Southeast Asia is famous for being the spiritual home of backpacking. Often considered more adventurous than backpacking in Europe but more accessible than travelling in South America, Southeast Asia has seen millions of first-time backpackers.
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- What’s the best travel money card?
- 28 money saving tips for travellers to Southeast Asia.
- Can you avoid ATM fees when you travel?
So how much does it cost to travel in Southeast Asia?
Overall, backpacking through Southeast Asia can be incredibly cheap, with many travellers actually spending less money on the road than they would at home!
No matter if you are travelling on the Banana Pancake Trail, or trying to hit some more off the beaten track spots, Southeast Asia is a super affordable region to travel through. Sure, some countries cost more than others but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit on a budget!
For those of you really strapped for cash but determined to make the most of your trip, check out our readers poll of the cheapest countries to travel in Southeast Asia!
For a full breakdown of the costs involved when travelling in an individual country, check out these guides!
Daily Cost Of Backpacking In Southeast Asia – Quick Answers!
- Cost of Street Food: 80 cents – $4 USD per meal
- Cost of Local Food in a Restaurant: $4-$12 USD per meal
- Cost of Western Food in a Restaurant: $7.50-$17.50 USD per meal
- Cost of Water: 40 cents – $1.20 USD for a big bottle (For your wallet and the environment’s sake, you should take your own filtered water bottle!)
- Cost of Beer: $1.40-$6.20 USD – per bottle
- Cost of a Hostel Bed: $3.50-$18 USD per night
- Cost of a Private Room: $10-$80 USD per night
- Cost of Scooter Hire: $6.50-$21 USD per day
- Cost of a Massage: $10 USD per one hour
How Much Does a Trip to Southeast Asia Cost?
Cost of Street Food in Southeast Asia
- 80 cents – $4USD
Southeast Asian street food has been the staple diet of many a backpacker. Whether it’s Pad Thai on the streets of Thailand or Banh Mi in Vietnam, you’re bound to find your new favourite dish while travelling!
The average price of a basic street food meal in Southeast Asia is mind-blowing. In many countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam, you can get a full nutritious (and delicious!) meal of rice or noodles for under a dollar. Even in more expensive spots, like Singapore, you’ll rarely be paying more than $3-$4 USD.
Cost of Restaurant Food in Southeast Asia
- $4 – $17.50 USD
While street food is a bloody great bargain, sometimes you might not feel like squashing yourself into a small plastic chair next to a busy road. Thankfully, throughout most of Southeast Asia, you’ll find affordable restaurants without too much trouble. The food is very similar to the food found on the street but you’ll be paying for the privilege of sitting indoors!
Throughout most of the region, you’ll find good restaurant food for $4-$17.50 USD per dish. Western food (sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, burgers etc.) will be on the higher end of this budget while local food is pretty much always around the mid to low end. Of course, as with all things, there are plenty of swanky restaurants selling local or fusion dishes for much higher prices but they are not aimed at us backpackers!
Cost of Water in Southeast Asia
- 40 cents – $1.20USD
In much of Southeast Asia, tap water is not safe to drink. That’s not to say it would kill you but chances are the dreaded traveller’s tummy will make you regret taking the gamble!
Thankfully, bottled water is cheap and easy to find. Usually less than $1 USD for a big bottle from shops, supermarkets or street vendors. In very touristy locations, such as Angkor Wat or Khao San Road, expect to pay more.
If you are concerned about single-use plastic (and you should be!) we strongly advise that you consider investing in a filtered water bottle. These allow you to make tap water perfectly safe to drink, saving you money on bottled water and helping to slow the scourge of single-use plastic. Our personal favourite is the Grayl Geopress, which after the initial investment can easily save you hundreds of dollars over an extended trip!
Cost of Beer in Southeast Asia
- 20 cents – $6.20 USD
Where would backpackers be without beer?! Being able to sit outside with an ice-cold beer and spend a few hours people watching is one of the joys of travel. Some of you reading this will be like me and enjoy just having a few quiet bevvies in the afternoon while some of you will be keen to sink as many as you can while bar-hopping your way down Pub Street in Siem Reap.
