Southeast Asia Travel Budget for Backpackers

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Backpacking Southeast Asia is a true adventure, and backpackers get their first taste of that when they begin planning their Southeast Asia itinerary! The most important question many Southeast Asia travelers have is: How much does it cost to backpack Southeast Asia? In this complete Southeast Asia budget guide I’ll share everything you need to know to plan a Southeast Asia travel budget for backpackers!

In this guide I’ll cover budgeting for Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam including visa costs, transportation costs, food costs, and accommodation costs. I’ll also include plenty of helpful hints to get your Southeast Asia backpacking trip off on the right foot.

What You’ll Find in this Southeast Asia Budget Guide

Southeast Asia Quick Budget Summary

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For a couple traveling on a budget you should be able to travel Southeast Asia for $60 per day. At this price you can stay in budget air conditioned rooms with private bathrooms, eat one restaurant meal per day (the rest will be street food), and go on the occasional paid tour/excursion.

For a solo traveler you should budget $30- $40 dollars per day.

Continue reading for a detailed Southeast Asia budget breakdown by country!

Southeast Asia Backpacking Expenses- Before you Leave

The first expenses you need to consider are your pre-trip costs. These include airline tickets, vaccinations (if needed), travel insurance, and a few essentials that you will want to bring from home!

Flights to Southeast Asia

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You will most likely be flying into Bangkok, Thailand from the United States. This is usually the cheapest Southeast Asian city to fly into because it is the largest, and has the biggest airport. Cheap flights to Southeast Asia are relatively easy to find, especially if you have time to shop around!

Round Trip Flights

Round trip flights to Bangkok from the West coast of the United States can be found as cheap as $600! Keep in mind, however, that a price that cheap usually means you’ll have to make several connections, and you will experience at least one very long layover.

One Way Flights

Tom and I flew one way to Bangkok since we planned to stay in Southeast Asia for 6 months, and it was hard to predict our exact schedule. Our one way flight to Bangkok from Portland, Oregon cost $480 per person on Korean Air (which we HIGHLY recommend).

This was an extremely comfortable flight, and after taking an American Airlines flight back to the US from Bangkok we realize it’s worth springing a little extra cash to take Korean Air.

Our return flight cost more because we flew to the East coast of the US (Connecticut), so we spent $600 per person on the return flight.

As you can see, in the long run it costs less to go ahead and book a round trip flight to Southeast Asia. However, we really appreciated the flexibility of having no set return date.

Proof of Onward Travel Explained

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Keep in mind that if you do choose to fly one way to Thailand you still need to have “proof of onward travel”. Since you are only allowed to stay one month when you arrive in Thailand, the airline you are flying may want proof that you will be leaving Thailand within that 30 day period.

Proof of onward travel needs to be a flight out of the country of Thailand. Luckily, there are TONS of dirt cheap flights within Southeast Asia. We simply booked a flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for 30 days from our initial Thailand arrival date.

This budget flight only cost $30 per person, and gave us proof of onward travel. The airline never actually asked to see our proof, though they did ask the date of our onward travel. I wouldn’t want to have to scramble for proof of onward travel at the gate (if the airline did ask for it), so having the proof already sorted out was well worth it to us.

Vaccination Information for Southeast Asia

There are a number of vaccine recommendations for different Southeast Asian countries. Tom and I already have more vaccinations that the average American due to our professional backgrounds (his as a paramedic and mine as an exotic animal trainer).

Because of this we chose not to get any additional vaccines before our trip. With that said, you absolutely should consult your doctor while planning your trip to see which vaccines they recommend you get! Vaccine costs can add up fast, so do this as early as possible in your planning phase.

Again, I am not a medical professional and cannot advise you as to whether you should get vaccinated before your Southeast Asia travels.

Visas for Southeast Asian Countries

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Visas and border crossings are a huge part of traveling around Southeast Asia, but they can be very confusing. There are often strict guidelines you need to follow to enter each new country. Here I’ll go over the visa process and the visa costs for each Southeast Asian country we visited.

Thailand Visa

When you fly into Thailand from the United States or Canada you are eligible for a 30-day visa exemption. This means that for your first 30 days in Thailand you do not need a visa to visit.

There is also a rule that you must have at least 10,000 THB ($328 USD) in order to enter Thailand. This insures that you can actually survive for 30 days in the country.

If you want to stay in Thailand longer than one month you have a couple options.

1.) You can pre-arrange a 90-day visa through the Thai embassy in the US.

2.) Once you’re in Thailand you can go to an immigration office to get a one month extension for your 30-day visa exemption. You can only do this once per trip so keep that in mind!

