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There is definitely more to Southeast Asia than its rich and unique cultures, an endless list of white sand beaches, lush jungles and high mountain ranges that keep luring backpackers.
We already know that backpacking Europe will cost a fortune. It will rob you of your yearlong savings. So why would you plunge into a long-term travel in Europe when you can kick off your adventures on a cheaper continent?
Here is my updated list of Southeast Asia destinations that you can explore on a shoestring budget:
Currency: Vietnamese Dong (VND)
Exchange rate: 1.00 USD = 22717.50 VND
Top Attractions: Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong Delta, Hoan Kiem Lake, Ho Chi Minh Museum, Hoa Lo Prison, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Ha Long Bay
Although Ho Chi Minh (also known as Saigon) is best explored on a rented scooter, I would not recommend it unless you familiarize in advance with the city’s traffic pattern.
Either join a walking tour or do it yourself as the major attractions in Ho Chi Minh are either in the same block or strung across one another. (Related post: Exploring Ho Chi Minh in 3 Days)
Prices for food and drinks are low. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs an average of 47,500vnd while a local beer is as cheap as 20,000vnd. Drip coffee which is a must-try in Vietnam costs less than a dollar.
Hawker stalls are spread out in the city, as well as hip cafes, bars and retail shops for cheap delights. And when in Ho Chi Minh, look for night markets instead of high-end malls.
Restaurant prices in Hanoi are cheaper than Ho Chi Minh’s. The Old Quarter is your go-to district for a wide selection of local and Western food.
Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
Exchange rate: 1.00 USD = 32.59 THB
Top Attractions: Railay Beach, Koh Phi Phi, The Grand Palace, Pai, Khao Yai National Park, Sukhothai Old City, Historic City of Ayutthaya, Wat Rong Khun, Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), Phang Nga Elephant Park, Wat Chedi Luang Varavihara
Thailand is usually the first destination in a backpacker’s mind. Known for its tropical beaches, royal palaces, and Buddhist temples, Thailand is impressively liveable for every budget-savvy traveler.
Like Manila (Philippines), Bangkok is a city where you can spend a day or two for sightseeing before you head off to the islands. But if you want to do some serious retail shopping and experience its vibrant nightlife, you might need to spend another day in the city. Bangkok is one big hub of both cheap finds and high-end brands.
Negotiating with taxi and tuk-tuk drivers can be tricky for foreigners but is a must.
The cheapest full meal costs no more than $4, the same as a bottle of Chang beer.
Currency: Cambodian Riel (KHR)
Exchange rate: 1.00 USD = 4033.25 KHR
Top Attractions: Angkor Archaeological Park, Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Koh Ker, Koh Rong, Koh Tonsay, Popokvil Waterfall, Sihanoukville
The best way to get around cities in Cambodia is by tuk-tuk. Negotiate with the driver before getting the ride but don’t go too low.
A one-day visit to all the main temples in Angkor Wat is impossible, considering their distance to one another and road conditions. Temple passes are sold in one-day ($37), three-day ($62), and seven-day slabs ($72) and must be used on consecutive days.
Siem Reap restaurant and grocery prices are significantly lower than Phnom Penh’s. A neat meal costs no less than $3. USD is preferred more in transactions than Cambodian Riel.
The two main attractions in Phnom Penh are the Choeung Ek genocidal center (Killing Fields) and the Tuol Sleng genocide museum. (Related post: Do Not Visit The Killing Fields Until You Read This)
Currency: Laotian Kip (LAK)
Exchange rate: 1.00 USD = 8314.10 LAK
Top Attractions: Patuxai, Wat Si Saket, Pha That Luang, Haw Phra Kaew, Buddha Park, Royal Palace Museum, Mekong Riverside Park, Tham Nam (Water cave), Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
Laos is very popular among nature lovers as it has a lot to offer. Vientiane and Luang Prabang are the most-visited places in Laos. Prices in Vientiane are, of course, higher than in Luang Prabang. A meal costs no more than $3. You can grab a bottle of Beer Lao for less than $2.
While taxis abound in major cities, tuk-tuks are easily accessible on the streets of Laos. Minimum taxi rates are around $2.50.
I would also advise travelers to exchange their money for Laotian Kip before coming to Laos, an amount just enough for the whole trip. It is difficult to exchange Kip outside Laos because of its low value.
Currency: Burmese Kyat (MMK)
Exchange rate: 1.00 USD = 1358.05 MMK
Top Attractions: Shwedagon Pagoda, Bagan Temples, Inle Lake Ngapali Beach, Golden Palace Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda & the World’s Largest Book
Taxis in Yangon are cheap (about $2-3). Many drivers, though, would still negotiate with passengers, it all depends on your haggling skills. While the main pagodas are within the city, Bagan is 8 hours away from Yangon – either take the night bus or train from the center. To get around Bagan, the cheapest way is by renting a horse cart with a driver or an e-bike/e-scooter. (Related post: 11 Images That Will Make You Want to Visit Myanmar)
An inexpensive meal on the average costs $3. Beer costs a little over a dollar.
Currency: Philippine Peso (PHP)
Exchange rate: 1.00 USD = 50.62 PHP
Top Attractions: Batad Rice Terraces, Kayangan Lake, Mayon Volcano, Puerto Princesa Underground River, Big Lagoon El Nido, White Beach, Batanes Islands, Camiguin Island, Malapascua Island, Kalanggaman Island, Siargao Island
The grueling traffic in Manila has long been a problem that taxis are not the best way to go around the city. Taxi rates start at 40.00PHP. It is best to consider the proximity of your hotel to where the hustle and bustle happens.
The world famous destinations Boracay, Palawan, and Cebu are less than an hour away from the capital and can be reached via domestic flights. It is best to plan your itinerary well and spend just a couple of days in the city.
There’s a lot to see in the Philippines but they’re spread out so plan and book in advance. An inexpensive but decent meal (local food) costs around $3. Local beer costs a dollar per bottle. For cheap but cool finds, Divisoria Market must be in your itinerary (haggling is allowed).
Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
Exchange rate: 1.00 USD = 13520.75 IDR
Top Attractions: Borobudur Temple, Sekumpul Waterfalls, Ijen Crater, Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Gili Islands, Komodo National Park. Mount Batur
The quiet and laid back settings of Bali is endearing especially to Western travelers. Scooter rentals are on every corner but you can also go around on foot. Taxis abound in Bali but make sure to check online for a reliable taxi service for airport pick-up. Bali prices are significantly lower than Jakarta’s.
When hiring a taxi to go around town, make sure the meter is down. A nice meal will cost you lower than 28,000IDR. Yoga retreats don’t come cheap and must be booked ahead.
Homestays have also become popular around Bali. It’s one way to delve deeper into the Balinese culture by participating in the activities of the local village people.
(You could be wondering why there was a lot of mention of beer in this article. Well, I simply love beer!)
Is there another destination that you think I should add to the list? Let me know what you think of these recommended places. If you have questions, drop your comments anytime!
*Exchange rates as of December 5, 2017
*Cost of living index source: https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/
Sheila, a.k.a. The Solo Tripper. Former news desk editor, full-time traveler, freelance writer.