Cheapest Way to Travel to Southeast Asia

When it comes to travelling, less is definitely more. Not only do you need to consider how you’ll get to your chosen destination, but you also need to keep in mind how much you plan on spending on a daily basis. Then there’s the accommodation, it’s not just about finding where you’d like to rest, but also how much it is going to cost you. All these factors combined can cause a headache in even the most competent travellers out there, let alone someone who just decided to try backpacking for the first time and looking for the cheapest way to travel to Southeast Asia.

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Reducing the number of things you’ll take with you down to basic necessities will make the whole experience much smoother for you! This is equally true if you’re travelling to Southeast Asia. This exotic part of the world hides so many beautiful places, and over the years, it has gotten accustomed to all the tourists coming through. Despite it being more welcoming than ever before, you still shouldn’t wander in there totally unprepared.

Paper Lanterns in Vietnam

Depending on your budget, there are certain precautions you ought to take in order to get the most out of your visit. After this corner of the world became a prominent travelling destination, many people started wondering about how they could maximise their experience while minimising their spending. You’re probably wondering the same thing yourself. There is no single answer to this question, and it depends on specific countries you plan on visiting. But before we get into details of these destinations, we need to discuss getting there in the first place.

The First Leg of the Journey

Obviously, you’ll need to find an excellent, yet cheap airline to take you to what many consider to be the other side of the planet. A long journey is ahead of you, and you need to make sure that you’re as comfortable as possible.

When it comes to travelling to Southeast Asia, this is always going to be the most expensive part. No matter how amazing you are at planning, no matter how incredible you are at packing lightly, this step of the way is going to hurt your budget. The best thing you can do to alleviate this problem, even if it’s ever so slightly, is to decide when exactly you would like to travel, find a flight and book in advance. This will help just a little bit but expect the price of the flight to be quite steep either way. Even though it costs an arm and a leg, air travel is still the cheapest option to get to your destination.

Before we discuss air companies that fly all the way out there, we need to mention two more things that you should be aware of. First, you can always get a better deal on return trips. There is a big problem here, and that is the fact that most people who plan on backpacking in Southeast Asia have no idea where their journey will take them, or when they will be returning. That makes it increasingly difficult to budget travel. Secondly, from November to March is the high season and naturally, tickets are more expensive then. Some places such as Singapore have high seasons that last until June. You can always travel outside of this time window, but be careful as weather conditions might not be right for you.

Airport Terminal

Take these things into consideration, mull them over and decide what’s best for you. Now, onto some airlines that should be up your alley.

  • Etihad
    Depending on the date of your visit and some other factors, Etihad can be the cheapest way to travel to Southeast Asia. They also provide their passenger with a myriad of little things that you might need to make yourself as comfortable (and nourished) as possible. It sometimes makes a stop in Bombay, India.
  • Qatar
    They are one of the highest quality airlines that fly to Southeast Asia. Prices are probably going to be higher than most other airlines but depending on your preferences, it could be worth it.
  • Lufthansa
    They might be the only airline flying straight to Southeast Asia. If you want to skip any layovers and don’t mind a 12-hour marathon, then this German airline is just right for you.

To summarise, book a flight in advance and use Skyscanner to get the most forthcoming deal available. It’s the best thing you can do if you’re on a tight budget.

Necessities

Going backpacking is not a good idea if you don’t have a… you guessed it – great backpack. Don’t forget to add things such as travel gear, health insurance, immunisations against diseases such as malaria and decent footwear. Mosquito repellents, sunshades and skin lotions are all important even if they don’t seem so at first. Spending some extra cash on these things before even starting your journey is a good precaution and will make the rest of your experience safer and cheaper.

Finally in the East

Let’s say that you’ve taken care of all the necessary steps, you have taken steps to ensure your good health during the trip and you’re packed. Finally, we can discuss what happens after you’ve landed in a Southeast Asia country of your choice.

Of course, this is just going to be your original starting point. Now that you’ve arrived at this amazing corner of the world, it’s much easier to navigate to the rest of the countries nearby. Indisputably the best way to do so is by train, but there are other options at hand, as you will see now.

Train

Travelling by train will let you discover the area to the fullest extent possible. There is a lot that you can miss when you’re aboard a plane, such as vast jungles, breathtaking nature parks, rivers, lakes, docile wildlife and many others. The train is not the cheapest option though, however, it’s only slightly more expensive than the bus. Anyone who’s ever travelled through the area will tell you that buses are not that great though, it can be a real pain sometimes and they’re definitely not the most comfortable travelling option out there.

Bus

Buses are easily the cheapest way of covering great distances, but it comes at the expense of your time, comfort and privacy. You’ll be in for long, cramped nights with people that, for some reason, never go to sleep. If you’re on a strict, shoelace budget and you have no intention of overstepping your spending limit, take the bus. However, if you have at least a couple of dollars to add and are willing to do so, go for the train. Avoid the food though!

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AirAsia

This low-cost carrier primarily operates out of Don Mueang International Airport (DMK). It services entire Southeast Asia for very low prices. You can get cheap tickets to all of the big cities in the Southeast, swapping between different countries like it’s going out of style. This is probably going to be the fastest option by far. There are flights covering the entire area every day.

