Following the popularity (and controversy!) of our first readers poll – “Where is the worst place you’ve ever travelled to in Southeast Asia?”, we decided to ask you another simple question; “What is the cheapest place in Southeast Asia you’ve ever travelled to ?”
After posting on Facebook, we soon realised that the question was flawed. You see, people’s idea of what the word ‘cheap’ means is a whole world of complexity! Everyone has their personal budget and their personal life experiences. Both of these alter the perception of what ‘cheap’ means. Plus, everyone wants to experience different things when they travel, from adventure activities to partying! Also, some of the more visited countries may have gained more votes, simply because more people have visited them, not necessarily because they are cheaper than the less visited places.
As @BemusedBackpack commented: ‘In any country, you can stick to an ultra tight budget or blow the bank on a fancy hotel/restaurant!’ True.
In the end, we had varying answers – (someone said KL, which I know from experience is definitely NOT the cheapest place in Southeast Asia!) However, despite some red herrings, our findings were very interesting and it’s hard to argue with some of the dirt cheap prices quoted below in our top three cheapest countries. Whether you agree with these results or not, we believe that there’s some up to date and valuable information here which can be helpful to budget travellers. Please comment below as our aim is to start a conversation about this frequently asked question.
How the scoring works
We gave the country one point if someone stated it as the cheapest country, but the country lost a point if someone disagreed. So for example, if 10 people said Thailand was the cheapest country, but 10 people said ‘not on your nelly!’ – Thailand received 0 points.
The Cheapest Place in Southeast Asia – The Results
In 3rd Place: Indonesia = 5 points
It’s hard to generalise in a country that consists of over 17,000 islands and over 250 million people. From the busy streets of Jakarta to the party shores of Bali and the remote landscapes of Sulawesi, surely there is so much variation in cost that it’s hard to make broad statements on prices for food, accommodation, transport and beer. However, some of you believed that once you get away from the touristy areas (even in Bali!), prices in Indonesia can be even cheaper than the rest of Southeast Asia.
A quick search on booking.com found us a twin or double room in a hotel in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra for $3 USD, whilst dorm rooms in Yogyakarta start at $5 USD. Being a Muslim country, however, beer is certainly more expensive in Indonesia, ranging from $2-3 USD for a bottle of Bintang. Meals seem to be a similar price as Vietnam and Cambodia, around $1-3 USD for street food or meals in a local ‘warung’ (restaurant*). Buses appear to be the cheapest of all the countries we looked at. An overnight bus costs just a few dollars – complete with chickens, betel nut spit and karaoke! (Read more about Indonesian buses here).
*Travellers to Bali beware of the 10% tax and 10-20% service charge added to most meals in restaurants, which will be added to your bill. Always read the small print on menus.
In 2nd Place: Cambodia = 10 points
Lots of people argued that Cambodia was, in fact, cheaper than Vietnam. Many of you talked about the popular backpacker hangout of Siem Reap being one of the cheapest places (which is surprising as popularity often makes prices soar). You also spoke of Phnom Penh and the island of Koh Rong.
On the price of accommodation, some of you talked about the dirt cheap price of renting an apartment on a monthly basis, (which we can definitely agree, is one of the cheapest ways to travel!). In the centre of Siem Reap, one guy secured an apartment for an incredible $60 USD / month and even reckons it could be cheaper further out of town! On a nightly basis, one woman talks about renting a huge room with two double beds and a view all over the night market in Siem Reap for $13 USD, another says that the price of a double room in Kep is just $6 USD. We even heard that you can get a dorm room in Koh Rong for a measly $1 USD (though again we have no idea whether or not it is actually liveable!). We were told that an overnight bus costs around $8 USD.
On the topic of food, one backpacker talked about a restaurant in Siem Reap (Old House Restaurant), where you could get a delicious three-course meal for just $6 USD per person! (We must try that place!) Street food was generally quoted at $0.75-2 USD and what about the sacred beer? A meagre $0.25-50 cents! In our opinion, Vietnam and Cambodia seem pretty similar in terms of prices and of course, it depends on what you eat, what type of accommodation you choose and how much beer you drink!
In 1st Place! Vietnam = 15 points
Vietnam was the hands-down winner of our poll of the cheapest place to travel in Southeast Asia.
People talked about the inexpensive cost of transport, food, and alcohol in Vietnam, especially once you get away from the tourist areas. A quick glance on booking.com at room prices in the capital Hanoi, will reveal that you can get a bed in a dorm room for $5 USD (try Vietnam Backpackers, which is clean and spacious with excellent facilities) or a private room from $10 USD at ‘Hanoi Blues Hostel’ (though we can’t personally vouch for what this one!). One girl said she’d found a private hotel room for just $6.50 USD!
The cost of an overnight bus was frequently under $15 USD. The average price of food quoted was $1-2 USD for a street food meal, or $3-5 USD per person for a restaurant meal. (Not bad!) However, what particularly enthused you all (unsurprisingly) was the price of beer! Apparently, it’s just $0.20 cents for a beer in Vietnam. (We’re talking Bia Hoi here, the refreshing local beer that’s served in short glasses all over the country, and drunk on little plastic stools in the street). One backpacker claimed, ‘during our motorbike trip through Vietnam, we ended up in a small town near Ninh Binh and paid a breath-taking 60 cents for 20 cans of beer!’ Cheaper than a bottle of water. Let that sink in.’
So if you’re looking for cheap hostels and lashings of the cheapest beer, head to Vietnam!
A personal note about India and Nepal:
Though not officially in South East Asia, we have travelled to and written about India and Nepal, both of which we believe are amongst some of the cheapest countries to travel in Asia. In Nepal, we recently rented a lovely apartment in Pokhara for one month for $250 USD and in North Goa, we rented for $120 USD / month in the hippie beach town of Arambol.
A personal note on Thailand:
Although Thailand is very popular amongst more cash-touting tourists these days rather than backpackers and you’ll pay through the nose in the popular island and beach resorts such as Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui and Phuket. Did you know that you can still rent an apartment for one month in northern Thailand for an extremely low price? We recently heard from friends who were looking at bungalows in Pai, with a fan for 4,000 THB / month ($120 USD) or with AC for 8,000 THB ($240 USD). In North Eastern Thailand (Isaan) you can certainly find cheaper than this, that’s if you don’t mind being far away from the other farangs (foreigners). Now, who said Thailand is too touristy and expensive these days?
So what do you think? Which is the cheapest country you’ve ever travelled to in Southeast Asia? How do you plan your budget when you travel? And what do you consider to be cheap anyway?