Either way, Southeast Asia has your back. In most countries, you’ll find a big bottle of locally brewed beer for around $2 USD. Even the tightest budgets can allow for the odd pint here and there! Some must try beers are: BeerLao (Laos), Angkor Beer (Cambodia), Beer Hanoi (Vietnam) Singha (Thailand) and every backpacker’s favourite cheapo beer, Chang!
And, don’t forget good old Bia Hoi, the Vietnamese draft beer that’s the cheapest drink in Southeast Asia! Shockingly cheap.
Cost of Accommodation in Southeast Asia
- Hostel Dorm (per night) = $3.50 – $18 USD
Cheap places to sleep in Southeast Asia are plentiful. The price of a hostel bed changes a lot depending on where you are but on average they’ll set you back $3.50 – $18 USD. Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand all have beds for below this price range whereas spots like Singapore or the Philippines can be slightly higher. On average, you’re looking at $8 US per night for a decent bed. See our Southeast Asia hostels guide for more information and local variations.
- Hostel Double Room (per night) = $10 – $45 USD
Sick of sharing a room with the lads on tour and Geoffrey who does a cracking chainsaw impression at 2:30am every morning? Treat yourself to a private room for a more relaxing night’s sleep!
Most hostels throughout the region will have private rooms that you can often pick up much cheaper than a hotel room. If you are travelling as a couple or with a close friend, getting a double or twin room between the two of you often works out more cost-effective than getting two dorm beds! It’s a win-win situation, as you get to enjoy the social aspect of hostel life, but get the privacy of your own room and a good night’s sleep!
- Double Hotel Room = $10 – $80 USD
Not into that hostel life? Or just looking for a proper treat? Southeast Asia offers some great hotels at great prices, especially when compared with the equivalent hotels back home!
On average these start at around $10 USD per night but can be much higher in more expensive spots. If you are only going to treat yourself to a nice hotel from time to time, try to pick somewhere like Indonesia, Thailand or Malaysia where you’ll find the prices to be best!
Suggested Daily Budgets For Travelling In Southeast Asia
All of the numbers below are average costs for travelling in the region. If you are visiting more expensive spots, such as Singapore or the Philippines, expect to spend more than these estimates per day. On the other hand, if you are visiting the cheaper countries, such as Vietnam or Cambodia, for most of your trip, you can expect to spend less.
Shoestring Backpacker = $22-$35 USD / Day
- $660-$1050 USD per month.
A shoestring backpacker in Southeast Asia can expect to spend less than $35USD per day, more like $25 per day in cheaper countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. You’ll be pretty much exclusively staying in dorm rooms but may be able to treat yourself to a private room in a guesthouse now and again.
Most of your meals will be street food or stuff you’ve prepared yourself from local grocery stores. You’ll need to keep drinking down to a minimum, especially in more religious countries, like Malaysia, where booze is expensive!
As far as transport goes, you’ll be sticking to cheap overland buses, with the occasional train or ferry thrown in. Flying around the region will be out of your price range so load up that kindle for the long bus journeys you’ll be faced with! The good news is that if you want to get a little more off the beaten track, you should definitely be able to afford to rent a scooter from time to time. Tip – It will also help your budget if you learn how to haggle!
You’ll need to watch how often you splash out on tours as these can really eat into your budget, so only choose the ones that you really want to do and hunt around for bargains (like this cheap-as-chips Halong Bay Tour) . Activities like scuba diving in Koh Tao (a backpacker rite of passage) may be out of your price range, but why not snorkel instead?
Overall, you’ll find travelling through Southeast Asia on a shoestring budget pretty easy. Hundreds of thousands of people do it every year and as long as you don’t get swept up with a group of people spending more than you can afford, staying in the region for months is possible by spending very little!
