Updated date:

How to Backpack Through Southeast Asia Cheaply

Author:
Beach in Phuket

Beach in Phuket

Southeast Asia is a spectacular location to fulfill your vagabonding dreams. Majestic temples, lush landscapes, smiling locals, intriguing street food, crazy parties and all nicely packaged with cheap prices for Westerners. My boyfriend and I backpacked through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam for two months in 2010 and I'm happy to share some tips with you on how you too can backpack through the beautiful region, cheaply.

When traveling through Southeast Asia, on average, you can live comfortably on just about $20 a day (that excludes Singapore, Hong Kong, and some parts of Malaysia). Your biggest expense in Southeast Asia will be the airfare getting there. And thereafter, transportation costs from city to city, followed by how much beer you consume and whether you take daily tours.

You may be wondering how exactly you can save money when you’re on this incredible journey. Well let’s get right to it! Below, I will walk you through some money saving tips for accommodations, transportation, food and other costs to help you have the backpacking trip of a lifetime, cheaply.

A guest house room I stayed at in Siem Reap

A guest house room I stayed at in Siem Reap

Accommodation Tips for a Budget

Since you’re traveling on a shoestring, you’re in luck because accommodations in this part of the world are really cheap. In fact, the cheapest hostel in the world is located in Cambodia. It’s a guesthouse in Siem Reap called the Garden Village Guesthouse that costs just $1 for a dorm bed. If you’re looking only for the cheapest possible hostels and guesthouses to stay at while traveling, in Cambodia and Laos, you can expect to pay just around $2; in Vietnam, around $5; and in Thailand, around $6. But you’ll have to shop around and book in advance. I booked all my hostels as soon as I knew my next destination, except for in Siem Reap where we decided to wing it and book something when we get there. Bad idea. Although we didn’t have a problem finding a hostel, since tuk tuks were waiting at the bus stop, eager to take spontaneous guests like us to the hostel where they get the highest commission. We found the recommended backpacker’s hostel expensive, dirty and far away from the center. We switched to another guesthouse the next day by looking for something with better reviews on Hostelworld.com but it took some time to find one that wasn’t fully booked so we had to settle for something like our 8th choice.

Tips for Securing a Cheap Hostel / Guesthouse:

  • Book in advance – If you don’t book in advance, you run the risk of the cheap places being fully booked, especially if you’re in Southeast Asia during high season
  • Share a room with another traveler
  • If you’re staying at one particular hostel or guesthouse for multiple nights, try to negotiate a lower price
  • Check hostel and guesthouse reviews on Hostelworld.com
It's fun and convenient to get around Southeast Asian cities on a scooter

It's fun and convenient to get around Southeast Asian cities on a scooter

Tuk tuks are great if you need to travel a short distance quickly

Tuk tuks are great if you need to travel a short distance quickly

If you must fly, take a budget airline

No frills carriers in Southeast Asia include:

  • Air Asia
  • Tiger Airways
  • Lion Air
  • Jetstar
  • Silk Air
In the mood for a snack? How about some fried crickets?! They can be found just at about any market in Southeast Asia

In the mood for a snack? How about some fried crickets?! They can be found just at about any market in Southeast Asia

Tips for Cheap Food

Being on a budget is no problem when looking for a bite to eat. Food is generally very cheap and you can manage on just a couple of dollars a day if you eat local food at food stalls.

Tips for Eating Cheap:

  • Eat at food stalls and avoid restaurants, especially Western ones which will set you back at least $5 a meal
  • Shop around, vendors sometimes sell the same food for different prices
  • Buy snacks from small local shops rather than the more commercial stores
  • Drink local beer which is usually really cheap at around 50 cents, instead of imported beer

Transportation

In Southeast Asia, it’s amazing how cheaply and easily you can travel between cities and countries on buses. You can easily buy a bus ticket to your next destination at a local tourist agency or even sometimes at your hostel.

