Back to
Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Mekong Spring Packing List + Tips

Mekong Clothing & Equipment List

THINK LIGHT! You will have to put whatever you bring onto the tops of buses and into the backs of trucks, and you may have to carry your bag for long distances. The lighter you pack, the happier you (and the rest of the group) will be! Pack your bag and then walk around the block three times. Anything you can live without? Students who arrive at the airport drastically over packed will be asked to send extra items home at their own expense.

We recommend that you bring what’s listed here and not much more. Keep it simple! It is very important that you can fit all of your belongings into one backpack (and a day pack) that you are comfortable carrying on your own! Note: you will not have to fit your day pack into your backpack.


  • A BACKPACK between 30 and 45 liters – 45 is almost too big. If your stuff doesn’t fit into this size pack, you are packing too much!
  • A BACKPACK COVER. Waterproof slip to fit over your backpack is important for the group will be traveling during a rain and mud season. A few HEFTY trash bags (to layer both the inside and outside of your bag) can also work equally well.
  • CAMERA and memory cards. A small dry bag and some extra resealable plastic bags are useful for keeping this and other valuables dry, as well as staying organized.
  • Small (less than 20 liters) DAY PACK or hip pack.
  • Small MOSQUITO REPELLENT (smaller than 3 oz). You can buy more there. 20-50% DEET is the most effective for stopping mosquitos from biting you.
  • One pair of walking OR hiking SHOES (you don’t need both). The best option is a light, low top, hiker or mountain running shoe that can double as a street shoe (these must be able to fit inside your pack). You do not need hiking boots.
  • A pair of inexpensive FLIP-FLOPS is convenient and appropriate for home-stays and time in rural communities, but they are not appropriate for trekking/wilderness exploration, NGO visits, or travel days. One pair of walking SANDALS like Chacos, Tevas, Keens, etc. (again, these should fit inside your pack). Please note: people either love or hate sandals like these. If you love Chacos and wear them all the time they can be great. If you do not want sport sandals you can use almost any other comfortable sandal. There is no need to spend a lot of $$ if you don’t think you will wear them.
  • Small travel size SHAMPOO and conditioner that will last about one week. You can buy more there when you run out.
  • TOOTHBRUSH and small tube of toothpaste. These are also available in Asia. Bring FLOSS.
  • Small travel size SOAP. You can buy more when you run out.
  • Small hand TOWEL or lightweight quick dry towel. When you arrive, there will be opportunities to buy the traditional sarongs and bathing clothing that is used by most people in SE Asia.
  • Small ALBUM of pictures of family and friends (culturally appropriate) including pictures of your house and school. Pictures are great for starting conversations, using in English lessons, or just to ward off homesickness.
  • Small, lightweight HEADLAMP and extra batteries.
  • A diary or JOURNAL and pens. These will be used often.
  • NECESSARY MEDICATIONS, prescription or over the counter, with instructions on use and dosage (by your doctor if by prescription). The Instructor Team will carry a comprehensive medical kit with first aid supplies, OTC medications, and broad-spectrum antibiotics.
  • Security Wallet or MONEY BELT. You’ll want to keep your passport and other valuables in a secure wallet or belt that’s well attached to your body. Eagle Creek makes good products. You are responsible for developing a system for not losing your stuff!
  • SUNSCREEN. SPF 30+, preferably a small bottle (can buy a refill, if needed, in Asia). Lip balm with sunscreen (hard to find in the countries we are visiting).
  • GLASSES or CONTACTS. If you wear glasses or contacts, please bring an extra pair. Also bring enough contact solution (travel size).
  • Preferably a watch with an ALARM.
  • WATER BOTTLE. 1-quart plastic reusable water bottle. Camelbacks and bladders are not as useful.
  • STUDENT ID card.

Spring Semester Clothing: Although there will be many opportunities to do your laundry by hand, you’ll be happiest with light, wrinkle-free, quick-dry clothing that doesn’t easily show dirt. You do not need to spend a lot of money getting all new clothes! Make sure clothing is culturally appropriate. As a good rule of thumb, if you are unsure if something is appropriate, it probably isn’t. The weather is much warmer this time of year so there is no need to bring heavy layers. When in China, if you should require another layer you can easily buy an inexpensive one there.


  • One lightweight WARM LAYER for cooler nights or a/c buses.
  • One lightweight or midweight RAIN JACKET (should be breathable material).


  • One presentable and polite T-SHIRT (you will get a Dragon’s t-shirt and this can serve as your t-shirt). More t-shirts can be purchased inexpensively along the way if necessary.
  • One EXTRA T-SHIRT for sleeping in home-stays and villages.
  • Seven changes of UNDERWEAR (should not be visible in any cases).
  • SOCKS: 3-5 pairs.
  • Three presentable COLLARED SHIRTS (these can be short sleeved as it will be hot. Bring light colors, but try to avoid white entirely as it gets dirty easily).
  • One pair of NICE PANTS (lightweight like Dockers).
  • Two pairs of lightweight QUICK-DRY PANTS. Note: these do not have to be expensive zip-offs (these can be great but are sometimes pricy), just make sure the pants are comfortable and can dry out quickly.
  • Two pairs of board SHORTS or swimsuit shorts which can double as shorts worn in home-stays or villages.
  • One pair of lightweight SHORTS that can be worn for sleeping in home-stays or villages.
  • A RAZOR that you like and a few extra blades. Small bottle or tube of shaving cream. Cleanly shaven is the norm for men in Cambodia and Laos. If you have facial hair, it’s appropriate to keep it well trimmed.
  • One DEODORANT that you prefer. Many types can be purchased in Asia.


