As a backpacker I spent about $35/day on average across the whole region, which covered all transportation and tours, all of my hostel stays (and sometimes hotels), as well as eating out 3 times a day.
Ever since this journey, I’ve been going back to Southeast Asia regularly. It’s just such good value and bursting with amazing places to visit.
But if you’re budgeting for Southeast Asia, be warned: not all places are equally budget-friendly! And in the last few years, prices have also changed somewhat. In this 2023 update, I’ll give you an idea of the current prices.
While I’m from Europe, I’ve still listed prices in US Dollars as an easy international point of reference.
Average costs for Southeast Asia
If you’re on a longer trip, plan on spending at least about $35/day per person on average, or about $1000/month.
That’s if you’re frugal and traveling backpacker-style, using budget accommodation and eating mainly local food. This number does not count pre-trip expenses, just the total cost of your travel experience within the region. Some countries are more expensive than others, but this is the rough average when traveling through multiple countries.
For two people sharing, your total costs may be a bit lower than a solo traveller, as you’ll often save a bit of money by sharing things like taxi rides or accommodation. Take the above number as a rough ballpark only; further in this post I’ll go into more of the specifics.
Based on my first Southeast Asia trip many years ago (but converted to current prices), my pre-trip expenses were approximately $1300.
I spent roughly:
- $200 on a high-quality travel backpack
- $100 on vaccinations
- $750 on my return ticket to Bangkok from Europe
- and the rest on travel insurance
That certainly isn’t pocket change, but keep in mind that once you are in the region your daily costs can be very low compared to many other parts of the world. This means that the longer you travel, the more you benefit from your initial investment to get there. What may be expensive for a 2-week holiday becomes relatively a lot cheaper for a 3-month backpacking trip.
Plane tickets have gotten more expensive as of late. However, in 2023 I’m still finding round-trip fares from London to Bangkok for as low as $750.
The normal average for an economy-class return from Europe to Bangkok is now closer to around $1000, but if you play around with all the options you can find better deals. Use Google Flights, Kiwi, or Skyscanner to research your options. Look for flights to Bangkok, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur as these are the region’s major hubs.
The key is to be highly flexible with your dates. You might also need to include a layover somewhere like Bahrain, Dubai, or Istanbul. The airlines based there often have good deals for flights to Asia if you’re coming from Europe. If coming from the US you may find good deals with a layover in South Korea or Japan.
If you’re a backpacker setting off on an adventure rather than a family with children going on a holiday, you likely have more flexibility to grab one of those cheaper fares on a less popular date. You can do things a bit differently from the average tourist and save a lot on your travel budget that way.
It also helps a lot if you know how to pack carry-on only! This lets you choose cheaper airfares without check-in luggage.
Is insurance worth it?
You might have noticed that my budget includes travel insurance. Although it can seem expensive, I do advise getting it.
If you have any doubts, check out my post on whether it’s worth to get travel insurance, in which I mention a few cautionary tales from places like Indonesia and Nepal.
In my opinion, the real reason to get travel insurance is not for small things like theft insurance. A stolen phone is unfortunate but still a recoverable setback. Insurance is mostly for the rarer but much more costly situations that are covered by liability and medical insurance.
I’ve met other backpackers in Asia who’ve had to get airlifted out of the mountains or repatriated all the way home for medical care — you have to be unlucky to face such a situation, but it can be financially devastating without any insurance.
Keep in mind regular travel insurance may not cover trips longer than 30 days. If you’ll be backpacking for more than a month, I recommend getting long-term travel insurance with Heymondo, which is the company I’ve been using myself since 2019.
Travel costs by country
As I mentioned, the budget required can differ based on which countries you include in your Southeast Asia itinerary.
The budgets below assume you are a backpacker sleeping mostly in dorms or basic rooms, using mostly overland transportation wherever possible, eating mostly local food, and avoiding big resorts or upmarket hotels.
It does not include your flights to or from the Southeast Asia region or other pre-trip expenses.
|Suggested Daily Budget
|Thailand (coast & popular islands)
|up to $45 – $55
|Thailand (central / north)
|$25 – $35
|$20 – $30
|$20 – $30
|$20 – $30
|$45 – $80
|$35 – $45
(more with tours or if going to Borneo)
|$35 – $45
(more if visiting many separate islands)
As always, your mileage may vary. Everyone has different travel styles and spending habits. Even among backpackers, there are different ideas on how to spend your money.
Costs can also vary depending on whether you only book tours and experiences through online platforms or if you book directly through local providers. The latter may lack easy-to-find ratings or reviews but can often be cheaper since no commission has to be paid.
Below is the average cost of a hostel dorm bed in each country in 2023. Even if you won’t stay in hostels, I find this can be a very useful indicator of the overall relative cost of each country.
