Traveling Southeast Asia on a Budget
Visiting the Orient is a desire for many people who want to travel. There are so many beautiful sights to see and events to take part in, that it makes sense to go to the “far east” at some point in your life.
However, going to Southeast Asia may sound a bit intimidating. You’re not sure how much things cost over there and the prices for flying look expensive. But let me tell you something; by not going to Europe, you’re already saving money. Southeast Asia is one of the cheapest places to visit and get your money’s worth, especially if you’re doing it smart.
Many European countries have inflated prices with food, hotels, and tickets. But in SE Asia, almost everything there is a small price. And if you search for the right plane ticket price, you can have a vacation or a backpacking adventure like never before.
SKYSCANNER AND OTHER FLYING HACKS
Skyscanner is one of the best plane ticket websites out there. Just enter in where you want to leave from and where you want to arrive, and it will find you a ticket for a cheap price.
Make sure to book out far enough. Many airlines assume you’re going to want to fly as soon as possible, so they overcharge you for a ticket. Then find a big airport to leave from, and an airport in a major city to arrive into. The bigger the airport and the bigger the city, the less you’ll have to pay on your flight. Lastly, take into account the time of day you’re leaving. If you’re leaving at night or early in the morning, your ticket price will go down.
Also, look into regional passes and find a good airpass (such as Discovery Airpass). See where they take you and plan your itinerary around it if you choose this option. You’ll be given a good coupon deal for a great-value flight.
Now when I say this, I don’t mean literal tigers. The four Asian Tigers I’m referring to are Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Many things are overpriced and not budget-friendly. The term, Asian Tigers is used in reference to the highly free-market and developed economies of these countries.
And while Japan is not listed as among the four Asian Tigers, it is definitely expensive. Certain first world island economies tend to be extremely overpriced, which fits Japan into this category.
Staying overnight in dorm rooms, hostels, and hotel rooms are already pretty cheap. But if you want to make it cheaper, then don’t book online. Online prices are inflated and the owners of the rooms can charge you much more then what you would have paid in person.
Prices can range anywhere from $2-$13 USD throughout SE Asia. Sometimes the further into the city, the more expensive the accommodations. But this isn’t always true, sometimes rooms in the city can go for as low as $7 USD a night.
Throughout the region, if you want a private room with A/C you should expect to pay around $15-20 per night. This is a good option for those who aren’t comfortable staying in a community hostel or dorm room. And compared to hotels you would stay at in the states, this is dirt cheap.
Expect to pay more for rooms in certain places like islands that tourists frequent. Because so many people come to party and visit the beautiful beaches, they can get away with charging you more than places in rural areas or inland towns and cities.
Couchsurfing is also a great way to go. If you feel nervous about it, all you have to do is go to a couchsurfing website and find someone that has great reviews from both men and women. This can give yourself the opportunity to have a free night’s stay, make a friend, and possibly have them show you around and buy your food and drinks.
EAT STREET FOOD
Street Food in SE Asia is a great way to have amazing local food for a small price. For an average of $1.50 per meal, you can save money and cut food out as one of your major expenses. Many places have streets in cities that are lined with food vendors ready to serve you hot meals and treats. And even Thailand has markets dedicated to street food.
If you’re worried about food poisoning, then just go to a food vendor that has a large group of people gathered around it. This means that their food is good and trustworthy, otherwise they’d have a lot of angry customers.
If you want a sit down restaurant experience, then you shouldn’t fear prices for this as well. Sit down restaurants often don’t cost more than $3-5 USD.
Now if you really want to keep food expenses low, then avoid western food at all costs. Western food is more expensive and can cost anywhere from $8-$20 depending on what dish you get. So if you’re trying to cut the corners, this probably isn’t the way to go. Not to mention that most western food cooked over there isn’t that great in the first place.
If your destination isn’t too far away, then walk instead of taking buses or taxis everywhere. It’s a great way to see the local color and save money at the same time.
But if you must take some form of transportation, then bus is the cheapest way to go.
In the city, buses will usually cost anywhere from a few pennies to a few dollars. And if you’re going for a long distance, the buses will only charge you 5$-$8 USD for a 5-6 hour drive. If you want to take an overnight bus so you can enjoy exploring by day, the cost is $10-$15 USD.
Another form of cheap transportation you could take would the underground trains. With a price of $1-$2 USD, it’s a great way to get around.
You shouldn’t completely disregard the taxis and tuk tuks (small shared taxis with no meter). But you should know that the drivers usually double or even triple the price of local transportation. With this information, you should haggle the price down so you don’t end up getting ripped off.
THE DO’S AND DO NOT’S OF HAGGLING
The Do Not’s
Do not pay more then what they ask for or give them their first price just because you want to “help out the community.” You’re not doing them or yourself a favor. Many people think that haggling in a third world country is bad. They see it as ripping off the locals. But you should know that these owners are able to do pretty well for themselves. How else are they keeping themselves in stock of items for their store?
You should also know that if you don’t haggle, the owners will sometimes get offended. Also, they will probably refuse to do business with you. It’s a custom there, so no need to feel sorry for them or embarrassed.
The item will start at a high price, especially if you are a foreigner. Sometimes they think they can haggle you into a higher price. But if you show them you know what you’re doing, you can work them down to something much cheaper.
If the owner is obviously giving you too high of a price, then walk away if they don’t accept what they’re offering. More than likely they’ll call you back and give you your price or something very close. Don’t be afraid, it’s a part of everyday life there.
TO DRINK OR NOT TO DRINK
Another thing you can do to cut out unneeded expenses it to not drink. Alcohol, especially wine, can be expensive in certain SE Asian countries.
But if you really need to have a drink, go local on the booze. Local beer can be a great way to stick to the budget.
If you’re in Vietnam, every day around 5 PM, cafés across the country fill the streets with their small furniture and tubs of chopsticks. This is Bia Hoi time where you can get inexpensive pints and Asian bar snacks, like beef dumplings. All you need to do is sit down with the locals, fill yourself up for next to nothing, and watch the life in the city go by.
This type of daily ritual is pretty common across SE Asia. It may be different because each place will have its own version of Bia Hoi, but it’s still a great way to relax with a brew and food.
I hope I was able to provide value to you in this post. If there was something that wasn’t answered or you want to know more about the subject, email me or let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear you out and answer you as best I can.