Southeast Asia is one of the cheapest places in the world for travelers — so, when people talk about visiting Southeast Asia on a budget, they aren’t joking! Southeast Asia is often referred to as a backpacker’s paradise (also offering plenty of alternative accommodations if you want something a little less “backpackerish”).
Of course, there are important regional variations and exceptions, including places where your travel costs might add up more quickly. For example, mainland Malaysia is much more developed than Malaysian Borneo. The lack of infrastructure in Borneo often makes life more complicated and, therefore, more expensive for travelers to get around. In fact, destinations like the Philippines or certain parts of Indonesia often require extra flights, which is something to keep in mind when factoring extra costs. Typically, however, most places in Southeast Asia are accessible by land or short ferries, and traveling around the region is fairly inexpensive. (Note that Venturecost.com provides an easy way to compare prices when moving between cities in Southeast Asia!)
With all of that in mind, let’s breakdown Southeast Asia by country and learn how to travel through the region on a budget.
Still a paradise for budget-minded travelers, Cambodia has long been the destination that people seek out in order to escape from neighboring tourist-overrun Thailand. It’s known as the land of the “$2 dorm bed,” but you can also find more upscale accommodation for under $20.
Transportation in between towns comes in the way of buses, which are incredibly cheap: you can expect to pay between $6-10 for a bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (six to seven hours). As far as food and drink go, you can find a large local beer for cheap, and typical Cambodian fare is relatively inexpensive ($2.50 for a meal), although you will find a few expensive restaurants cropping up every now and then.
To visit Angkor Wat, the country’s pride and joy, you will now need to pay $37 for a single-day pass, though the entrance to the Killing Fields or Museums in Phnom Penh is a mere $2.
The dollar is widely used in Cambodia, and you can even use it to pay for your accommodations and meals — although you will receive change in Riels, which will come handy when you need to buy smaller items.
It is no secret that Vietnam has seen a rise in the number of tourists over the last few years. While it is cheaper than traveling through Thailand, it is a little more expensive than Cambodia. Vietnam is also a backpacker’s paradise, but it’s far less developed and overrun than Thailand, so the scene is less wild, with fewer bars and clubs.
Like Cambodia, the transportation here is also incredibly cheap: a train ride from Hue to Hanoi is about 13-14 hours and will cost about $25-35, which will include an A/C berth on a sleeper train.
If you’re looking for a cheap dorm bed, you can snag one from $3, while a double room can cost anywhere from $8 onwards.
Domestic beer will roughly cost you $1, while a meal at a ‘more expensive’ restaurant can be between $2-5.
You can expect to pay about $30 for a full-day kayaking trip around Halong Bay. For a two-night cruise on Halong Bay, you’ll probably pay about $200, a price that might even include a kayaking excursion to a cave.
Keep in mind that $1 USD is equivalent to about 23,200 Vietnamese Dong; US dollars are also accepted in many places and are frequently used for excursions and more expensive accommodations.
Peninsular Malaysia is connected to Thailand and Singapore. It is wealthier and more developed than its neighbors, but it is still pretty inexpensive and easy to get around. It is slightly more expensive than Thailand, but it is important to note that the capital city of Kuala Lumpur is more expensive than the rest of the country. On the other hand, Malaysian Borneo is less developed, and with that comes the challenge of getting around areas that are essentially a jungle. Thus, in order to get around, you will need to join a tour, which you’ll need to add to your overall travel costs.
You can get a dorm bed from 20-35 RM and a double bed from 50 RM.
A train from Penang to Kuala Lumpur can cost 69 RM.
A meal at a budget restaurant will cost about 8 RM, while a large beer will be 10 RM.
In Borneo, you can spend two nights on a houseboat cruising the river into the rainforest to see orangutans. With a private guided tour, this should cost about $250. And if you take an overnight trip to Batang Ai National Park, that should total about 235 RM, including accommodations and guides.
The currency is the Malaysian Ringgit, and $1 USD is equal to about 4 MYR.
Laos is relatively cheap compared to Thailand, although it’s slightly more expensive than Cambodia. I’ve always had the impression Laos is the most rural out of all the southeast Asian countries and, therefore, it’s slightly cheaper. Expect slow travel that might not always be comfortable; note that there are wealthier tourists visiting the country from China, a phenomenon that has pushed the price of local tours upward.
A bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng will take about six hours and 100,000 Kip.
A dorm bed should cost you around $4 per night, and a budget double can cost you about $10 per night.
You can still get a meal in a budget eatery for $2, while a beer will cost about $1.20.
Tubing in Vang Vieng, a popular activity, will cost you something like 55,000 Kip.
In this country, $1 USD is worth about 8,500 kip.
While Thailand is likely the most touristy of all the Southeast Asian countries, you can still find some cheap accommodations and food, especially in the North. Bangkok might be slightly more expensive depending on the accommodations you want, but street food is still cheap and delicious.
However, travelers should know that the beaches in the south are not hidden anymore — and that the influx of tourists have driven prices up. For example, activities like diving, snorkeling, and island hopping will cost you upwards of $100 per tour.
You can still find a dorm bed in Bangkok for 150 Baht.
Buying pad Thai from a street stall is still very inexpensive — roughly 40-80 Baht per order.
A one-hour massage still costs 300-400 Baht.
$1 USD is roughly the equivalent of 30 Baht.
The Philippines is also a popular destination, probably the most well-known one in the region after Thailand. However, you will see fewer backpackers and hostels here than you would in some of the other Southeast Asian destinations.
A dorm bed in most destinations will cost $6 per night, and you can still have a meal at a budget restaurant for $3. A local beer still costs $1. Eating out is also very cheap, as are beer and Filipino rum.
With about 7,000 islands in the country, the Philippines has some amazing beaches, so you might want to take some organized beach hopping tours, which means you will have to increase your budget a little more for this destination. Boracay, for example, caters to more of a mid-range budget, and it’s a fantastic beach destination.
The entrance fee for Fort Santiago, Manila, is about $1.50.
In this country, $1 USD is worth about 50 Philippine peso (the national currency). While one or two places will still accept dollars, most will not.
Overall, Southeast Asia is one of the best places in the world to experience on a budget. To book your trip and experience all that Southeast Asia has to offer, please visit Acanela Expeditions.
Written by Preethi Chandrasekhar