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Choosing A Backpacking Route In Southeast Asia – 5 Awesome Options + Lot Of Helpful Tips

There’s a reason why Southeast Asia is an absolute favorite among backpackers from around the world. The travel costs are extremely low, the natural beauty of the region is amazing, and the countries in the region have done everything they can to attract more visitors which makes it very easy for backpackers to travel around Southeast Asia on a budget. In this cornerstone article, we’ll help you choose your own backpacking route in Southeast Asia and teach you absolutely everything there is to know about traveling like a pro in this part of the world.

patuxai vientiane

What makes me so confident in saying this? Because I have visited the region many times and did each of these routes by myself. My last trip in 2022 took 2 months, 6 countries, 34 cities, and $900 USD. To translate to daily costs, this means that in total, I managed not only to survive but also have an amazing time in Southeast Asia with less than $15 USD per day something many claim it’s impossible.

You must be curious how did I manage to pull this off and survive with half of the recommended daily budget. In this article, I’ll tell you all about it! If you’re planning to take a backpacking route in Southeast Asia soon, keep reading and I’m sure you will be able to get a lot of useful tips!

Starting Points

We start this guide to planning a backpacking route in Southeast Asia with a few cities that can serve as good starting points to exploring this part of the world.

1. Bangkok

bangkok road

It’s like the Grand Central of Southeast Asia. Seriously, almost every flight into the region seems to touch down in Bangkok at some point. Plus, it’s a breeze to hop on a cheap flight to pretty much anywhere else in Southeast Asia from here.

Your wallet will love it. Bangkok is kind on the budget, which is great when you’re trying to stretch those dollars (or baht, in this case). Affordable hostels, street eats for a couple of bucks, and local buses and trains that cost less than a fancy coffee back home.

It’s never boring. Whether you’re exploring floating markets, checking out the nightlife, or just wandering around the chaotic streets, there’s always something to do. It sets the pace for the kind of adventures you’ll have in the rest of Southeast Asia.

2. Kuala Lumpur

hidden gems in kuala lumpur

Right in the Heart of Everything. Kuala Lumpur, or KL as everyone calls it, is smack dab in the middle of Southeast Asia. It’s like starting your adventure at the crossroads of the region. You can head north to Thailand, south to Singapore, or hop over to Indonesia or the Philippines with ease.

Easy-Going Intro to Southeast Asia. Compared to some other big cities in the region, KL is a bit more laid-back. It’s a great place to ease into the backpacking lifestyle, especially if you’re new to Southeast Asia. It’s got all the conveniences of a modern city, but it’s not as overwhelming.

It’s a Social Hub. Just like Bangkok, KL is packed with backpackers. Hostels here are social hotspots where you can meet fellow travelers, exchange stories, and maybe find a buddy for your next destination.

3. Singapore

singapore travel tips

Unlimited Connections from Changi – More Than Just an Airport. Honestly, Singapore’s Changi Airport is like the superstar of airports in Southeast Asia. It’s not just an airport; it’s a destination in itself! You can jet off to practically any corner of the globe from here. But before you do, check out the cool stuff inside – yes, there’s an actual indoor waterfall.

Singapore: Your Sneak Peek into Southeast Asia’s Cultural Kaleidoscope. Ever wanted to visit multiple countries in a day? In Singapore, it almost feels like you can. Stroll through Little India in the morning, have lunch in Chinatown, and then find yourself wandering around Arab Street by the afternoon. Each neighborhood is like a different world, and it’s all packed into this tiny city-state. Talk about a crash course in cultural diversity!

Singapore: The Zen Master of Organization. If the thought of backpacking sounds a bit daunting with all its unpredictability, Singapore is like your calm, collected guide into the adventure. The streets are so clean they practically sparkle, the buses and trains are like clockwork, and everything just works.

4. Bali

living in bali tips

Bali: Your Tropical Playground. Imagine stepping off the plane and Bali greets you like an old friend with a sun-soaked smile. This place? It’s more than just a spot on the map; it’s a whole mood. Picture a day where you’re catching waves on a beach straight out of a postcard, and the next, you’re wandering through ancient temples or hiking up a volcano like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie.

