Backpacking on a Budget in Southeast Asia: A Guide for First Timers
For many travel enthusiasts, backpacking Southeast Asia is the ultimate holy grail for their backpacking journey. With its stunning beaches, vibrant cities, and delicious cuisine, Southeast Asia is a great destination for first-time backpackers. If you’re new to backpacking, this region of the globe is a great place to kick-start – it’s safe, diverse, affordable, has plenty of stunning natural destinations, great nightlife scenes, and people are generally friendly. Southeast Asia has everything you need to have a good time!You might be feeling overwhelmed to begin planning your trip but never fear! Lub d got you a guide to get ready for your Backpacking adventure!
Why Backpacking in Southeast Asia is So Popular
The cost of living is significantly lower than in other parts of the world. This is due to a combination of factors such as the low cost of labor and low taxes. A backpacker can expect to pay very little for accommodation, transportation, and food. Furthermore, many of the countries in Southeast Asia offer visas on arrival, which makes it even more accessible and cheaper to travel in the region.
Decent Backpacking Infrastructures
There are plentiful budget hotels available throughout Southeast Asia. Countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, The Philippines, and Indonesia are well-known for having the world-best hostels and budget accommodations available.
You’re not just going to get a bed and a free coffee when paying for a budget hotel in these countries, instead, you’ll get extra goodies like a fun pool party, Pub Crawl, fun outdoor activities, and many more. It is super worth it for the price that you pay.
Southeast Asia is known for its vibrant nightlife which offers everything for everyone! For instance, Bangkok, Thailand is known for its vibrant nightlife scene, with its famous streets full of bars and clubs like Khao San Road, Sukhumvit Road, and RCA. Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia also makes the list which is lined with bars and clubs, as well as night markets and nightclubs in the city center.
Budget for Backpacking
Tips on How to Budget Your Southeast Asia Backpacking Trips
Southeast Asia is known for being one of the most budget-friendly destinations! As a budget-conscious backpacker, you can expect to spend around $25 per day on average. Vietnam and Laos are among the most affordable countries to visit, while Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar may require a slightly higher budget. Singapore, on the other hand, is an expensive exception.
These estimated costs are based on staying in inexpensive hostel dorms or budget rooms, and dining at the local and cheap street stalls, eateries, and bars. This budget also allows for some moderate partying. However, if you plan on drinking excessively every night, it will be challenging to stick to this budget.
Furthermore, the way you plan to visit specific regions within each country can also impact your budgeting. For example, in Thailand, the Northern region tends to be more budget-friendly with $20 per day being doable, while the South such as Phuket and Samui, which is more party-oriented, may require a higher budget of around $35 per day.
Average Cost Breakdown: Daily Expenses for Backpacking in South East Asia
Backpacking Travel Budget is around $45 USD per day which allows for staying in hostel dorms, dining at local markets and street stalls, limited drinking, mostly engaging in free or low-cost activities, and utilizing public transportation for getting around.
Moderate Travel Budget is around $85 USD per day allowing for staying in budget hotels or private hostel rooms, some restaurant meals, more paid activities such as group tours or cooking classes, occasional taxis, and slightly more indulgence in drinks. It’s a balanced budget that doesn’t sacrifice too much but also doesn’t splurge.
Luxury Travel Budget is around $150 USD or more per day allowing for staying in nicer hotels with more amenities, dining out frequently, more paid tours including private tours, hiring a driver, taking taxis or even flying between destinations, and overall more flexibility in spending. The possibilities are vast with this kind of budget!
Keep in mind that these are simply guidelines and your budgets will vary depending on personal preferences and expectations.
Type of Traveler
Average Daily Cost
Modes of Transportation in South East Asia: Tips and Safety
There are various modes of transportation in Southeast Asia. For public ones, there are buses, trains, ferries, taxis, and tuk-tuks. You can also rent your own motorbikes or cars. Try to take public transportation where you see the locals use them on the regular to ensure that you will not fall for the tourist traps.
