With so much cheap hotels, places, food and beer, Southeast Asia is the perfect destination for anyone looking to travel on a budget. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or Thailand; it doesn’t matter where you’re headed, these countries on a budget can be simple. But look out for the costs of transportation, trips and souvenir that can all add up and you might end up paying more than you expected. Here are eight top tips for making sure all those little extras don’t leave you out of pocket.
1. Take night buses or trains
Always try to book on to a night train or bus when you can. Long distance transport in South-East Asia is very cheap and the network pretty extensive. A lot of locals choose to travel overnight, when tickets are cheaper and your ride will be relatively comfortable. Most trains and buses have sleeper beds or reclining seats and decent air-con. Some travelers are put off by overnight travel because of safety concerns, but it carries the same risks as daytime travel, just be sure to always keep an eye on your luggage and be aware of your surroundings. When packing your things make sure your valuables are in a bag that you can bring with you and watch over.
It’ll also save you on a night’s accommodation, plus you won’t have to sacrifice precious daytime that could be spent sightseeing or soaking up the sun.
2. Go for soft seat rather than sleeper berth
If you choose to go by night train, soft seats are the most economic choice. It may seem sensible to go for the sleeper seats, which are usually four beds on two levels per cabin, but these are often cramped and riddled with bed bugs. Don’t get the wrong idea, soft seats are not first class, but at least you get a bit more breathing space and they do recline all the way out, plus they’re the cheapest option for basic comfort. You’ll get the same facilities with soft seats as you would in a sleeper, including air-con and trolley service. Just don’t forget to pack your ear plugs.
3. Eat street food
A lot of travelers stay clear of street food, fearing upset stomachs or worse. The truth is that some of the freshest and cheapest food can be found on the streets of South-East Asia. You’ll pay a premium for eating “Western” food, compared with rock-bottom prices for tasty treats – from chicken noodles to sesame doughnuts – from roadside food stalls. Street food sellers buy their produce every morning fresh from the local markets so you’re sure to get the real deal. Pick a popular stand, do as the locals do and go for it. Besides whoever cooked the food is especially good at his or her local food, the western food is best in the western world.
4. Drink local beers, wine, liquor and sodas
Go local on booze too if you’re sticking to a tight budget. Imported alcohol beverages increases the costs and you will miss out on an opportunity to taste the local beverages. In Vietnam, every day at about five pm, cafés moves to the streets, filling the narrow pavements with miniature red plastic furniture and tubs of chopsticks. This means only one thing, Bia Hoi time. With prices so low it´s hardling even worth mentioning add some snacks , like for instance fried spinach and beef dumplings and pull up a stool. Resting your feet and letting the world pass by you instead of you walking pass the world, is a great way to spend the afternoon. This daily ritual is quite common across South-East Asia and each country or town will have its own version of Bia Hoi, Hanoi’s home brew. So take advantage of these ridiculous prices, sample some tasty home cooking and meet some of the locals.
Don’t be shy if you want to bag a bargain. Make sure you haggle in the markets to get the best price on everything, from tea and coffee to genuine fake designer goods. Stallholders will expect you to at least ask for a discount, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed. Often, the price will rise automatically once they’ve realized you’re a tourist, so you can guarantee he’ll have wriggle room on that “Guchi” handbag or those silk slippers. Know that the price you start with will not be the price you will end up with so start low. If they insist on a high price, just say no, turn and walk away, if the price you gave isn´t insultingly low they will come after you.
You can in fact haggle for so much more than the markets, try at the accomodation, renting a car or a motorbike or taxis.
6. Avoid organised tours where possible
Sometimes organised tours are the easiest and cheapest way to get out and see some of the stunning sights, especially when you’re short on time or have to take ferries or infrequent local buses to get there. But, wherever possible, try and organize it yourself. In bigger towns, the local bus system will take you where you want to go for a small fee. Alternatively, hire a bike or a motorbike for a couple of pounds and cycle out, this way you’re guaranteed an adventure! For example, if you’re planning to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia, rather than fork out on a bus tour through a travel agency, hire a bike and cycle out there at dawn. You’ll catch the sunrise and save yourself some cash. Local buses are not only very cheap but they will probably give an adventure on the journey itself.
7. Agree on taxi prices before you jump in
If you’re looking for a ride, tuk tuks and taxis are in abundance in most towns and cities. However, before you jump in, be sure to agree a price, ask more than one driver, and try asking for a discount. Otherwise the driver will say any outrageous sum that pops into his mind when you arrive and you are not able to protest. Make sure you know the exact address of where you want to go. It’s been known for taxi drivers to take detours to travel shops or other hotels to try and persuade travelers to book tours or change accommodation, then charge more for the extra trip. They will also tell you that the hotel you booked is not good, the tour you are taking is the worst and the sights you are seeing aren´t genuine. (They are only trying to ”help” you because they will get a small fee for every tourist the bring to specific places.)
8. Bring only today’s budget
When you leave your home in the morning don´t bring too much money, if you have a lot of money in your pockets it is so easy so spend it all (and people around you will notice you are flaunting it). Bring the budget money for today (and maybe some extra in your socks for emergency) and it is so much easier to stick to your budget.
9. Make some of your own food.
In hotels where you have water heater you can easily make your own breakfast by buying bread and cheese. The hotels that provides the water boiler will most probably also provide coffee or tea. If there is a refrigerator on your room you can buy some juice of your preference add some fresh fruit and voila, the breakfast is complete :) If you stop by the hotel during the day the instant noodles are a cheap, delicious and great alternative for lunch!
10. Use local transportations in the city.
it is so easy to jump into a taxi when you arrive in a new city and then you continue to do so during your entire stay. Ask for help in your reception, bring a good map and start taking local transportation within the city. It costs just a small percentage of taxi rides and it is so much fun. Keep watch on your handbag or valuables tho because in rush hour it gets crowded in trains and buses. In Kuala Lumpur they offer a [free bus line] that makes all the ”must stops” in the city.