Living the Dream Without Breaking the Bank. You look around at Bali’s stunning scenery and think, “This has got to be pricey, right?” But here’s the kicker – it’s surprisingly wallet-friendly. Cozy guesthouses that won’t empty your pockets, local warungs dishing out mouth-watering meals that cost less than a fancy coffee back home, and getting around is easy and cheap.

Bali’s Slow Rhythm: A Lesson in Enjoying the Moment. There’s something about Bali that makes you want to hit the pause button on life. Whether you’re lounging in a hammock in a sleepy beach town or wandering through peaceful rice fields, there’s a calmness in the air that’s contagious. It’s like the island gently nudges you to relax, breathe, and just be.

Don’t Bite More Than You Can Chew

Mindanao Beach

We get it. You’ve got this massive list of must-sees and must-dos. The temples of Angkor Wat, the beaches of Thailand, the street food of Vietnam… It’s like a Netflix binge-watch list but for travel. But remember, your trip isn’t a race. Cramming in too much can turn your dream trip into a frantic rush from one spot to the next.

Here’s a radical thought: what if you took things slow? Imagine spending a week (or more!) in one place. Dive deep into local life. Learn to cook a local dish, or spend a lazy day café-hopping. It’s about making connections, not just ticking off a checklist. You’ll find that these moments often become the highlights of your trip.

Constantly being on the move can be exhausting. Ever heard of ‘temple fatigue’? Yeah, it’s a thing. Sometimes, you need a day off to recharge, maybe just to chill in a hammock with a good book. Remember, it’s a vacation, not a mission.

Now that we covered some basics, let’s see which is the most popular backpacking route in Southeast Asia…

The Banana Pancake Trail

3 weeks in thailand

Ever heard of the Banana Pancake Trail? No, it’s not a hiking path littered with breakfast foods. It’s actually the nickname for the most beloved backpacking route in Southeast Asia. Here’s the scoop on this iconic trail:

What’s in a Name? – You might be wondering, “Why ‘Banana Pancake’?” Well, it’s a nod to the simple, sweet breakfast commonly served in guesthouses along this route – a symbol of the backpacker-friendly vibe you’ll find here.

The Trail Itself – This isn’t a set path but more like a series of popular stops that form a rough trail through Southeast Asia. Starting typically in Thailand, the trail weaves through Laos, through the roads of Vietnam to Cambodia. Think of it as a ‘choose your own adventure’ – whether you’re after cultural immersion, historical exploration, or just a good party, this trail’s got you covered.

Highlights and Hidden Gems – The trail hits all the big names: the bustling streets of Bangkok, the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, the serene beauty of Luang Prabang, and the war-torn history in Vietnam. But it’s the unexpected finds – a hidden café, a local festival, a secret beach – that really make the trail special.

The Backpacker Culture – What truly sets the Banana Pancake Trail apart is its unique backpacker culture. It’s a melting pot of global travelers, each adding their own flavor to the journey. You’ll share stories, make friendships, and learn about the world from a hostel dorm room.

Average Budget For The Banana Pancake

If you’re a backpacker on a shoestring, expect to spend around $20-30 per day. This covers basic hostels, street food, local buses, and a few activities. For a bit more comfort, like private rooms, occasional tours, and better dining, budget about $40-60 per day.

Best Time To Go

Mui ne sunset beach resorts in Vietnam

The ideal time to hit the trail is during the shoulder seasons – March to early June, and September to November. You’ll avoid the worst of the crowds and the rain. If you’re not a fan of scorching heat, avoid April and May in the hotter parts of Southeast Asia, like Thailand and the coast of Vietnam.

Best Places To Stay

In Bangkok, the bustling Khao San Road awaits with its myriad of hostels. Heading north to Chiang Mai, the Old City charms with affordable guesthouses. Luang Prabang in Laos offers serene stays by the Mekong River, while Hanoi’s Old Quarter in Vietnam buzzes with history and a variety of accommodations. Don’t miss the lantern-lit allure of Hoi An, with its cozy homestays and hostels. In Cambodia, Siem Reap serves as a perfect base near Angkor Wat, with options near Pub Street or the quieter night market area. And for a taste of island life, Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand offers beachside bungalows perfect for relaxing after a full moon party.

