Dollars & Sense: Southeast Asia


Wanderlove / July 2015

Southeast Asia is the crème de la crème of budget backpacking. It’s affordable, easy to get around, beautiful and there is a lot to do while you’re here. We’re going to break it down exactly what you’ll need to cover when you take off to Southeast Asia for a couple months:

Sleeping [$5-$50]
Unless you like to sleep in a hammock or you BYOT [“t” is for tent], plan to shell over some Washingtons each night for a place to crash. Depending on your budget, this can be as cheap or as pricey as you want it to be. From air-con bungalows to cheap cheap dorm rooms, there is literally something for everyone in SEA.

Eating [$5-$25]
Only you know how many bowls of pad thai you can fill your tank with, so just plan accordingly. Street noodles are the cheapest route [and the most delicious] and prices only go up from there. Breakfast is typically white bread with eggs [sometimes included with your room], and lunch/dinner are mostly rice, meat and vegetables. Oh, and they don’t call this the banana pancake trail for nothing. $1 each my friend. Trick of the trade: eat locally. Western food is going to be a lot more loot than the noodles. Burgers and fries can wait ‘til home bro.

Activities [varies widely]
Anywhere you go in SEA offers tons of activities. From riding elephants and snuggling tigers, to bamboo rafting and trekking into hilltribe villages, there is literally so much room for activities.  Make sure you bring the cheese to participate because we’d hate to see you miss out on all the fun.  A rock climbing day trip in Thailand will cost $20, while an escape to The Gibbon Experience will run a tab of $100 per day.

Sightseeing [$20/day]
We know you like to see the sights, just make sure to factor this in your budget. Entrance fees can be a real fun sucker, but always remember it’s money well spent.  Major sites like Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal tend to be upwards of $20, while more local temples and museums might just be a couple of coins.

Part-ays [$0.25-$4]
Leeezbehonest, drinks can wind up being an expensive part of a trip. Not only do the actual drinks cost dough, but so do the decisions we make when we’re not sober sally. A happy pizza tastes 10 times better at 4 AM and we tend to think it’s a good idea to buy the whole bar a round of fireball [#whoops]. The bright side, drinks are a lot cheaper than back home. We drank the cheapest beer of our lives at $0.10 a cup. #winning

Communication [$20/month]
It’s easy to get by with wi-fi, using apps like Facebook, Viber, Whatsapp and FaceTime. However, if you want to have phone access all the time without your phone company robbing you blind, you’ll have to get a local SIM card. Coming from the US, this means you’ll have to unlock your phone in order to take advantage of the uber cheap options.  It’s about $40 to do this in Bangkok, and then about $20 a month for unlimited data. Extra $$ saving tip: check with your phone company back home about putting a suspension on your current plan so you aren’t paying for all that data while you’re out of the country. We dropped our monthly bill by 70 buckaroos.

Laundry [$3-5/kg]
First and foremost, we applaud all you overachievers who manage to clean your clothes on the reg while traveling. You can easily send your laundry through wherever you are staying, but know that it’s at a premium. If you want to get your whites sparkly clean for the lowest cost, take a walk around the block and you’ll see plenty of options most everywhere you go. Be forewarned we’ve had scenarios we weren’t sure if the clothes were cleaner before or after the experience. Laugh out loud. Tip: Put in your laundry the first day you get to a new location, because you need to allow time for your clothes to dry. No dryers here baby, they just let nature do the work.

Transportation [varies widely]
Getting from place to place is super easy in SEA because you have a zillion options. There are trains in Thailand and Vietnam, ferries between all the islands, comfortable [and some not so comfortable] overnight buses going cross country, and flights to nearly every major city.  A bumpy bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh will come in at a low, low price of $5, while a flight from Hanoi to Luang Prabang could run you over $100 one way. If you’re traveling on the cheap, plan for $15-20 average to get from place to place and if it ends up being less, well now you have more moolah for activities!

Souvenirs [under $100]
No beating around the bush here. Its tough to resist all those things we don’t reallllllly need. But, we totally get it and are totally guilty of buying everything, everywhere. It just means you gotta budget it in buddy. Don’t worry though, there are tons of night markets all over SEA to get your souvenirs for a good price. With t-shirts around $3, bags between $10-15 and $50 for a piece of silver jewelry, you’ll be bringing home the good stuff. Don’t forget to bargain, it’s half the fun.

Miscellaneous [up to you]
One time we were traveling through Southeast Asia by bus and decided it would be much more fun on a Yamaha Nuovo. That thing cost $300 and we would have been really sad if we didn’t have the dinero for it. Remember things pop up and you want to have the financial freedom to run wild in the wind [cue the movie music].

Emergency fund [up to you]
There is like a .05% chance you will need stitches in your left toe, so in case you do… well…we suggest a cash stash, homie.


Side note: we referred to “money” as 13 different names in this article. Record? We think so.


Tags: Asia, backpacking, budget, dollars, funds, Get Ready, money, Tips



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