Tips for Getting Around Within Each City:

  • When inside your destination city, take public transportation like buses or train
  • Rent bicycles to get around town which sometimes hostels provide for free to guests or cost just around $1 for a day
  • If you'll need to travel long distances, consider renting a scooter which is relatively cheap (about 200 Baht in Thailand) and is a very convenient way to get around
  • Don't take tuk-tuks for long distances as that will cost you generally more than any other mode of transportation. Tuk-tuks are a good option for short distances if you need to get somewhere quickly because they zoom their way through traffic. Make sure though to settle on a price before getting in the tuk-tuk. And another thing, in Thailand, tuk-tuk drivers get 50 Baht gas credit for each customer they bring into a store and they will certainly try to bring you to shops in order to buy precious gems, a suit, and tour packages. So, if you have some time to spare and plan to buy a tour package, you can actually get to your destination for free if you arrange with the driver to stop by a couple of shops. We did this and it worked
Floating market outside of Bangkok

Floating market outside of Bangkok

On top of the world at Angkor Wat

On top of the world at Angkor Wat

Word of Caution About Common Backpackers Splurges

Although SE Asia is very cheap, many tourists spend way more than planned because of extras such as day trips to islands, bar tabs and other occasional splurges like cute Ganesha statues in Cambodia. Keep that in mind if you’re trying to not spend too much.

Advice About Touristy Destinations

More touristy cities like Phuket and Siem Reap are generally more expensive but even in those places, you can still find cheap accommodations as long as you’re willing to stay in a less touristy parts of town.

General Tips for Traveling Southeast Asia on a Budget

  • Negotiate at the markets
  • Don’t buy maps, ask your hostel or guesthouse if they have a free map and if not, ask a travel agency
  • Exchange just enough money at the airport to get you to your hostel or guesthouse. Airports usually charge a commission and give the worst rate
  • Don’t exchange too much money because you may not spend it all. And then what are you going to do with all that leftover Dong (Vietnamese currency)?
  • Hand-wash your underwear and socks instead of using laundry service for everything, which is by the kilogram, by the way. If you’re really trying to save money, you can buy some detergent and hand wash everything
  • Bring your own towel to the beach instead of renting a beach chair
  • If you want to book a package tour, shop around for prices because they will vary and you can negotiate the price down. Better yet, make your own tour by finding out how to get to the destination via public transportation or by scooter
Elephant trekking in Vietnam

Elephant trekking in Vietnam

Traveling around Southeast Asia cheaply is easy. It’s choosing where to go that’s hard! Speaking from experience.

Below is the route that my boyfriend and I took.

Our Route

Comments

Sam Shepards from Europe on April 17, 2016:

Cool article.Really enjoyed my time in the region, mine did include Laos, indonesia etc. Easy to go there for long periods of time with a very modest budget if you come from Western countries.

Delan Cooper from Australia on March 16, 2016:

Last time I went to Vietnam by flying from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh to meet up my friend there. I spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh city before going to Dalat, have you heard about Dalat? Dalat ia a small town not really far from Ho Chi Minh but you know the bus takes the whole night to get there because of the speed limit in Vietnam. I'd recommend to everyone who visit Ho Chi Minh to spend some of your time in Dalat, nice weather, great landscape views, good food.

Ổn áp Standa from Ha Noi on August 10, 2015:

Oh Laos, i love Laos country and wanna go next year...:) http://onaplioa.info/

Sandra Micheals from Sydney, Australia on May 07, 2015:

Amazing Hub! I am inspired to read your hub and your hubs make me want to travel this wonderful place. I like these photos and I appreciate to you for writing this great article.

Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD from Tumkur on May 05, 2015:

I read this hub once again today and found it equally interesting even in a second reading.

Akriti Mattu from Shimla, India on May 02, 2015:

So good to read the posts of some body who travels the way i do. Read 3 of your posts till now. Loved them all. You just earned for yourself a permanent reader :)

Have you ever visited India ? I have begun writing a series of posts on the top destinations for women backpackers in India. If you ever feel like visiting India, you can go through them. :)

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 13, 2015:

We are now in Southeast Asia and I can vouch for everything you've said here. As we are older, we don't backpack but our grandchildren do and these tips are surely useful

wanderingseoul on December 02, 2014:

Thank you so much for sharing such great, concise, and helpful information! Do you bus between all of your destination countries? I am heading to Thailand from South Korea and wondering if I should book a big multi-destination flight or just two individual one-ways??

Anna (author) from New York, NY on October 04, 2014:

You make me blush! Thank you for the kind words

SAQIB from HYDERABAD PAKISTAN on October 04, 2014:

Serene and worth watching places, well described, well written hub.

Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD from Tumkur on May 26, 2014:

A useful hub. I traveled in Thailand and Cambodia in April,2014, but it was a package tour. I stayed at a convenient hotel at Siem Reap on the outskirts of which is famous Angkar Wat. I also visited 'floating village'-Chang Kneas' near Siem Reap. I,being a pure vegetarian, had to move round searching Indian hotels. Same thing in Thailand also. But Thai is a beautiful country with both posh and Buddhist culture. As the author has rightly said, moving on scooter is better. Author have planned and moved very well. I think it is better if the two write doem a book,stating their experiences.

Cloudlee from Vietnam on April 26, 2014:

Travelling within South East Asian countries is so easy, especially when you are the citizen of one

Kostadin-Ruychev on April 03, 2014:

Good writing Good topic, Excellent guide how to Travel and Backpack through Southeast Asia Cheaply.Well done

Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD from Tumkur on August 31, 2013:

I read it once again today. It is very informative,especially it informs us of cheap accommodations and local travel. Pictures are aslo very good.

Kori Cox on August 05, 2013:

Wow love the article! Voted up

Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD from Tumkur on June 29, 2013:

Useful article. Lot of good information.

Anna (author) from New York, NY on May 31, 2013:

Thanks so much, @Lauren Savage! Thailand is simply perfect and I do hope you get a chance to visit the lovely country... and use my tips for traveling there cheaply.

Lauren Savage from Fort Worth, Texas on May 30, 2013:

This is perfect! I've always wanted to backpack Thailand. Loved reading this hub!

sean crawford from los angeles on April 10, 2013:

Hello fellow hubber, I have been passionate about traveling to Thailand for years. As a matter of fact, I have been raising money through www.gofundme.com/2a27fw. Hubs like this are very useful and can save one a lot of trouble. I have learned this when I stayed a year in Mazatlan, Mexico. Research and great motivation is the key to a hassle free trip!

Teresa Becker from Indianapolis on February 04, 2013:

Absolutely love this hub post! I am planning a trip to Southeast Asia to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand this summer, and have been searching for information about how to budget. This is great info - well done!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on January 14, 2013:

Peggy W, I agree with worldtravelexpert, you're never too old to travel! If you're interested, just do it! When you're backpack, you meet people of all ages and from all over and it's your passion for adventure and different cultures that bind you. Pack your backpack and go! =)

Kirsty Stuart from London, UK on January 14, 2013:

Never too old Peggy W ;o)

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 13, 2013:

Gosh...if I were younger it would be fun to backpack like Rick Steves does and like you and your boyfriend did and see the world at a reasonable (inexpensive) cost. Thanks for this look at backpacking through Southeast Asia. Loved the photos. I would even try one of those fried crickets if I was there. You have certainly had some travel adventures! Many to go...no doubt! Up, useful and interesting votes.

Riviera Rose from South of France on January 08, 2013:

SE Asia's just fabulous, and I always think it's much nicer to stay in budget, often family-run accommodation rather than giving money to big international hotel chains. I am soooo overdue a decent trip you've made me feel quite travel-sick!!

Sophie Newsome from New York on January 07, 2013:

Nice photography. I just backpacked parts of Southeast Asia this past summer!

The Asian Adventurer on January 02, 2013:

This is great hub. Very helpful info. I do agree that Thailand is amazingly beautiful dotted with scintillating tourism attractions, exotic beauty of the beaches, rich culture and traditions, superb fascinating attractions, throbbing nightlife and much more.

Anna (author) from New York, NY on December 31, 2012:

Hello Glass-Jewelry and thanks for your kind comments.

As for traveling to Singapore or Bali, I can speak only for Singapore since I visited for a few days. Singapore is relatively expensive in comparison to other SE Asia destinations and my main suggestions for you would be to book your accommodations early (I tried booking about 4 days before arriving and wasn't able to find anything "cheap" and ended up staying at a hotel which cost about $80 USD a night) and I recommend you use Singapore's metro system, called "SMRT" fares depend on the distance traveled, with the most expensive costing just $1.85 USD. From what I remember, there's no metro from the airport and you'll need to take a taxi, which is about $8 USD. I wrote a hub about Singapore, which I recommend you check out.

