Southeast Asia on a budget: how I traveled around with $15 per day

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. When I first started planning this trip, most tourist guides I saw were suggesting that, on average, you should have a daily budget of at least $30 USD. 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 managed to  travel around Southeast Asia on a budget with only $15 per day!

patuxai vientiane

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 back to Skopje was around $450. So the total money I spent on the trip was $1350 USD. If you want to get a cheap flight to some of the Southeast Asian countries, check out this amazing offer by Qatar Airways and save up to 25% on your next flight. But let’s get back to the main topic; in total, I managed not only to survive but also have an amazing time in Southeast Asia with less than $15 USD per day! If

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 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 in Thailand being the runner-up. Even the cheapest hostels around here cost $20 per day (Singapore) and $9-$12 per day (Phuket).

Southeast Asia with $15 per day

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 USDIf you want to slash your accommodation costs while traveling in Southeast Asia, use my Booking.com discount code to get up to 15% off on all properties in the region.

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.

cambodia food

Thai food is my personal favorite. There are plenty of dishes that you can get at the street markets for 20 baht (50 cents)! Fruits and sweets are also super cheap too! 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 when it comes to food costs.

Related: How to travel to Thailand on a budget?

Southeast Asia with $15 per day

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.

Related: Guide to traveling Vietnam with a motorbike.

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 it’s much cheaper than booking a flight.

thailand transport

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 under a constant tourist siege. 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. However, 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.

Southeast Asia with $15 per day

Other activities

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.

diving

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 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.

Related: things I wish I knew before visiting Thailand.

Southeast Asia with $15 per day

Additional tips to travel Southeast Asia on a budget

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 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 free 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 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.

And last but not least, bargain for everything. I don’t have an official statistic, but I’m pretty sure you can save up to 20-30% on everything if you’re good at bargaining. And this applies to everything, from buying souvenirs to tuk-tuk rides and group tours.

Helpful resources to travel Southeast Asia on a budget

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.

If you’re a student flying to Southeast Asia, get 20% off on all flights with this STA Travel offer.

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

If you’re looking to take tours in Southeast Asia, I warmly recommend Intrepid. You can use this offer to get 15% off on all tours in the region.

For transportation booking in Southeast Asia, I always use Bookaway.

If you want to rent a car anywhere in Southeast Asia, get 20% off with this Sixt 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 Booking.com 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 much do you usually spend on traveling? What are your saving hacks? Did this guide give you some useful tips for travel in Southeast Asia on a budget? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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22 thoughts on “Southeast Asia on a budget: how I traveled around with $15 per day”

  1. I’m going to SE Asia this spring and I am definitely going to check out Perhentian Islands! That is exactly what I’m looking for during this trip. Great info. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing. This information will be super useful for me too. I’ll be off to SE Asia in December on a tiny budget. I think I’ll be doing it for a lot less than this 😮 mind you, I’ll be volunteering and will have most of my living costs covered hopefully.

    Reply
    • Sounds great, Tony. Yeah, if your accommodation is sorted, you’ll probably end up surviving on less than $15 per day 😀 Hope you have a great time

      Reply
  3. Now, that’s interesting! As someone from India, I’m used to so many Europeans and Americans visiting Asian countries in a very small budget. So far, somehow I’ve never bothered to look into the numbers. Interesting to see some actual calculations.
    I’m planning to visit Cambodia. So, its cool to know that its the land of $2 hostels!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Bhushavali! I’m happy to hear you enjoyed the article. I try to keep a count of my costs as it provides good data for my articles 🙂

      Reply
  4. I cannot believe you did all of this for only $15 a day – that is amazing! The food looks so incredible and it’s really cool that you can get a healthy meal for cheaper than going to a fast food restaurant. Now if only that were true in the US.

    Reply
    • Yes, that’s only one of the reasons why so many people go backpacking around SE Asia every year! And yes, the food is absolutely amazing (and cheap)

      Reply
  5. It always blew my mind how far my money went in Southeast Asia. It’s been a few years since I’ve traveled around there, but good to know you can still get great value! Great tips on how to save money as well. The food there, just to die for. Especially for the price!

    Reply
  6. A budget of $15 per day, even in Southeast Asia, is pretty amazing! While I generally don’t go for luxury, I like the privacy of an individual room although I hear some hostels have them too. I always save by eating local or street food – why would I spend more on fast food that I can have at home? Your tips on going where the locals go is a good one. I usually buy alcohol at the supermarket and pre-drink prior to going out. I’m hoping to make it to Southeast Asia at some point and will use these recommendations.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment, Annick. Yes, most hostels have individual rooms for which they charge a little more. I hope you make it to Southeast Asia soon! It’ll be an unforgettable trip for sure.

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  7. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  8. 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?

    Reply
  9. 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.

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  10. 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.

    Reply
  11. 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

    Reply

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