Before you set off on a trip to Asia, probably one of the first things you will do is try and work out a budget of how much your holiday is going to cost. So how much cash do you need to travel in Asia and is each country the same? In this guide, you’ll find the most important factors that decide your budget plus a breakdown what you can expect for every country.
The honest answer is that there are no set rules on how much money you need to budget, as this depends very much on what you are planning to do and where you are planning to go. That said, as a general guide, US $35 per day for an individual and US $50 per day for a couple is a good place to start.
Food in Asia can be as expensive as you want it to be and it can either make or break your budget. You will probably be eating out for every meal, and with that in mind food will be cheaper than it would be if you were eating every meal out in Europe. That said, it depends very much what you eat. Almost all Asian countries have a strong and ingrained street food culture of the kind that doesn’t exist in say Europe or America, and if you stick the local places and street food stalls at the side of the road then you can eat extremely cheaply. If you want to eat Western food (and if you are travelling in the long term then you will probably want to vary your diet at some point), then this is likely to get expensive fast. Western food in Asia will often be cheaper than it would be back home but it is often not authentic and it will still probably be double the price of street food or local dishes. In many countries you will be able to get a plate of local food for anything from around $1-2 while Western food can start at around $10 depending on where you are and what you order.
Backpacker accommodation such as hostels with shared dorms are found all over Asia and are usually really cheap if you are not picky about where you stay. Even higher end accommodation is cheaper than in a lot of countries in the West, but if you want to keep costs down over the long term then you will need to avoid these and stick to backpacker hubs where you will probably have to share if you want to save as much money as possible. In short, accommodation doesn’t have to be costly if you don’t mind roughing it. Some exceptions to this are places like Myanmar or Japan where budget accommodation is impossible to come by.
Transport is very cheap in Asia for the most part, especially if you are prepared to travel as the locals do. You can cover great distances if you go by road using local buses and this is often the cheapest way of getting around. Some countries have subway systems that are usually pretty cheap, and train networks also offer a budget way of crossing a country, although in places like Japan or China these are often more expensive than flying. Fortunately Asia is also serviced by a range of low cost airlines like Air Asia and you can get some amazing bargains on flights if you shop around and travel during the low season. One area where costs can mount up is if you want to take taxis or a private car everywhere, and while this is sometimes unavoidable, you should use taxis sparingly if you don’t want to break the bank.
This is the area where you are most likely to find that your daily budget diminishes pretty rapidly. To start at the cheaper end, there are lots of attractions in Asia that are free, such as museums and things like botanical gardens. That said, many travelers come here to experience some of the most amazing sights in the world, and entrance fees to these are often very expensive with no chance of doing them on the cheap. Notable examples are places like Angkor Wat in Cambodia as well as pretty much all of Myanmar, and if you do a lot of ‘big’ attractions in a short amount of time then the prices will add up quickly. Another big cost in Asia is diving, so if this is something you enjoy then you will need to bring some extra cash to cover the cost. It also goes without saying that if you start to pay for tours (which can be difficult to avoid in countries like Vietnam and Myanmar), then it will be hard not to max out your budget.
In case it doesn’t go without saying, seasonal travel can potentially make a big difference to your budget. If you go during high season, almost always during the summer months, then prices will usually be put up as the crowds grow bigger. Worse still when it comes to busting your budget is seasonal holidays, so times such as the end of Ramadan in Muslim countries like Indonesia or Chinese New Year in China and Hong Kong. These mean that locals will also be travelling and prices both in country and things such as flights out will go up considerably. It can be nice to visit a country during one of its biggest festivals, but if you are on a strict budget then it is often better to try and avoid these periods, as you can end up paying double or more for accommodation and transport.
For individual countries, here is a rough breakdown of how much you will be likely to spend. All prices are in US dollars and are one person. All prices are in US dollars and are shown for solo travelers and couples.
Cambodia: $21 for solo travelers / $30 for couples
Cambodia is one of the cheapest countries to visit in Southeast Asia providing you stick to eating local food, staying in backpacker accommodation, and travelling on public transport. Areas where you will spend more are Angkor Wat, the Killing Fields, and river cruises. Alcohol is also cheaper than it would be back home but also more expensive than most local meals, so if you are going to drink a lot then the prices will add up. If you are only going to visit Cambodia, then you can save a lot of money and spend a long time exploring on a limited budget.