Enjoy your travels and happy new year!

Marco Piazzalunga from Presezzo, Italy on December 31, 2012:

Any tips for cheap and comfortable traveling in Singapore or in Bali Isle?

I plan to visit these places, and I see that your experiences and suggestions are very well made and can be useful to many world travelers.

I heard that Bali is a very cheap if you know how to move as you did.

If you have no direct experience, you can report me your friends or acquaintances who have traveled to those places?

Thank you for sharing your experience. voted Up and Beautiful!

Marco

Kirsty Stuart from London, UK on December 12, 2012:

Backpacking in Southeast Asia is the best! Thanks for a great Hub - great photos by the way. Malaysia's another beautiful country where backpackers can keep costs low with a bit of planning. Thanks again!

John Patrick Baumann from St. Louis on December 06, 2012:

Headed to SE Asia soon, will make sure to keep these tips in mind!

tonee on December 05, 2012:

it shows great info 4 kids and their questions

Gary Teh on December 01, 2012:

Hi I was just wondering if any one might be interested in a free app me and my friend are building that allows you to search for details of bus/boat operators that cover routes between different cities as well as visa details for border crossing routes?

If you could leave your email address via the link below it will help us greatly :)

http://beta.explorya.com

BlogDaz on October 30, 2012:

Anyone contemplating renting a motorbike in Thailand, it is a great way to get around, but beware the pitfalls, especially concerning licenses and insurance.

http://www.pattayaunlimited.com/2009/08/how-to-hir...

Daniel McBane from Berlin on October 28, 2012:

Some good tips for people who don't have much travel experience. I've seen so many new travelers learn a lot of these things firsthand, the hard way.

Sam Graham from Australia on October 07, 2012:

A great hub. You've given me itchy feet. It's been almost 20 years since I back packed through Asia - oh the fun!

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 27, 2012:

Good stuff. The point is travel, travel, travel. Get out there and see the world, as much of it as you can, any way you can.

Kerry from UK on August 24, 2012:

Hi! Great article! I am thinking about whether to go travelling around Thailand this has helped me a lot :)

Anna (author) from New York, NY on April 24, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by Ms. Zilla. It's awesome that you're thinking of heading to SE Asia. Just a little warning since you're thinking of going this fall - that's monsoon season which has some pros and some major cons (like being rained out the entire day, streets that turn into rivers, etc). So take that into consideration.

Ms Zilla from New England on April 23, 2012:

Thank you for the tips! I'm thinking Southeast Asia is next on my list, maybe this fall when it starts getting chilly. Think I'm most excited for the food.

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 20, 2012:

Cardelean - thanks so much for your comments. I'm happy that I was able to share some tips for future SE Asia travelers and some of my favorite photos.

Rebecca - Many thanks for stopping by and your kind comments!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on March 17, 2012:

A super-looking Hub as well as great information for travelers on a budget. I like the way you made your categories...and the map addition is awesome!Voted up and awesome!

cardelean from Michigan on March 16, 2012:

This is a fantastic hub. I love the way that the photos help to tell the story of your adventures. You have a wonderful sense of adventure and it is so evident in your hubs. Thank you for sharing your tips, I'm sure that they will help someone who is looking to travel to these amazing places.

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 15, 2012:

Thanks so much for your kind comments, K9! HubHugs back at ya!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 15, 2012:

Many thanks, missolive! I'm already thinking of ideas for the food hub but I must admit, I didn't get the courage to eat any fried insects in Southeast Asia. I did try BBQ'd crickets though in the zoo in NY when I was a child, as well as a lollipop with a cricket in it! I still remember doing it like it was only yesterday but it was like 20 years ago!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 15, 2012:

Robin, I'm happy that you liked the hub! Hostels are indeed very cheap in southeast Asia and so are many other things like food and massages (seriously, who can resist hour-long massages for $5?!). The biggest expense is the flight getting to that part of the world.

India Arnold from Northern, California on March 14, 2012:

This is a fantastic hub! The pictures alone tell the story of the unique qualities found in SE Asia; edible crickets, floating markets, and the scenery, simply amazing! And the links for no frills air travel are so helpful. This hub has it all, including a handy Google map to trace your path. I found the photos amazing, the cool bridge in Hanoi has to be my favorite. Very well rounded and informative article, thank you for sharing it with us.