Tips and Safety
Be aware of scams: Unfortunately, scammers are everywhere to exploit your unfamiliarity. Don’t fall for those who approach and offer you services, always do research for a reputable traveling agency and book transportation with them.
Negotiate prices: In Southeast Asia, it’s common practice to negotiate prices for taxis and tuk-tuks. Before agreeing on a price, make sure you know the going rate and negotiate accordingly.
Wear a helmet: If you’re renting a motorbike or scooter, always wear a helmet. In many countries, helmets are mandatory by law, but even if they’re not, it’s important for your safety.
Carry small bills: When taking taxis or tuk-tuks, it’s a good idea to carry small bills so that you can avoid overpaying or not getting your change back
How to Book Transportation Tickets for Backpacking in South East Asia
Research your options: Before you start booking transportation tickets, do some research on the different modes of transportation available in the countries you plan to visit. This will help you choose the most efficient and cost-effective way to get around.
Use reputable travel agencies: There are many online travel agencies such as 12Go or even applications like Klook for you to book transportation. They are super safe and easy to use and you can also get a discount. Make sure you book everything in advance before traveling anywhere.
Book through your hostel: Your hostel or guesthouse may offer transportation booking services, and they can often provide useful advice and recommendations on the best way to get around.
Types of Backpacker Accommodation in South East Asia: Tips and Recommendations
Southeast Asia, especially popular countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam, is usually frequented by many backpackers and budget travelers. Hostels are vastly available and are popular choices for budget-conscious travelers, including young backpackers and students, as they offer affordable accommodation options that allow them to make the most of their budget and prolong their trips.
However, if staying in a hostel is not your preference, there are also plenty of budget hotels and guesthouses throughout Southeast Asia. If you prefer a private room, the prices for hostels and budget hotels are often similar to those for singles or hostel beds. The main difference between these options is that hostels often offer communal kitchens and common areas where guests can socialize and meet others. Hostels are known for their social atmosphere, so if you prefer a quieter and more private environment, a budget hotel may be more suitable.
Reputable Hostel Chains
Southeast Asia is blessed with many major hostel chains. You will find the hostels with a swimming pool, complimentary breakfast, speedy internet, and evening activities to socialize with other travelers for about $10 US dollars which can be booked easily through Hostelworld or booking.com. Lub d is among the major hostel chains in Southeast Asia that provide both private and dorm rooms with all the essentials for all travelers.
Guest houses are vastly available in Southeast Asia, you can simply book through Airbnb or the direct booking channels. For Airbnb or other booking websites, you can search for guest houses in the desired location in Southeast Asia. Filter the search results based on your preferences such as price, location, amenities, etc. Once you find a suitable guest house, select the dates, enter the number of guests, and complete the booking process by making the payment. Make sure to communicate with the host or the guest house management team to coordinate the check-in process and any other specific requirements you may have.
Here for Parties! Many tourists visit Southeast Asia specifically to enjoy the vibrant party atmosphere of various destinations. Places like Bangkok, Koh Phangan, Bali, and Boracay are famous for their lively party scenes, which attract young travelers from different parts of the world. In these locations, it is easy to find hostels that cater to this crowd.
These “party hostels” such as Lub d Koh Samui and Lub d Phuket Patong often organize nightly pub crawls and pool parties. However, if you prioritize getting a good night’s rest, it’s best to choose hostels with a more relaxed atmosphere. But if your goal is to have the most fun stay ever, these party hostels are the answer!
Must-Visit Destinations by Country
Angkor Wat is no doubt a must-visit place on everyone’s travel bucket list. We suggest spending at least 2 days immersing yourself in the renowned Angkor Wat complex, followed by the Bayon temple, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, and the Angkor Thom complex.
Luang Prabang is a charming city in Laos that is considered a world heritage site due to its numerous stunning Buddhist temples. Many people refer to it as the “Jewel of the Laos Crown” and it’s one of the most popular destinations in the country.
In the early morning, visitors can witness hundreds of monks walking to their monasteries, which is a sight to behold. Other must-visit places include the Kuang Si Falls, Tad Sae Waterfall, Alms giving ceremony, Royal Palace Museum, and Pak Ou Caves.