Slow Travel – One of the best ways to exist on a budget in Southeast Asia is to find yourself a base and chill out in one spot for a while. Long-term rates on accommodation and your own wheels work out super cheap. For example, in Thailand, it is easy to get a really nice bungalow for less than 10,000 THB/month (approx $315 US) and rent a scooter for around 3,000 THB/month (approx $95). (This was a recent cost for us on the island of Koh Phangan. In the North (where prices are cheaper), you could get accommodation and a bike for less, in places like Chiang Mai, Pai and Mae Hong Son (on of our favourites).
Living It Large Backpacker = $40-$55USD
- $1200-$1650 USD per month
For those of you travelling with a slightly higher budget than the shoestringers, Southeast Asia is your playground! For around $50 USD per day, you’ll have your choice of great backpacker dorms or nice private rooms to sleep in. You’ll be able to eat in restaurants or on the street but you’ll never have to worry about cooking for yourself if you don’t want to. Providing you are not overindulging in places like Singapore or Malaysia, you’ll be able to afford enough booze at enough parties to ensure your trip is full of incredible, if not embarrassing anecdotes!
While buses will be your predominant form of long-distance transport, you may be able to find good deals on cheap local flights. Check sites such as Skyscanner for a rough idea of costs and then move onto the individual airlines own websites for the best deals. (AirAsia is the most popular budget airline in the region.)
If you wanted to take on the Thakhek or Ha Giang Loops, two of the most popular motorcycle road trips in Southeast Asia, you’ll easily be able to afford to rent a scooter for a week or so at a time! When it comes to trips and tours, as long as you choose the company you go with wisely, you’ll be able to tick most items off your bucket list and enjoy activities like diving, rock climbing, trekking tours and boat trips!
Overall, travelling through Southeast Asia on a living it large backpacker budget is plain sailing. By mixing it up between dorms and private rooms you’ll see your budget stretch on even further than planned! A few dollars saved per night really makes a big difference over a long trip. Expats living in Southeast Asia are probably spending less money per day than this, so you really can extend your trip for a long time if you are sensible!
Flashpacker = $60-$90 USD
- $1800-$2700 USD per month
The flashpackers among you will be amazed at just how far your money can stretch in Southeast Asia. For less than $100 USD per day, you’ll find yourself staying in amazing private rooms, eating at top quality restaurants and be able to buy more alcohol than you thought possible. If you plan on visiting some swanky bars or restaurants, like the rooftop bars in Bangkok, make sure you pack a smart outfit!
You’ll easily to able to afford to fly from place to place but unless you are really short on time, consider taking overland options as they are far friendlier to the planet! If renting a scooter is your thing, you could essentially rent one for every day you’re travelling without noticing a dent in your budget.
Travelling as a flashpacker in Southeast Asia will be as close to living as royalty as most of us will ever get! You’ll find your money goes a very long way here. Just don’t be too flashy with your cash, you don’t want to make a target of yourself!
Budget Saving Tips For Travel In Southeast Asia
- Know where to drink
Let’s face it, backpackers love a drink and overindulging can be as budget-busting as flying instead of taking the bus. While there is no way I’d suggest not drinking at all when travelling in Southeast Asia, it is worth knowing when to avoid your evening pint.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei are all majority Islamic, so booze is much more expensive than in neighbouring countries. While you’ll still be able to find cheap(ish) spots to drink, the average price is just too high for those of us on a strict budget!
Voluntourism has come under a lot of fire in recent years and for good reason but that’s not to say you can’t find worthwhile projects that will help protect your budget rather than eat into it!
Websites such as Workaway or HelpX are a great way to find short to medium term volunteer projects that are reviewed and vetted by other travellers. In exchange for a few hours work a day, you can expect a place to sleep for free as well as a meal or two thrown in per day. If you are particularly savvy (and don’t mind bending a few laws here and there) you may even be able to find a host who is willing to offer a small payment for extra hours worked.
Not only is couchsurfing a great way to save yourself the cost of a bed for the night, it also allows you to meet great local people! The whole point of the website is to connect travellers with hosts who are willing to put you up for free!
