Explore the quaint and history packed streets of Old Hanoi, sampling the freshest and most delicate flavors of Vietnamese cuisine on every corner. Trek through Ngoc Son-Ngo Luong Nature Reserve and live in a Muong Village where you’ll contribute to an ongoing service initiative. Cruise through Trang An grottoes in Ninh Binh and learn about the rich history of Vietnam’s ancient capital city. Overnight aboard a private junk boat in Ha Long Bay, stopping to explore caves, karsts, and islands as you go.
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Here is a detailed packing list for your time in Southeast Asia this summer. Packing the right gear (and not too much of it) is the first step to an incredible travel experience. Remember that you’ll be responsible for carrying your belongings everywhere you go, so PACK LIGHT! If your bag weighs more than 35 pounds, you’ve overpacked!
Weather in Southeast Asia
Summer in Southeast Asia is known as the “rainy season” or the “green season”—days are generally hot and humid, with brief and refreshing showers that keep the land very lush and green. Temperatures sometimes cool off once the sun goes down, making for more pleasant evenings. Because of the heat, you’ll need to drink a lot more water than you’re used to drinking to stay hydrated! Your clothes should be able to get wet, dirty, and / or destroyed during service work and program activities.
Important Notes About Your Luggage
Airlines in Southeast Asia have weight restrictions for checked and carry-on luggage. Please limit your checked luggage to no more than 33lbs (15kg) and your carry-on luggage to 15lbs (7kg). For your one checked bag, a backpacking backpack or a duffel bag that is easy to carry are perfect. Make sure everything you pack in your carry-on bag complies with the carry-on regulations of the TSA. Lastly, remember to leave your valuables or prized possessions at home. It’s easier for things to get lost, stolen, or damaged while traveling.
Our Dress Code Expectations in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asian cultures are very conservative. Despite the hot climate, people in these parts of the world show less skin than in many Western cultures, and you’ll rarely see low-cut shirts or short shorts in rural communities. As we seek to respect and preserve the culture of the communities we work with, we ask that our students dress conservatively while in country. If you’re not wearing proper attire, we’ll ask you to change your clothes or abstain from the service project of the day.
To dress respectfully in Southeast Asia, please bring loose-fitting pants or shorts that cover just above the knees (think basketball length). Bring basic t-shirts that cover your shoulders, and please leave all tank tops, cut off shirts, low-cut, see-through, or crop tops at home. As mentioned in our packing lists, yoga pants and leggings are not appropriate because they are too form-fitting. The key is to show less skin and to stay cool by wearing loose-fitted clothing. Check out these tips about how to pack for culturally-immersive travel and why Rustic cares about preserving a conservative dress code on our programs.
Personal hygiene is important in Southeast Asia, so when visiting temples we want to clean up more than while doing service. Wearing modest, clean clothes that cover the knees and shoulders is a must, as per usual. Being respectful is the name of the game!
Access to laundry can vary, but most programs find access once a week, though not guaranteed. If you’re getting laundry done in a village or rural town, expect to pay $1-2 per kg. If you’re at a hotel, it can be up to $20 per load.
A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips. Include the following:
• Passport – you cannot get on the plane without this!
• Airline tickets – you cannot get on the plane without these either!
• Vietnam visa inside your Passport
• Wallet / money / ATM card – with about $100 emergency money
• A travel wallet that can be hidden under clothes is a good idea.
• Photocopy of your Passport – one additional copy should be kept in your luggage.
• Pens and journal
• Outlet power converter
• Camera – don’t forget to bring your chargers, batteries and memory cards!
• Earbuds / Ear plugs
• Reusable water bottle. Fill up at the gate and stay hydrated on the plane!
• Medication – must alert staff, but keep these in your carry-on in case of lost luggage!
• One change of clothing
A 50- to 70-liter backpack is ideal. Duffel bags and rolling suitcases are not recommended for this program.
• 2-3 pairs of lightweight pants, jeans (too hot to wear often) or capris; leggings are not culturally appropriate as they are too form-fitting
• 2-3 pairs of shorts/skirts, which must go to the knees or longer
• 5-7 tops (t-shirts and sports shirts) – they can be cotton, or quick-dry shirts like capilene or polypropylene; tank tops are generally not acceptable unless for time at the pool or beach; keep in mind you’ll find cool t-shirts and other clothing at markets you’ll visit throughout the summer, which can supplement the tops you bring over
• 1-2 light, long sleeve t-shirts – breathable is best for the sun and certain areas of the region can get buggy or chilly (if you’re lucky!) at night
• 1 lightweight hoodie – most likely needed on flights, in movie theaters, or in airports. Most people will be fine without one
• 8-10 pairs of underwear – quick-dry material is best
• 4-6 pairs of socks – lightweight cotton or quick dry athletic socks are best
• 2 swimsuits – two piece suits are fine but need to be very modest
• 1 sarong / shawl / lightweight towel (not white!) – many accommodations will have towels for you to use, but it is handy to have something of your own for sitting poolside or visiting a waterfall
• A nice casual outfit – for special end of program dinners.
• Flashlight or headlamp – rechargeable batteries are preferable
• Ultra-lightweight rainproof jacket – fear not if you don’t have one; ponchos are widely available and do a better job!
• Hat – for the sun
• Strappy sandals – like Tevas or Chacos
• Comfortable flip-flops or crocs – footwear that is easy to clean and easy to take on and off (you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll be taking your shoes off and on!); cheap flip-flops and crocs are widely available in Asia for a fraction of the cost
• Closed-toed athletic shoes – shoes that dry quickly, that you can hike short distances in and that protect your feet are best; shoes will get muddy and dirty, so don’t bring your favorite pair.
• A color photocopy of your passport
Most general toiletries are available throughout the region at a fraction of the cost. We suggest packing all items that could leak in a plastic or ziploc bag.
• Shampoo and soap – you may want to bring biodegradable or natural soap and shampoo, but they’re not required
• Toothpaste and toothbrush
• Lip balm
• Insect repellent – we suggest a natural option or something with DEET
• Hydrocortisone/anti-itch cream or after bite
• Hand sanitizer – 1 small bottle; we don’t want you getting sick this summer!
• Contact lenses and solution – widely available in and inexpensive in Southeast Asia.
• Sunscreen and aloe vera – good quality sunscreen is not readily available in Southeast Asia and is expensive!
• Feminine hygiene supplies – tampons aren’t widely available in Southeast Asia; past staff have suggested trying a diva cup; we recommend you bring what you think you will need for the duration of the program
Additional and Optional Items
• Local language phrasebook
• Deck of cards, portable games
• Digital camera – waterproof style shock resistant cameras are great for our programs; again, do not depend on your phone – we encourage our students to disconnect from their phones while on program.
• Want to get all your shopping done for your program in one place? We’ve got you covered. Check out Rustic Gear and get all the essentials sent right to your door.
• Please cover your shoulders and knees while in Southeast Asia.
• Dressing respectfully is very important. Southeast Asian culture is conservative, with ancient customs based mostly on Buddhism. Regardless of gender, Rustic students should be wearing loose Bermuda or basketball length shorts or pants. Please leave short-shorts at home, as well as leggings, which are too form-fitting. T-shirts should cover the chest and shoulders, nothing low cut, and no undergarments should ever be showing.