Khao Sok National Park
As the biggest protected park in Southern Thailand, Khao Sok boasts an extensive network of trails, endless outdoor activities, loads of wildlife, and more stunning scenery than you can shake a stick at. And the best part?
Despite all this awesomeness, Khao Sok has managed to stay pretty much under the radar for most tourists. That means you won’t have to fight the crowds or put up with over-tourism. So if you’re looking for an adventure that goes beyond the usual booze buckets and Full Moon Parties, add Khao Sok National Park to your Thailand bucket list.
Bagan is the former capital of Myanmar, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its collection of over 10,000 pagodas and Buddhist temples built between the 11th and 13th centuries. Although time has taken its toll, over 3,500 structures are still standing today in the Bagan Archaeological Zone, an area of 41 square kilometers.
Visitors to the nearby village of Myinkaba can witness the ancient art of lacquerware being painted by hand and buy souvenirs from the shops. The Shwesandaw Paya pagoda, painted white, is the best place to watch the famous sunset in town, with 360-degree views of the hills and surrounding temples from its partially climbable structure.
Komodo Island is not just another island in Indonesia, as it boasts several unique features. With an area of less than 400 square kilometers, this rugged island is known for being the habitat of the Komodo dragon, the largest lizard species in the world. The number of Komodo dragons on the island exceeds the number of human inhabitants, making for an interesting sight as visitors explore the island’s volcanic hills and forests.
The main attraction for tourists on the island is Pantai Merah, one of the seven pink-sand beaches worldwide. The beach’s pink hue is caused by the red shells of foraminifera, tiny organisms that live in the coral and die before being washed ashore, blending with the white sand and creating a cotton-candy-like appearance.
The destination is popular for its crystal-clear lagoons, abundant marine life, stunning coral reefs, and towering limestone cliffs. There are opportunities for adventurous activities, such as cliff climbing expeditions, as well as a canopy walk at Taraw Peak, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Apart from that, El Nido is also renowned for its immaculate beaches, including Nacpan Beach and Lio Beach, which serve as perfect spots for relaxation. Moreover, tourists can also set off on island-hopping expeditions from El Nido, visiting the El Nido Big Lagoon or Snake Island, to admire the cliffs and caves from the water, which can be a truly unforgettable experience.
Marina Bay Sands
It is an opulent destination with shopping malls with a canal running through it, the ArtScience Museum, and the Marina Bay Sands Skypark Observation Deck, which provides a stunning view of the entire city.
The Skypark, which is situated on a ship that sits atop the hotel, includes an infinity pool that is exclusively for hotel guests, but the observation deck is open to everyone. From the Skypark, visitors can admire the innovative double helix bridge, the port, the sprawling Gardens by the Bay, which span over 101 hectares of waterfront gardens, and the impressive skyline.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of islands and limestone karsts. Most of these islands are tall monolithic cliffs covered in lush jungles that cannot be walked on.
Only about 40 islands have permanent residents, usually in the form of small floating houses and fishing villages. Cat Ba, the largest island, is a common overnight stop for tourists on cruises and tours. Kayaking in the turquoise-green waters and traditional junk boat cruising are popular activities here.
The world’s biggest and oldest water village, Kampong Ayer, is situated adjacent to the Bandan Seri Begwan waterfront. This entire settlement is built on stilts above the Brunei River, which makes it known as the ‘Venice of the East’.
Strolling through Kampong Ayer on footbridges is fascinating, with the pastel-colored houses and stilted mosques providing a beautiful background for photographs. Visitors can also enjoy traditional food and water boat rides while exploring the friendly village.
The island is located in the Strait of Malacca, near the Malay Peninsula in Malaysia. George Town which is the capital city of Penang is known for its diversity of Asian cultures. What stands out in Penang is definitely the architecture with unique foreign styles, such as the British Fort Cornwallis, the Chinese clan temple Khoo Kongsi, and the Indian-style Kapitan Keling Mosque. You will find so many diverse cultures influenced in each building, which is an eclectic and exciting scenery.
