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Backpacking in Asia

Advice and inspiration for travelling in the Far East

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A gap year in Asia

Asia has some of the most popular backpacking destinations in the world, encompassing, amongst others, China, Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Japan is one of the world’s most coveted travel destinations, whether you want the high-tech microcosm of Tokyo, its ridiculously diverse climate and scsenery, from beaches and jungles to snowy mountains, or the peace and quiet of rural villages and temples. You might never want to leave.

You might encounter the same problem with China, whether you’re city-hopping between sprawling metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai, hitting world famous tourist sites like the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, and the Forbidden City, or climbing mountains in the middle of nowhere. You could spend an entire gap year here and never leave its borders.

That said, it’s easy to move around the area by sea or air, taking in the hyper-modern cities and mountainous landscapes of South Korea or the iconic city skyline of Hong Kong. The more adventurous might favour the sweeping Mongolian steppes or even brave a strictly supervised tour of the secretive state of North Korea. You’re guaranteed to come away with stories that last you a lifetime.

Tours in Asia

Asia tours

Asia is a popular region with travellers who want to experience something a little different on their adventure. Countries like China and Japan are amazing to visit, but can be a little daunting for younger or inexperienced travellers. This is why backpacker tours can be a great way to see Asia.

Whether you take a tour within a single country or embark on a longer trip including multiple destinations, you’ll benefit from an expert guide, an itinerary that doesn’t miss any hotspots, accommodation, transport and other concerns all sorted for you, and a group of like-minded travellers to experience it all alongside.

Working in Asia

Jobs in Asia

Asia is a great region to work as part of your backpacking adventure. If you’re after paid work in Asia, chances are it will come in the form of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), either in a local or dedicated language/extracurricular school.

TEFL in Asia

Teaching English as a foreign language is the most common paid job for travellers in Asia, offering a chance to earn a solid wage as well as add some valuable experience to your CV. The bulk of TEFL jobs are found in China, but it’s also possible to find work in South Korea and Japan.

Most teaching jobs will require you to have a degree, but you will not need to speak the local language, as you’ll work with a local teaching assistant. Generally you’ll be encouraged to speak English in classes to help the children learn.

You will also need a TEFL qualification. Most people will obtain these in the UK before travelling, though courses are available abroad. You might come across schools that will offer a job regardless of a TEFL qualification, but we preach caution here, as it’s often a sign of low standards, and may lead to a bad experience.

Before you accept any job teaching abroad, do a little research into the school. Testimonials from past or current teachers can tell you a lot about how well you will you be treated.

To work as a teacher in Japan you will likely need an advanced TEFL qualification or higher, as restrictions here are generally stricter.

Wages anywhere in Asia aren’t high compared to what you would earn in the West, but it’s all relative. For example, living costs in China are so low that a teacher can live a very comfortable life on a seemingly small wage. Many jobs also pay for your accommodation.

Volunteering in Asia

Volunteering in Asia

Asia is also a brilliant region to volunteer as part of your backpacking trip. Volunteering placements are less common here than they are in South Asia, but usually involve working with vulnerable animals or gaining valuable experience in your chosen professional field.

There are plenty of volunteering opportunities in Asia if you know where to look. You might work at a giant panda centre in China, intern as a journalist in Japan, or looking after children in South Korea.

As with any volunteering project, it’s important to think carefully about your strengths, weaknesses, and natural interests before committing to anything.

Many volunteer placements in Asia require you to pay a fee to join. This may seem counter-intuitive when volunteering, but that fee will often cover costs incurred by the company, as well as accommodation and food for you. Depending on the placement, it may also give you access to professional experience and resources you would otherwise not have benefitted from.

Budget accommodation in Asia

Budget accommodation in Asia

One of the best things about visiting Asia is that accommodation is generally incredibly affordable. There’s also a huge range of choices, allowing you to choose based on your budget (or how knackered you are on any given night). Be warned: standards sometimes aren’t as high as you might be used to, and you get what you pay for.

Costs can vary quite significantly depending on where you are in Asia. Hostels (and even swanky hotels) in China are usually incredibly cheap, while you should expect to pay a little more in Japan or South Korea. You’ll also pay more if you want to stay in close proximity to the tourist hotspots – it can be worth looking slightly further afield, as public transport is generally very affordable.

We recommend pre-booking accommodation in Asia wherever possible. Although it’s unlikely that every bed in a single area will be taken (unless some kind of major festival or public holiday is occurring), having everything arranged ahead of time takes a lot of stress out of arriving in busy cities.

Types of accommodation in Asia


In many areas of Asia this is the most common form of accommodation you’re likely to find. They’re frequently well-priced, and in countries like China it’s not uncommon to find a 4-star hotel offering rates favourable to a backpacker budget. Depending on quality, expect to pay more in Japan and South Korea, and prices will vary depending on location within a city.


Hostels can be found easily throughout most of Asia, many offering dormitories (the cheapest option) and private rooms (a little more expensive). If you’re travelling for a long time, these are a great way to stretch your budget. They’re also geared towards social interaction, giving you a good chance of making travel friends.