Timing & Locations Covered

Most backpackers spend about 2-3 months on the trail, but it’s flexible. You can squeeze the highlights into a month, or stretch it out over half a year. The trail usually includes Thailand (Bangkok or Chiang Mai, Phuket, and the Thai Islands), Laos (Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng), Vietnam (Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An), and Cambodia (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh). If time allows, veer off to less-visited spots like Northern Thailand, the Bolaven Plateau in Laos, or the Central Highlands in Vietnam.

Mekong River Trail

mekong river

Have you ever thought about trailing alongside a river that’s seen centuries unfold? That’s the Mekong Trail for you. It’s not just a route; it’s a journey through the very heartbeat of Southeast Asia.

The Mekong’s Tale – Picture this: you’re following a river that starts in the tranquil Tibetan Plateau, winds through the diverse landscapes of China, and meanders through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and finally Vietnam. It’s like each country is a different chapter in a book, with the Mekong River scripting its own story.

A Medley of Cultures and Nature – Drifting along the Mekong, you’re in for a world of experiences. One day you’re soaking in the peace of a Laotian temple, and the next, you’re jostling through Vietnam’s lively floating markets. It’s a journey where serene natural beauty meets the lively buzz of riverside communities.

Why Embark on the Mekong Trail? – Imagine a trail that’s not just about the destinations but the stories in between. The Mekong Trail isn’t a simple point A to B; it’s a vibrant bridge linking six countries, each with its own allure. One moment, you’re enjoying a quiet sunset by the river, and the next, you’re exploring a bustling city center. It’s the perfect mix of calm and chaos.

Average Budget For The Mekong River Trail

Planning to tackle the Mekong Trail without burning a hole in your pocket? Picture this: you’re spending something like 20 to 30 bucks a day. This gets you a cozy spot in a friendly hostel, some delicious street food that’ll make your taste buds dance, and enough left over for bus rides or the occasional boat trip. It’s all about that authentic, down-to-earth travel experience.

But maybe you’re thinking, “I want a little more comfort.” No problem! If you’re willing to part with, say, 40 to 60 dollars daily, you can upgrade to private rooms, maybe join a tour to delve deeper into the local scene, and treat yourself to a wider range of eats – from quaint cafes to those slightly fancier spots.

When To Go?

phnom penh traveling to cambodia

As for the best time to explore the Mekong? You’ll want to aim for the cooler, drier months – November to February. It’s the ideal time to really enjoy the journey. Imagine cruising down the river, exploring bustling markets, and trekking through scenic landscapes, all without the intense heat or sudden downpours. It’s like the Mekong’s way of saying, “Come on over, the conditions are just right!”

Where To Stay?

When traveling the Mekong River Trail, your choices for overnight stays are as diverse as the journey itself. In Luang Prabang, Laos, immerse yourself in the city’s UNESCO-listed heritage with a stay in one of its serene riverside guesthouses, perfect for soaking in the local culture and architecture. Heading to Vientiane, the Laotian capital balances cultural landmarks with a variety of accommodation options, from quaint boutique hotels to budget-friendly hostels, offering a peaceful yet vibrant atmosphere. Siem Reap, Cambodia, the gateway to the majestic Angkor Wat, caters to all travelers with its array of lodging choices, ranging from luxurious resorts to charming backpacker hostels.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s bustling capital, you can experience the city’s energetic pulse by staying in the central area, close to markets and historical sites. For a more local experience, Can Tho in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta offers a variety of homestays and hotels, giving you a front-row seat to its famous floating markets and riverine lifestyle. Finally, Ho Chi Minh City presents a dynamic mix of accommodations to suit every taste and budget, from upscale hotels in the city center to cozy guesthouses tucked away in quieter neighborhoods.

Timings & Locations Covered

The full trail can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on your pace and interests. Most backpackers allocate 2-4 months to fully experience the trail. Essential locations on the Mekong River Trail include the tranquil Luang Prabang in Laos, the historical Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the vibrant Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Additional stops might include Yunnan in China, the golden triangle area where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet, and the dynamic cities of Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City.

Thai Island Circuit

thai island backpacking route in southeast asia

This backpacking route in Southeast Asia is perfect for people looking to take it easy, relax the beach, enjoy the island sunsets, and experience those lazy island vibes.

Why the Thai Island Circuit? Think endless beaches, crystal-clear waters, vibrant nightlife, and pockets of serene beauty. Whether you’re a party animal, a beach bum, or a nature lover, this circuit has an island with your name on it.

