Asia is one of those countries most women think will be a problem as a solo female traveler, but most find when they get there that it is one of the most comfortable places to visit. Asia is home to some of the friendliest and most peaceful locals in the world, and although some women may not enjoy the same privileges as westerners, female travelers are usually welcomed with open arms.
Check out our list of top hostels for women in Asia for a selection of great hostels in popular destinations for female travelers.
Attitudes Towards Women Travelers
Asia is an extremely varied continent, and attitudes and levels of safety vary from place to place, so we have divided our guide into Central and South-East Asia:
Many female solo travelers say that South-East Asia is one of the safest and least threatening places to visit as a woman. In Buddhist countries, there is a large emphasis on respect for females and a harmonious relationship between the sexes. In Thailand in particular, the locals are warm and welcoming, but also shy, and the deep fear of shame means that sexual harassment of women is rare.
Attitudes to Westerners in general are incredibly polite, friendly and helpful– you will be treated like a guest in most of South East Asia. In less touristy areas it is likely you may get stared at if you are a western woman, but this is out of a genuine curiosity rather than a leery or letchy man – staring is not considered impolite in many Asian countries.
Attitudes towards women in some countries do differ – there are cultural differences in countries like China, where women are second-class citizens (and walk behind men), but it is unlikely you’ll feel singled out as a woman, more as a westerner. Do be aware that as a foreigner you will be charged more than locals, but bargaining is all part of the culture, so be prepared to barter, and use licensed taxis and public transport to avoid getting ripped off.
Generally speaking, India and other parts of Central Asia are not dangerous for women, and Indians are incredibly hospitable to all travelers, coining the phrase that ‘guests are gods’. But some women can feel uncomfortable travelling alone, as they often experience lots of hassle from men. Social Conservatism means women are regarded as lesser citizens, and in some situations you may find you are treated with disrespect or ignored if travelling with another man.
The main shock to western women is the harassment, known as ‘eve-teasing’, which is an accepted part of male behaviour. The worst this will ever be is suggestive comments, winks, and stares, but if you do feel uncomfortable, the best thing to do is ignore them, or to invent a husband (wearing a fake ring always works) if they continue to hassle you.
The close quarters on public transport means that sometimes men can get a little ‘friendly’ so keep your arms folded in front of you and don’t initiate any conversations that could be seen as personal or flirtatious.
Remember that for the people of India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, the idea of a single woman traveling for pleasure is strange – most women there would not dream of traveling further than the local market without an escort. This is why you might feel like you stick out and are treated differently. But in general people are friendly – striking up conversations with strangers is a natural part of life, and usually not improper or threatening. In Sri Lanka especially, the influence of Buddhism means that the people here are gentle and tolerant.
Whilst the constant hassling in some places can be annoying, it often comes from a genuine curiosity rather than anything else. Don’t just assume everyone who talks to you is a threat, just use your common sense. In public places, Indian women may want to touch your skin, ask lots of questions, and ask for your autograph or photo. These are innocent requests that are all part of the experience of travelling to such a different country!
Safety Advice for Women Travelers
The main problem is both Central and South-East Asia tends to be theft rather than sexual harassment, although as a solo female traveler you should be cautious about your personal safety, and being left alone with strange men.
Here are some tips on staying safe…
- Avoid situations where you may find yourself alone with a man. Join up with other travelers to share a taxi ride or tour and never let a man (including hotel staff) into your hotel room.
- Don’t let people know you are a solo female traveler visiting somewhere for the first time – pretend to be married, and pretend to know where you are going.
- Avoid crowded buses, where it’s more likely you will get hassled. If you must travel on a busy bus, keep your arms folded in front of you, and try to sit close to the driver. Try to travel with a companion.
- Always be aware of your surroundings and the people around you – so if you are out at night, stay in well-lit areas and among people. Walk close to the kerb, face oncoming traffic, and avoid alleys. Keep your keys ready for arriving at your room.
- The main thing to worry about is theft – many of the countries in Asia are extremely poor, and the sight of some expensive jewelry or bag of belongings will be too much of a temptation.
- Bag snatching is the main form of street crime, so carry you bag close to your body, wear a secure day bag or backpack around your body, over your head and shoulder, or thread a strap through your belt loop.
