Asia has been the go-to destination for young high school graduates to spend a significant amount of time exploring on their ‘gap year’. As such, it is essential to keep the whole trip as low-budget as possible to enable you to stay for an extended period of time, ticking several countries off your bucket list. Hence backpacking has become especially popular, allowing for easier maneuverability as you hop from hostel to hostel (perhaps occasionally treating yourself to a nice Airbnb).
There are a plethora of stunning, Instagram worthy sights throughout Asia from Halong Bay to Angkor Wat, drawing in all kinds of tourists. But its main draw to backpackers, especially travelers in their late teens/early twenties, is its value for money.
How To Keep It Low-Budget
Shared Dorms. You can find dorm rooms in Cambodia for $2-5 USD, or $6-15 in Thailand. If you’re looking for a simple private room with AC, expect to spend $15-20 USD per night. Or if you’re feeling extra adventurous, how about you try Couchsurfing for an unforgettable authentic experience where you’ll have the pleasure of meeting a local, and staying with them in an extra bed or on their couch. A cultural experience, with the added bonus of being free! And if you’re out of city, perhaps trekking through jungle or beach hopping, consider camping.
Street food (on average street food is $1.50). Stick the ordering local food i.e. pad thai, as more western meals come with a higher price tag ($5 for pizza), and is often poorly made. Not worth it!
Avoid Singapore, or keep a trip there short, as it is significantly more expensive than the other Asian destinations.
Booking Tours. Do it as a group! You’ll be able negotiate a better deal. If you’re travelling alone, see if others staying at your hostel are interested in similar tours and band together! Also avoid pre-booking tours, it usually ends up more expensive.
Bargain! Southeast Asia has a culture of haggling, so don’t be shy.
Water. Having a bottle with a purifier will save you money in the long run as unfiltered tap water is not safe to drink.
Travel by bus. Seems like common sense but taxis and tuk-tuks are much more expensive. For short and more long haul travel, go by bus. For a 5-6 hour journey you can expect to pay between $5 and $10 USD. If you do insist on a taxi or tuk-tuk, don’t forget… haggle! Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia where you should bother with regular trains, the others have a less developed system reaching few places with high prices.
So, now you know how to save your money... where to go?
Southeast Asia is home to an abundance of awe-inspiring temples, stunning coastal landscapes with turquoise waters and natural wonders. Here are some of the top spots on backpacker trails.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is the biggest tourist attraction in Cambodia and one of the largest religious monuments in the world.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Southeast Asia is abundant in beautiful bays and crystal clear waters; but Ha long Bay is arguably the most breathtaking of them all. With large jutting limestone rocks, surrounded by boats and sparkling blue water, the view across the bay is dramatic and unparalleled.
Having saved your money with cheap accommodation, public transport and street food, hopefully you have some to spare to splurge on unforgettable treats like a hot air balloon ride across this beautiful site.
Wat Rong Khun, Thailand
In essence an Art Installation, although it strongly resembles a shimmering temple. Literally, it is built with shards of glass on the surface, reflecting the light to create an ethereal glow.
Key Items To Pack
Make sure you pack a smaller bag, so that you’re not always carrying the big backpack. For daytime excursions you can ditch the big rucksack in a dorm locker, or back in your Airbnb, and only bring with you the essentials for the day (sun screen, water, camera, money, phone etc).
Would recommend trekking shoes and a pair of sandals/flip flops.
A spray with a high DEET is essential, and a pest repellent plug in for your room for added protection.
You’ll want to make sure you always have access to your phone, don’t let a dead battery leave you lost.
If you’re staying in hostels this extra precaution will prevent stuff from being stolen.