The Islands: A Diverse Mix – You’ve probably heard of Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Koh Samui, but that’s just the beginning. Don’t miss the lesser-known gems like Koh Lanta for chilled vibes or Koh Tao for some of the best diving spots. And Koh Phangan? It’s not just about the Full Moon Party; it’s a haven of stunning beaches and lush jungles.

Navigating the Waters: Getting around is part of the fun. Ferries, speedboats, and long-tail boats connect the islands, offering scenic views and a cool sea breeze. Each journey is a chance to see the stunning Andaman Sea or the Gulf of Thailand from a new perspective.

Average Budget For Island Hopping In Thailand

Heading out for some island hopping in Thailand? Let’s talk cash and calendars. First up, your budget. If you’re all about that backpacker life, think about $30-50 a day. This will get you a cozy hostel bed, tasty local food, and travel between islands on the more wallet-friendly ferries. But hey, if you’re feeling fancy and want a bit more privacy, some nicer meals, or you’re keen on zipping around on speedboats, you’re looking at around $60-100 daily.

When To Visit

thailand islands

Aim for November to April. It’s like the universe aligns for island hoppers – less rain, more sun, and just right for soaking up the beach vibes and sailing smooth. But heads up: December and January can get pretty packed with tourists, so if you’re not into big crowds, plan around those months.

Where To Stay?

Embarking on a Thai island-hopping adventure offers a wealth of choices for every kind of traveler. In Phuket, consider staying in Patong for its lively atmosphere or Kata and Karon for quieter vibes, with the island serving as a perfect launchpad to other destinations. Koh Phi Phi’s Tonsai Bay is great for those who want a mix of relaxation and nightlife, while the northern beaches offer tranquility. Koh Samui is diverse, with Chaweng for party enthusiasts, and Bophut and Lamai Beach for a more laid-back scene. For diving enthusiasts, Koh Tao’s Sairee Beach is ideal, or try Chalok Baan Kao Bay for a quieter spot.

Koh Lanta’s west coast offers beautiful sunsets and a range of accommodations, from developed northern parts to peaceful southern areas. On Koh Phangan, Haad Rin buzzes with Full Moon Party energy, but the west and north of the island are perfect for serene beach experiences. For those seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures, Koh Chang’s west coast, Koh Mak’s tranquil beaches, and accommodations in Khao Lak for trips to the Similan Islands offer quieter, authentic Thai island experiences.

Timing & Locations Covered

You could cover most of the Thai islands in 2-3 weeks but it’s better to take it easy and enjoy at least a month (or two). Start with the famous ones like Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Koh Samui for their iconic beaches and vibrant nightlife. Koh Tao is great for diving, Koh Lanta for a relaxed vibe, and Koh Phangan for partying. Also consider adding lesser-known islands like Koh Chang, Koh Mak, or the Similan Islands to your itinerary for a different experience and for getting away from the crowds.

Borneo-Sulawesi Adventure Trail


The Borneo-Sulawesi trail is another great backpacking route in Southeast Asia. I know there’s only two places in the name of this trail (which makes it pretty self-explanatory) but these are two of the largest Indonesian islands.

Why the Borneo Sulawesi Trail? – This backpacking route in Southeast Asia isn’t your everyday tourist path. It’s a route that takes you deep into the heart of Borneo and Sulawesi, offering up close encounters with nature and a deep dive into diverse cultures. Expect everything from lush rainforests and exotic wildlife to vibrant local communities and rich cultural tapestries.

Borneo: A Wild Heart – Start your adventure in Malaysian Borneo. Here, you can trek through ancient rainforests in Sabah and Sarawak, encounter the famous orangutans, and maybe even spot a wild Bornean elephant. Don’t miss the towering peak of Mount Kinabalu and the dreamlike dive sites around Sipadan Island.

Sulawesi: The Road Less Travelled – Transitioning to Sulawesi in Indonesia, the landscape shifts to surreal volcanic mountains and sprawling rice terraces. Sulawesi is a place where tradition reigns supreme. Dive into the fascinating culture of the Toraja people, known for their unique houses and elaborate funeral rituals. For the underwater enthusiasts, the Togian Islands offer some of the most pristine diving spots in the world.

