Travel Southeast Asia on a shoestring.
Travelling cheap is all about being smart. Be smart and read our short guide. It will help you plan your trip to SE Asia in a way that most other blogs can’t. That’s because they all talk about specific guesthouses and restaurants. Invariably, your favourite Hummus place in Pnomh Penh will be demolished to make another KTV. To get around this I am going to first give some tips about how to travel smart, with saving money and staying out a long time being the emphasis. In this series I will be going over how to effectively travel on a shoestring, looking at the issue from a few different perspectives. Initially a few brief pointers on how to save some cash will get us started.
Be diverse and open minded and there are many valuable, tangible experiences to be gained and shared from solo backpacking. There needs to be a balance between hedonism and exploitation and a balance in your checkbook. Unfortunately travelling on a shoestring means that you have less options to make an impact in any local environment that you may encounter. However the nature of traveling will put people who travel in contact with other individuals and possibilities frequently. There needs to be an open mind in regards to meeting others while travelling as just saying ‘yes’ can lead the traveller to a million different places. Why not go work on an eco-farm in Chiang Mai? Stay with the Khmer family in Kampot! Many interesting and lengthy projects might await if you meet the right person and ask the right things.
Use Google Flights always. Unfortunately as of 2017, most mainstream flight scanners such as Expedia and Skyscanner will remember which flights you search for and elevate the prices the more you check them. Finding the best deal is easy with Google flights. It aggregates way more results, is more user friendly, has better offers, prices and hints to show you how to save even more on your flights.
If you can, use Secretflying.com. It sometimes has incredible deals as long as you don’t care where you want to go. Otherwise finding a perfect match can be hard due to the random nature of the deals. It is an aggregate of all the human errors and computer errors that these guys can can compile, fast enough that the contract will be honoured by the carriers.
When traveling in Asia, look for low-cost carriers first. Here is a list from Wikipedia.
When traveling in continental SE Asia, try to not fly too much, it is way cheaper to get the bus from Phuket to Chang Mai for example, but takes way longer. I will always recommend the cheaper journey. With an open mind, boring long journeys can turn into a good excuse to meet strangers and bond.
If you are by yourself, in Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia, you should be getting motorcycle taxis (moto-dop in Khmer) for all short to mid-length journeys. Read 1-45 Km. Obviously don’t sit on a motorbike with your massive traveling bag plus two smaller bags unless you are confident in both your driver’s and your own abilities.
When in a group, depending on the area then either taxis or tuk-tuks/rickshaws. Bear in mind, with your crap haggling skills you might pay more for a rickshaw if you don’t watch out. In a big city like Bangkok, getting a metered taxi as a group of 4 can be cheaper than a metro or BTS. In a similar manner, two couples renting two bikes can see more in a day than by sharing a taxi or rickshaws. So be smart and change your transport according to your needs and situation.
When in staying in one spot for a few days or more, rent a motorbike. Almost all over Asia this is possible. I won’t get into bike safety for now, but needless to say the traffic isn’t the same as in Europe. A small scooter or motorbike should be between $2-10 per day. Comparatively, a single rickshaw or tuk-tuk could cost $10 in some places.
Accept the cabal and walk way. most transit stations at a local and international level all over SE Asia have tuk-tuk ‘collectives’. If they all agree that as a foreigner you will pay $10-25 for a ride to Sihanoukville bus station to the beach, you probably will- no matter your haggling skills. They set the price as a group and will simply refuse to take you in some cases. Don’t despair. However without knowing that it is only $4 dollars for a motorbike for a day in Sihanoukville and $1 dollar a litre for petrol then $10 might seem reasonable for a 3km journey. Well it is not, you could walk, get a moto-dop, or walk then get a moto-dop (recommended) further away where the price is more reasonable.
There are lots of blogs that write about bags in depth but for now I want to make the point- that if you can’t carry your bag for a long period of time in the baking hot sun, sweating heavily. Then you probably should have picked different kit. Many snap decisions are made for the sake of comfort. Yes, the air-conditioned taxi is cold but if you had a lighter bag and less stuff you could fit on the moto and cool down from the breeze. You won’t need to ‘treat’ yourself to a nice hotel room if you plan efficiently and comprehensively.
Get to know the money! Knowing the conversions from Laotian kip to Dollars might be the difference in paying twenty-five percent more for whatever goods or service you are buying. Get to know and expect the level of service that is offered in your local, but always try to be cheerful, as a smile can make a big difference in haggling. Be conscientious of how much you are paying. Yeah it might be 500 riels less if you were Khmer but come on- are you gonna be the person that haggles for three percent less on a single egg?
Using these tips and others which I would love to hear about in the comments, we can start to be smarter backpackers and enjoy these countries completely while being broke and stingy. We will do a whole piece on how to look for good restaurants and save money while dining. Please like this page and follow our updates for more tips on how to backpack and for cool destinations, itineraries, and reviews.