Read more: Getting the Most from AirAsia in 9 Steps

AirAsia Plane

Rent a Car

Renting a car is not the wisest thing you can do while visiting these countries. Roads and highways are of decent quality. However, speeding buses, trucks and motorcycles could cause some unwanted harm to a fellow driver who isn’t used to the way local people drive. Car hire is also on the expensive side, which does not fit our narrative here. Motorcycles are much better for narrow streets and getting to interesting places.

As far as the driver’s permit goes, you can use your regular one from your home country. Oftentimes they won’t even ask you for one, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it on you. Getting an International Driver’s Permit is not mandatory, however, it might smooth off the rough edges and get you a vehicle faster. Always make sure that there is at least a basic level of insurance involved. Otherwise, you might end up paying for damages that were not your doing.

Read more: 9 Must-Dos When Renting a Scooter in Southeast Asia

Destinations

After talking about modes of transportation, all that’s left is to discuss how to avoid unnecessary expenses and save money in individual countries of Southeast Asia.

Thailand

There is a certain pattern that appears when you’re travelling in Thailand. The further up the North you go, the lower prices become. Bangkok is, unlike northern cities, quite expensive, so it’s very important to plan your trip accordingly. Be wary of tuktuks and other similar forms of transportation. Tourists have mostly had negative experiences with tuktuk drivers who either try to extort additional money from you or even outright deny service to you and wait for some other poor soul that will pay their exorbitant prices. Also, don’t take special tourist buses, they’re just the same as local buses, but more expensive. Public transportation is well-organized and you need not worry.

You will be able to find accommodation in Bangkok starting at about $12. That’s not so much, but considering that in Chiang Mai you can get a decent bed for $3 a night, you probably ought to head North as soon as possible. Drinks are also quite expensive in Bangkok, with $3-$4 for a beer, you can certainly find a better deal.

Total estimate: Don’t think you’ll be able to enjoy yourself on less than $45 a day in Bangkok. Survive, yes, but enjoy – no. For the rest of Thailand, it’s the perfect amount of money!

City of Bangkok at Night

Laos

Oddly enough, Laos seems to be more expensive than its neighbouring countries. For example, it’s quite difficult to get a bed for less than $4 per night. Granted, the difference is minimal, but it’s there. Food is very cheap naturally, starting at only $1 for local cuisine. Restaurants charge far more than that for the same quality of food, so you’re much better off taking some from a street vendor.

There are plenty of ways to save money here. By partaking in a wide range of activities that are so easily accessible at all times, you will spend far more money than you wanted. Staying in smaller towns will cut down on your expenses, and even get you a cheaper bed.

Be careful about transportation in Laos, as buses are more expensive and the area is not as friendly.  Many crags and mountains dot the landscape, making it impossible for scooters to move easily. Tuktuks are the most common way of getting around towns. But, stay sharp and don’t be taken for a ride, pun intended.

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Total estimate: $50 a day will be more than enough to have a good time in Laos.

Read more: The Cheapest Flights to Laos

Cambodia

Cambodia is much too similar to Thailand, with the exception of it being slightly cheaper all around. Of course, this is in comparison to areas such as Chiang Mai or Pai, not Bangkok. Bedding is definitely easier and cheaper to get with hostel rooms starting at $2 and going up to $10. Regardless of lower prices for staying a night, everything else costs pretty much the same as in Thailand.

Local dishes are very cheap, and you won’t go hungry with all those small food vendors and bazaars. If you’re not into suspicious-looking local cuisine, there are also dishes more typical for western cultures.

Total estimate: If you plan on spending $40 a day in Cambodia, you’re in the ballpark. That will keep you fed, rested and entertained, and there’s really nothing else a good backpacker needs.

A street in Battambang, Cambodia

Malaysia

For a backpacker on a strict budget, Malaysia will probably be one of the most expensive countries in the area. Singapore is the only country that’s more expensive in the area. Hostels will cost you anywhere from $5 all the way to $18. That’s quite a gap, so be careful about how much you’re spending.

Since this is a Muslim country, there are heavy taxes pertaining to alcoholic beverages, so you should avoid them altogether. Hefty prices of drinks are a common thing in Southeast Asia in general, so cutting down on drinking can save you a lot of money.

Total estimate: No less than $70. If you want to find cheap entertainment and drinks, you should probably stay in Malaysia only briefly.

Vietnam

Much like Cambodia, there are hostels that usually charge no less than $2 or $3 per night. Prices of bedding usually go up to $10, and there’s a variety of inexpensive options regarding entertainment. Even food is extremely cheap since you can have a delicious meal for only a single dollar.

Total estimate: Just as Cambodia, $40 will afford you comfort, good food and plenty of sights to see and activities to do. Food almost comes for free and it’s quite savoury.

Singapore Skyline

Singapore

We’ve saved the most expensive one for last. It’s not really a cheap getaway for backpackers who are being slightly stingy on their resources. If you’re really looking for a good time, you’re much better off in Thailand. Nightlife and clubs of Bangkok cost peanuts compared to that of Singapore. What you spent for an entire day in Vietnam or Cambodia can be the price of a room in Singapore.

Total estimate: Without $80-$90 to spend each day, one should probably avoid Singapore. It’s a pity, coming to visit such an attractive, amazing location and trying to ration your very limited pool of resources. Instead, you should visit Singapore when you have the necessary budget to really experience this incredible place.