Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most inexpensive regions to travel, so its popularity with backpackers is no coincidence. Not everywhere in Southeast Asia is equally cheap however, so it’s worth doing your research when budgeting your trip.
My most recent trip in the region was in 2015, though everything in this post has been updated for 2017. I also sampled at least 50 prices from accommodation booking sites for each country to calculate the average cost for a dorm bed or basic private double room (e.g. in a hostel or 1 or 2-star guesthouse). Accommodation cost is typically a good indicator for the cost of a country overall, so the charts should give you a good sense of relative value for money.
Some important caveats:
- The data for accommodation prices are sourced from online booking sites, and these inevitably include businesses that are more established. Shoestring travellers may also find plenty of unlisted hole-in-the-wall places that cost half as much as the average. (Though you may also hear some things crawling inside those walls. 😉 )
- Suggested daily budgets assume you are a backpacker willing to sleep mostly in fan-only rooms (without air conditioning), using mostly overland transportation, eating local food, and avoiding resorts and upmarket hotels. As always, your mileage may vary.
Prices are in USD, though you may of course be used to another currency (I’m from Europe myself). With EUR close to dollar parity, this conversion should be fairly easy. For other currencies, see latest rates at XE.
In a nutshell: cheap in the north, close to Western prices in the south
Thailand has long been known as a backpacker mecca. But while the north around Chiang Mai remains one of the world’s cheapest places to travel, if you’re anywhere near a beach, expect to spend at least twice as much as in the regions further inland.
Dorm bed average: $12.50
Basic room average: $32.70
The gradually gentrifying backpacker district of Khao San still has some ultra-cheap dives ($5–8), but for a bed in a modern and reputable hostel with full amenities, the cost averages at about $12.50 a night. Thanks to ubiquitous street food, an efficient metro system, and cheap tuk-tuks, your overall costs in Bangkok won’t need to be high.
Chiang Mai & northern Thailand
Dorm bed average: $7.40
Basic room average: $16.50
The north can be delightfully cheap. A dorm bed goes for as little as $4 a night here, though keep in mind such ultra-cheap places may expect you to also book tours with them (and will get cranky if you don’t). Decent rooms can be found for $10 (e.g. think bamboo bungalows in Pai). In Chiang Mai, $30/night can get you a fantastic room with pool access.
Thai beaches & islands
Dorm bed average: $14
Basic room average: $39
The beaches attract plenty of tourists on a short stay and with money to spend, so it should be no surprise it’s more expensive here. Prices are also more sensitive to seasonality.
The above average does hide some significant outliers. Koh Phi Phi takes the cake with basic twin rooms normally costing $50–80 and many dorm beds exceeding $20/night. Arguably this island is a victim of its own success, and I’ve noticed even Lonely Planet no longer lists it in its Top 20 (make of this what you will!). On Koh Phangan, prices will easily triple on or around the date of the Full Moon Party, rising to at least about $15 for dorms or $40 for rooms, though some dorms near the Full Moon beach may cost as much as $40/night.
For substantially cheaper and more laidback islands, go to Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe, Koh Chang, Koh Tao (for the most part), and many others.
Thailand in general
A meal from a street vendor or local restaurant should cost around $2 to $6 pretty much anywhere. Many activities are priced in the $10–20 range. For instance, half a day of cooking classes in Chiang Mai might cost you $20. Visiting the Grand Palace in Bangkok costs about $13. In northern Thailand, a day of caving or trekking with a guide will set you back somewhere around $20 as well.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $30 a day (north) or $50+ a day (south)Thailand backpacking guide »
In a nutshell: very inexpensive
Dorm bed average: $7
Basic room average: $24
Laos may be marginally more expensive than Cambodia or Vietnam (mainly due to being landlocked and having to import many of its goods), but most travellers still surely won’t bat an eyelash at the prices. Those on a shoestring budget can find a dorm bed for as little as $4. Basic but nice rooms go for about $30, though if all you need is a purely functional room you can find them for as little as $12 in places like Vang Vieng.
