Southeast Asia is an amazing region with a lot of breathtaking places that’s relatively cheap to explore. The travel costs are extremely low, making SE Asia one of the most popular ones among backpackers. When I first started planning this trip, most tourist guides I saw were suggesting that you should have a daily budget of at least $30 USD in all of the countries in Southeast Asia. Anyway, after comparing this number with the average living costs in some of the most expensive cities in the region, the average daily cost was much lower than $30. I actually traveled around Southeast Asia on a budget with only $15 per day!
Here’s how I did it: 2 months, 6 countries, 34 cities and $900 USD. I got a cheap flight from Kolkata to Bangkok for only $60 USD and my flight from Kota Kinabalu to Skopje costed around $450. So the total money I spent on the trip was $1350 USD. If we count out the price of the return flight, I managed not only to survive but also have an amazing time in Southeast Asia with less than $15 USD per day!
You must be curious how did I manage to pull this off and survive with half of the recommended daily budget. This article will tell you all about it! If you’re planning to visit Southeast Asia soon, keep reading and I’m sure you will be able to get a lot of useful tips!
Budget accommodation in Southeast Asia
I managed to save a lot of money by using Couchsurfing and staying with local hosts. Now, of course, there are expensive hotels and luxurious resorts, but there are also a handful of backpacking hostels in which you can stay for 2-3$ per day! The ‘most expensive accommodation trophy’ (and everything else) will obviously go to Singapore, with Phuket and the surrounding touristy islands being the runner-up. Even the cheapest hostels around here cost $20 per day (Singapore) and $9-$12 per day (Phuket).
The cheapest place accommodation-wise was Cambodia, or how I love to call it “The land of the $2 hostels”. If you’re planning to visit soon, get some more tips on how to travel Cambodia on a budget. You will be able to get a super cheap accommodation in Vietnam and Laos as well. Malaysia, on the other hand, is a bit more expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as Singapore and Phuket. I also spent some nights on the bus or train, when taking long journeys. In total, the money I spent on accommodation for those two months was around $200 USD.
Related: a guide to discovering the hidden gems in Bali.
Budget food options in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia has some amazing, mouthwatering street food delights, and it’s a real shame if you don’t taste some of those when visiting. You know, get a taste of the food local people eat every day. Do things in the way locals do. Not only you will experience the authentic lifestyle of a very different culture, but you will also save a lot of money. The living standard in these countries is pretty low, so the local way will be the cheapest way most of the time. Anyway, if you follow this approach, it’s going to be a win-win scenario for you.
Thai food is my personal favorite. There are plenty of dishes that you can get at the street markets for 20 baht (50 cents)! And fruits and sweets are also super cheap! If you’re a foodie, you are going to adore Thailand.
Laos and Vietnam 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).
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.
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 costs in Southeast Asia
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, plus it’s much cheaper than booking a flight.
The nightlife in Southeast Asia
The nightlife in some cities is quite tempting, especially in cities like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh, and there certainly are some expensive places. However, it’s the same as with the food. Just go to places where locals go. This way, you can see the real nightlife, rather than the places that are overcrowded with tourists. These places will also be cheaper most of the time. And what I always used to do before going to the club was pre-drinking. It saved a lot of money for me. And also, keep your eyes open because these places will be full of pick-pocketers and people trying to scam local people. Read more about the 13 most common scams in Southeast Asia.
Finally, 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 the Sihanoukville coast. Paragliding here costs around $35-$40 USD.
The cheapest and most elephant-friendly place you could find is probably in Chiang Mai in Thailand, where you can get interact with the elephants for as low as $40 USD (no riding). 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.
Few additional budget tips Southeast Asia with $15 per day
Hostels are awesome! Do your research before you go, as some of the hostels are offering a lot of additional benefits. Some hostels offer cheap or free tours for near-by tourist destinations. Others have crazy parties with ridiculously cheap drinks for their guests. Hanoi Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi has a free unlimited beer for an hour every evening! I also met some people that were working in the hostels for a few days in exchange for accommodation, and that happens pretty often.
Also, even when you visit touristy places, try to go somewhere many others don’t. For example, if you’re in Krabi, explore Tab Kak Hang Nak Nature Trail instead of visiting the overcrowded beaches. Or if you want to stick to the beach, consider staying in Ao Nang. Going places away from the tourist areas can save you a lot of money and allow you to have a more authentic experience.
Finally, (of course) staying in hostels allows you to meet a lot of people who also travel alone. Hostels are places where you can very easily find a new travel buddy, split your costs and make your trip much cheaper. Also, if you plan on using ATMs, get a fee-free credit card that you can use when abroad for a yearly fee. Finally, bargain for everything. I don’t have an official statistic, but I’m pretty sure you can save up to 20% on everything if you’re good at bargaining. And this applies to everything, from buying souvenirs to tuk-tuk rides and group tours.
How much do you usually spend on traveling? What are your saving hacks? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. 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.