Southeast Asia is a mythical land in which hour-long massages are $5 and amazing dinners are as cheap as 25 cents. Where white beaches and warm waters are a plenty and travelers buzz around on scooters smiling all the way. If you’re on a really tight budget but still want to travel somewhere awesome, SE Asia just might be your place. I have only been to Thailand and Indonesia, but I am aware that other countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar are even cheaper. These are the few things I wish I’d known sooner.
Most prices are negotiable
Especially in street markets. Don’t walk into a mini-market trying to get your candy half price, but if you’re buying any kind of clothing or extras on the street–shoot low. Same with boat prices and transport. I am SO terrible at this. I look at them and they are so cute and their dog is cute too and they probably need it more than me and it’s only a few dollars anyways and they smile and I cave. But honestly, those few dollars add up especially on a tight budget. There are many things that I hugely overpaid for. Avoid that if you can.
I used agoda.com a lot while in Asia. I liked it because they have good deals and a lot of the rooms include breakfast in the price which is really convenient. If I had used them sooner I could have saved $100 total and had free breakfast at the first place I stayed.
Weigh your comfort and sanity
You can easily spend 5 dollars or less a night in most hostels in SE Asia if you really need to. Personally, I might have lost my mind in Bali for 6 weeks without air conditioning during the wet season (just humidity and heat like you’ve never known). But I know people who did it and lived, so weigh your comfort with your budget and go from there. If you can afford to spend $10 for a hostel with AC vs $5 for without, you might be thankful. Investigate which season the places you’re going to are in and feel it out.
Bali and places with more westerners will always be more expensive
Even so, it’s pretty cheap. Renting a scooter should be about 60k rupiah per day($4.30 US) or less if you rent it longterm. Western food such as chicken sandwiches and Acai bowls are about 30-70k rupiah ($2-5), while a local street cart runs about 5-15k(<$1). Warungs are local restaurants with cheaper prices than western restaurants and generally better quality than street carts. With included breakfast and prices like that, your money goes way further than it would elsewhere.
Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask fellow travelers what they paid for things
To get an idea of an appropriate price and what you should accept when negotiating, just ask around. People will be happy to help you!
Be flexible with your flight if you can
Shop around for flights. I use Google Flights and I have yet to find any other sites with better prices. Even Skyscanner (which is good) I’ve found is usually about the same as Google Flights. They show you the best prices and dates in green on the calendar which makes finding the best dates easier. Either way, look at the options, and if you’re flexible you will be able to choose the cheapest flight. I flew round trip LAX-Bali for $580– unheard of.