South East Asia’s Food Scene: Popular Dishes and Recommendations
Cambodia’s national dish, Amok, is a popular meal among travelers. It is a sweet and sour fish curry that is made with freshwater fish, chicken, or vegetarian options. The dish is cooked in a coconut milk-based sauce with chili, palm sugar, and lime zest, then steamed in palm or banana leaves.
It is served with steamed rice, and although similar versions can be found in neighboring countries, they lack the spicy and bitter slok ngor herb. Read more about other Khmer cuisine to try out.
Laab is a salad-like dish that is deeply rooted in Lao culinary traditions and is considered the unofficial national dish. It is made by mixing cooked minced meat (duck, chicken, water buffalo, beef, or pork) with lime juice, fish sauce, coriander, mint, chilis, spring onions, and garlic. The dish is then garnished with freshly-chopped herbs and toasted ground rice and served with sticky rice (khao niao), a staple in Lao cuisine.
Mohinga is a hearty and filling Burmese national dish that is typically eaten for breakfast but has evolved into an “all-day breakfast.” It consists of rice noodles in a catfish stock-based broth that is flavored with pounded fresh spices, including lemongrass. The dish is topped with fritters, banana blossom, and slices of hard-boiled eggs and served hot.
Pad Thai is a world-famous Thai dish that is made with flat rice noodles stir-fried with chicken, fish, seafood, pork, or vegetables, along with dried shrimp, bean sprouts, tofu, and eggs. The dish is topped with crushed peanuts and chilis and has a complex combination of sweet, sour, and salty flavors with a well-balanced contrast of textures. Although available across Thailand, it is ironically more popular with foreign travelers and on global menus than in Thailand. Check out 4 hotspots to try out Thai street food in Bangkok.
More Tips and How to Stay Healthy While Backpacking in Southeast Asia
In Thailand, restaurants always serve filtered water in jugs, but in other parts of Southeast Asia, it’s generally unsafe to drink tap water. In some countries, like Myanmar, hot tea is served on tables, which is safe to drink.
If you’re in rural areas or regions with limited infrastructure, it’s recommended to use a SteriPen or LifeStraw to purify water before drinking or even using it to brush your teeth.
Vietnam and Myanmar don’t provide visas on arrival to most Western passport holders, but they now have e-visa options available, making it more convenient than in the past. Backpackers should take note that Thailand offers 30 days on arrival when arriving by air, but only 15 days when crossing by land.
Visas in the region typically take up a full page in your passport, so make sure you have enough space. It’s crucial to keep track of the days, as exceeding the allowed days stated on your visa, such as 30 days, will result in fines for each additional day.
Having Medical Kits with You
Although you can purchase a pre-made medical kit for traveling, I suggest personalizing it to suit your specific requirements and including some commonly missing items. It’s worth noting that oral rehydration salts, general antibiotics, and plenty of antihistamines can be extremely helpful. Additionally, it’s likely that you’ll use antibiotic cream the most, to prevent minor cuts from getting infected in the hot and humid tropical climate.
Any illness causing diarrhea or vomiting can lead to dangerous dehydration. It is important to bring oral rehydration salts and prioritize consuming electrolytes and minerals to stay hydrated when experiencing these symptoms. Staying properly hydrated can be critical in preventing a minor illness from turning into a life-threatening situation before receiving medical attention.
Be Aware of Food Safety
Carrying your own utensils can be a safe choice for preventing bacteria or germs from entering your body orally. Also, it is suggested to do some research about drinking water in countries that you’re visiting. Furthermore, always make sure that all the food that you eat is properly prepared and heated due to the tropical climate in the regions that can cause food to be more easily contaminated.
In short, backpacking in Southeast Asia is definitely worth it! With all the necessities and facilities provided for backpackers such as decent accommodations, transportation, and whatnot as well as all the amazing landmarks that you can easily visit, your journey will most likely be exciting and memorable. Plus, with the proper preparations in terms of doing a lot of research on tips, safety, and cultural background of the destinations where you’re going to visit, your backpacking trip will be an unforgettable one.
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