For some, a trip to South East Asia is a dream and for those lucky enough to fulfill this dream it can be literally a trip of a lifetime. With blissful weather, friendly locals and cuisine to die for, South East Asia is blessed with many wonderful opportunities and experiences for the budget traveler. In fact, South East Asia is one of the places in the world where the independent traveler can still stretch their money with ease. Below is a rough and simplified guide to the most popular destinations in South East Asia as well as a very rough budget guide – all excluding travel which can add at least US$10 to any day.
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With some recent horrible history, Cambodia is now opening up to the wider world and is now one of the gems on the backpacker trail. Still relatively undeveloped unlike neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, this is one of the places in Asia where your budget really does go a long way. Be prepared to love Cambodia!
What To See? No trip to Cambodia is complete without a trip to the Angkor Wat temple complex near Siem Reap. A pass for the day is US$20 but to get the most out of a trip to Angkor you should plan to get the 3 day pass for US$40. Hire a push bike for around $2 a day and cycle around the complex – remember to take plenty of water with you! By night chow down on traditional Amok curry in the towns busy main drag.
After Siem Reap head to Sihanoukville to chill on the beach, swim in the sea and eat fresh sea food.
Budget: Cambodia operates using the US Dollar and the local currency, the Riel, which can be confusing. Bed in a hostel US$2 a day. Beer in a bar US$0.50. A meal on the beach in Sihanoukville US$3. Plan on spending around $15 a day on a budget.
Sleepy Laos is becoming more of a draw for visitors to the region. Highlights include the beautiful city of Luang Prabang and the hedonistic center Vang Vien, with it’s legions of drinkers and party goers ‘tubing’ down the river.
What To See? Besides the draw of tubing there is also the very picturesque 10,000 islands to the south of the country where you can relax in a hammock by the side of the river while sipping a Lao beer. Laos itself is an experience, allow yourself to get caught up in the slow pace of life – you’d might as well as you can’t really go anywhere fast!
Budget: Bed US$1.50 – 2 a night in a hostel. Meals around $2 a pop, plus $0.75 for a beer. US$15 – 20 a day.
Multi-cultural Malaysia has a lot to offer, the teeming metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, the beaches of Langkawi, the jungles of Borneo and the crumbling grandeur of Malaka or Penang. Not to mention some of Asia’s most awesome food – literally! A fusion of Chinese, Indian and native Malay – you will most likely become addicted to Roti Canai, Char Kway Teow and Nasi Goreng.
What To See? Go Orang-utan spotting in the jungles of Borneo – via a trip to atmospheric Kuching. Wander the colonial streets of old Georgetown on Penang island and follow it up with a bowl of Char Kway Teow. Or relax on the beaches of the Perhentian Islands – still relatively unspoilt although a little more expensive than Thailand. Be warned though, drinking in Malaysia isn’t cheap! Save that for Thailand…
Budget: Bed in a dorm $4 – 5 a night. A Malaysian meal $3 – 4. A beer in a bar $3 – 5. US$20-25 a day would be reasonable.
Only just opening up to the outside world, Myanmar has gone from pariah tourist destination to hot, in a little under a year. Still very hard to travel around, there’s no ATM’s and travel is unreliable at best. But the visitor to Myanmar will find a country eager to welcome outsiders… However, it’s not the cheapest country in the region!
What To See? The spectacular landscape of Bagan, dotted with mysterious temples is a must for the visitor to Myanmar as is the old colonial city of Mandalay.
Budget: You will need to carry fresh dollar notes and enough to cover your stay in Myanmar. Budget around US$60 a day for dorm beds, street food and lots of walking.
South East Asia’s tourist mecca promises lots, but don’t worry, she delivers… If you want to relax in a hammock drinking coconut juice while watching the waves lap on golden sands, or dance the night away to banging dance tunes – you’ve found the right place. There are beautiful temples in every town, more beaches than you can know what to do with and excellent food.
What To See? Thailand has a very well established tourist network and getting around is cheap, easy and very efficient. Enjoy a few nights in chaotic Bangkok – check out the Golden Palace and nearby Chinatown. Head to Chaing Mai for hill trekking and the old town before making your way south to any of the famous islands. Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao are highly recommended for scuba or snorkeling as well as excellent party scenes.
Budget: Basic room in a hotel $4 – 5. Bowl of noodles $3 or Western Meal $4-5. Beer in a bar $1.50 – 3. Budget around $20-30 a day.
Rapidly growing in stature as one Asia’s most important tourist stops, Vietnam is brash and buzzing. Just try and cross the road in Ho Chi Minh city… But the scenery is spectacular especially in the mountains and there are temples and historical buildings everywhere.
What To See? Wander the crammed but buzzing streets of Old Hanoi, fuel up with bowls of Pho, the local noodle soup. Make a visit to Hue and Halong Bay and take a cruise past the impressive limestone peaks. Hire a motor bike and do the ‘Easy Rider’ tour through the center of the country before stopping on the beach at Mue Ne or Nha Trang. Enter or exit in chaotic Ho Chi Minh city where there’s always a party happening.
Budget: Basic room in a hotel $5. Meal $2 – 5. Beer in a bar $1 -2. Around US$20 on a tight budget.
Photos courtesy of J Frasse, vitasamb2001, Posterize & foto76 from www.freedigitalphotos.net