Entrance fees to parks and temples are typically in the single digit dollars. A good rule of thumb for transportation cost is that every hour spent on a bus costs about a dollar, so a 10 hour overnight bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane will cost somewhere around $10. A popular way to enter the country from Thailand is the 2-day slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, which costs about $50, though this includes an overnight stay in Pak Beng.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $25 to $35 a dayLaos backpacking guide »
In a nutshell: very inexpensive
Hostel dorm bed average: $8
Basic private room average: $20
In Vietnam, money leaves your wallet at a syrupy slow rate.
Accommodation is among the cheapest in Southeast Asia, and entry fees to museums and national parks are rarely more than a dollar or two. Those wishing to save on their meals will find that Vietnam is simply a street food paradise; just grab a little plastic chair at a roadside eatery for some delicious pho noodles (about $1 per bowl) or some passable local ‘fresh beer’ (about $0.20 per cup).
Among your big expenses may be your entry visa ($45 for the visa itself and the stamping fee), a tour of Ha Long Bay (about $60 for two days, or much more for increased comfort), or a day tour of the Mekong Delta (about $40).
You do often get the sense that tourists here are seen as chickens to be plucked, so keep your eye out for taxi meter scams and other trickery, particularly in the cities.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $20 to $30 a dayVietnam backpacking guide »
In a nutshell: very inexpensive
Hostel dorm bed average: $6
Basic private room average: $21
Cambodia may well be the cheapest country in Southeast Asia. Tourism is very backpacker-focused, with $4+ dorm beds and $15+ twin privates being the norm. One exception is Siem Reap near the temples of Angkor Wat, which attracts a few well-heeled tourists as well, but even here you’ll find a brilliant buffet of budget options.
Your biggest single expense is likely to be your entry ticket to the temple complex of Angkor Wat, which is $20 for a 1-day pass or $40 for a 3-day pass. (The 3-day pass is recommended as there’s a lot to see.) Hiring a tuk-tuk to take you around the temples for a day costs around $15. Entry fees to museums are typically in the low single digit dollars. For instance, the entry fee to the Killing Fields memorial is $3.
Street food options are a bit more limited here than in Thailand or Vietnam, so you may have to hit up restaurants a little more often.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $20 to $30 a dayCambodia backpacking guide »
In a nutshell: clutch your wallet, this place ain’t cheap!
Hostel dorm bed average: $24
Basic private room average: $60
Singapore is an ultra-modern city-state with obscene cost of living (just ask anyone who’s had to rent an apartment here). Prices can be a shock for travellers coming from Indonesia or Malaysia. A dorm bed averages at $24 a night, which can be a whole day’s budget elsewhere. To stay cost-effective, many dorm rooms in Singapore have 20 or even 30 beds—not a fun prospect if you’re a light sleeper or want some semblance of privacy.
At least the excellent metro gets you just about everywhere for a few bucks, and cheap and delicious food is available at big food courts called Hawker Centers. There are a number of things to do in Singapore on a budget, but if pressed you may wish to skip paid attractions like the Singapore zoo. Alcohol is taxed heavily so you may wish to avoid a big night out as well.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: it depends hugely. If you’re just transiting through you can keep it to $40–50 a day, but a lot of sightseeing, going out, or restaurant food can push this to $50–90.Singapore backpacking guide »
In a nutshell: budget appropriately for multi-day tours and adventure activities, but otherwise excellent value for money
Hostel dorm bed average: $9
Basic private room average: $19
Independent travellers sometimes label Malaysia as an ‘expensive’ country, but I don’t think this reputation is entirely deserved.
Your opinion of the costs will probably be highly dependent on what exactly you do in Malaysia. If you’re crazy about adventure activities, then be prepared to spend relatively more. For example, if your goal is to climb Mount Kinabalu on Borneo, a 2- or 3-day guided trek will easily cost several hundred dollars. Permits are limited and demand is high, pushing up prices for this bucket list experience (be sure to book early). Similarly, a 2-day jungle river expedition in Kinabatangan park costs around $90, which is definitely more than it would have cost in some other Asian countries.
On the other hand, day-to-day travel costs are extremely reasonable. In fact, Malaysia offers excellent value for money despite having a higher standard of living. Hostels are modern and often equipped with AC but still charge around $10. Basic private rooms are available at essentially Vietnamese prices but with much better facilities. Hawker centers provide all kinds of delicious Malay, Indian, Chinese and Burmese dishes all in the $2 – $4 range.