Average Budget For The Borneo-Sulawesi Trail

If you’re cool with keeping it basic (think simple stays, local eats, and public buses), you’re looking at about $20-40 each day. That’s your backpacker-style exploring. But hey, if you’re up for a bit more comfort like nicer places to crash or joining some cool guided tours, then set aside something like $50-70 per day.

When To Go?


And when’s the best time to hit this trail? Aim for March to October – that’s your golden window for the best trekking, spotting wildlife, and diving into those amazing underwater worlds. Just a heads up, though: from November to February, it can get pretty rainy, which might put a bit of a damper on some of your plans.

Where To Stay?

  • Borneo: In Malaysian Borneo, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching offer a range of options from hostels to upscale hotels. Near natural attractions like Mount Kinabalu and national parks, look for eco-lodges or guesthouses.
  • Sulawesi: In Sulawesi, the city of Makassar is a good starting point with varied lodging options. In the Tana Toraja region, traditional guesthouses provide a cultural immersion. For diving enthusiasts, resorts and dive lodges in the Togian Islands offer convenient access to dive sites.

Timing & Duration

As per places covered, this trail covers the two large islands mentioned above. As for the duration, the trail can be covered in a few weeks to a couple of months, depending on how deeply you want to explore each area.

Sumatra-Java-Bali Trail


This is the only backpacking route in Southeast Asia on our list that focuses on only one country but the truth is, if you ask me, I could spend months just exploring the thousands islands of Indonesia and this trail just scratches the surface.

Why This Trail? This isn’t just a trip; it’s a saga across some of Indonesia’s most captivating landscapes and cultures. You’ll start in the untamed beauty of Sumatra, meander through Java’s cultural and historical richness, and end in Bali, where every sunset is a postcard.

Sumatra: The Wild Start. Begin in Sumatra, a land where orangutans roam free. Trek through the dense jungles of Bukit Lawang or surf the perfect waves at Mentawai Islands. Sumatra is raw nature at its best – think breathtaking volcanoes and serene crater lakes like Lake Toba.

Java: The Cultural Heartbeat. Next up, Java- home to the capital and probably most significant part of the country. Walk through the historical streets of Yogyakarta, visit the majestic temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, and hike up to the surreal landscape of Mount Bromo. Java is a feast for the senses and a haven for history buffs.

Bali: The Enchanting Finale. Your trail ends in Bali, an island synonymous with paradise. In addition to stunning beaches, Bali also offers a mosaic of rice terraces, volcanic mountains, and a culture that’s as colorful as its ceremonies. Whether it’s the spiritual town of Ubud or the surf breaks of Uluwatu, Bali is the perfect finale to this epic trail.

Average Budget For The Borneo-Sulawesi Trail

If you’re on a budget, like staying in hostels, eating local, and using public transport, you’ll be just fine with $20-40 a day. But if you fancy a bit more comfort – like getting your own room, eating at nice restaurants, or joining some cool tours – aim for around $50-70 per day. It’s a bit more cash, but hey, those extra comforts can be nice.

When To Go?

borneo forest bridge

Your best bet is between March and October. The weather’s usually great for all the outdoor stuff – not too wet, not too hot. But try to steer clear of November to February. It’s the rainy season, and it can really put a damper on things, like making hiking trails super muddy and travel a bit trickier.

Accommodation Options

In Sumatra, Medan is your gateway to some of the island’s best spots.
Now, over to Java and straight to Yogyakarta – or Jogja, as the locals call it. This place is close to ancient temples like Borobudur and Prambanan and other important city highlights.
And last but not least, there’s Bali with the art and culture of Ubud, beaches of Seminyak, and tranquility of Amed.

Timing & Locations Covered

For the Sumatra-Java-Bali trail, a solid and enriching journey would typically take around 4 to 6 weeks, spending 1-2 weeks in each region (and this is a bare minimum in my opinion).

Now that you have gotten yourself familiar with different options, choosing a backpacking route in Southeast Asia should be much easier but still before we wrap things up, we’ll give you our opinions on which trails to take depending on how much time you have on your hands.

Pro note: keep your eyes open because these places will be full of pick-pocketers and scam artists. Read more about the 13 most common scams in Southeast Asia.