Sleeping arrangements vary from a few cushions scattered on the living room floor to a full-on private, ensuite room. It all depends on where the host has room! Not only will you get a free place to sleep but if you’re lucky, you’ll get a knowledgeable host who will be willing to share plenty of hints and tips about the local area!
- Don’t fly
This one is simple. Flights are expensive and very rarely necessary. Not only will flying seriously damage your budget, but it’s also causing serious damage to the earth. Overland transport throughout Southeast Asia is significantly cheaper and has a much smaller impact on the environment. Sure, most overland options aren’t as comfortable nor reliable and certainly not as fast but having a Laotian bus breakdown on and isolated mountain road is a much better story than a successful 45-minute flight!
- Overnight Buses or Trains
Taking overnight buses is a great way to save on accommodation expenses. If you’re a good sleeper, you can get some rest on the bus and will be ready to explore the moment you get off at your destination! Most buses (especially those labelled VIP) are very comfortable and apart from the AC often being at freezing cold levels provide backpackers with a cheap and safe way to get from A to B.
Note: Due to safety issues, we do not recommend the overnight buses in Vietnam where there have been many accidents caused by overtired drivers. In Vietnam, the train system which runs North to South is a much better way of travelling overnight.
When I was travelling in South America, I actually met a group of guys who had travelled for weeks without booking a hostel! They just used to grab a few hours sleep in bus stations and then sleep all night on buses. They were travelling hard and fast but were saving as much money as they could! One word of warning though, the buses aren’t always the easiest places to get a good night’s rest… (not for flashpackers!).
Also read: Budget Backpacking Tips
Pre Trip Expenses – Before You Go
There are a few things you’ll need before you go travelling and the costs for those, while unavoidable, doesn’t have to be monumental. Here are some things to think about…
$50 – $250 USD
Are you even a backpacker if you don’t have a backpack?! There are obviously other options like suitcases, duffel bags or backpacks with wheels but most travellers chose ye olde faithful, the backpack. There are many backpacks on the market but some of the most popular are listed in this best travel backpacks article.
You don’t need to spend the earth but likewise, don’t buy the cheapest pack you can find. It’s better to have a quality backpack that lasts a lifetime rather than something that will break the minute you fling it on an overnight bus. The Osprey 40L, for example, is the most popular backpack for travellers to Southeast Asia, and comes with a lifetime guarantee!
$100 – $600 USD
Ah vaccines, a contentious issue among some travellers… I’m sure some of you out there are going to start rolling your eyes around now but South East Asia Backpacker strongly recommends always travelling with the correct vaccinations!
The cost of vaccines will vary depending on where you are from so check with your local doctor well in advance of when you plan on travelling. They will be able to tell you what shots you’ll need, as well as when you’ll need them and how much they will cost.
$10 – $50 USD per country
Visas. An unavoidable bureaucratic nightmare. Visa prices will vary depending on your nationality and which country you are entering. Check with your government’s website for the most up to date information on costs and procedures.
- Flights (Initial flight to Asia from your home country)
$250 – $1000 USD
While we’ve already spoken about avoiding flights as much as possible, unless you are planning some epic overland journey from your home town to Asia, you’ll have to fly at some point. Sadly this is a necessary evil but one that doesn’t have to break the bank.
For the best deals, begin looking for flights 6 months to a year before you plan to start travelling and remember to use more than one comparison site. Skyscanner also gives you the option to look at an entire month to see what days have the cheapest tickets!
- Travel Insurance
$50 – $500 USD per trip
Much like our advice on travel vaccinations, travel insurance is a must-have. You probably won’t need it but if you are unfortunate enough to have an accident or get sick while away, you’ll quickly realise how important it is!
With medical treatments potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars, insurance really is important and will potentially save you money in the long run! Read our guides on the best travel insurance for backpackers and the best time to buy travel insurance!
Now read: How to save money to travel
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