As you can see, Singapore is the clear outlier. Because there are so many higher-end boutique hostels in Singapore the average is much higher, but even if you’re staying in a budget-oriented hostel you should still expect to pay a minimum of $30 per night for a dorm bed, which is well above any other country in Southeast Asia.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $25 to $30 a day or an additional $10 to $20 a day in popular tourism hotspots on the coast and islands
Expensive places in Thailand: Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Phuket
Thailand has long been a backpacker mecca. If you’re anywhere near a beach, the costs will usually be higher, but the inland areas and the north around Chiang Mai remain one of the world’s best-value destinations.
Thanks to ubiquitous street food, an efficient metro system, and cheap tuk-tuks, even the capital Bangkok is very affordable despite being highly developed.
General costs: A meal from a street vendor or local restaurant should cost around $2 to $5 pretty much anywhere in Thailand. Many activities are priced in the $1.5 to $15 range. Overnight trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai cost between $21 to $36 for second class.
Note there’s an unusually wide range of travel costs in Thailand. A dorm bed still goes for as little as $6 a night in Chiang Mai and you can find basic rooms for $20 there. But on the popular (and overcommercialized) island of Koh Phi Phi dorm beds may reach $20/night in high season and a basic twin room on the island normally costs $40 to 80.
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.
- Grand Palace in Bangkok entry fee $15
- A day of guided trekking in northern Thailand – starts at $20
- 3-day lake & jungle tour of Khao Sok National Park – starts at $363
- Phi Phi island hopping tour – typically starts at $54
- Sukhothai Historical Park entry fee – $2.60
- 3-day scuba diving course on Koh Tao – $238+
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $20 to $30 a day
Expensive places in Laos: only Luang Prabang to some extent
Laos is incredibly cheap! If you’re traveling on a shoestring budget, you can find a dorm bed for as little as $5. Basic but nice private rooms go for about an average of $34, though if you need a purely functional room in a guesthouse you can find them for as little as $15 to $20 (that is, in rural places like Luang Namtha, Nong Khiaw, or Vang Vieng).
The most expensive place is the UNESCO heritage city of Luang Prabang. Tourists from China and other countries fly in directly and stay only in Luang Prabang, pushing prices up. Elsewhere, Laos is cheaper. That said, you can still be totally fine on a backpacker budget in Luang Prabang, as among the many boutique hotels there are still plenty of cheaper guesthouses and hostels.
Entrance fees to parks and temples are typically in the $1 to $3 range. A good rule of thumb for transportation costs about a dollar per hour, so a 10-hour overnight bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane will cost somewhere around $10.
- 1-day hill tribe trekking experience – $50 to $100
- 3-day Gibbon Experience jungle tree hut experience – $300+
- 2-day slow boat to Luang Prabang – $22
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $20 to $30 a day
In Vietnam, you’ll surely be surprised by how far your money will go. Despite a booming economy, prices remain low. Vietnam’s currency against the USD and EUR also remains very favorable, and it’s still one of the best-value destinations in Southeast Asia.
Entry fees to museums and national parks are rarely more than a dollar or two. If you wish to save on their meals will find that Vietnam is a street food paradise; just grab a little plastic chair at a roadside eatery for some delicious pho noodles (about $1.5 to $3 per bowl) or some passable local ‘fresh beer’ (about $0.80 per cup).
Among your initial expenses will be your entry visa ($25 for the 90-day e-visa). Visas to Vietnam used to be complicated, but in 2023 a new visa regime was introduced. Most travelers can now travel in Vietnam using an e-visa for up to 90 days.
- 3-day Ha Long Bay cruise – $180
- Floating markets tour – $30 with a local provider
- Renting a scooter motorbike for 1 day – $4 to $7.5
Note that there is a wide range of Ha Long Bay experiences, ranging from 1 to several days, and using anything from luxury yachts to large group tour boats. It’s definitely worth researching all your options if you plan on visiting Ha Long Bay.
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $20 to $30 a day
Cambodia is very welcoming to backpacker tourism, with $7+ dorm beds and $11+ twin privates being the norm. One exception is Siem Reap near the temples of Angkor Wat, which attracts more upscale 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 $37 for 1 day and $62 for 3 days. Hiring a tuk-tuk to take you around the temples for a day costs around $15 to $20.
Some travelers complain that Cambodia is not as cheap as it used to be. The capital has developed rapidly and has gotten a bit more expensive in terms of food and drinks, for example. But in relative terms, it’s still among the cheapest countries in the region.
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 is an ultra-modern city-state, where prices can be a shock for travelers coming from, say, Indonesia or Malaysia.
A dorm bed averages $60 a night, which can easily be two or three days’ worth of budget elsewhere. However, despite this high average, there are a few hostels where you can still find a dorm bed for around $30 a night.
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. Luckily, there are a number of things to do in Singapore on a budget. Alcohol is taxed heavily so you may wish to avoid a big night out. Beware: A bottle of local beer can cost as much as $9!