There is no cost for the 30 day visa exemption. If you decide you’d like to extend your visa exemption 1 month it will cost 1900 THB ($62 USD).

Laos Visa

US citizens can get a visa on arrival for Laos at several ports of entry. In order to get a visa on arrival you will need two passport size photographs and $35 USD.

If you don’t have passport size photographs they will often charge you a few extra dollars to make copies of the photo in your passport. However, I would not count on this option being available- bring your own photos!

If you would like to extend your stay in Laos you can visit the immigration office in Vientiane, where you can extend your stay up to an additional 60 days at a rate of $2 USD per day.

Cambodia Visa

Cambodia allows US and Canadian citizens who are flying into the country to pre-purchase an eVisa online which can be printed and brought to the airport. This visa will allow you 30 days in Cambodia.

However, if you are planning to enter Cambodia by land then you will need to have one passport size photo and $40 USD (I would recommend having $10 of this in one dollar bills).

The process may cost you $30 or it may cost you anywhere up to $40 depending on how many officials require a $1 charge to move you to the next step in the process. Keep in mind that Cambodia is very poor and very corrupt, and these surcharges are a solid example of that.

Crossing the Cambodian border by land (usually on a bus or minibus) is a disorganized, difficult process, and I would recommend crossing by air if at all possible. We crossed the land border from Laos to Cambodia and would not repeat the experience.

Once you’re in Cambodia if you would like to extend your visa you can do so in Phnom Penh at the immigration office. You can extend for an additional 30 days at a cost of between $30 and $50 (again, plan on paying $50 and if it’s less consider yourself lucky).

Vietnam Visa

The visa process for Vietnam is a bit more complicated than the rest of the Southeast Asian countries.

If you are flying into Vietnam you must apply online for visa pre-approval. You will pay online and receive a pre-approval letter that you can download and take with you on the plane.

Keep in mind that it takes 3-5 business days to get your visa pre-approval so don’t wait until the last minute to apply online!

If you are traveling to Vietnam by land then you will need to get your Vietnam visa in advance from the Vietnam embassy in the country you are traveling from.

Most backpackers will enter Vietnam by bus from Cambodia. In this case you can get your Vietnam visa from a travel agency in Phnom Penh. Keep in mind that this can take 2-3 days so plan your travel schedule accordingly!

The cost for a Vietnam visa varies depending on how quickly you need it returned to you. We paid about $60 USD per person to have a Phnom Penh travel agency take care of our visas for us.

As of this writing, if you would like to extend your stay in Vietnam you will have to leave the country and return with a new visa. The Vietnamese government has discontinued tourist visa extensions.

Overstaying your Visa

Overstaying your visa is a bad idea in any of these countries. First off, the fees for overstaying your visa are steep- anywhere from $10-$20 USD per day depending on the country.

Along with the steep fee, you also risk being barred from entering that country again for a set period of time. If you overstay too long or too frequently, you could even be barred from ever entering the country again!

Here’s the bottom line- do everything in your power to avoid overstaying your visa!

Things to Buy BEFORE you Leave Home

There are some Southeast Asia backpacking essentials that you will need to purchase BEFORE you leave for your trip. These are items that you won’t be able to easily find once you’re in Southeast Asia, and they are all things that will make your trip safer and more comfortable!

Travel Insurance for Backpacking Southeast Asia

Travel insurance is an absolute must for a Southeast Asia trip. The Southeast Asian countries are not like the US or Canada at all. There are no uniform safety standards for anything- buildings, roads, drivers.

The few safety standards that are in place are rarely enforced at all. Add to that the fact that you won’t speak the language, often won’t be able to read posted signs, and the reality is that you are at a higher risk for accidents than you are in your home country.

What if you are in an accident and can’t continue your travels? What if you’re injured so severely that you need to be transported from Cambodia to Thailand for medical care? What if your backpack is stolen and you need to replace some essential items?

All of these scenarios are why you MUST purchase travel insurance for your Southeast Asia backpacking trip. If you can’t afford travel insurance then you can’t afford the trip- save up until you CAN afford insurance.

We used World Nomads for our travel insurance in Southeast Asia. We chose World Nomads because the company was created with long term, adventure travelers in mind.

World Nomads covers plenty of adventure activities that other companies don’t, and you can easily extend your World Nomads travel insurance while you’re traveling. This is a huge perk if you decide that you want to extend your trip an extra month or more.

Best Backpacks for Traveling Asia with ONLY a Carry On

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I HIGHLY recommend traveling Southeast Asia with just a carry on backpack. There are SO many advantages to traveling carry on only in Asian countries.

