6 of the Cheapest Countries in Southeast Asia
Emma Langley, 19.02.19
Southeast Asia is home to many different cultures, making it ideal for a wide range of experiences. Not only is it one of the cheapest regions in the world, but its friendly people, great nightlife, delicious foods and diverse landscapes means there’s no reason for you to not want to visit. Whether you’re visiting the Buddhist monasteries in Laos, relaxing on a beach in Thailand or exploring the urban landscapes in Malaysia, there truly is something to entertain everyone in Southeast Asia, but how can you really know where to go to get the best value for your money?
We’ve put together a guide to the cheapest countries to visit in Southeast Asia, including a price guide for accomodation, transport, food and drink and entertainment to ensure you can get cheap flights to Southeast Asia and be able to travel for less (all prices shown are in $USD).
Cheap Travel to Southeast Asia
Philippines: cheap and cheerful
Not only is the Philippines ridiculously cheap in terms of travelling and living costs, but the Filipino people are truly some of the friendliest people on the planet. The Philippines, which is made up from over 7,000 islands, boasts breathtaking beaches, active volcanoes, the Chocolate Hills and of course the famous Palawan, often cited as the most beautiful island in the world. You can still get a taste of the luxury in Palawan without breaking the bank, with private cottages costing around $20 per night, and plenty of delicious local seafood dishes costing around $7.
El Nido, Palawan
Photo by Pete Rojwongsuriya.
The Philippines factfile
Currency: Philippine Peso
Accommodation: A bed in a hostel dorm will cost about $5–7 a night, or for a few more luxuries you can get a dorm bed for around $18 in Manila.
Meals: A three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant will only cost around $7 in the Philippines, with street food costing about $2 per dish.
Drinks: A local Filipino beer costs around $1, a coffee $2 and a bottle of water $0.30.
Attractions: You can get a boat trip island hopping for around $14–25, or even go diving with whale sharks for just $25.
Transportation: A short one-way bus journey on local transport will cost $0.20, with longer distance bus trips costing between $8–10.
Getting there by air: AirAsia is one of the cheapest airlines that serves the Philippines. Other airlines that fly to the Philippines include Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines, the national flag carrier airline.
Malaysia: considered by many as expensive but actually cheap
Malaysia is a country that some travellers avoid for fear of being too expensive due to its strong economy and more affluent areas such as Kuala Lumpur clouding people’s judgement. However, Malaysia as a country is still very cheap, with Kuala Lumpur even being a cheaper alternative to places like Singapore. Apart from the obvious city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia also boasts UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Penang), tree-top National Parks (Taman Negara), cultural hubs (Malacca) and beach-paradise islands (Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park). One downfall to Malaysia is the high tax on alcohol, which is expensive in bars, restaurants and supermarkets. Although it doesn’t vary much from the prices in the US, UK or Australia, it's a lot more than Malaysia’s cheaper surrounding countries.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit
Accommodation: For around $25, you can get yourself a bed and breakfast for the night.
Meals: $7.30 USD per person for a 3-course meal at a mid-range restaurant, or around $3.75 for a meal, dessert and drink in a food court.
Drinks: As mentioned, the price of alcohol is expensive in Malaysia so expect to pay around $4 for a local beer, but only $0.60 for a coke or $0.30 for a bottle of water.
Attractions: Museums in Kuala Lumpur will cost you around $2–5, with some more premium attractions such as the Petronas Towers costing just under $20.
Transportation: A one-way ticket on local transport will cost you around $0.75.
Getting there by air: Malaysia Airlines is the flag carrier of Malaysia, but you can also fly with airlines such as Malindo Air or AirAsia.
Laos: cheapest country lacking mass tourism
Laos is a country which has escaped mass tourism, making it the perfect destination for a quieter and calmer experience. Although it lacks tourists, it is by no means inaccessible due to the improved infrastructure projects in recent years. There’s the modern capital city of Vientiane with the Golden Stupa, but also traditional rural Laos, where you can find mountainous terrain and hill tribe settlements. Be sure to check out the cheap UNESCO city of Luang Prabang too, and Luang Namtha in the north where you can get adventurous with kayaking, trekking and cycling (you can limit these activities to keep costs down). You can also travel cheaply in the south, enjoying the Mekong River, waterfalls and island-hopping.
Mekong River, Laos
Currency: Lao Kip
Accommodation: It’s easy to find rooms in Laos costing only $5–8 per night, which can go down even lower if you’re sharing!
Meals: You can expect to pay about $9 for a three course meal in a mid-range restaurant, per person in Laos. You can also get baguettes and pastries in most places for about $2.
Drinks: As one of the cheaper countries in Southeast Asia for alcohol, you can get a beer for around $1.20. If you prefer non-alcoholic drinks, you can get a coffee for around $2.25 or a bottle of water for $0.50.
