south east asia, Travel tips

10 Ideas for Budget Travel in Southeast Asia

Budget travel allows people to discover the world without breaking the bank. Especially in destinations like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia where the cost of living is relatively low, travelers will be able to fine quality experiences that are also affordable. We’ve curated a list of tips for budget travel in Southeast Asia, that will help you be economical without skimping on awesome activities.

Affordable Moto-Tourism in Thailand

While taxis in Thailand often hike up their prices for foreigners, a moped can be rented for as little as 120 baht, roughly $4 per day! Any city, town, or beach destination is guaranteed to have a variety of bargain bike rental options for those into budget travel. Although you do not need to present a license to rent a motorbike, you do need one (from either your home country or Thailand) in order to drive legally. Also, be sure to wear a helmet!

Wallet-Friendly Cooking Class and Craft in Vietnam

Booking a cooking class with Hearts for Hue is a great activity to include in your budget travel itinerary through Southeast Asia.

While traveling, it’s important to seek out eateries that are not only delicious, but also helps you learn more about the culture. And for those interested in budget travel in Southeast Asia, it’s best to find a wallet-friendly way to discover the local cuisine.

Luckily, you can spend an afternoon with Hearts for Hue and learn how to prepare authentic Vietnamese dishes such as clam rice and sweet corn alongside local community members. Afterwards, enjoy a quick trip to the island of Con Hen and learn how to craft a traditional Vietnamese hat by hand. What better way is there to get to know Hue City than through cooking and craft?

Economical and Ethical Elephant Tourism in Thailand

If you’re at all interested in traveling to Thailand, then you’re probably aware that elephants are a major tourist attraction. While these gentle giants are amazing, it is important to ensure that you experience these animals with a trusted, humane organization. One such org is partner Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary.

Located in Chiang Mai, Kindred Spirit aims to rescue captive elephants. They not only help provide a haven for the elephants, but also provide an alternative livelihood for their mahouts or owners. For two full days, you can be part of this restoration process. You’ll feed and observe elephants in their natural habitat and experience traditional hill tribe life for a reasonable price. Plus, accommodations and food are included!

Inexpensive Accommodations in Phnom Penh

Most travelers to Cambodia pay a visit to the ancient city of Angkor Wat. But Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, is also worth spending time in–especially if you’re a history buff. The best place to stay, if you ever find yourself in this city? Phnom Penh’s riverfront.

The active destination lined with bars and restaurants, is also a fantastic place to find inexpensive accommodation. Local guesthouses and hostels start at just $10 per night. And of course, room and board of this nature can foster connections with fellow travelers that may last a lifetime.

Bargain Night Buses

If you’re willing to get cozy, then the night bus is a fantastic way to travel across any Southeast Asian country. For as little as $15, you can travel from Angkor Wat to Phnom Penh, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, or from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. All buses are equipped with bathrooms and many are supplied with bedding but be prepared, there is no guarantee that either will be in pristine condition. While the night bus truly is an experience you won’t forget, be sure to check out the exceptional railway system in Thailand and Vietnam as well.

Playing with Puppies — For Free!

Budget travel in Southeast Asia Tip: volunteer at an animal shelter to get to know locals while giving back to the community!

Animal lovers will love Lanta Animal Welfare. Located in Thailand, the do-good org aims to humanely control the overpopulation of stray dogs and cats on Lanta Island through sterilization.

At no cost, you can enjoy a tour of the animal rescue center and adoption facility. Throughout the tour, you’ll have the opportunity to play with puppies and kittens and to learn about animal rescue initiatives in Thailand, all for no charge at all. Furthermore, Lanta Island is a gorgeous tourist destination equipped with low-cost accommodations that are ideal for the average budget backpacker.  

Discount Markets in Southeast Asia

Any experienced traveler knows that shopping is, in fact, a cultural experience. But how does one participate in this cultural experience when one is trying to be economical in Asia? The answer is easy: Markets. Lucky for you, Southeast Asia is home to some of the most expansive marketplaces. From the Ben Than Market in Ho Chi Minh City to the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, you are guaranteed to locate the most cost-effective souvenirs at various stalls. Enjoy the sights, the sounds and the smells in each marketplace and don’t forget our number one tip for budget travelers far and wide: barter, barter, barter!

Reasonably Priced Homestays in Thailand

Fascinated by local lifestyle while staying on budget? There really is no better way to learn about Thai culture, and to be economical, than to stay with a native family in a vetted homestay.

In Thailand, you can book a homestay with do-good org Khao Sok Lake for a four-day, three-night, meal-inclusive stay at less than $50 a day. Partake in a three-wheel motorcycle tour of the Khao Pang Temple and the Hanging Bridge, canoe along the Pra Saeng River and explore a floating raft house all while getting to know the inhabitants of Surat Thani. The people you meet, the destinations you discover, and the food you eat will be authentic, impressive and affordable.     

Nonprofit Wildlife Interactions

If you’re into wildlife – especially wildlife conservation – Southeast Asia is the place for you. Home to a variety of wildlife protection initiatives, it’s relatively easy to find inexpensive ways to support an eco-friendly enterprise. The Philippine Eagle Foundation, located in Davao City, aims to promote the survival of the endangered Philippine Eagle. For the cost of a cup of coffee, tour the grounds of the foundation, learn about the hazardous impact of deforestation, and wander the Malagos Watershed forest. You guaranteed to head home with a greater knowledge of Filipino wildlife and, you’ll be aiding in the flight against deforestation in Southeast Asia.

Dirt-Cheap Happy Hours

From Koh Phangan to Ho Chi Minh City, Southeast Asia likes to party and, if you do too, you are probably aware that fiestas can get expensive. So, if you’re traveling Southeast Asia on a budget, drinking locally is an absolute must. From Chang Beer in Thailand to Angkor Beer in Cambodia to San Miguel Beer in the Philippines, this corner of the world is home to some awesome inexpensive brews. In addition to choosing local beverages, make sure you seek out the best happy hours at beach bars but beware: in Thailand, alcohol is only served between 11 AM and 2 PM and between 5 PM and midnight.

For more general budget travel tips you can use anywhere in the world, check out our blog How to Travel on a Budget.