First, I couldn’t count the number of times that Tom and I were able to board a bus/boat/plane first because we only had carry on bags with us! While everyone else was waiting in a long line to have their luggage thrown into a massive pile, we simply hopped right on and grabbed good seats.

We were also able to keep our bags with us on big bus rides where tourists’ valuables are known to go missing from the luggage storage areas, and it was never a problem when we had a long walk to our hotel because our bags weren’t too big or heavy.

Wondering how to fit everything you’ll need into a carry on bag? No worries! Check out this guide to packing for 6 months in a carry on bag!

Now that I’ve convinced you to go carry on only, let me recommend two AWESOME carry on travel bags:

Osprey Porter 46

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I used the Osprey Porter 46 liter bag for our 6 month backpacking trip. I absolutely loved this bag, and plan to use it forever and ever.

The Osprey Porter also comes in a 30 liter and 65 liter size. I could never have fit what I need into a 30 liter bag, and the 65 liter bag is not carry on size, so the 46 liter is just right!

The Osprey Porter has a few features that really stood out once we were on the move.

First, the entire front panel unzips so you can pack it just like a regular suitcase. This is a HUGE advantage over top-loading bags because you can easily open it up and find a specific item.

Also, the Porter has a hip belt that makes walking long distances super comfortable by resting the bag’s weight on your hips rather than your back.

The Porter also has a well-padded back panel that protected my laptop nicely, AND was comfortable against my back while walking.

The 46 liters of space in this bag are well designed, and I was able to fit my laptop, a DSLR camera, camera gear, AND all of my clothes in it!

North Face Router Pack

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Tom began our trip with a top-loading backpacking pack that very quickly began to drive him nuts since he could never find what he needed. He quickly began looking for a more suitable pack, and finally we found him the North Face Router in Vietnam!

The North Face Router is a 40 liter bag, so it’s a bit smaller than my Osprey Porter 46. That worked just find for Tom because he wasn’t carrying a bunch of blogging equipment with him!

The North Face Router also has a front panel that unzips like a suitcase so it is easy to pack, and it’s easy to find a specific item quickly!

The Router also features a removable hip belt, several gear pockets for items like phones/laptops/etc., and padded straps that make it comfortable to carry long distances.

Tom is super pleased with his North Face Router and plans to continue using it on our future travels.

Packing Cubes

The true secret to living out of a carry on for 6 months is compressible packing cubes!

We each purchased a set of 3 cubes, and not only did they allow us to fit more clothes in our bags, but they ALSO helped us to keep our bags organized. I assigned certain types of clothes to each cube, and that made it really easy to find clothing items quickly.

You do NOT need to buy top of the line, expensive packing cubes. Ours held up beautifully for the whole 6 months, and we plan to continue using them on future trips.

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Luggage Lock

This is definitely a Southeast Asia backpacking essential! There will be plenty of instances when you want to leave your bag at a hotel reception desk or in a hotel room. Locking the zippers on your bag is a great way to keep the contents of your bag safe.

Passport Photos

I recommend bringing at least 4 passport size photos with you to Southeast Asia. There are several border crossings where they will want a passport size photo for your visa, and already having them will save you time.

You will need to have passport photos taken locally. A quick google search should help you find a store near you that can print these for you.

Reef Friendly Sunscreen

You’ll want to bring your own sunscreen to Southeast Asia because it is very expensive to buy it there.

Did you know that coral reefs in Vietnam and especially in Thailand have been rapidly dying over the past decade? One of the contributing factors to this dye-off is all the sunscreen in the water from tourists.

Buying a reef safe sunscreen is a great way to reduce your impact on the coral reefs in Thailand and Vietnam. Be sure to get containers that are less than 3.4oz (100ml) so you can keep them in your carry on bag when you fly overseas!

Southeast Asia Travel Guide

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We used Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Budget Guide to plan our trip, and we highly recommend it for budget travelers!

This guide covers every country in Southeast Asia, so no matter where you’re planning to visit you’ll have all the information you need!

The only downside to this guide is that it is HUGE, so we chose to buy the digital copy and keep it on our phones rather than hauling a giant book with us.


Southeast Asia Travel Budget for Backpackers by Country

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Here I’ll break down your budget by country, and I’ve actually broken up Thailand by Northern and Southern Thailand because Southern Thailand is significantly more expensive than the North/Central parts of the country

The budget below reflects the costs for two people (Tom and I).

I’ve noted the local currencies, but I’ve written the budget in US dollars to make planning your budget easier.

Accommodation Notes

We stayed in budget level rooms, but not necessarily the cheapest rooms available. When it came to hotels we tried to balance price and comfort, so we chose private double rooms with private bathrooms over hostel dorms and shared bathrooms.

