Wondering what shoes to pack for a SE Asia backpacking trip? Here’s a quick guide to shoes for Southeast Asia.
When you’re trying to narrow down all of your worldly possessions and pack your life into a backpack, figuring out exactly what to bring can seem impossible. One of the fastest ways to cut down on the weight of your bag (less weight = easy travel!) is to cut back on the shoes you bring. Shoes are one of the heaviest things you put in your bag, so I recommend you keep it to three pairs, max.
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When you’re traveling Southeast Asia, you can definitely get away with only three pairs. You want to make sure you’re taking into consideration the climate. (Hint: It’s hot. All. The. Time.) After almost 8 months in SE Asia, I have it down to a science.
Here are my picks for shoes for Southeast Asia:
1. A Serious Sandal
If you read my first-ever post on this blog, you’ll know that I think having a pair of high-quality sandals is one of the most important things you can bring to Southeast Asia. Quality shoes are hard to come by, so if you forget these at home you’ll be out of luck.
This is the pair of shoes you’ll be wearing most of the time, so make sure they’re sturdy. I am a huge fan of Tevas.
They’re definitely not the cutest (okay, they’re pretty hideous) but lucky for us backpackers the “grandpa sandal” trend is having kind of a moment. Tevas are super durable, totally waterproof, and once broken in they are beyond comfortable. I wore them for my day-to-day walking around, on kayaking trips and in the water, and even on pretty serious hikes. My feet never slid around at all and they have great traction, so these are perfect for just about anything.
It took me a little while to get over how ugly they looked, but once I realized literally no one is ever looking at my feet and every backpacker has ugly shoes, I rocked these bad boys every single day.
The pair above are exactly what I have, but I recommend choosing a fun color. I bought plain black thinking it would be less noticable, but it actually screamed “grandpa” even more. There are plenty of much cuter color and pattern options. I plan on buying another pair for my next big trip to Thailand, and I have my eye on one of these.
Even if you’re not about the Tevas, here are a couple things to keep in mind when looking for your everyday sandals:
- An ankle strap – key for keeping your foot from sliding all over the place, also easier to walk in for longer periods of time
- Waterproof – you never know when you’ll end up stuck in pouring rain (it happens, a lot)
I’m also a fan of some styles from Merrell. I have this pair. It also comes in black, which I like just as much. They’re super comfy and a little cuter than the Tevas.
2. A Cute Sandal
This is where the fun comes in! SE Asia has cheap booze and fantastic nightlife–there’s a reason it’s a top destination for broke young people. If you’re hoping to check out all of the rooftop bars and quirky clubs this part of the world has to offer, you should pack a pair of cute sandals. These are also useful for other occasions where you might want to look a little nicer, like temples.
Before you throw your favorite pair of strappy sandals from home in your bag, know that SE Asia will eat all your shoes. By that, I mean that for some reason I still have yet to understand, my shoes wore out a thousand times faster than they would at home.
Maybe it’s the climate or the amount of walking I did.
Or the fact that on more than one drunken occasion my shoes ended up in the ocean with me. But somehow I destroyed more sandals in my short time in Asia than I ever thought possible. If you have a pair you’d be sorry to part with, leave them at home.
This leaves you two options.
Buy cheap strappy sandals at night markets and ditch them every few weeks (if you can even find them in your size.)
Or, invest in a pair that’s durable, but still cuter than your everyday shoe.
These are my absolute favorite shoes that I bought in Thailand. You can find these at many night markets around the country, and they’re super comfy, cheap, and pretty durable. They also come in a TON of color options. My only suggestion is to buy darker colored ones. I had a red and white pair that I ruined exploring Angkor Wat because the rope got suuuuuper dirty.
I recently bought a pair of Keens similar to this (couldn’t find the exact pair!). While they’re not the most fabulous shoes I’ve ever owned, I think they’re cute enough to wear out at night without worrying about how much walking I’m doing.
I’ve also been eyeing these sandals from OluKai for a while now. I like the leather & metallic combo, and I think they’d be super cute with dresses at night. Plus, I’m not worried they’ll fall apart.
Here are a couple other options I think would be both practical and cute enough for nighttime.
3. Flip Flops for Shower/Beach
If you plan on staying in hostels at all, you definitely want a pair of shower shoes. I would pick up crappy flip flops from markets and ditch them as needed. No need to spend a ton of money here. These doubled as my beach shoes. I was never overly worried about how cute my flip flops were when my only plan for the day was to bake in the sunshine and drink coconut water.
I brought a pair of Nikes to Thailand, and I literally wore them once in eight months. Same with my Converse. The last thing I want to do in sweltering heat is put socks on and stuff them in shoes. No thank you.
But if you actually think you’ll use them–i.e., you have specific plans that require close-toed shoes, bring them along. Just note that they add decent amount of weight that you’ll be carrying around.
I hope you’re convinced that there’s no need to bring more than 3 pairs of shoes for Southeast Asia, even when you’re traveling long-term. Keep things as simple as possible. 🙂