China: $56 for solo travelers / $80 for couples
Sadly the good old days when China was amazingly cheap are gone as the economy has gone from strength to strength, so don’t expect things to be the same price as they are in Southeast Asia. Accommodation will cost more than most of Southeast Asia although the selection of hostels in China is excellent and standards are usually high. When it comes to transport, many of the overland trains can be expensive if you get the fast trains and pay for the extra comfort of soft class on overnight sleepers, although taxis are cheap and buses even cheaper. If you eat local food then this is one area where you can really save as it will be very cheap. Unfortunately this will be balanced out by some of the bigger attractions like a tour of the Great Wall or the Forbidden City.
Hong Kong: $70 for solo travelers / $100 for couples
Hong Kong has a reputation for being ruinously expensive but actually if you are careful it’s not as pricey as you would imagine. Still far more expensive than Southeast Asia, you will be spending the bulk of your budget on accommodation and it is pretty much impossible to find a way of getting a place to stay cheaply unless you have friends in the region. Local transport such as the trams however are very cheap, as is the Star Ferry if you want to travel between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Food in local cafes or street food is cheaper than you would think, although it can rival places like London and New York for top end dining. Another way to save money in Hong Kong can be found through many of its attractions which are free, such as museums that offer free entry on Wednesdays.
India: $18 for solo travelers / $25 for couples
This is probably the bare minimum you will need to get by in India, but this is a great place to save money and you can do the country pretty well on a really low budget. Transportation such as the trains are extremely cheap meaning that you can travel great distances really inexpensively and accommodation can also be found at low cost if you don’t mind sharing and are not expecting anything luxurious. Indian food is also some of the cheapest in the world and the most delicious, so your food budget here should be extremely low compared to almost anywhere else. Areas where you will have to spend more include excursions like the Taj Mahal and things like river boat cruises.
Indonesia: $21 for solo travelers / $30 for couples
This depends very much where you are but it is possible to get by in Indonesia on $21 a day especially if you are not in Bali. This includes local accommodation, food, and transport, and Indonesia is widely considered to be one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia along with Cambodia. That said, Bali is famously more expensive and things such as local food can still be double the price that they would be in other areas. If you want to party every night in Bali or Lombok and especially if you are going to drink alcohol then the prices can shoot up. It is possible to do Indonesia on a very small budget, but it is also easy for this to spiral out of control if you are not careful. Diving or jungle trekking in places like Bukit Lawang in Sumatra will make costs mount up although there are few big attractions here that will cost a big chunk of money like Angkor Wat, so you will be able to do quite a lot of sightseeing relatively cheaply. Obvious exceptions to this are if you want to climb a volcano like Rinjani or Agung.
Japan: $70 for solo travelers / $100 for couples
In contrast to many other countries where the prices are going up, Japan is actually not as expensive as it used to be, although it is still nowhere near as cheap as Southeast Asia. Accommodation is an obvious expense although a wealth of capsule hotels mean that you can save some money if you don’t mind being in a very small space. Food can be surprisingly cheap in Japan as long as you stick to local places and opt for inexpensive foods like ramen instead of sushi. Another good area where you can save is on attractions, many of which are free or charge a small admission for entry.
Laos: $38 for solo travelers / $55 for couples
Landlocked Laos is rather surprisingly not one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia, and with that in mind you will need to budget slightly more here per day. Accommodation is still cheap, but you won’t find quite as many bargains as you will in say, Indonesia. Food can be sourced cheaply here if you eat in local places, but you will spend money on ‘tourist attractions’ that can often be hard to avoid. As Laos is developing its tourist trade everyday, prices for attractions are shooting up and tours are springing up all over the place. This is especially true in the south so keep this in mind when travelling here.
Macau: $105 for solo travelers / $150 for couples
It’s almost impossible to do Macau on a budget, and where you can find a few backpacker type places in Hong Kong, they simply don’t exist in Macau. As such accommodation will eat up a huge part of your budget and it can be hard to find cheap eats here, although they do exist if you know where to look. Transport can be cheapish if you take public transport or the free casino buses but as soon as you set foot in a casino your budget will be pretty much blown immediately.