Keep in mind that double rooms usually cost the same amount per person as we would have paid in a hostel dorm room anyway, so for couples private double rooms almost always are a better value!

If you are traveling solo you can safely assume your hostel dorm beds will cost about half of what we paid for double rooms.

There was one week in Southern Thailand when I stayed in a hostel while Tom and his son traveled to Bangkok. My expenses that week were almost exactly half of our typical expenses as a couple!

Generally speaking, accommodations in big cities will cost far more than towns/ rural areas, but you can save on food costs by eating street food.

Food Notes

Our restaurant dinners nearly always included a 24oz local beer which we would split. The drinks/nightlife category refers to the money we spent drinking at bars and clubs.

You’ll notice that we rarely stayed under our projected $1500/month budget. I think that $1500/month would have been possible if we were willing to forgo air conditioning and drink less beer, but, to be honest, it was worth the extra couple hundred per month to be comfortable!

Northern/ Central Thailand Travel Budget for Backpackers

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In Thailand we nearly always booked a room with air conditioning. The exception to that was in the mountain town of Pai where it was cool enough for us to stay in a bungalow with just a fan.

Most hostel dorms are air conditioned.

Currency Used: Thai Baht

Exchange Rate: 30 THB equals 1 USD

How long we were there: 1 month

How much we spent: $1441.32

Monthly Budget: $1500

Daily Budget: $48


Portion of budget spent on accommodation: $428

Portion of budget spent on food: $474

Portion of budget spent on transportation: $135

Portion of budget spent on drinks/nightlife: $112

Portion of budget spent on massages: $91


Average budget hotel cost: $15

Average cost of street food meal: $3

Average cost of restaurant meal: $6.50

Massage cost: $5- $15

Public transportation costs: $2- $17

Motorbike rental: $5-$10 per day


Book a budget hotel in Northern/Central Thailand:

Southern Thailand Travel Budget for Backpackers

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Most of our travels in Southern Thailand consisted of island hopping, and the cost of ferries between islands adds up fast! To save money in Southern Thailand consider staying on each island for a longer period of time to avoid excessive ferry costs.

Currency Used: Thai Baht

Exchange Rate: 30 THB equals 1 USD

How long we were there: 2 months

How much we spent: $4200

Monthly Budget: $2100

Daily Budget: $70


Portion of budget spent on accommodation: $1900

Portion of budget spent on food: $585

Portion of budget spent on transportation: $475

Portion of budget spent on drinks/nightlife: $310

Portion of budget spent on massages: $355


Average budget hotel cost: $23

Average cost of street food meal: $3.50

Average cost of restaurant meal: $8

Average Massage cost: $8- $18

Transportation costs: $3- $30

Book a budget hotel in Southern Thailand:

Laos Travel Budget for Backpackers

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Laos is actually cheaper than Thailand, but we were in Luang Prabang over the holidays (Christmas and New Years) so room prices were higher than usual, and we also splurged a bit on Western food and drinks to celebrate.

Southeast Asia is a VERY popular holiday destination. To avoid inflated hotel costs you can spend the holidays in a rural area where room prices won’t change during this time period. For example, had we spent the holidays in Muang Ngoi we could have spent just $8/night for a river view bungalow!

Click here for our complete guide to backpacking Laos!


Currency Used: Laotian Kip

Exchange Rate: 8,810 LAK equals 1 USD

How long we were there: 1 month

How much we spent: $1680

Monthly Budget: $1500

Daily Budget: $56


Portion of budget spent on accommodation: $630

Portion of budget spent on food: $475

Portion of budget spent on transportation: $171

Portion of budget spent on drinks/nightlife: $175

Portion of budget spent on massages: $75


Average budget hotel cost: $21

Average cost of street food meal: $3

Average cost of restaurant meal: $7

Average Massage cost: $8- $18

Transportation costs: $3- $15


Book a budget hotel room in Laos:

Cambodia Travel Budget for Backpackers

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The primary currency in Cambodia is actually US dollars! While they do have their own currency (the Cambodian riel), it is only used for very small transactions like street food carts.

One thing to note about the currency is that your dollars need to be in GOOD shape, especially your twenty dollar bills. Many businesses will not accept crumpled or faded bills.

It is important to note that we spent two weeks of our time in Cambodia in the city of Siem Reap where Angkor Wat is located. Siem Reap is far more expensive than more rural areas of Cambodia. We absolutely wouldn’t change a thing, though, because we spent 7 days exploring the temples of Angkor, which was a once in a lifetime experience!

