Best Travel Apps for Backpacking Southeast Asia

Megan Lee

At 2 in the morning, you’ve just landed in Vietnam and you’re jetlagged—or at the very least dazed and confused. In line at the ATM, you are repeatedly praying for the airport wifi to kick in so you can check the exchange rate. You don’t want to take out $10 in Dong… but $1000 in Dong is too much?! What to do?

Be prepared next time, that’s what.

Start by downloading a handy offline app for currency exchange, then arm your smartphone with helpful apps to ease your travels in Southeast Asia. From transit and money management, to the best games to play on that long overland trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok, these are the must have travel apps for travelers, backpackers, and digital nomads in Southeast Asia.

General Travel Apps for Southeast Asia

Grab

Stop flagging down taxis and download the Grab app to your smartphone. Grab is Southeast Asia’s answer to Uber. Schedule rides on your terms with drivers who use their personal cars. Go cashless with GrabPay. Use GrabCredits from your smartphone to pay for meals, coffees, clothes, and more at many stores in Southeast Asia’s bigger, more tech-friendly cities.

Line

It’s the WhatsApp, the Wechat, the Facebook messenger of backpackers in Southeast Asia. And, it’s free. Want to fit in with the locals? Don’t leave home without this little green icon.

TripIt

Hate clicking between multiple confirmation pages and numbers and itineraries? TripIt saves the day, and all of your travel plans. TripIt is a personal travel organizer—simply forward your electronic travel confirmations to it, and the app will intelligently collate them all in one place.

The Google Suite

Maps, translate, docs, etc. Whether you love or hate them, you can’t deny that Google’s tools are incredibly helpful to travelers in unfamiliar places. We just can’t get enough of that blue dot! 

Pro tip: Rather than hoping the GPS kicks in, consider downloading Maps.Me.

Entertainment

Save a couple megabytes of space on your phone for Spotify, Kindle, and classic games, like Thr3es, or Sudoku (or Mathdoku for you über-nerds). Having access to your favorite playlists and latest read—all from your pocket—is where convenience meets fun.

 

VPN

If you want to maintain a little privacy in your browser history, download a VPN to your smartphone before backpacking in Southeast Asia. A great paid-option is SurfEasy, which runs a little more than $5 monthly. If you’re really on a shoestring budget, a free option worth considering is FreeVPN.

XE Currency

Remember that poor traveler stuck in the ATM line unsure of how much money to take out? Don’t be them. Download XE Currency and breeze through your money exchange with confidence.

VSCO

How will you make your friends drool over your badass lifestyle if you aren’t increasing contrast or applying the right filter? VSCO is the photo editing tool of choice for team Tortuga. Get your Instagram on.

Video Streaming

Netflix does work in Southeast Asia, but streaming can be slow and the variety of shows available on-demand will be different than what you’re used to. Consider downloading the “a local Netflix” service, like Kuala Lumpur-based iFlix, or Hooq if you’re traveling in Thailand, the Philippines, or Indonesia.

CityMaps2Go

“Download the map so it works offline, bookmark all the key attractions you’d like to go to, and they’ll appear on the same map. It’s helpful to see all the locations mapped out so you can plan out each day by area and transportation,” recommends serial-traveler Ashley Wu.

Best Apps for Digital Nomads in Southeast Asia

Block & Flow

If you struggle to stay focused while chipping away at that next big project, Block & Flow will help. This app has beautiful UX, and sets timers à la Pomodoro to block time and get your productivity flowing.

TransferWise

A flat fee of about 1% with no restrictions based on location for peer-to-peer money transfers? Yes please—and thank you. Retire your Paypal app to a folder on the last screen of your iPhone in lieu of this more modern, and less expensive, digital payment service.

World Time Buddy

Do you have clients in different time zones? Never miss a meeting with the World Time Buddy app, designed to lessen your time-zone-math-induced-headaches. Find times that work for the whole team.

Slack

This asynchronous communication platform is built for the distributed team. Eliminate crazy email chains. Organize teams and conversations. Slack, is what team Tortuga runs on.

Work Hard Anywhere

The reliable-WIFI-connection struggle is real. Work Hard Anywhere (WHA) shares community knowledge about work spaces, including comfort levels and wifi connections.

Pro tip: You can also download the Starbucks app, which is quick to tell you where the nearest one is. For better or worse, Starbucks can be a wifi oasis in a pinch.

Country-Specific Apps for Southeast Asia

Cambodia

  • Download the Yelp of Phnom Penh, LeBOOst, to make sure dinner’s always delicious
  • Brush up on your Khmer with the help of this free audio app

Indonesia

  • Download a good VPN, as internet censorship is a way of life in Indonesia
  • GoJek—it’s like Uber, but for motorbikes
  • Blackberry Messenger, is the messenger of choice between friends in Indonesia
  • Expat Luke Mackin of Wild Sumatra Adventures also gives app Traveloka his seal of approval— “Book local flights, hotels, trains, and even top up mobile data.”

Laos

Malaysia

  • The KL Transit app makes moving around this poppin’ city a little easier
  • The Malaysia Trip Planner will help ensure you don’t miss a monkey or a mosque

Thailand

  • Wongnai & Eatigo make sure you never go hungry as a traveler in Thailand
  • If you’re always game for fun, BK Now’s app covers current events and happenings like art exhibitions, festivals, concerts, parties, and nightlife in Bangkok
  • Nostra Map will keep you posted on traffic and public transit routes, but make sure you also download GrabTaxi to hail rides easily

The Philippines

  • Sometimes you reeeeeally want a heaping plate of fried noodles, but you don’t want to have to get off your butt to get it: that’s where FoodPanda’s food delivery service comes in
  • If you’re leery of public transit, PasaHero can keep you extra-safe

Singapore

  • CatchThatBus is available in Singapore and Malaysia: easy online intercity bus ticket booking service
  • They might speak English in business, but Singlish is the real lingua franca of this city state; brush up on yours with the help of Hosay

Vietnam

  • Coc Coc would beat Google maps in a place-finding/arm wrestling match, hands down
  • Digital nomads rave about Trip Wolf’s guide to Vietnam

TL;DR

Remember—people have enjoyed backpacking in Southeast Asia without a single app for decades, so don’t bury your face in your phone, but…

Arm yourself with the right tools and apps to complement your overall experience: 

  • Offline maps are essential
  • TripIt keeps things organized
  • A VPN is essential in some countries
  • Slack will make sure your work doesn’t
  • Transferwise is the best way to move money

 

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