What Can You Do In 2 Weeks?

island hopping guide thailand

With just two weeks, you’ll want to focus on a single backpacking route in Southeast Asia to avoid rushing. The Thai Island Circuit is ideal as it offers a condensed experience with beaches, culture, and plenty of relaxation. You could start in Phuket, hop to Koh Phi Phi, and finish in Koh Samui or Koh Phangan.

What Can You Do In 3 Weeks?

Mekong river backpacking route in southeast asia

Three weeks gives you a bit more leeway when choosing a backpacking route in Southeast Asia. You could combine the Thai Island Circuit with parts of the Mekong River Trail. Spend the first two weeks island-hopping in Thailand, then travel to Bangkok and catch a flight to Luang Prabang, Laos, to spend a week exploring the Mekong region.

What Can You Do In 1 Month?

bali off the beaten track

One month allows for a deeper dive on your backpacking route in Southeast Asia. You could explore the Sumatra-Java-Bali Trail thoroughly. Start with the wilds of Sumatra for a week, including Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba. Then, spend two weeks traversing Java from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, hitting up Mt. Bromo and Ijen. Cap off with a week in Bali, from the beaches to the cultural interior of Ubud.

What Can You Do In 2 Months


With two months, you have the luxury of combining trails. Start with one month on the Sumatra-Java-Bali Trail, then spend the next month on the Borneo-Sulawesi Trail. In Borneo, you can immerse yourself in the rainforests and wildlife for a month, then head over to Sulawesi for cultural experiences and diving.

What Can You Do In 3 Months Or More?

backpacking route in southeast asia

If you’re lucky enough to have three months or more, the possibilities are expansive. You could essentially craft a mega-trail that incorporates the Thai Island Circuit, the Mekong River Trail, and the Borneo-Sulawesi Trail, plus the Sumatra-Java-Bali Trail. You’ll have the time to wander off the beaten path, discover hidden gems, and really immerse yourself in each location’s unique lifestyle and culture.

Budget Food Options In Southeast Asia


Now that we hopefully provided you with enough helpful information that should help you choose the best backpacking route in Southeast Asia for your upcoming trip, let’s give you a few budget-friendly tips.

Thai food is my personal favorite. There are plenty of dishes that you can get at the street markets (my personal favorite are the night markets of Chiang Mai) for 20 baht which is around 50 cents! Fruits and sweets are also super cheap too! If you’re a foodie, you are going to adore Thailand.

Big cities in Laos and Vietnam like Vientiane, Hanoi, and Saigon are even cheaper and here, you can get a whole meal for even less than a dollar (which is 25, 000 in Vietnamese Dongs and 8,500 in Laos Kip). If you’re looking to save even more when traveling to these countries, also check out our Vietnam shopping guide.

Cambodia is in the same price range and healthy food is super cheap here. This makes fast-food restaurants like KFC and McDonald’s more expensive than having a healthy meal! That’s why Cambodia is the only place on Earth where KFC is losing money.

The food in Malaysia is a bit more expensive compared to Thailand, and Singapore is of course by far, the most expensive country in the region when it comes to food costs.

Now, don’t think that these are God-forgotten places just because you can get a meal for such ridiculous prices. There are some really fast developing cities and of course you can also find some really expensive restaurants and luxurious rooftop bars here.

Transportation In Southeast Asia

thailand transport

Getting around the cities via public transport is really cheap and convenient, especially in the big cities like Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. However, renting a bike is even better. It’s very easy and cheap to rent a bike in all of these countries and that will save you some money on buying bus and train tickets. But even if you do decide on the latter option, bus and trains are pretty cheap.

Going from North to South or East to West in all of these countries won’t cost you more than $10-15 USD. Traveling on the road gives you the opportunity to see more of the country you’re visiting and it’s much cheaper than booking a flight. The best way to arrange your transportation is by using 12goasia, yes they’re an intermediary but they have some incredible deals on their website. If you’d like to get more info about it, you can check out our honest 12GoAsia review here.

Other Budget-Friendly Activities

diving southeast asia

Finally, we’ll conclude this guide to choosing a backpacking route in Southeast Asia with a few suggestions on budget-friendly activities. These places are probably far away from your home and this might be your one and only chance to visit them and you will want to do things that you can do only here. You will want to see elephants, go scuba diving in Thailand, try paragliding, go to the jungle and see animals you never saw before… That’s completely reasonable and at the end of this article, I will tell you the cheapest places to do all these things.

