When it comes to packing, most travelers would agree: If there are regrets, it’s usually from packing to much, not too little. It stinks to pack, haul, un-pack, and re-pack a bunch of stuff you don’t need.
This article shares everything I packed for over 30 days of travel through Cambodia and Vietnam. Lessons learned are incorporated right into the list noting items I needed, didn’t need, or brought too much or too little of. Scroll to the end for a list of things I wish I’d brought.
Note that we traveled in late March and April when temperatures and humidity hovered ~95ºF. We traveled south to north, so temperatures cooled a bit towards the end but still hit 80–85ºF each day. We are fairly active, no-nonsense travelers and packed clothes and gear to be prepared for walking, hiking, bicycling, kayaking, and motorbiking. We also packed lightly, carrying everything in backpacks.
Regarding the travel health items listed, see this article for an in-depth discussion of recommended travel vaccinations and medications (including Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Malaria), mosquito-bite prevention, and how to protect against the dreaded TD (traveler’s diarrhea).
Here’s the full checklist:
Bags and Organizers
- Travel purse with small wallet, pens, travel brush, and loaded with other items noted elsewhere such as sunglasses, DEET, sunblock, travel tissues, etc.
- 1 backpack: A full backpacking backpack with waist belt and sternum strap. I really appreciated having good suspension and weight distribution on longer walks to/from hotels.
- 4 eBags packing cubes: For organizing clothes in the backpack and also in the hotel room.
- 1 dry-bag pack liner: I don’t use a pack cover so kept items waterproof inside the backpack. Important to have both for rain (we got dumped on a couple times) and one boat ride where our stuff was stored in a damp hold.
- 1 sturdy daypack
- 1 ultra-lightweight daypack
- 1 rigid long wallet big enough for money to stay flat: Cambodians reject old, crumpled or torn bills.
- Crisp, new, unfolded, unblemished cash for Cambodia: U.S. bills are widely accepted in Cambodia (the currency is even tied to the dollar). We took $300 to start and then hit an ATM in Phnom Penh which dispensed crisp U.S. cash.
Clothes and Shoes
All clothes were made of dry-fit, quick dry materials.
- 3 tank tops: Only needed two. Never wore the one tight-fitting tank I brought - too hot! Preferred looser fitting clothing in the heat.
- 2 t-shirts: Perfect. Until one got lost the first time we sent laundry out. Ugh!
- 1 collared short-sleeve shirt
- 2 lightweight long-sleeve button-up shirts: I brought two to have one for daytime to protect against the sun and one for evening when things cooled off. Since it was so hot, I only used the evening top a couple times.
- 1 long sleeve 1/2-zip top
- 1 pr Bermuda shorts
- 1 pr capris: Liked having a lightweight option that was appropriate to wear in temples where shoulders and knees must be covered.
- 1 travel skirt with built-in shorts underneath: Good for evening since it looked a little dressier.
- 1 pr long pants: For the airplane and motorbiking.
- 1 sarong: Very versatile to have. I used it as a blanket on planes and buses, a swimsuit cover-up at the beach/pool, and a skirt at a few temples when I’d worn shorts and needed to cover up.
- 5 pr underwear
- 2 bras, 1 sports bra and 1 regular: Needed two since one always got drenched during the day. Should have brought two with T-backs (like the sports bra) to be able to wear both with all of my clothes.
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sleep tank-top
- 1 pr lightweight running shorts: Glad I threw these in for the beach, pool, lounging in the room, etc.
- 1 ultra lightweight packable rainshell: Lightweight was a must - it was so hot, my normal rainshell would have been stifling. Also wore it every time we went motorbiking (6 days total).
- 1 baseball cap: Great until it blew off my head while bicycling on a windy day.
- 1 brimmed hat: Great until I left it in a tuk-tuk in Cambodia. Serious hat attrition on this trip!
- 1 pr good walking/running shoes
- 1 pr sandals: Glad I brought good sandals with arch support since I wore them sightseeing some days.
- 5 pr socks
- 1 each travel-size shampoo, conditioner, and soap: Our hotels generally had shampoo and soap but no conditioner so I wish I’d brought more. It was hard to find travel sizes there and since I didn’t want to lug a huge bottle around, I went without for a long stretch.
- 4 oz face lotion with SPF: Too much. Only used about 2 ounces.
- 1 travel-size deodorant
- 2 travel-size toothpaste
- 1 toothbrush
- 2 floss: Only needed one, but should have flossed more (!)
- 1 oz eye makeup remover
- 1 small bottle eye drops: Really needed these for motorbiking. I would sometimes ride without sunglasses (like at night) and the grit/pollution irritated my eyes.
- Makeup bag with base, eyeshadow, blush, mascara
- 2 tubes lip balm with SPF: Really needed the SPF. My lower lip got sunburned and puffy the one day I went without.
- 1 razor
- 1 roller brush
- Feminine hygiene supplies
- 2 pr ear plugs: Needed earplugs a few times, mostly for roosters crowing at 3:30am. No, we weren’t staying in the country, and no, we didn’t order a Special Fun-Time Rooster Wake-Up Call; there were just roosters everywhere. Earplugs also came in handy for a wedding. We didn’t attend - it was a couple miles away - but were treated to very loud, very bad karaoke until about 1am. Hilarious.
- 6 hairbands: Three would have been plenty.
- Small ziploc bag with tweezers, nail clippers (used as scissors once), rubber bands (useful to re-close partially eaten bags of snacks), and safety pins.
First Aid, Medicine, and Other Essentials
- First aid kit with tweezers, bandaids, moleskin, antibiotic cream, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, prescription antibiotics (backup), Pepto Bismol, allergy meds, ibuprofen, cold meds, etc.: We always bring a well-stocked first aid kit and are always glad we did - you never know what you’ll need. This time we broke into the ibuprofen, antihistamenes, bandaids, antibiotic cream, and anti-diarrheal medicine.
