland. if you have any questions then the best thing to do is drop the EntroPay guys an email they are very nice and they responded to all my questions very quickly.

Here is what a one cent flight booking confirmation looks like!

Here is what a one cent flight booking confirmation looks like!

Welcome to Bargains for Irish Consumers

Welcome! The idea here is pretty simple (and should be obvious from the title).

This site will regularly blog about money saving tips and bargains with a slant towards Irish consumers. So make sure to subscribe by RSS or check back regularly for the latest updates.