  • One presentable and polite T-SHIRT (you will get a Dragon’s t-shirt and this can serve as your t-shirt). More t-shirts can be purchased if necessary.
  • Three polite shirts or BLOUSES (bring light colors, not see-through, and try to avoid white entirely as it gets dirty easily).
  • One EXTRA T-SHIRT for sleeping in home-stays or villages (NO TANK TOPS—girls’ shoulders should be covered).
  • Ten changes of UNDERWEAR (should not be visible in any cases).
  • SOCKS: 3-5 pairs.
  • BRAS: 3-4 sports bras or your choice, keeping comfort and versatility in mind. Just make sure your nipples do not show easily.
  • One presentable and modest lightweight SKIRT and/or pair of LONG PANTS. The hemline should be between the knee and ankle, nothing above the knee. It should not be possible to see underclothing through the skirt. In Cambodia and Laos, traditional full-length silk skirts can be purchased if you want to dress like locals. Upon arrival in Laos/Cambodia, female participants are encouraged to purchase one or two cotton sarongs (a few dollars each) for bathing, swimming, or wear during home-stays. These are beautiful and extremely useful! A pair of leggings for wearing underneath skirts or for sleeping is useful but not appropriate on their own for everyday wear.
  • Two pairs of lightweight QUICK-DRY PANTS OR CAPRIS. Note: these do not need to be the expensive types sold at REI (those are great but can be pricy), just make sure the pants are comfortable and can dry quickly.
  • One pair of board shorts or swimsuit SHORTS which can double as shorts (must extend BELOW THE KNEE). Hiking capris or basketball-style shorts are useful for swimming.
  • We recommend looking into Diva/Moon Cup. Tampons are often available in larger cities but hard to find in rural areas. If you use these please bring a good supply with you.
  • One DEODORANT that you prefer. More is available in Asia.

OPTIONAL: The following items are optional because we think you should have no problem finding them in Cambodia, Laos, or China once you have arrived. It’s your choice if you would like to carry them from home. One advantage of waiting is that it will help you learn what you really need and what’s totally unnecessary. It will also support the local economy if you buy them once in-country.

  • HAT to keep the sun off your face. Physical sunscreen is more effective than chemical sunscreen, but only bring a lightweight hat that you will actually wear.
  • SLEEPING BAG LINER OR SHEET. Should be cotton and lightweight; it may be difficult to find this in the countries we visit (most sheets are fitted), but you can bring any old sheet from home and then go on an adventure to find a seamstress in Cambodia, Laos, or China to sew a sheet for you.
  • Small, lightweight, collapsible PILLOW (this may not be available there)—some people just use clothes for pillows.
  • GIFTS. A few simple things to present to home-stay families and to give away to people who help make our course special. Postcards of home, small calendars, buttons/pins, and inflatable globes are great, as well photos of yourself (students can discuss other appropriate gifts when their instructors call to introduce themselves in late January).
  • LIGHTWEIGHT TRAVEL YOGA MAT for budding yogis. Travel can be hard on the body and we encourage all forms of exercise. There is no need to stop your practice just because you are coming on course. This can also double as a sleeping pad if desired.
  • INSTRUMENT. Travel sized and inexpensive. Music is a language we all can speak!

*One other thing that is essential: A HEALTHY BODY!* SLEEP, HYDRATION, NUTRITION, EXERCISE, GRATITUDE. Your experience will be so much more enjoyable if you come with a body that is fully prepared for the journey. We recommend an exercise regimen that gets your heart rate above 120 beats per minute, for thirty minutes at a stretch, four times a week. If you can’t do this much, do what you can – the more the better! The more you stretch your muscles, the more you will engage and use them. There will be several opportunities on the course to go for long walks or ride bikes from one village to another. The better your condition, the greater the number of opportunities you’ll be able to seize.

Note on Shipping: Due to the movement of the course, difficulties with customs, and unreliability of shipping methods, we do not recommend shipping items to students during the program. Please make sure you bring all necessary personal items and medications for the duration of the course.


  • Traditional Laos and Cambodian head scarves
  • Traditional Laos and Cambodian sarongs and village clothing
  • T-shirts if you decide you need them

There will also be time to buy souvenirs at the end of the course, as well as additional boxes or bags for transporting items back to the US.


  • Your cell phone, smartphone, IPad or computer!
  • Too many books – they are heavy and do not last long in the rainy season. Many books are available for purchase in-country.
  • Tie-dye of any kind or stained and ripped clothing.
  • Avoid dreadlocks and/or messy hair. Unkempt hair is not culturally appropriate.
  • Don’t bring too many warm layers – it’s hot!
  • Toiletries bigger than 3 oz.
  • Bare midriffs (no stomach should show at all).
  • Low-riding or long pants that drag; not culturally appropriate and a safety concern.
  • Full size cotton towels; they are too heavy.
  • More than one pair of shoes, one pair of sturdy sandals, one pair of flip-flops (please remember that your shoes must fit inside your backpack; they may not be strapped to the outside as this is quite inappropriate in Buddhist countries).
  • Jeans—heavy and will not have time to dry.
  • Anything made of leather that you don’t want ruined.
  • Ratty, smelly, torn up shoes or flip-flops. The state of your shoes in Cambodia often determines how polite or respectful you are.

Boys—do not bring:

  • Unkempt facial hair: a clean shaven face is the cultural norm. If you do have facial hair, keeping it well-trimmed is more culturally appropriate.

Girls—do not bring:

  • Swimsuits or bikinis (you can use board shorts).
  • Low cut or see-through shirts that reveal your bra, tank tops, short shorts, or tight fitting clothes.
  • Makeup or cosmetics (you’ll just sweat it off anyways).

We hope this helps. If you have any questions about the packing list, please post a message to the Yak board and we will address it!

Your I-Team (Instructor Team)