Southeast Asia is one of the most beautiful, characterful, and magical parts of the world. Home to idyllic beaches, wild rainforests, smouldering volcanoes, ancient ruins, and chaotically intoxicating cities, this region is as diverse as it is dazzling. More good news is that it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to visit, and once you’ve bought flights, it’s easy to keep your daily costs low.
So, if you’ve been dreaming about a tropical escape but don’t want to spend a fortune, Southeast Asia might be the destination for you. To get you inspired, here are six of the cheapest countries to add to your travel bucket list.
As beautiful and beguiling as Laos is, it’s often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Thanks to its relative lack of mass tourism, it’s even cheaper than all three of its neighbours – and this Southeast Asian country has just as much going for it too.
Laos is a country of mountainous countryside, emerald rice fields, beautiful forests, and thundering waterfalls; as well as Buddhist temples, ancient hill settlements, and French colonial architecture. So, if you’re looking for a culture and adventure holiday that doesn’t break the bank, you’re in the right place.
Hotels cost upwards of £5 per night, and if you’re happy to share dorms with other travellers, prices are as low as £2. Eating out is very cheap too. Similar to Thai food, Lao cuisine is fresh, fragrant, and fiery, and you can eat a day’s worth of meals for under £5. A three-course meal in a more upmarket restaurant costs around £7. Laos is also one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia for alcohol.
When it comes to getting around, local buses only cost around 50p each way. Then, entrance into attractions like parks, temples, and waterfalls costs between £2–6 – and activities like kayaking, trekking, and cycling are all pretty inexpensive too. Pricier excursions include Mekong River boat trips, which costs upwards of £20 per person.
Thrifty backpackers can get by for around £15 per day, whereas mid-range travellers are looking at £30+.
Indonesia is a country that’s breathtaking in its diversity. It’s home to volcanic slopes, shimmering reefs, sweeping beaches, mysterious forests, and a culture that’s an intriguing mix of Buddhist and Muslim influences.
While Indonesia is certainly one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia, popular destinations like Bali are much pricier than elsewhere.
But Indonesia has over 17,000 islands, so if you’re travelling on a tight budget, there are plenty of lesser-known islands where you’ll get much more bang for your buck. Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, and Flores are all very cheap and well worth visiting – and in Flores, you’ll get the chance to see ancient Komodo dragons in their natural habitat!
If you’re after a bit of luxury, Lombok is a better option than Bali, as while it’s pricier than other islands, it’s still cheaper than Bali, Indonesia’s number one destination. Budget hotels cost around £10+, and dorms are under £5. Buses are the cheapest form of transport, but they’re not very reliable, so it’s best to have a flexible schedule if you take the bus! Renting a scooter is popular too.
Street food is cheap and delicious and includes dishes like nasi goreng, gado-gado, and sate skewers, which can be bought for around £1. If you want to eat out and keep costs down, it’s best to visit warungs – small, local eateries – as these are far cheaper (and more authentic) than mid-range restaurants.
In Indonesia, a backpacker’s budget can sit at around £20 a day (except in Bali), and mid-range budgets will be around £45 a day.
Embrace Indonesia’s spirituality and diversity
3. The Philippines
An island-hopping beach break may not sound like the cheapest holiday, but it can be if you go to the Philippines!
Home to 7,000 islands, dense jungles, active volcanoes, and buzzing cities, you could spend months travelling and still barely scratch the surface. Luckily, the Philippines is another cheap country in Southeast Asia, so your money goes a long way here.
Although accommodation is a bit pricier than in other Southeast Asian countries (hostels can be around £10–15 per night, though dorms are around £5), food is much cheaper. Street food is around £1.50 per meal, while a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant is about £5. Beer is under £1, and a bottle of water is around 20p!
If you’re looking to do some island-hopping, ferry fares are very low, around £11, and if it’s a longer journey and you’d like to be able to sleep, you can book a private cabin for an extra £15. However, air travel is pretty cheap here too, so it’s definitely worth looking into flights. The islands of Palawan, Coron, and Siargao are stupendously beautiful, and once you’re there, costs are low.
One of the most popular activities in the Philippines is diving, and thanks to the prevalence of crystal clear waters, sugar-white beaches, and tranquil lagoons, it’s one of the best dive destinations in the world. Most dives cost around £30, which includes the rental of the boat and all equipment. And if you’d like to stay above the waves, island-hopping boat trips cost around £12–20.
When thinking about Southeast Asia travel, Thailand is usually the first country to come to mind – and for good reason.