Malaysia: $28 for solo travelers / $40 for couples
In some parts of Malaysia $28 a day is a generous budget and in others it is just scraping by. Accommodation in places like Kuala Lumpur can be expensive and there is not as much cheap accommodation around as there used to be, although you can still find some pretty budget places if you look hard enough. Fortunately much of the rest of the country is cheaper, and transport over long distances is cheaper still if you take the bus or get a rock-bottom ticket with a low-cost carrier like Air Asia. Food, even in Kuala Lumpur, is some of the cheapest you will find anywhere and is delicious as well, so you won’t need to worry about this eating into your budget. One thing that will ruin your savings however is alcohol which is expensive pretty much everywhere.
Myanmar $38 for solo travelers / $55 for couples
Myanmar is one of the most expensive countries to visit in Southeast Asia even though it is not one of the most affluent. One of the reasons for this is that tourism is tightly controlled in the country and guests must stay in government run hotels or guesthouses and attractions are often heavily priced as the country develops a name for itself on the tourism front. Local food can still be sourced cheaply, but the bulk of your money will go on somewhere to sleep and the places you choose to visit, with very few chances to lower your costs along the way.
Philippines $38 for solo travelers / $55 for couples
The Philippines is a vast country and an archipelago so getting around is laborious and costly. If you want to island hop you will probably need to take domestic flights at some point which will eat into your budget. Food, even local food, is not as cheap as other parts of Southeast Asia, although, happily, alcohol is some of the cheapest in the entire region. Activities like diving (and there is some of the best diving in the world to be had in the Philippines) will also push prices up and depending on where you are there can be some good budget accommodation choices and some not so good ones. At the end of the day if you just go to one of the sleepier islands and don’t do many excursions then you can do the Philippines extremely cheaply.
Sri Lanka: $28 for solo travelers / 40 for couples
Don’t expect Sri Lanka to be as cheap as India as you will definitely notice a hike in prices if you are travelling from one to the other. One of the things that you immediately notice costs more here is the food, and street food and cheap cafes are much harder to come by as an eating out dining culture doesn’t seem to be so widespread here. Accommodation is also slightly more expensive and is also noticeably higher in the south of the country, so make sure you budget for this accordingly depending on where you are going. One area where you can save money is travelling around Sri Lanka as local buses which are extremely cheap even if you need to travel for long distances.
Taiwan: $42 for solo travelers / $60 for couples
Taiwan may not sound like a budget option but many travelers who have made the trip will tell you that it is surprisingly cheap. Food in particular is incredibly inexpensive as there is a strong street food culture here and you can eat well (and a lot) for just a few dollars per meal. Travel and attractions are also cheap, and the main area that will put a dent in your budget will be accommodation, although there are a range of backpacker places to choose from in Taiwan. These won’t be as cheap as in Southeast Asia but it does mean you won’t have to stay in hotels.
Thailand: $32 for solo travelers / $45 for couples
Your budget for Thailand will obviously depend very much on where you go and some islands are known for attracting a backpacker crowd and others are simply full of high end resorts with little chance of finding somewhere cheap to stay. $32 a day though will serve you well in most of the country especially if you eat local food which is cheap and delicious. Alcohol will add to your budget but is generally cheaper than some of Thailand’s neighbors like Malaysia. One of the things working in your favor in Thailand is that it is unashamedly a backpacker destination (in a way that places like Myanmar are not) and so you will have a much bigger choice of accommodation and will be able to find some good deals. Diving, tours, and activities like extreme sports will obviously make costs mount up.
Vietnam: $35 for solo travelers / $50 for couples
Vietnam is not as cheap as you may imagine and a lot of this is down to the fact that there are a lot of scams aimed at tourists. These range from very expensive tours to dual pricing in shops where even basic items like candy bars can cost double if you are a foreigner. Budget accommodation is easily available however and street food is very cheap, with bowls of delicious noodles costing around $1. Attractions and tours will make prices mount up however and touts here can be aggressive and it can be difficult in some places to avoid them. In short, if you do things yourself in Vietnam you can still do well on a budget, but dodging various scams and getting away without being ripped off at some point can be almost impossible.