All right, raise your hand if you’ve done this before: who has had to resort to exclusively eating instant noodles or food bought from a 7-Eleven while traveling so that you wouldn’t have to spend much on eating out?
I know for sure that I have. However, Southeast Asia is known as a budget traveler’s paradise for a reason. There are plenty of affordable destinations within the region where you can comfortably enjoy a bit of everything and not have to worry too much about necessities such as transportation and food.
Don’t believe me? Here are seven of the best destinations in SEA where you won’t need to pinch your pennies, with some help from the 2017 Backpacker Index (which is subject to change, as it’s recalculated by exchange rate on a daily basis):
The bustling capital of Vietnam is a contradiction of beeping scooters en masse on its streets, surrounded by quaint colonial style buildings and historical pagodas.
Many hostels and hotels provide the standard amenities you’re familiar with (like free Wi-Fi), and tourist attractions won’t cost a bomb. Local food is also very cheap by regional standards.
From Hanoi, most travelers will head to the gorgeous limestone karsts of Halong Bay for an overnight trip, or even opt to spend a few days in Sapa up north.
Currency: Vietnamese Dong
Cheapest accommodation: VND67,887/night
Total cost: VND390,487 = US$17.18/day
Modern Manila is made up of gleaming skyscrapers, wide boulevards, and air-conditioned shopping malls, but beyond the glitz and glam, it’s got a lively independent arts and music scene, in addition to artisan markets and cafes.
If you spend most of your time in the high-end neighborhoods, it can get pretty pricey, especially at the restaurants.
Eating at local eateries will save you a bundle, and the tourist attractions are usually free or cheap, such as the National Museum of the Philippines and Rizal Park.
Currency: Philippine Peso
Cheapest accommodation: PHP246/night
Total cost: PHP984 = US$19.14/day
Laos is generally one of Southeast Asia’s most underrated destinations, and its capital Vientiane is one of its top gems – it’s where you go when you want the perks of a city without all the hustle and bustle.
The former French trading post still retains a distinctively Gallic architecture, transformed into boutique hotels and chic restaurants.
Its charming Old Quarter is a treat to walk around, filled with resplendent temples, stone statues, and Buddhist monks.
Currency: Laos Kip
Cheapest accommodation: LAK49,914/night
Total cost: LAK168,314 = US$20.31/day
Formerly known as Rangoon, Yangon is Myanmar’s largest city and the heart of all the action. Its most recognizable landmark is the the gleaming golden stupas of Shwedagon Pagoda.
The city lacks the commercialized gilt and tourist traps of many famous Southeast Asian cities, which adds to its charm.
Take a stroll through the open-air markets in downtown Yangon, and stop by a food vendor serving local favorites, like Mohinga (a hearty, spiced fish-based broth with glass noodles) or Tea Leaf Salad.
Currency: Burmese Kyat
Cheapest accommodation: MMK9,292/night
Total cost: MMK28,192 = US$20.83/day
Chiang Mai, Thailand
While Bangkok is a whirlwind of sights and sounds, Chiang Mai is its more chill, laid-back sibling.
Set among the foothills and surrounded by lush forests and lofty mountains, its old town is brimming with ancient temples. Popular stops are Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and Wat Chedi Luang.
A favorite activity for visitors is to hike the mountains in the nearby national parks, and if you’re feeling peckish, sample a variety of Thai street foods at the Sunday Night Market.
Currency: Thai Baht
Cheapest accommodation: THB91/night
Total cost: THB849 = US$25.54/day
Siem Reap, Cambodia
When you think of Siem Reap, the first thing that comes to mind is undoubtedly the famed Angkor Wat.
But Siem Reap is in itself a great place to wander around. Thanks to its popularity as a base camp for tourists who wish to take their time exploring Angkor Wat’s extensive temple complex, the city is a hub of cool bars and hip restaurants.
The entry fee to Angkor Wat can be pretty expensive (USD$37), but since you’re there, it’s worth the money. We’d recommend that you buy a one-day ticket in the evening after 5pm, so you can catch the sunset and have a full day in the park the next day.
Currency: US Dollar
Cheapest accommodation: US$2.44/night
Total cost: US$26.94/day
Who hasn’t heard of Bali? Among Indonesia’s many idyllic islands, it’s one of the most popular picks. And the reasons why are plenty: it’s got stunning beaches, elaborate temples, friendly locals, and is steeped in its own unique culture.
From the pumping nightlife of Kuta and Legian to the peace and serenity of Ubud, you’ll be able to find just the right pace for you.
Despite its popularity, you can still find good deals for accommodation, as is apparent from the steady flow of backpackers and budget travelers from around the world. Just stick to the bare basics and as always, eat local.
Currency: Indonesian Rupiah
Cheapest accommodation: IDR89,000/night
Total cost: IDR389,000 = US$29.16/day
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