HubHugs~

Marisa Hammond Olivares from Texas on March 14, 2012:

Global-Chica, Your pen name is perfect! Wow! I'm with Robin, I want to travel. You have some amazing pictures in this hub and your advice for keeping on or below budget is excellent. You are a real pro at this. By the way, you have really laid this out nicely and made everything easy and interesting to read. I love the Clevercat's suggestion about writing a hub on the food. YUM! I'll pass on the crickets though. Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to try it. :)

voted up and shared

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on March 13, 2012:

Your Hubs make me want to travel! This is amazing advice about traveling to southeast asia on a budget! I didn't realize that hostels were so inexpensive there. Thanks!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 13, 2012:

Thanks, Marina! I decided to display my itinerary with a map capsule in hopes that it will help someone plan their trip to SE Asia. Researching and deciding on the countries to go to was the hardest part for me of the trip, so I hope that my researched itinerary will help someone out there :)

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 13, 2012:

Thanks a million, Teresa!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 13, 2012:

Thanks so much, Alissa!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 13, 2012:

Hi, clevercat! Great tip about doing a hub on the food of the locations I've been. There's definitely some unusual food that I came across, which would make a great hub :) Thanks so much!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 13, 2012:

Anishpat, I'm glad you find the links useful. I'm excited for you to be going on a trip this summer. You'll have so much fun!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 13, 2012:

Hey melbel! Although I went backpacking with my boyfriend, I can tell you that generally, it is safe for a woman to travel alone Southeast Asia. As long as you use your common sense, and check out what typical scams are in the cities you plan to visit, you'll be completely fine. I think traveling alone, you can have a blast and go to whichever cities interest you most and stay however long you want. You'll definitely meet lots of other backpackers along the way so I'm sure it won't be too long before you find your self in a group of adventurous travelers like yourself, unless you choose to. I'd be more than happy to give you advice on particular countries you're interested in traveling to. Check out this website for potential travel buddies and planning where to go:http://www.travbuddy.com/

Marina from San Francisco, CA on March 12, 2012:

This is a great resource and beautifully laid out. I also like how you displayed your itinerary with a Map Capsule.

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on March 11, 2012:

Lovely pictures. Great tips on backpacking yet another wonderful destination.

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on March 10, 2012:

Great tips for anyone thinking about going on this adventure! Your pictures are beautiful. I bet you have so many amazing stories to share about all your travels. Job well done - voted up!

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on March 10, 2012:

Wonderful pics! Have you thought about doing a Hub on just the food of these fabulous locations? Voted up!

Anish Patel from San Francisco + Mumbai on March 09, 2012:

Great tips! And thanks for the useful links. I plan on taking a trip this summer so this will definitely help!

Melanie from Midwest, USA on March 09, 2012:

This is so awesome! I would love to go backpacking through Asia. What's it like for a woman to travel alone? Is it still fun even though it's just one person? I've always wanted to do this, but I worry it would be lame because I'd want a travel buddy.

Beautiful hub, by the way! I love all the pictures and the layout of the hub. :) You REALLY got me wanting to head to SE Asia!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 09, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by Shanna! I'm happy that you liked my hub and collection of pics from SE Asia.

Shanna from Utah on March 09, 2012:

Wow, this is awesome! I love the pictures! I swear, you have THE coolest life! Great Hub!

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 09, 2012:

Thanks, GClark. I'm happy to hear that you found my hub interesting and liked my photos.

GClark from United States on March 09, 2012:

Interesting and useful well-written Hub. Lovely photos also. GClark

Agus Sutanto from Indonesia on March 09, 2012:

No, problem. I already voted up. A little information for you that Indonesia has approximately 13,000 islands. Until today, I just made up to 11 islands. I hope you can do better than me..(^_^).

Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 09, 2012:

Agus, I'm sure that Indonesia is an amazing backpacker's destination but sadly, when I backpacked, I only made it to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam (as well as Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore which aren't cheap and I didn't mention them here). I do plan to travel to Indonesia one day and an island like Bali seem like a fabulous Honeymoon destination. Thanks for reading!

Agus Sutanto from Indonesia on March 09, 2012:

Ahhh...How about Indonesia? especially Lombok and Bali