For scuba diving, you’ll find the cheapest options on the Perhentian Islands. Here, you can go scuba diving for as low as $21 USD per hour. The two islands are a great diving spot with its variety of wildlife. These islands have no road and no traffic, making them the ultimate backpacker paradise.

The cheapest place for paragliding would be Bokor in Cambodia. Cambodia is one of the cheapest countries in the region and Bokor offers some amazing views as it lies right next to Sihanoukville, a charming and affordable coastal town. Paragliding here costs as low as $35-$40 USD.

The cheapest and most elephant-friendly places you could find are probably in Chiang Mai in Thailand, where you can interact with the elephants for as low as $40 USD (make sure that the animals aren’t chained and used for riding or other “entertainment” purposes). The cheapest place to get a hot air balloon ride is definitely Vang Vieng in Laos. You can find hot air balloon rides here starting from $78 USD per person.

Helpful Resources For Your Backpacking Route In Southeast Asia


For the cheapest flights to the region, Qatar Airways is always a safe choice. To save even more, this Qatar Airways offer gets you as much as 25% off on your next flight. I use it too.

When it comes to travel insurance in Southeast Asia, I always recommend SafetyWing.

To save on all bus, train or ferry rides in Southeast Asia, use 12goasia and save up to 15%.

If you want to rent a car anywhere in Southeast Asia, get 20% off with this AutoEurope special offer.

For the best budget-friendly tours in the region, get 10% off on all Southeast Asia tours by Contiki on this page.

And last but not least, to save on accommodation in Southeast Asia, this discount can get you as much as 20% on all bookings.

Finally, it’s important to stay safe while traveling anywhere on the planet. Before you go, make sure to check this list of the most dangerous places in Southeast Asia.

How did you like this guide? Did it help you choose a backpacking route in Southeast Asia for your next trip? Feel free to share your thoughts but also experiences in the comments below.

visit southeast asia on a budget
southeast asia travel guide

Sinjana Ghosh

Monday 12th of November 2018

This is a fantastic guide for budget travel in south east asia. Not sure if i'll be able to convicne my husband into couchsurfing but the hostel options are also great. Singapore is the only costly place here, all other places are way cheaper destinations even after the fact that they are so popular touristic places

Passport Symphony

Tuesday 13th of November 2018

Thanks, Sinjana, I'm glad you liked it.


Monday 12th of November 2018

Wow, you have listed amazing budget-friendly tips for traveling in SouthEast Asia. In $2, you get hostels in Cambodia, sounds like a joke but definitely a great tip on money saving. Local transportation is also cheap as it not more than $15. I would also love to do hot air ballooning in Laos and that too $78 is a great deal.


Monday 12th of November 2018

These are some great tips for budget travellers visiting the region. I have to say, I find it cheap overall compared to Europe, so really enjoy visiting. I agree that Singapore is more expensive than Laos, but not so much for me at least.

Passport Symphony

Monday 12th of November 2018

In that case, you must be rich :D a lot of locals find Singapore expensive too

Sarah Wilson

Monday 12th of November 2018

Very good tips here, I lived in South East Asia for 15 years!! Travel as a local, live like a local, eat like a local! What are my saving hacks? In the expensive cities -Singapore etc I house sit. Sign up for offers with Air Asia, travel for virtually nothing. Did you like Laos?

Passport Symphony

Monday 12th of November 2018

Housesitting is a great idea, Sarah! And yes, I absolutely loved Laos.


Monday 12th of November 2018

OMG, $2-3/day in a hostel is really very little. I knew food was not expensive there, but I didn't expect the lodging to be so low. For this kind of money anybody can afford to travel to Southeast Asia. Cambodia and Vietnam are two of the countries I would really love to visit, but so far I didn't make it to Asia. I live in California and the airfare from here to anywhere in Asia is really expensive, so I didn't get to check the hotel prices yet. From all you are saying I could probably find very affordable lodging there. Are the accommodations nice for these low prices?

Passport Symphony

Monday 12th of November 2018

Thanks for your comment, Anda! Indeed, it's very cheap to travel around SE Asia. The only expensive thing, as you said, is the flight fare. The cheap accommodation options (2-3$) I mentioned here obviously won't be fancy but most of them are decent. The only downside is that you would have to share the room with strangers but in most cases, you end up making new friends.