How to Backpack Through Southeast Asia Cheaply

Beach in Phuket
Beach in Phuket | Source

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 | Source

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 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

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 | Source
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 | Source

If you must fly, take a budget airline

No frills carriers in Southeast Asia include:

Or use Skyscanner to scan for the cheapest flights available to your destination city.

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 | Source

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


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 | Source
On top of the world at Angkor Wat
On top of the world at Angkor Wat | Source

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 | Source

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

show route and directions
A markerPhuket, Thailand -
Phuket, Thailand
[get directions]

B markerBangkok, Thailand -
Bangkok, Thailand
[get directions]

C markerSiem Reap, Cambodia -
Siem Reap, Cambodia
[get directions]

D markerPnom Peng -
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
[get directions]

E markerHanoi, Vietnam -
Hanoi, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
[get directions]

F markerHo Chi Minh City -
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
[get directions]

Check Out Some of My Pictures

Click thumbnail to view full-size
One of the many stunning temples Inside one of the many beautiful templesCool bridge in Hanoi, VietnamPaddy fieldElephants are everywhere, real and statuesThere are lots of funny and oftentimes not so PC t-shirts in ThailandDemonstration on entering the Cu Chi tunnels in VietnamYou'll see lots of monksDr Fish stands are widely available, giving the tourist a nice foot massageYou can even pet cute little lion cubs Shopping on the floating market
One of the many stunning temples
One of the many stunning temples | Source
Inside one of the many beautiful temples
Inside one of the many beautiful temples | Source
Cool bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam
Cool bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam | Source
Paddy field
Paddy field | Source
Elephants are everywhere, real and statues
Elephants are everywhere, real and statues | Source
There are lots of funny and oftentimes not so PC t-shirts in Thailand
There are lots of funny and oftentimes not so PC t-shirts in Thailand | Source
Demonstration on entering the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam
Demonstration on entering the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam | Source
You'll see lots of monks
You'll see lots of monks | Source
Dr Fish stands are widely available, giving the tourist a nice foot massage
Dr Fish stands are widely available, giving the tourist a nice foot massage | Source
You can even pet cute little lion cubs
You can even pet cute little lion cubs | Source
Shopping on the floating market
Shopping on the floating market | Source

More by this Author

Comments 67 comments

agsuto profile image

agsuto 4 years ago from Indonesia

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

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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!

agsuto profile image

agsuto 4 years ago from Indonesia

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..(^_^).

GClark profile image

GClark 4 years ago from United States

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

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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

Shanna11 profile image

Shanna11 4 years ago from Utah

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

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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

melbel profile image

melbel 4 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

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!

Anishpat profile image

Anishpat 4 years ago from San Francisco + Mumbai

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

theclevercat profile image

theclevercat 4 years ago from Massachusetts

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

alissaroberts profile image

alissaroberts 4 years ago from Normandy, TN

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!

Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

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

Marina Lazarevic profile image

Marina Lazarevic 4 years ago from San Francisco, CA

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

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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:

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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!

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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!

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

Thanks so much, Alissa!

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

Thanks a million, Teresa!

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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 :)

Robin profile image

Robin 4 years ago from San Francisco

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!

missolive profile image

missolive 4 years ago from Texas

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

K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 4 years ago from Northern, California

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.


Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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.

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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!

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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

cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan

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.

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

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!

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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!

Ms Zilla profile image

Ms Zilla 4 years ago from New England

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.

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 4 years ago from New York, NY Author

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.

anyandall profile image

anyandall 4 years ago from UK

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

GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 4 years ago from The High Seas

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.

samnashy profile image

samnashy 4 years ago from Australia

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

danielmcbane profile image

danielmcbane 3 years ago from Berlin

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.

BlogDaz 3 years ago

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

Gary The 3 years ago

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 :)

tonee 3 years ago

it shows great info 4 kids and their questions

jackb3 profile image

jackb3 3 years ago from St. Louis

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

worldtravelexpert profile image

worldtravelexpert 3 years ago from London, UK

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!

Glass-Jewelry profile image

Glass-Jewelry 3 years ago from Presezzo, Italy

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!


Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 3 years ago from New York, NY Author

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!

organizinghome profile image

organizinghome 3 years ago

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.

SINewsome profile image

SINewsome 3 years ago from New York

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

Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France

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!!

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

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 doubt! Up, useful and interesting votes.

worldtravelexpert profile image

worldtravelexpert 3 years ago from London, UK

Never too old Peggy W ;o)

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 3 years ago from New York, NY Author

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! =)

teresakbecker profile image

teresakbecker 3 years ago from Indianapolis

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!

scraw profile image

scraw 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Fl

Hello fellow hubber, I have been passionate about traveling to Thailand for years. As a matter of fact, I have been raising money through 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!

Lauren Savage profile image

Lauren Savage 3 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

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

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 3 years ago from New York, NY Author

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.

prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 3 years ago from Tumkur

Useful article. Lot of good information.

Kori Cox profile image

Kori Cox 3 years ago

Wow love the article! Voted up

prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 3 years ago from Tumkur

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.

Kostadin-Ruychev profile image

Kostadin-Ruychev 2 years ago

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

Cloudlee profile image

Cloudlee 2 years ago from Vietnam

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

prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 2 years ago from Tumkur

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.

SAQIB6608 profile image

SAQIB6608 2 years ago from HYDERABAD PAKISTAN

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

Global-Chica profile image

Global-Chica 2 years ago from New York, NY Author

You make me blush! Thank you for the kind words

wanderingseoul 23 months ago

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??

aesta1 profile image

aesta1 20 months ago from Ontario, Canada

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

Akriti Mattu profile image

Akriti Mattu 18 months ago from Shimla, India

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. :)

prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 17 months ago from Tumkur

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

Sandra Micheals profile image

Sandra Micheals 17 months ago from Sydney, Australia

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.

Standa profile image

Standa 14 months ago from Ha Noi

Oh Laos, i love Laos country and wanna go next year...:)

delancooper profile image

delancooper 7 months ago from Australia

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.

Sam Shepards profile image

Sam Shepards 6 months ago from Europe

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.

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