Guest houses

Guest houses in Asia are more common in remote areas, where they may well be your only choice. They’re often indistinguishable from hotels and hostels, offering affordable private rooms with a laid back, social atmosphere.

Capsule hotels

If you’re after a bit of novelty, capsule hotels are a fun option for accommodation in Japan. They’re essentially bed pods, offering a confined block as your ‘room’. The cheapest come with no frills, while paying a little more will include extras like a TV. Capsules aren’t recommended for long stays, but they’re worth spending a night if only for the photos.

Getting to Asia

Getting to Asia

The distance involved in reaching Asia from anywhere in the West means flying is going to be the quickest, easiest, and cheapest option. That said, there are other travel options if your itinerary and budget are a little more flexible, and you fancy a bit of an adventure before you arrive.

Flying to Asia

It’s usually easy to fly into any major city in Asia, so whether you’re planning a single or multi-country trip, flying can fit your schedule. Most international flights into China arrive at Beijing or Shanghai (with connecting flights to other Chinese cities), and you can also fly direct to Hong Kong. South Korea is served by an airport just outside of capital city Seoul. Have a good look around before booking flights, and you shouldn’t have any trouble.

Getting to Asia by land

If you’re planning to travel to Asia by train, chances are you’re looking at the iconic Trans-Siberian Railway. This sets off from Moscow and covers some 6000 miles to eventually land you in China. It’s an unforgettable travel experience, though of course it takes quite a bit longer than a flight, and will probably cost more too.

Getting around Asia

Getting around Asia

Wherever you want to go within Asia, you’ll find a mode of transport to suit your budget and schedule, whether it be planes, trains, or automobiles. Most people speak at least enough English to help you out, and the region is so used to tourists that an extensive travel network has developed. This means you have plenty of options.

By plane

Flying within Asia is undoubtedly the fastest way to move around, though it may not be kindest to your budget. Almost all major cities in Asia have airports, making it quick and easy to fly within countries or internationally. For example, it’s common to take internal flights in China because of the sheer size of the country.

National airlines are reliable for flights, but beware of low-cost and discount carriers, as some of them may have dubious safety records. It can be worth spending a little more just to ensure safe passage.

By train

Travelling Asia by rail is a little slower, but offers a great way to see parts of the region you would miss if you were flying. It’s also usually much cheaper than flying, and allows you to be a little more flexible in your itinerary.

China, Japan, and South Korea all have incredibly reliable and efficient rail networks, and you can often save money by choosing to take a slower train (if you’re not in a hurry). There is also often the option to choose a class – if you don’t mind roughing it in a standing section, you can save a significant sum of money.

By bus

Although not quite as common as in South Asia, buses still offer a cheap and reliable way to move around Asia, if you don’t mind the extra time they can take. Japan and South Korea in particular offer comfortable bus services that can take you anywhere in their respective countries. The size of the region, particularly countries like China, mean that if you’re in a hurry buses might not be the best option.

By boat

Again, travelling by boat isn’t as common as in South Asia, but it can be a good way of moving between countries in the region. There are regular boat services between China, Japan, and South Korea which, although not as fast as flying, don’t take as long as you might think. If you want something a little more laidback (and significantly cheaper), travelling by boat could be a good option.

By taxi

All major cities within Asia will offer local taxi services. Prices vary (taxis in China are incredibly cheap, whereas you’ll pay a little more in Japan), but they offer a reliable service for short journeys within built-up areas.

What visas do I need for Asia?

Visa information

This information applies to UK residents only. Visas in Asia will vary from country to country, and your eligibility will depend on your nationality. The information on this page is intended to help, but is not definitive, as visa requirements can change at any time. If you’re unsure, we recommend giving us a call or speaking with your travel agent before booking any travel.

No visas necessary

Many countries in Asia do not require UK residents to acquire a visa: these include South Korea, and Japan. When travelling to these countries you’ll be required to complete a short document when you arrive (these are usually handed out on the plane before you land). This indicates your purpose in visiting and how long you plan to stay in the country.

As a general rule, your stay is limited to a maximum of 30 days. If you plan to stay longer you will need a proper visa. This can be done within the country, meaning it isn’t a problem if you decide to stay longer than initially planned.

In South Korea and Japan you can stay for up to 90 days without a visa. All countries may ask to see proof of your onward or return journey.

Visas in advance

Some countries in Asia require you to obtain a visa before you travel. Without it you will be refused entry into the country and probably sent straight back home. Depending on your intended country they are usually quite easy to obtain, requiring you to go through the proper processes with the country’s embassy. This is usually done online or by post.

If you’re visiting China you’ll need to have your inbound and outbound/return journeys booked, as well as some evidence of booked accommodation. A Chinese visa is expensive, usually costing around £150. Be aware that if you intend to arrive in mainland China before travelling to Hong Kong or Macau (where visas are not required), you will need to apply for a multiple-entry visa if you intend to return to mainland China.

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