Attractions: Entrance fees into parks, waterfalls and temples will cost between $4–8, with boat trips on the Mekong River costing more at around $30 per person.
Transportation: A one-way ticket on local transport will cost you around $0.50. A 10-hour bus trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane averages at $15.
Getting there by air: Lao Airlines is the national airline of Laos, operating both domestic flights and international flights to nearby China, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. You can also fly into Laos with airlines such as Lao Skyway, Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways.
Cambodia: luxury travel for budget prices
Cambodia is great for its rich history and fascinating landscapes. Perhaps the most famous monument in Cambodia is Angkor Wat which is a religious structure dating back to the Angkor Empire in the 12th century. Cambodia often stands out as an alternative to the more famous and touristy Thai Islands, with remote islands such as Koh Thmei, Koh Totang and Koh Ta Kiev remaining authentic yet still luxurious. Because accomodation is so cheap in Cambodia, you can also upgrade and treat yourself to more extravagant hotels which are a quarter of the price compared to the equivalent in neighbouring countries.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Currency: Cambodian Riel (Although in some places, the USD is the preferred monetary currency)
Accommodation: A double room for two people will cost around $5. Double rooms are easier to find than single room, so if you are a solo traveller, find a friend you can double up with and split the price.
Meals: Traditional Cambodian dishes such as khmer food can be found for as little as $1, with a mid-range three-course meal costing around $10 per person.
Drinks: A bottle of water will cost $0.40, a coffee $2 and a local beer $1, although in some places you can get alcohol for as little as $0.25!
Attractions: The cost to get into the famous Angkor Temples is $37 for a one day pass. In Phnom Penh, you can get an all-day cinema pass for $3.50.
Transportation: Travelling on local transport will cost you $2 for a one-way ticket, but a bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh can cost $8.
Getting there by air: The national flag carrier of Cambodia is Cambodia Angkor Air, but you can also travel with other Cambodian airlines such as JC International and Lanmei Airlines.
Indonesia: the cheap destination to experience island life
Although Bali is the most well-known and popular destination in Indonesia, the country is actually an archipelago made up of over 17,000 islands, making it a great country to experience island life on a budget. Although Bali is still cheap compared to western standards ($15-20 per night for a private room), there are many lesser-known islands in Indonesia where you can get a lot more value for money. Slightly cheaper and less touristy, but still as enchanting as Bali, is the island of Lombok, whose features include volcanoes, waterfalls, rural villages and mountains. Java and Flores (for Komodo National Park) are also definitely worth a visit, and are particularly cheap, with good, private rooms for around $10 a night.
Java Island, Indonesia
Currency: Indonesian Rupiah
Accommodation: Depending on where you visit, you can often get a private room for around $10 a night.
Meals: Local street food often costs around $1, but a three course meal at a mid-range restaurant will cost about $5.30 per person. Drinks: Enjoying a local beer will cost around $2.50, a coffee $2 and a water $0.30.
Attractions: Watching a western film in the cinema will cost around $1.40. Museum entrance fees range from $0.75 for the Indonesia National Museum to $25 for the Prambanan or Borobudur Temple.
Transportation: A one-way ticket on a local bus will cost around $0.30.
Getting there by air: The national airline of Indonesia is Garuda Indonesia. You can also travel with airlines such as Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air and Citilink.
Thailand: cheapest country for great food
Although the daily cost to travel in Thailand is very similar to that in Malaysia, Thailand is well known for its tasty food, at both fancy restaurants and its street food. When in Thailand, make sure to enjoy some traditional dishes such as pad thai or noodle soup dishes (featured on our blog: best street food in Asia) and some refreshing fruit and smoothies, which can be found cheaply for under $1. When choosing where to travel within Thailand, you'll find that the north is much cheaper than central and southern Thailand. The north also offers a different experience; from nature and the jungle, to more authentic cultures in a traditional night market. Head to Bangkok to experience the bustling city, or the south for beautiful beaches such as Ko Phi Phi Island.
Rot Fai Train Night Market, Thailand
Currency: Thai Baht
Accommodation: In the north, budget accommodation can be found for under $5 a night, whereas in the south you often find budget accomodation between $5–10.
Meals: It will cost around $10 for a 3-course meal at a mid-range restaurant. However, a traditional dish of pad thai noodles from a simple restaurant or street cart will cost you around $1.
Drinks: A domestic beer will cost you around $2, a coke $0.60, a coffee $1.90 and a water $0.30.
Attractions: Parks and national museums cost between $1–5, whereas more costly day trips will cost $15–36 and more tourist-heavy attractions such as the Grand Palace will cost $16.
Transportation: A one way ticket on local transport will cost you under $1.
Getting there by air: Thai Airways is the national flag carrier of Thailand. Other Thai airlines you can fly with include Bangkok Airways, Thai Lion Air and Thai Vietjet Air.