Home to dreamy white sand beaches, warm turquoise waters, jungle-swathed mountains, and truly tantalising food, Thailand’s popularity has caused costs to rise over the years, but it’s still a very affordable destination for travellers.
If you’re on a tight budget, it’s best to stick to northern Thailand, which is much cheaper than central and southern Thailand. The north also offers a more authentic experience; instead of luxury resorts and overdeveloped beach towns, you can enjoy visiting lively night markets, exploring authentic towns, and discovering the absorbing local culture.
Accommodation is cheap, especially in the north: private rooms in budget hotels are around £20, whereas dorms are under £10. Then there’s the food! Thai cuisine is some of the best in the world, and you can enjoy delicious dishes like pad Thai or panang curry for under £1 if you buy from a street vendor. Restaurants are more expensive, but most are still pretty cheap.
Getting around is, for the most part, cheap, easy and efficient – even if it’s not always that fast – and buses can be surprisingly luxurious for the low price.
Many of the attractions, especially in the north, are inexpensive too: parks and museums usually cost between £1–4, whereas more adventurous day trips cost £12–30.
Experience the beauty and charm of Thailand
Cambodia isn’t only one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful and fascinating countries, but it’s also one of the cheapest. Boasting pristine beaches, ancient monuments, dense forests, winding rivers, and lively cities, much of Cambodia remains refreshingly untouristy – and as a result, prices remain low.
The top attraction is the legendary temples of Angkor, and it’s here, and in the neighbouring town of Siem Reap, where prices are highest. However, accommodation is so cheap overall that you can upgrade to a fancy hotel for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the West. Budget hotels can be as little as £5 per night, and daily budgets sit around £20 for a backpacker and £40 for mid-range travel.
Food and drink here are cheap too – and usually delicious. Influenced by Thai, Vietnamese, and French cuisine, you can pick up cheap meals from street food stalls, and fill up on noodle dishes, stir-fries, and stuffed baguettes. Traditional meals usually cost under £1 – as do bottles of local Angkor beer.
Getting around is much easier than before, thanks to the major road improvement. Buses are the cheapest way to travel, and usually the most convenient too, and there are routes between all major towns. A bus ticket from the capital Phnom Penh to Siem Reap costs around £10, and for shorter trips, you can rent a motorbike or tuk-tuk for the day.
Vietnam has long been a popular travel destination, and thanks to its stunning landscape, fascinating history, and mouthwatering street food, it’s an ideal destination for anyone travelling on a shoestring budget.
While this country is getting more expensive by the year, it’s still cheaper than other, more developed Southeast Asian destinations, like Singapore or Malaysia.
With its breathtaking natural scenery, vibrant cities, and blissful beaches, there’s so much to do here that doesn’t cost a penny – whether it’s hiking in the rolling rice fields or people-watching from lively riversides.
Accommodation is fairly cheap too: dorm rooms cost around £5, simple private rooms cost between £10–£20, and mid-range accommodation is usually over £30.
Another perk of travelling to Vietnam on a budget is that you’ll get to take advantage of its street food, which is some of the best you’ll ever try. You can feast on bánh mì baguettes, steaming bowls of pho noodle soup, fresh seafood rolls, and fried fish, all of which usually cost under £1. Alcohol is very cheap too, and local bottled beer costs around 65p.
Attractions are a bit costlier: Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is around £5 to enter, tickets to Hoi An Ancient Town are around £4, and a cruise along the spectacular Ha Long Bay is about £10 per person.
Buses are cheap and reliable, but many people hire scooters to get around, which costs around £5 per day. You’ll need to be careful on the roads as they’re very busy, but it can be a fun and flexible way to travel.
Experience adventure in Vietnam
Travel is one of the most exciting, rewarding, and memorable things we can do with our lives – and after a few stagnant years, travel is well and truly back on the menu again. But the cost of living crisis means many of us might be worrying that we can’t afford a holiday this year, or even a staycation.
However, it’s worth remembering that aside from being one of the most beautiful and diverse regions of the world, Southeast Asia is also one of the cheapest. So if you’re dreaming of a blissful beach break or an exotic adventure, it doesn’t have to break the bank.
Staying in cheap hotels, guest houses, or hostels and relying on local transport is an excellent way to keep costs down. Plus, with so much delicious street food around, you can eat like a king for just a few pounds.
Flights are obviously the main expense, but travelling during the off-season makes a huge difference here – and there are many ways you can find cheap discounts and deals.
To find out more about cheap travel, you might want to read our article; How to travel on a shoestring budget.