As a European who’s lived in south east Asia for almost a decade, I know every trick in the book when it comes to having a vacation on the cheap. South east Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia are, of course, already cheap but if you’re a budget traveler and really want to save your money, here’s how to have the cheapest and most fun south east Asian vacation possible.
Fly at Off-Peak Hours – I fly all over south east Asia and usually fly late in the evening or early in the morning. With flights from somewhere like Bangkok to Hanoi increasing by up to $60 each way if I take a mid-day flight, I settle for the 6:30am or 10pm flight. It’s amazing how cheap you can fly in south east Asia when you do. My last off-peak flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur was $95 round-trip.
Don’t Stay in Flea-Ridden Backpacker Hotels – I once stayed in a dirt-cheap fleabag hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam so I could save money. Big mistake. I hated the place so much and wanted to spend as little time as possible there, I ended up spending more money on coffees in cafes and snacks in restaurants, just so I could stay out of my room longer. Pay for a slightly better hotel (in south east Asia anything from $15-30 a night will get you a nice, comfortable room to sleep in) and you can save money by relaxing there.
Eat Street Food – I’m amazed how many travelers I meet who refuse to eat south east Asian street food, thinking it’s “dirty”. In every south east Asian city, the real, authentic and tastiest food is on the street. Hit the food stalls in Hanoi, eat noodles at a sidewalk restaurant in Chiang Mai and don’t miss the hawker streets in Kuala Lumpur. Street food is dirt cheap but far from dirty. In fact, it’s just about the best food you’ll find. Anywhere.
Buy a Bus Map – Buy a bus map in every city you visit in south east Asia. With a bus map, you can find your way around the city on public transportation at a fifth of the cost you’d spend in taxis or on sky trains and undergrounds. Plus, it’s the real authentic ‘south east Asian’ experience too.
Talk to the Locals – Wherever I travel in south east Asia, I always ask local folks where they recommend I go to experience the real city I’m in. I’ve discovered amazing, cheap restaurants this way, found cool cafes, bookshops, local attractions tourists never visit and done it on the cheap as, believe me, few locals pay the jacked up tourist prices.
Be Aware of What You’re Spending – Whenever I travel in south east Asia and am on a budget, every night back at my hotel I make a note of how much money I spent that day. I travel on a budget and allow myself around $20-25 a day for incidentals. If I spend too much one day, then I have less the day after. If I don’t spend much, I have more tomorrow. If you don’t keep track of your expenses though, you may find yourself in a bit of a mess financially by the end of your vacation.
Don’t Wear Expensive Clothes – If you travel around south east Asia looking like you just stepped off Rodeo Drive, you’ll get taken advantage of. Instead of wearing your coolest designer clothes, a simple pair of jeans or shorts and a t shirt is a better way to travel. The richer you look, the more people will try to charge you. It’s simply human nature.
Don’t Take Tours – Tours are the biggest waste of money any traveler can spend. On every tour I’ve ever been on, I waste my vacation standing in shops I don’t want to be in because they’re “part of the tour” and realize, when I get back to my hotel, I could have done the whole tour by myself for a tenth of what I paid the tour company.
If you want to travel to certain sights in south east Asia on the cheap, ask at your hotel how to do it by public transportation. It’s way more fun and you’ll actually be doing it with the locals – rather than on an expensive tour bus with a bunch of other bored-out-of-their mind tourists.
Photo – Eat at street food stalls, dirt cheap food that’s authentically local and incredibly delicious