- Probiotics, vitamins, Malaria pills, and prescription sleep medication: We used sleep medication twice: once on the flight out and once on the way home to facilitate time zone adjustment.
- 6 2-oz tubes Ultrathon insect repellent (for 2 people): Too much. We slathered twice a day every day and still came home with two tubes. About 8 ounces would have been enough. While this product worked, it turned tacky in the heat and humidity making me stick to myself and pretty much everything I came into contact with. I’ll search for another kind before the next trip!
- 5 oz sunscreen (total for 2 people): We didn’t run out but it was close.
- 2 packs antibacterial wipes (20 wipes each): Really appreciated these, especially on motorbike days to wipe the grime away and freshen up before meals or sightseeing.
- 3 packs travel tissues: Two packs would have been fine. I mainly used it for emergency TP.
- 2 pr sunglasses: Never needed the second backup pair.
- 1 pr reading glasses
- 2 empty water bottles
- Snacks (protein bars, nuts, gum): We brought way too many snacks; food was plentiful and cheap. Don’t bring anything that will melt into a gooey mess in the heat like chocolate, coated granola bars, etc. Messy!
- iPhone and Anker Battery Case case: I didn’t get a local SIM card but Chris did for his iPhone 7. When we didn’t have Wifi, it was very useful to make local calls, search in Google maps, request Uber rides, and research on Wikipedia and other sites to answer questions in the moment.
- Kindle: Good to have over a “real” book for two big reasons: 1) it holds a bunch of books and we could easily load more; and 2) mine is backlit so no need to rely on hotel bedside lamps which weren’t always provided.
- MacBook Air w/case
- Chargers for all
- Plug adapters
- Joto drybag for phone: Only used twice while hiking and kayaking but we rarely had rain; it would have seen more use had it been wetter.
- Digital watch
- 1 foam sit pad (~8“x12”): Never used it.
- 1 headlamp: Never used it. Thought I might need it in the hotel room but my Kindle has an internal light source and I used my phone flashlight if up in the night.
- 1 umbrella: Only used it a couple times but we rarely had rain. I should have used it for shade but didn’t think of it.
- 1 spork: Never needed it. Restaurants had spoons (and often forks) plus I got better with chopsticks.
- 2 straws (for coconuts, etc.): This was recommended for cleanliness, but we just used the straws provided and hoped for the best.
- 1 quick-dry travel towel: Only used once. Didn’t really need it since I also had a bandana.
- 1 bandana: Handy, used mostly to sop up sweat.
- 2 disposable ponchos: Only needed one, and just twice. Good to have since when it rained, it rained hard. Especially useful when walking to our hotel in a downpour - the poncho covered me and my backpack.
- 1 bag of bags (assorted kitchen-size, gallon, quart, sandwich, and a couple plastic grocery bags): Very useful for snacks, organization, and to keep items clean and dry.
- 6 dryer sheets: I put these in between packed clothes to keep them smelling fresher, and also needed when we did our own laundry using the hotel washer/dryer.
- 1 travel bottle Febreze (2.8 oz): Love carrying a bottle to spritz in shoes and on clothes.
- Driver’s license and passport
- Cambodian Visa, plus paperwork and photos for Vietnamese Visa: We got our Vietnamese Visa at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh.
- Copies of ID, passport, and Visa: I carried paper copies as backup, plus sent photos of all to a family member in case we couldn’t access our paper or digital copies.
- Printouts of pre-purchased tickets (e.g. bus ticket, in-country plane ticket confirmations)
What I Wish I’d Brought
I didn’t forget anything major, but noted a few wish-list items along the way:
- Something nicer to wear in the evening: I felt skeezy after a while wearing the same clothes repeatedly. We had laundry done a few times, but the items grew dingier over time (you get what you pay for). It would have been nice to have a dress and shoes reserved just for evening.
- Capris and shorts that fit better: Both were slightly off (one too big and the other too small) and uncomfortable. Good fit is critical when packing lightly and options are limited.
- Conditioner: Hotels usually had shampoo and soap but no conditioner; if they had conditioner, it wasn’t good quality. My hair felt like straw after a couple weeks!
- Spray-n-Wash laundry stain remover: Or something similar. We had laundry done a few times, but you get what you pay for (we went cheap cheap) and though clothes came back clean, no stains were ever removed. After multiple washings, I think the stains are permanent. It would have been helpful to pre-treat before sending laundry out.
- Clear glasses (safety glasses?) to wear motorbiking at night or in cloudy weather: My eyes grew irritated after even short periods of riding without eye protection.
- Face mask: For motorbiking. Most people wear them to protect against exhaust and air pollution. I could have (and should have) bought one there.
- Paper clip: To pop a SIM card in and out of the iPhone.
A few other things were recommended but we didn’t pack them and didn’t regret it:
- Cortisone cream for bites: The stuff never works for me.
- Luggage locks: Our luggage was rarely unsecured, but when it was, we kept our most valuable items with us.
- Bicycle blinking lights: A good idea if biking near dusk or dawn which was a possibility to see Angkor Wat at sunrise/sunset. Instead of bicycling on our own, though, we opted to hire a guide and take a tuk-tuk.
I think that’s everything. As with any trip, we could simply shop in-country for forgotten items which was very inexpensive in Cambodia and Vietnam! Although haggling is against my nature, it turned out to be surprisingly entertaining. I got the best deal on a replacement hat paying about a fourth of the original quoted price. My “secret”: I had seen the hats everywhere so knew they weren’t special, and was very willing to walk away (which I did, which is when new, lower prices were offered).
If you have any questions, shoot me an email!