- Entry to Gardens by the Bay (Flower Dome + Cloud Forest) – $40
- Entry to the Singapore Zoo (w/ Tram Ride) – $36
- Metro ticket from the airport to the center – $1.99
Suggested Backpacker Budget: $25 to $45 a day (increase this if taking many tours, such as jungle treks, cave tours, or hiking Mt. Kinabalu)
Malaysia is among the most developed in the region in part thanks to its oil wealth, so it’s often assumed to be an expensive country. However, its currency against the USD and EUR has actually made it a relative bargain in recent times and certain travel costs in Malaysia are comparable to its neighboring countries.
Day-to-day travel costs are reasonable and get you a lot of value in return. Hostels are modern and often equipped with AC but still charge around $12. Basic private rooms are available at essentially Vietnamese prices (i.e. cheap) but with much better facilities. Hawker centers provide all kinds of delicious Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Burmese dishes all in the $2 to $4 range.
That said, 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 (so be sure to book early). Similarly, a 2-day jungle river expedition in Kinabatangan Park starts at around $90, which is definitely more than it would have cost in some other Asian countries.
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 (though Malaysia is generally a more conservative country and not a party destination anyway). If you’re in Malaysia for the cultural sights or looking for a hammock on a quiet beach, then you’ll surely feel right at home.
- Mount Kinabalu trek – $340 to $940
- Batu caves tour – $13
- A meal from a casual restaurant in Penang – XXX
Suggested Backpacker Budget: about $25 to $40 a day
Expensive places in Indonesia: the touristy areas of Bali
Prices have not much changed in Indonesia in recent years, which has long been an attractive destination for budget travelers.
Bali is the main tourist hotspot. Southern areas of Bali like Seminyak and Kuta are popular with many short-stay tourists from Australia and elsewhere, so these places are the most commercialized and relatively expensive. But head inland and prices already drop considerably. You can find wonderful bungalows and homestays at around $20 a night.
On the super popular Gili islands, many hostels charge an average of $18 for a dorm bed. If you go to less-visited Lombok, Java, Sumatra, or Flores, you can still find $10 or $12-a-night hostels.
Entry fees for national parks or UNESCO sites such as Borobudur or Prambanan have increased considerably over the past few years. Old travel guides may still state it’s just a few dollars for entry, but nowadays it’s typically around $25. (For international visitors only.)
Indonesia uses a two-tier pricing system for many national parks and other key sights. You may find that locals need to pay 10 times less than foreign travelers. Despite online comments that this is discriminatory, this still seems like a reasonable policy given the huge income disparities. Just be sure that the listed prices you’re looking at are the international rates.
While day-to-day travel costs are low, just like in Malaysia, your travel budget can balloon quite quickly if you’ll be going on a lot of adventure tours.
For instance, a 3-day tour of the Bromo and Ijen volcanos on Java will cost about $430 per head if you book via an online platform such as GetYourGuide as a private tour. When booking through local providers or through hostels you’ll still be looking at about $150 to $200 per person for this experience.
A multi-day boat trip from Lombok to Labuan Bajo, which is popular with many backpackers, costs about $184. The trip is well worth it, but it can push up your average daily budget a fair bit.
- Scuba diving introduction course on Bali (3 days) – starts at $410
- Visiting the Komodo Dragon National Park in Flores – $10
- Renting a scooter on Bali for a day – starts at $5
Suggested Backpacker Budget: about $35 to $45 a day (this assumes taking some domestic flights to visit islands besides Luzon)
Expensive places in the Philippines: Boracay Island
When budgeting for the Philippines, there are some things to keep in mind. Firstly, accommodation prices are on the higher end for Southeast Asia. Secondly, since the Philippines is such a huge collection of islands, it’s not always possible to travel cheaply overland. Ferries between the islands may be impractically slow, so you often have to fly. AirAsia, Cebu Airlines, Zest Air, and other airlines offer domestic flights at budget prices.
That said, entry fees to parks, wildlife sanctuaries, caves, and so on are typically in the $1 to $4 range, and guided tours and treks are all reasonably priced—around $10 to $50 for a day’s activities. In Palawan, a 2-hour tour of Puerto Princessa Underground River costs around $45, and a day of island hopping around El Nido costs between $20 to $30 as well (up from $10 a few years ago).
Boracay Island is the Philippines version of Phuket or Bali (i.e. a more commercial holiday destination). It’s more expensive than elsewhere in the Philippines, but it’s more mid-range priced and still fairly backpacker-friendly. El Nido in Palawan is another tourism hotspot where prices may be a little more elevated.
- Flight from Manila to Palawan – $25 to $90
- Lagoon and beaches tour in El Nido – $20 to $30
Note: Myanmar has been left out of this update due to the civil war making it unwise to travel there currently. Timor-Leste and Brunei are also countries within Southeast Asia, but being much less visited than others, I didn’t include them in this overview.
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