Click here for our guide to backpacking Cambodia!


Currency Used: US Dollars and Cambodian Riel

Exchange Rate: 4,410 KHR equals 1 USD

How long we were there: 1 month

How much we spent: $1790

Monthly Budget: $1500

Daily Budget: $56


Portion of budget spent on accommodation: $514

Portion of budget spent on food: $527

Portion of budget spent on transportation: $235

Portion of budget spent on drinks/nightlife: $194

Portion of budget spent on massages: $75

Portion of budget spent on Angkor Wat Passes: $144


Average budget hotel cost: $17

Average cost of street food meal: $2

Average cost of restaurant meal: $7

Average Massage cost: $10- $20

Transportation costs: $3- $25


Book a budget hotel room in Cambodia:

Vietnam Travel Budget for Backpackers

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In Vietnam we splurged on an expensive cave tour in Phong Nha National Park. It was an incredible experience, but definitely inflated our budget for the month!

I would recommend having at least $200 of wiggle room in your monthly budget so you are able to afford some of the amazing tour experiences available in Southeast Asia.

Click here for our guide to backpacking Vietnam!


Currency Used: Vietnamese Dong

Exchange Rate: 23,200 VND equals 1 USD

How long we were there: 1 month

How much we spent: $1750

Monthly Budget: $1500

Daily Budget: $56


Portion of budget spent on accommodation: $480

Portion of budget spent on food: $450

Portion of budget spent on transportation: $375

Portion of budget spent on drinks/nightlife: $202

Portion of budget spent on massages: $40

Portion of budget spent on cave tour: $150


Average budget hotel cost: $16

Average cost of street food meal: $2

Average cost of restaurant meal: $5

Average Massage cost: $10- $20

Transportation costs: $3- $25


Book a budget hotel room in Vietnam:

How much does it cost to backpack Southeast Asia for 6 months?

NOTE: These costs are the total for 2 people!

Total pre-trip costs (including plane tickets and travel insurance): $1700

Total cost while traveling: $10,681

Return Flights: $1200

Total cost for a couple to backpack Southeast Asia for 6 months: $13,581

Total cost for a solo traveler to backpack Southeast Asia for 6 months: ~ $7,500- $8,000

Southeast Asia on a Shoestring- Money Saving Tips

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Eat street food at least once daily

Street food is a cornerstone of Southeast Asian culture, and you won’t have any trouble finding delicious options at the local street food stalls.

If you’re concerned about getting sick from street food, don’t be. We ate street food daily for months and never once got sick.

PRO Tip: Eat from street food stalls in high traffic areas, and try to stick to stalls that have customers ordering frequently. This insures that they are constantly cooking fresh food, rather than letting it sit for long hours in the heat.


Take advantage of all the 7-11s

There are 7-11 stores all over in Thailand, and there are similar quick stop corner stores in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

These stores have the cheapest beer prices, and a magical food called a “toastie”. Toasties are basically a grilled sandwich that they’ll heat up for you behind the counter when you purchase it. Toasties come in a variety of types, the ham and cheese was my favorite. At just 20 THB (about 75 cents), a toastie makes for a perfect cheap lunch!


Avoid Western Food

The fastest way to bust your budget in Southeast Asia is by eating Western food often. Western dishes usually cost double or more what you’ll pay for a local dish.

Plus, the Western food in Southeast Asia is rarely any good, so do yourself a favor and dig into the local cuisine!


Drink Local Beer Instead of Cocktails

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Alcohol is far more expensive than food in Southeast Asia, and cocktails are MUCH more expensive than beer! You can easily pay as much for a cocktail as you would for a whole meal in a restaurant!

In fact, outside of the occasional happy hour deals, cocktails in Southeast Asia cost about the same as they do in the US ($5- $7)!

Luckily, the local beer is usually cheap (this is especially true in Vietnam), and it’s actually really good!

Our favorite Southeast Asian beer was Beer Lao in Laos, and we liked it so much we’ve been keeping an eye on beer shops here in the states to see if anyone imports it.

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Backpacking through Asia is such an incredible travel experience, and now you have all the information you need to plan your Southeast Asia backpacking travel budget!

I know this is a LOT of information! Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, or shoot us a message, we’re happy to help.

Still working on planning your Southeast Asia travel itinerary? Check out our Southeast Asia backpacking route!

Wondering about the best places to visit in Southeast Asia? Check out this article where travel bloggers reveal their favorite spots in Southeast Asia!

Interested in reading more about full time travel? We sold everything and spent two years traveling North America in a camper!

Every summer we travel around the Western United States visiting all our favorite festivals. Read more about festival hopping here!

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