If you’re a party backpacker, you may be aghast to learn a half-liter beer costs about $3.50 and immediately scuttle back to Thailand. (Malaysia is generally a more conservative country and not a party destination.) If instead you’re here for cultural sights or for that hammock on a quiet beach, you may feel right at home.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $30 – $45 a day (increase this if going on many jungle tours and other organized activities)
In a nutshell: while it’s not as cheap as mainland Southeast Asia (and southern Bali is super commercial), it’s still a very budget-friendly country
Hostel dorm bed average: $10.50
Basic private room average: $23
The cost of travel in Indonesia will be fairly elastic depending on where exactly you go.
Bali is the main tourist hotspot, and southern areas like Seminyak and Kuta are popular with many short-stay tourists from Australia and elsewhere, so these places are the most commercialised and expensive. But head to nearby Canggu or Ubud and prices already drop considerably. You can find wonderful bungalows and homestays here at around $20 a night.
On the super popular Gili islands, many hostels charge $12 and up for a dorm bed. If you go to less-visited Java, Sumatra or Flores, you can still find many $6 or $7 a night hostels. This is just to illustrate the differences between focusing only on the Bali and the Gilis, or travelling Indonesia at large (which can easily be 50% cheaper).
As of 2014, entry fees for national parks or UNESCO sites such as Borobodur or Prambanan are substantially higher than before. It typically used to be just a few dollars, but nowadays it’s around $10–15 (for international visitors only). Some travellers working with outdated travel guides still complain about these costs or even perceived discrimination because Indonesians can enter at the old prices.
As with Malaysia, adventure tours can be more pricey compared to Vietnam, Thailand, or Cambodia. For instance, a 3-day tour of the Bromo and Ijen volcanos on Java will cost about $130 once you’ve factored in all the add-ons you need to buy (extra fees for a jeep ride, guide, etc.). A multi-day boat trip from Lombok to Labuan Bajo costs about $140. It’s well worth it, but it’s just a relatively larger expense than, say, the slow boat in Laos or boat trips to Ha Long Bay.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: about $30 to $40 a dayIndonesia backpacking guide »
In a nutshell: reasonably priced, but keep in mind the higher cost of accommodation and likely need for domestic flights
Hostel dorm bed average: $12
Basic private room average: $26
When budgeting for the Philippines, there are some things to keep in mind. First, accommodation prices are definitely on the higher end for the region. Second, since the Philippines is such a huge collection of islands, it’s not always possible to travel cheaply overland. Ferries between the islands can be impractically slow, so some internal flights may be necessary. AirAsia, Cebu Airlines, Zest Air, and other airlines do offer domestic flights at budget prices.
That said, entry fees to parks, wildlife sanctuaries, caves, and so on are typically in the $1 – $4 range, and guided tours and treks are all reasonably priced—around $10 to $15 for a day’s activities. An area where you’ll find some exceptions is Palawan, where a 2-hour tour of Puerto Princessa Underground River costs $11, and a day of island hopping around El Nido costs about $28 (this is up from $10 a few years ago).
Boracay island is the Philippines version of Phuket or Bali (i.e. a more commercial holiday destination), but it’s more mid-range priced and still quite backpacker-friendly.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: about $35 to $45 a dayPhilippines backpacking guide »
In a nutshell: beware of high accommodation prices, though other travel costs are at relatively lower levels
Hostel dorm bed average: $15
Basic private room average: $37
Myanmar is a bit of an odd duck in this list, as its average accommodation prices are not necessarily indicative of travel costs overall.
Under the old pre-2012 regime Myanmar received very few visitors, so the country has historically had few hotels. High demand and a limited selection kept prices up. While many brand new hostels have opened in recent years—making things easier for budget travellers—accommodation costs do remain relatively high.
That said, other expenses like food, activities, and tours may be lower than you might expect based on the costs of accommodation. A 5-day pass to the temples of Bagan costs $20 (compare this to $60 for Angkor Wat in Cambodia). A train from Yangon all the way to Mandalay is just $15. You can rent a bicycle or motorbike to explore Bagan or Lake Inle for as little as $5 a day. With tourism still in relative infancy, fewer businesses charge hiked up tourist prices.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $30 to $40 a dayMyanmar backpacking guide »