- Lock zips together and wear money on a money belt or neck pouch underneath your clothes. Never allow any jewelry or electrical equipment like ipods to be on show.
- As a foreigner, there’s a small chance people might try to rip you off or overcharge – so check all bills to check you haven’t been charged for anything extra, and be clear what the cost of any service (e.g. taxis, tours) will be before accepting. Only use licensed cabs with meters, and check with your hostel for advice on how much journeys should cost.
Places to Avoid
There’s nowhere (except countries that are war-torn/ or unsafe for all travelers- check the foreign office website for more information) that’s particularly unsafe for women travelers, but if you are sensitive or it’s your first time travelling alone, then India and parts of Central Asia should be avoided – you will get hassled and will be treated differently as a solo female. Although it has to be said that plenty of women travel to India alone every year and fall in love with the place, stating that once you get used to the hassle, it’s just part of everyday life.
Most of the problems you will experience – harassment, hawkers, or theft, happen in the really touristy areas in Asia rather than off the beaten track, where people in general are welcoming and not looking to make money from western tourists.
As in all countries, avoid unlit places after dark, especially if you are alone.
Best Places for Female Travelers
South-East Asia in general is a great place to travel as a woman alone, but the major cities like Japan, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Singapore are great places to start off if you are nervous. Women in these destinations are treated well and with respect, there’s little to no hassle, lots of tourists and English speakers, and the cities are clean and pretty safe.
Although, you should always be on your guard in any new destination, and don’t just venture out alone at night because a city ‘feels’ safe. Luckily, South-East Asia has become far more popular as a backpacking destination in recent years, so it’s easy to meet other travelers at your hostel for your first jaunt out into an unknown place.
Looking for the perfect place to stay? Our list of female friendly hostels in south-east asiawill help you choose.
What to Pack
- A Phrasebook: whilst you can probably get along without the local language, if you are travelling alone it’s good to have a few phrases at hand, for politeness and in case you do get stuck somewhere where they don’t speak English, and need assistance.
- Flip Flops: Not just great for the beach – in Japan, flip flops are essential footwear – they can be easily slipped on and off when entering homes, where footwear isn’t allowed.
- Clothing: Although there is no strict dress code, and more and more westerners are visiting South-East Asia, some areas are more conservative than others. Excessively skimpy clothes will only attract the wrong kind of attention- keep the bikinis and short shorts for the beach, and cover up on your way with a sarong. Otherwise, not too short shorts, skirts and tops are fine. When travelling alone on public transport, when visiting a temple or in more traditional rural areas, wear long, loose trousers or skirts and a t-shirt.
- In India, and central Asia, ignore the Bollywood beauties in adverts – dress codes are actually very conservative. Observe the locals and dress a bit more conservatively than the most liberally dressed woman. It’s often a good idea to buy a sari if you are traveling to rural areas – they can be picked up cheaply from a local market. Whilst swimsuits can be worn in beach resort areas such as Goa, consider wearing a one-piece and covering yourself with a sarong and t-shirt when you’re not sunbathing or when you are interacting with locals. Short sleeve cotton shirts can be worn in warmer climates but they should be loose fitting and not revealing.You’ll need loo roll, sanitizer, medication for upset tummies, cool and airy clothes, a hat, insect repellent, feminine hygiene products, and sexual protection in case of any hostel romance (it will be difficult to obtain once you’re there).
- Having said that, Indian women take great pride in their beauty and wear carefully chosen clothes, so you might be noticed for having scruffy attire. If you feel a little casual, go shopping once you get there – buy a locally made blouse or scarf to dress up your western clothes.
- For your own safety, pack light. You’ll be doing a lot of travelling by bus or train, and the fewer bags you have, the less likely it is they will get lost or stolen. One carry on backpack and day bag should be enough, and try to get one in a tough material, so it’s slash proof.
- Pack a secure money belt (to wear under your clothes), and a change purse for your bag– put any cards or large amounts of cash in the money belt, and keep enough small change for the day in the purse. This means that if you are ever in a dangerous situation, you can hand over a change purse instead of giving everything away.
- Travelers cheques may seem outdated, but they can be a godsend if there is no ATM or cash machine available in remote areas, or there’s a power cut.
- Bring your own lock and make sure your hostel has good lockers.