With accommodation, food and cheap beer, Southeast Asia is the perfect destination for anyone travelling on a tight budget. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or Thailand. No matter where you go, Southeast Asia on a budget has no secrets. But the cost of transportation, travel and souvenir crap can make you pay more than you expect. Here are eight fancy tricks to make sure these extras don’t leave you broke.
- Choose night buses or trains
Whenever you can, try to book a night bus or train. Long distance transport in Southeast Asia is very cheap and the network is quite extensive. Many locals choose to travel at night because the tickets are cheaper and the journey relatively comfortable. Most trains and buses have bunk or reclining seats and air conditioning. There are travellers who don’t like to travel at night for safety reasons, but it carries the same risk as travelling during the day; just make sure you keep an eye on your belongings and keep an eye on your surroundings. You will save a night’s accommodation and will not have to sacrifice time during the day that could be spent visiting temples or sunbathing.
- Choose a seat instead of a bunk
If you decide to travel by train at night, seats are the cheapest option. The most sensible thing would be to choose a bunk (there are usually four beds on two levels per compartment), but they are often full of bedbugs. Make no mistake, seats are not like first class, but at least you have more living space and they are fully reclinable; and they are also the cheapest option if you want basic comfort. Currently, trains are being renovated in Vietnam and the wagons of the 60s and 70s are being replaced by more modern Korean models. You will have the same comfort in a seat as in a bunk, including air conditioning and a food cart. What you can’t forget are the earplugs.
- Eat street food
There are many travelers who do not go near street food for fear of indigestion or worse. But the truth is that on the streets of Southeast Asia you can find the freshest and cheapest food. You’ll pay more to eat “Western food” compared to the small amount you pay to try tasty things (from chicken noodles to sesame doughnuts) at street vendors. Vendors buy their fresh produce every morning at the local markets, so you are sure to eat something authentic. Pick a popular stall, do as the locals do and go for it.
- Drink Bia Hoi
With the drink, choose the local if you can’t go over budget. Every day, around 5pm, Vietnamese coffee shops take to the streets and fill the sidewalks with red plastic furniture and toothpick pots. This only means one thing: Bia Hoi time. That means pints at 10 cents and Asian tapas, like fried spinach and beef dumplings at about 50 cents a plate. Grab a stool and watch the world while you get fed up with almost nothing. This daily ritual is quite common throughout Southeast Asia and every country or city has its own version of Bia Hoi, the beer brewed in Hanoi. Take advantage of these ridiculous prices, try some of the tastiest home-cooked food and meet some of the locals.
Don’t be ashamed if you want to get a bargain. Be sure to bargain at the markets if you want to pay the best price for anything from tea or coffee to designer knockoffs. Shopkeepers at least expect you to ask for a discount, so there’s no shame in it. Often the price goes up when they realize you are a tourist, so there is room to negotiate the price of that “Prado” bag or those silk slippers. Be stubborn and you’ll get more than a bargain, plus more pocket money for the Bia Hoi.
- Leave your toothbrush at home
Most cheap hostels and hotels in Southeast Asia offer free toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and even razors. Needless to say, they are not of the best quality, but they do the job and save you from buying all these things that often cost quite a bit of money. Plus, you’ll save a little space in your suitcase to pack another bikini or a book to read on the beach.
- Avoid organized tours as much as possible
Sometimes organized tours are the easiest and cheapest way to see the breathtaking views Southeast Asia has to offer, especially if you don’t have much time or have to get on a ferry or local bus to get there. But, whenever you can, try to organize yourself. In the bigger cities, the local bus network will take you anywhere you want for little money. Alternatively, you can rent a bike for three euros and go for a ride, the adventure is guaranteed! For example, if you plan to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia, instead of getting on a crowded bus from a travel agency, rent a bike and be there at dawn. You will be able to see the sunrise and save a lot of money.
- Set the price of the taxi before you get in
If you want to go by car, tuk tuk and taxis abound in most cities and towns. However, before getting in, make sure you set the price of the ride and try to ask for a discount. This will ensure that the price of the trip doesn’t go through the roof once you’ve reached your destination. Make sure you know the exact address where you want to get off. Taxi drivers have been known to drive around and stop at travel agencies and hotels to try to convince travellers to book a tour or change their accommodation and then charge more for the extra trip. Setting the price and knowing where you’re going will help you avoid moments like this and not get taken for a ride.