Wondering how much it will cost to travel southeast Asia? Looking for a realistic backpacker southeast Asia budget? The cost to travel Asia depends on a lot of factors.
What countries will you visit? How long will you spend in each place? How quickly will you want to get from A to B? What level of accommodation do you want?
What food will you eat? Do you like street food or do you prefer to eat in restaurants? Will you drink alcohol?
These are all questions I highly recommend answering for yourself before you even think about laying out a southeast Asia travel budget.
This post is a breakdown of how much money I spent traveling Asia for five months as well as a guide to saving money along the way.
I have written individual budget posts for most of these countries, so if you want the specifics you can find those here:
- How Much Does it Cost to Travel Japan?
- How Much Does it Cost to Travel Vietnam?
- How Much Does it Cost to Travel Cambodia?
- How Much Does it Cost to Travel Thailand?
- How Much Does it Cost to Travel Laos?
Total Cost To Travel Asia
Let’s start with the bottom line.
For five months of traveling the above countries, I spent $5,251.
So, just over $1,000 per month, although a lot of that money was spent in Japan, on diving, and on flights.
It should be noted that I was traveling with my boyfriend.
Traveling with another person is a really great way to cut expenses in half. W
e were able to share room prices, food prices, travel costs.
It also gave us a bit of bargaining power with travel agencies because we were usually buying two of something. If you are traveling solo you should expect to pay a little bit more than this or look to cut expenses in other ways.
The Biggest Cost to Travel Southeast Asia
My biggest expense by FAR was transportation costs.
By this, I mean buses, trains, flights, and motorbike and bicycle rentals. I didn’t move around frequently, but I did obviously move around each country while I was visiting.
In total, I took six flights including my flight from Korea (where I was living) to Japan, Japan to Taipei, Taipei to Manila, Manila to Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, and my final flight from Bangkok to the USA.
In total, I spent $1,220 on flights.
Mostly though I took buses.
I took buses all over Taipei, the Philippines, and through mainland Southeast Asia.
It’s how I crossed borders and how I got around each country while I was there.
While Vietnam has a very easy and cheap hop-on, hop-off bus ticket, every other country I visited required me to pay for a ticket for each journey.
I also used the JR Pass in Japan.
It was an expensive outlay – over $400 for a two-week pass, but it saved me over $100 and it saved me tons of time and hassle when it came to train travel. Plus I got to ride a few bullet trains. SO fun.
It’s good to note that train travel in Thailand and Vietnam is both cheap and reliable. If I could do it again, I would have taken more trains in Vietnam.
However, if you are on a backpacker budget traveling Southeast Asia, the buses are VERY cheap. Just know that the service and comfort match the price.
Diving in South East Asia
My second biggest expense while traveling Southeast Asia was diving.
Diving in Southeast Asia is actually incredibly affordable compared to say diving in Mexico or other parts of Latin America.
I took a dive course in the Philippines which cost just over $300.
This course included several dives and then after our course was over, we stayed for another five days to continue diving.
The Philippines has so many amazing dive sites and stunning islands where you can literally walk off of the shore with your equipment and start seeing turtles and schools of fish everywhere.
The extra dives ended up costing about $25 per dive (including everything). He gave us a discount because we bought 10 dives and also because we’d taken our course with him.
Usually, you can expect to pay between $35 and $50 per dive depending on how many dives you agree to go on with the company.
Then I dove again in Thailand where I bought a five-dive package for $150.
We decided to go diving on the island of Koh Chang.
It’s without a doubt much quieter than Koh Tao, where many beginner divers head instead.
We were just over the party atmosphere at this point. We really just wanted to lay in the sun, eat delicious Thai food and go diving for most of the day. Koh Chang is perfect for that.
We went with a company called Scubadawgs. It’s owned by a British expat who is a very experienced diver and most of the dive instructors are either from the US, UK, or Canada.
Their equipment was top quality and as still quite a newbie diver I felt very safe diving with these guys.
Cost of Southeast Asia Hotels and Hostels
Let’s talk about accommodation in South East Asia.
I hear so many people talk about pre-booking their hotels before they arrive and it makes me cringe.
Please, you don’t need to pre-book your accommodation in South East Asia.
I know this sounds stressful.
I’m a big planner and I really like knowing that I have a bed to sleep in at night, but once you realize how easy it is, you won’t turn back.
I can’t stress enough how much you’ll save if you DO NOT book your accommodation in advance.
Of course, if you aren’t on a strict backpacker budget in Southeast Asia, then it doesn’t really matter. Go ahead and head to Booking.com to find the best deals on luxury hotels. You’ll likely score a top-class hotel for less than $50 a night.
However, if you are trying to avoid overspending and want to keep a tight budget, then definitely do not book anything until you arrive somewhere.
Any hotel or guesthouse that has an online booking site or puts itself on Booking.com is without a doubt going to be more expensive than small guesthouses.
If your goal is to travel South East Asia on a shoestring, look for your accommodation when you arrive in each place.
Just make sure you have a few on your list or you know where the backpacker area is in a city before you arrive. We learned about the best neighborhoods to look for places using the Southeast Asia Lonely Planet Guidebook.
The only exception to this I would say, is somewhere like Siem Reap during the high season.
We went to Siem Reap in June and there was plenty of cheap accommodation available. Just look for signs that say “rooms available.”
During our entire time in mainland Southeast Asia, we never spent more than $10 a night for our own room.
All the above being said, I would definitely book your accommodation in advance for Japan and Taipei.
