Southeast Asia is one of the most popular regions in the world for budget travellers. The lure of jungle adventures, historic temples, and sandy beaches all at a low price is too enticing to ignore. But, just how much does it cost to go to Southeast Asia? Is it really as affordable as everyone says? Well, there are a few factors to consider but it absolutely can be.
Southeast Asia is actually made up of eleven countries, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to focus on three of the most popular countries: Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It’s an easy route with a little bit of everything mixed in. Given that I am focusing on three countries; I’m going to suggest a one month (30 days, 29 nights) itinerary. The estimate for this article will include transportation, visa fees, attractions, accommodation, and additional spending money. Please note that this particular article is geared towards budget travellers, so the cost estimates will be for public transit, hostel or homestay type accommodation, and local foods.
Southeast Asia trip cost for one month
|Accommodations||$290 ($10 x 29 nights)|
|Transportation and Activities||$800|
|Food and drink||$450 ($15 per day)|
The above estimate is in American dollars, so please use xe.com to find out the average costs in your home currency.
Also keep in mind that this is just an estimate. Southeast Asia is a budget-friendly travel destination, however there is definitely a more upscale luxury side to this area as well, making it easy to go over your budget. While it’s fine to indulge or splurge every once in a while, be mindful of what you are spending.
As with every other destination, there is plenty to consider when it comes to airfare costs. With this itinerary, the cheapest destination to fly into is probably going to be Bangkok, Thailand as it is a major hub. Ideally, to save on time you can fly into one country and out of another (for this route, I would suggest into Thailand and out of Vietnam). However, that may not always be the most affordable option. That being said, there are several low-cost airlines in Southeast Asia that offer very affordable fares. Book in advance if you can since some of these routes do fill up fast.
In terms of the international flights, the same usual rules apply: flights during the holidays are more expensive while shoulder season and off-season offer the best rates. Travelling midweek will offer cheaper rates than on weekends, and early morning or late night flights frequently have lower fares than daytime routes. The $750 estimate in this article is an average rate. Depending on where you’re flying from, prices can go up or down.
It is also likely that, since you are taking an entire month to travel, you have allowed time to plan and save. Having this extra time means you can keep an eye out for sales and even error fares that can also decrease your airfare costs. In other words, having a plan is ideal, but sometimes you need to go where the deals lead you.
If you’re Canadian, you may want to consider applying for one of the best travel credit cards in Canada to help offset your costs by collecting points. For example, the American Express Gold Rewards Card gives you a signup bonus of up to 30,000 American Express Membership Rewards points which have a minimum value of $300 (potentially more if you transfer your points to Aeroplan or Marriott Bonvoy). There’s also the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card that has no foreign transaction fees and it comes with airport lounge access.
Depending on your citizenship, some countries in Southeast Asia will require you to pay for a visa which may need to be arranged ahead of time. Visa requirements differ from country to country so it’s important to look into this ahead of time. The estimate of $100 is a rough guide; there are a lot of factors to consider when getting your visa including how you get it, how quickly you need it, and which country you are from.
For Canadian and American travellers, a visa is presented upon arrival in Thailand (valid for 30 days) with no fees. Vietnam and Laos both require visas. Laos visas can be purchased on arrival, though you will need passport size photos and American currency. Please check ahead of time to see the current rates as they fluctuate. I also advise bringing extra cash just in case your passport photos aren’t approved and they need to re-take them.
Vietnamese visas need to be organized ahead of time. This can be done through the embassy before you leave for your trip, or in a neighbouring country (Thailand or Cambodia). Getting them before you depart home is usually the most expensive option, but it can be easier and less stressful. Getting them while travelling is possible and often less expensive, however, it also means taking time away from actually travelling and exploring.
The most budget-friendly accommodation options in southeast Asia are hostel or homestay hotels. Luxury resorts are also available, however since this article is geared for budget-travellers, I won’t be discussing them.
Hostels are by far the cheapest option and the most popular choice for budget backpackers. Most hostels have both dorm or private room options, and many include free basic breakfast. There are a few hostel options; more modern boutique type or very basic, rustic ones. Some hostels are as cheap as $5 per night while others can be over $20 for a bed in a dorm. The estimate in the article is averaging somewhere in the middle. I definitely recommend taking the time to read up on reviews before booking.
