Travelling costs money – there’s really no way around it. Either you need a huge wedge of savings, or you need a reliable income stream you can take anywhere in the world. Both are difficult to achieve and understandably stop scores from seeing the world every year. So, how much money do you need to travel South East Asia? You might find that travelling isn’t as expensive as you feared. In this post, I’ll go through the bare bones of what you’ll need and how much it’ll cost.
The answer to ‘how much money do you need to travel South East Asia?’ may have been a lot lower a few decades ago. The first thing to know is that South East Asia has become more expensive in recent years (due to the tourist influx) and it is possible to blow thousands of dollars if you’re not careful.
Accommodation is somewhere you have to be careful. If you try to book hotels, you’ll find it difficult to find nice places for under $30 a night. Your best options on a budget are really hostels or cheap Airbnb’s. $8 for a bed in a dormitory hostel is extremely common all over SE Asia. They’re usually central so will save you money on transport. Reviews are often unreliable on booking.com however, so you’re really playing a lottery here. We’ve had some lovely ones and some infested with cockroaches and other beasties. Ask other travellers for reviews and read blogs for recommendations if you’re going for hostels.
Cheap Airbnb’s start at $10. They’ll always be outside the centre, but give you that great feeling of a home away from home. You can save money by cooking this way. Make sure it’s a real home! Some hotels and hostels use AirBnB. You’ll get a hostel cheaper on booking.com if that’s the case.
Our AirBnB in Bangkok – with a kitchen for $13 a night
Budget a minimum of $7-10per person per night for South East Asia accommodation. If you’re travelling as a couple go for $15-$18.
Eating cheaply can be a challenge in South East Asia. Generally, we’ve found that portion sizes are smaller in this part of the world than we’re used to in the West. Getting enough food can be a challenge if you have a big appetite.
If you’re on a budget, supermarkets and street food are your best friends. Supermarkets like the extremely common 7/11’s are essential to saving money for breakfast and snacks. Grab some croissants, bagels and bananas for breakfast. You can get a croissant and a banana from 7/11 for less than $1.
For lunch, grab some street food. If there are tourists, there will be street stalls. Our favourites were the various meats on sticks and roti’s. Roti’s are a kind of pancake stuffed with Nutella, banana, coconut milk and other sweets and fruits. They’re extremely filling. You can pick up some meat and a roti for around $2.
Be careful with dinner. Restaurants in heavily populated tourist areas like Vang Vieng (Laos), Sukhumvit in Bangkok or Phuket can be equivalent to Western prices, but with smaller portion sizes. Go to restaurants for a treat, but make sure you search the best cheap eats on the Trip Advisor app. These aren’t stupidly cheap – they’ve inevitably put their prices up after ranking high on Trip Advisor. Budget $4 per dish on a cheap restaurant with excellent reviews, and around $6 – $8 per person for a two course meal with a beer.
If you want to go really cheap for dinner, visit night markets. These are everywhere. Try for ones that are frequented by locals. Some of our favourites were in Luang Prabang, Laos and Rot Fai, Bangkok. You’ll want something really filling after a big day of sightseeing. You can get these great big bowls of chicken noodle soup that are delicious for around $3. At many of these markets, you can sample small amounts of food for $0.30 – $0.50. Try their take on buffalo wings or go for something exotic like octopus or mealworms. Night markets are the best way to get the most food for your money in South East Asia. Budget $3-5 per person for a hearty meal in the night market.
Transport is often reasonably priced in South East Asia. Buses are the most common form of cheap long distance travel between cities, and there’s always a tourist company to provide these. Expect to travel for a full 8–12 hours by bus or boat for around $15-20 per person. Air travel is common and there are a lot of flights that run every day. Generally, if a bus or boat can do the journey in less than 1 day, do that. Air travel will be 2-3 times the price for the equivalent journey. Air travel is recommended when going between countries and will usually cost around $50 per person (expect to have to connect through Bangkok; it’s the main hub).
In Urban Areas
In cities, try to use public transport if it’s available. Metros or local buses will get you anywhere in that city for around, or less than, $1. Even the ultra modern BTS Skytrain in Bangkok will get you anywhere in the city for just over $1.
Your next option should be Uber and other ride hailing apps. They’re cheaper than local taxis and tuk tuks because Uber doesn’t know you’re a tourist. Tuk tuk drivers will know when they see you, and they will try to rip you off. Generally you’ll pay $1 for every 5-10 minutes you spend in an Uber, depending on your location (Uber in Bangkok is more expensive than Uber in India).
In Rural Areas
If you go anywhere without local public transport or Uber, try to rent a scooter. If you’re new to driving a scooter, do it somewhere like Pai, Thailand where the traffic is quiet. Get a 50cc automatic scooter – they’re really like bicycles with a small engine. These will cost you anywhere from $5 – $12 a day based on your location.
Local taxis and tuk tuks should really be your last option. They’ll charge you double what they’d charge a local and you’ll have to negotiate to get a price any where near reasonable.
Budget $5 a day for transport. Some days you’ll use it, some days you won’t. If you know you’ve got a lot to see, try to stay in a central hostel so you can walk places.
This one is difficult because everyone likes to try different things. I’ll list some of the prices of activities that are popular in South East Asia to give you an idea of what things cost.
Visiting temples and museums – most are free, but some will charge $1/2 entry fee
A private day with well cared for elephants – $50 per person
Angkor Wat – $37 per person
Cave exploring with a guide – $10 per person
Private hot air balloon ride – $60 per person
Waterfall exploring – $2 per person
River tubing/rafting/kayaking – $10 per person
Snorkelling tour – $10 per day
Ladyboy show – $15 per person
Generally if you budget $15 a day per person for activities you’ll get to do loads of stuff and shouldn’t miss out. Some days you’ll only spend a little visiting temples, but others you’ll spend more playing with elephants.
We spent $50 each on a private elephant experience – it was worth every cent.
Most visas are free for 30 days in South East Asia, however entry into Laos and Cambodia costs around $30 per person. Other places you may have to pay also – there’s a full breakdown here. Keep US dollars on you for this reason, some places won’t accept any other currency.
Beer is reasonably cheap in Asia. You’ll pay $2 for a bottle of the local stuff in a tourist bar – more for European beer. You can get beer really cheap at a supermarket like 7/11. We picked up three large bottles of Chang last night for $2.50.
Wine is pretty expensive, you won’t find much for less than $6 a bottle. They’re not wine experts here either, everything we’ve had tastes awful. Spirits are well priced – usually only 10-30% more than a beer. However, they often pack in ice cubes and you don’t know if they’re made from filtered water. Stick to beer.
$2 a beer is common in tourist areas
So how much money do you need to travel South East Asia?
On the lower end, you should budget around $25-35 per person per day to travel South East Asia. A monthly budget of $1000 is enough to have a great experience and see what this part of the world has to offer.
That said, we’ve met people who are living on $20 a day and others who spend over $100 a day.
Doing your research on blogs and by asking for reviews from fellow travellers will help you to save money. I recommend going cheap on accommodation, food and transport. You can still eat really well and stay in nice enough places if you research correctly. Save your money for activities. Play with elephants, go white water rafting. Do things that’ll stick with you forever.
Don’t be scared to spend money on things that you’ll really remember. You might never get the chance again.