We used AirBnB for both countries and it was the best decision for our budget.
We met incredibly nice and knowledegabe locals. We stayed in cool neighborhoods and got to eat at places where the locals eat (by pointing at things in Mandarin and hoping it wasn’t chicken’s feet).
Most importantly, we spent much less than we would have on hotels and even some hostels. Hostels are quite expensive in Japan!
If you don’t already use AirBnB, use this link to get $30 off your first stay.
Transportation Costs & Keeping them Low
Since it was my biggest expense and probably will be yours too, here are a few tips to keep your transport costs down (as much as possible).
Move around less.
I mean, this is totally up to you, but if you go somewhere new every few days you’re going to spend a lot more on transportation.
The way I like to travel means I stay in one place for at least four-five days. I use that place as a base and rent motorbikes to see a bit further afield.
In general, though, I just like to get to know each place as much as I can.
Slow travel is without a doubt the best way to keep your costs of travel in Southeast Asia way down.
It can be so tempting to want to spend your entire trip seeing absolutely as much as you possibly can, but after a week or two you’ll start to run low on funds and you’ll be completely exhausted.
Another top tip for keeping transportation costs down is to get combo tickets.
In places like Vietnam, you can get combo tickets that include several destinations where you can get on and off whenever you want. These tickets are CRAZY cheap.
In other countries like Cambodia, if you use the same company to purchase bus or shuttle tickets to multiple destinations, they will give you a discount on each of those trips.
Buses were by far the cheapest way to get around regardless of country.
Trains are faster and more comfortable but are quite a bit more expensive. We splurged on trains in Thailand and for the most part, I thought it was worth the extra price tag.
They have several classes so you can still travel quite cheaply by train in Thailand. I found Seat61 to be the best resource for train travel in Southeast Asia.
If you’re going to Japan, definitely get the Japan Rail Pass. It will save you time, hassle and a lotta dough.
Cost of Food in Southeast Asia
It’s all about the Street food in Asia.
The night markets in Taipei, the places with tiny stools in Hanoi, the pad thai in Bangkok, eat all of it.
It’s how we kept our budget down in Japan and how we ended up eating the best meal of our lives in Thailand.
Look for night markets. They set up in most cities and towns as it gets dark and you can sample tons of different dishes on the cheap. We ate at night markets constantly in Thailand, Taiwan, and different parts of Cambodia because the food is amazing and so cheap.
If you’re worried about getting sick, look for places that are making the food fresh to order.
Most street vendors are cooking up the food you order only once you actually place an order. Look for the places that the locals are eating. You know it’s good AND that it will be cheap.
In the five months that my boyfriend and I traveled through Asia, we both got “Bali Belly” only once and both on separate occasions (even though we usually ate the same things).
We both agreed that it was probably from eating too much greasy food over a few days in a row rather than something in particular that wasn’t prepared right.
There is such an abundance of fresh fruit and fruit smoothies around Asia. Eating cheaply doesn’t necessarily mean eating unhealthily every day.
Over the course of the five months, I actually LOST weight (all the sweating, kayaking, hiking, and city walking probably helped).
There are tons of places that make papaya salads (be careful with the spice though) and other types of non-cooked, vegi-heavy dishes.
The soups throughout Vietnam were flavorful and light and packed with fresh herbs.
The curries in Laos and Cambodia are full of vegetables and super cheap. There was often freshly grilled fish and steamed rice available at different markets.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive either, however, if you are craving more Western foods from back home, expect to pay significantly more. It’s also worth noting that sitting down in any restaurant will cost you a whole lot more than eating at a street vendor.
Figuring Out Where to Splurge & Where to Save
Luke and I splurged on diving and souvenirs.
Yes, I’m a terrible backpacker and I love to buy souvenirs in pretty much every country that I visit. They’re usually only small like t-shirts, jewelry, or paintings that I can roll up and shove into the side of my backpack, but I still like to collect things.
We also splurged pretty regularly on alcohol. We had a beer or two each night, sometimes seeking out craft beer bars or cocktail bars with a view.
However, we cut costs on things that didn’t really matter that much to us or that we knew were better on the cheaper end of the spectrum (food being one of those things).
We stayed in very cheap hostels and guesthouses. We sometimes spent an hour walking around the backpacker district of a new city asking around and seeing what the cheapest hotel room was. We always tried to find a place that included breakfast to keep that cost down, too.
We existed almost solely on street food. We ate fruit for breakfast whenever we could and snacked on fruit throughout the day (almost always cheaper than pre-made snacks from 7-11).
We bought expensive sushi in Japan and went to every museum we could. We did multi-day hikes with experienced tour companies and rented motorbikes whenever we wanted.
But we often took cold showers and washed all of our laundry by hand in our hotel bathrooms.
It’s totally up to you where you decide to scrimp and where you want to let loose. I wouldn’t change anything about our trip and I hope at the end of your adventure you feel the same way.
Don’t Forget to Insure Yourself & Your Stuff
I’ve used World Nomads for travel insurance for the last six years and I’ll continue to do so forever more. Their plans are the most comprehensive, they allow you to base your plan off of where you’re from, where you’re going, and what activities you’re going to be taking part in.
Everything from the quote to the payment is very clear. I always feel like I know exactly what I’m paying for and it was such peace of mind while we were traveling Asia, scuba diving and riding around on motorbikes. It was easy to make sure that our stuff covered as well. You can use this little box to get a quote and see if what you’re going to do around Asia will be covered.