Here are some hostel recommendations:
Homestays are another common option, many of which can be booked through Airbnb. If you choose a homestay, you will be staying with a local family. You will have a private room, but perhaps have to share a toilet. Breakfast is often included and some homestays, especially in Vietnam, offer family style dinners for a low rate. If you aren’t too sure about a homestay type accommodation, you can still check Airbnb for other types of budget rentals. Use my invite to get $45 towards your first stay
If you have the right credit card, you can save a fair amount of money on hotels. Americans should strongly consider the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card since you can earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points as a welcome bonus.
Canadians should consider the BMO World Elite™* Mastercard®* since it typically has a sign up bonus worth more than $200 and the annual fee is normally waived for the first year. There’s also the Marriott Bonvoy American Express which gives you 51,000 Marriott Bonvoy when using a referral link. That’s enough points for up to five free nights at some hotels which could easily have a value of over $650.
When it comes to getting around southeast Asia, the options are limitless. If you are particularly adventurous you can rent a motorbike in several areas. Tuk-tuks or taxis are available everywhere you go. There are buses in some cities while Chiang Mai has red trucks called Songthaews. The key to these types of transportation is to agree on a rate ahead of time. As foreigners, you can expect to pay more than locals. However, ask at your accommodation what an average price should be to make sure you don’t get ripped off.
For transit between cities and countries, you often have a choice between bus/train or plane. Busses are the cheapest option and many backpackers choose the overnight options which also takes care of some accommodation costs. However, they can be long, noisy, and really rough (not a good pick if you get motion sick). Travellers should know that cross-border buses are occasionally associated with some scams that frequently require bribe money.
As I mentioned earlier, there are also several budget airlines in the area that offer very affordable fares between countries and cities. While it will usually cost at least double the price of the busses, you can still get one-way fares for $20 – $40 if you book early enough. Keep in mind, you may have to pay for checked luggage as well.
Activities have the potential to be the most expensive part of your trip. It all really depends on what you want to see and do. Are you happy wandering the streets and seeing the temples and natural attractions? Or, are you more interested in trekking with elephants, zip-lining in the jungle, and scuba diving?
I’m always of the mind that if there is something you really want to do; you should do it. After all, you may never have the chance to do it again. With that in mind, I’m recommending allocating about $500 for activities. This budget will allow for the must-sees like the Grand Palace in Bangkok and the Temples of Angkor, along with some room for a couple of costlier activities such as visiting an elephant orphanage in Chiang Mai or doing an overnight cruise in Halong Bay.
Food and Drink
Assuming you are eating local food, your meal costs throughout Southeast Asia will be very affordable. Example meal estimates including water for the day and drinks:
- Breakfast: $3 (though try to stay in a hostel that offers free meals)
- Lunch: $5
- Dinner: $7
This comes to a daily average of about $15 USD. Prices fluctuate from country to country (for example, Vietnam is cheaper than Thailand) but having $15 per day is a good guide.
Keep in mind that these portions are sometimes smaller than you are used to at home, so if you are a hungry person, you may want to add an additional $3-5/day for snacks. Also, if you plan on doing lots of drinking and partying, you will need to add more to your budget for that. While alcohol isn’t necessarily expensive, it can add up quickly.
It is also important to note that you will need to buy your drinking water in Thailand. I have taken this into consideration in the estimate, but if you drink a lot of water, add an extra dollar or two per day.
It’s always good to travel with some extra money, and Southeast Asia is no exception. If you love to shop or pick up souvenirs, you will love the night markets in each country. Some of them are filled with junk while others offer crafts and items from local artisans.
Another thing you likely want some extra money for is massages. Southeast Asia is known for its ridiculously cheap massages (about $10/hour). Even travellers on a tight budget will want to stash a little extra aside for a couple of massages during their travels.
Finally, make sure you have some cash on hand just in case of any problems. This could be for needing medicines for any stomach problems, having extra money for drinking water, grabbing a tuk-tuk or taxi somewhere if you get lost or stuck in bad weather, or even just some extra cash for bribes (common if you rent a motorbike or for over-land border crossings). I’d recommend having an extra $200 minimum for the month. If you don’t end up needing it, great! But, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
So how much does it cost to go to Southeast Asia for one month as a budget traveller? I estimate around $2600 per person with everything included. While I consider this to be a budget estimate, by using the tips throughout the article, it is possible to still cut your costs. Needless to say, when compared to other destinations around the world such as Japan or Europe, Southeast Asia can absolutely be considered a cheap travel destination.