asia · cambodia · hongkong · malaysia · singapore · thailand · travel tips · vietnam

Budgeting For Your Southeast Asia Trip

In this post, I’m going to outline exactly how much this part of the trip cost us, and hopefully it will help some of you to budget what you need.

I’ve been working on this for a while and meant to post it along with my other budgeting guides but didn’t think it was ready. It’s probably one of the most comprehensive information posts I’ll do!

We were in Asia for three months: Hong Kong for a week, Vietnam for three weeks, Cambodia for ten days, Thailand for almost six weeks, Malaysia for four days and Singapore for three days.

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Flight: £332 each with Vietnam Airlines
Insurance: £600 between us with Explorer Insurance (note that this covers 18 months so 3 months will be far cheaper!)
Currency: Approx. £3,200 between us (see below for breakdown)
Flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: £80 between us
Flight from Singapore to Australia: £177 each with Emirates (operating under Qantas)
Other costs: I probably paid up to £100 for accommodation, for both deposits on Hostelbookers and complete costs paid on card in advance with Agoda. I also booked our Singapore Zoo and Universal tickets online, but we had a lot of currency left over which counterbalanced this (we just converted it into Aussie dollars instead).
Elephant Nature Park was mostly paid with our currency (19,200 baht paid on arrival for both of us), but we had to pay a £50 deposit each on the website. This was gratefully paid for by my parents as a Christmas present, but I will include it in our budget!
Train journeys booked online: Malaysia to Singapore, 32MYR each

= £2,382 each
(minus external flights, i.e. costs *in* Asia only = £1,873)

Currency taken out (between two people):
Hong Kong dollars – $2,300 ($170 left over)
Vietnamese dong – approx. £500 (around 15 or 16 million dong)
US dollars (for Cambodia & some tours in Vietnam) – $400 in Cambodia & $300 in Vietnam
Thai baht – 80,000 baht (plus had to take an extra 10,000 out for our last few days, so 90,000 altogether)
Malaysian ringgit – £174 (around 1,150MYR)
Singapore dollars – $600

(See up-to-date exchange rates on xe.com.)

Note that you ONLY need to take US dollars to Cambodia – you will be given large change in dollars anyway and only any odd change in riel.

The currency paid for almost everything – most accommodation except Agoda (full upfront payments) and Hostelbookers deposits, all transport, all food/drink and all visas except for the Vietnam approval letter which was paid for online.

BUDGET ADVICE

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Our bungalow on Koh Phangan, Thailand

ACCOMMODATION

This is mostly hostel dorms, but bear in mind we didn’t really stay anywhere horrible! See my “Where We Stayed” page for a list and quick review for everywhere to make up your own minds! Plus I’ve outlined exactly how much every place cost.

Hong Kong – £15 per night
Vietnam – under £5 per night
Cambodia – under £5 per night
Thailand – under £5 per night
Malaysia – £6 per night
Singapore – £7.50 per night

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Perusing some markets in Bangkok

FOOD

Food in SE Asia is universally cheap with street food options widely available, or you can spend more on restaurant prices. We all have different styles of travel and also you may be happy to splurge on vacation – we were on a budget backpacking trip, so my advice is aimed at people taking this kind of trip.

Hong Kong has various cafés and diners that offer very cheap dishes, so seek these out! It can be notoriously expensive, though we didn’t really check out any proper restaurants. We found a great little diner around the corner from our hostel that spoke no English, but we had the most delicious char siu for about £2!

Vietnam is ridiculously cheap. We ate at streetside cafés for little over £1, and even eating out, our most expensive meal at a fairly posh restaurant in Hoi An cost us £15 between us. It sounds cheap, but remember if you spend this every night it adds up terrifyingly quickly! We ALWAYS had this in mind.

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Chicken amok curry in Cambodia

Cambodia was similar in prices – streetside cafés aren’t as common, but restaurants are still super cheap. (yummy chicken amok curry pictured above for under $4)

In Thailand, I regularly ate noodles and chicken fried rice for £1 or 80p (40 or 50 baht), I had chicken kebabs for 30p, I even grabbed a plate of noodles in Chiang Mai for 20p (10 baht)! If we ate out, it would usually be under 400 baht (£8) for both of us (Cabbages & Condoms was an exception at 900 baht). We also lived on smoothies… oh, the smoothies! They were usually around 50 baht or less.

Malaysia wasn’t even a lot more expensive. A friend took us to a really good Indian place in Penang where the bill for 3 of us came to under £10 – and that included 6 soft drinks! Kuala Lumpur, like any major city, can be pricey so choose wisely. We treated ourselves to Nando’s (a cheeky one of course) which wasn’t much cheaper than the UK chain.

And Singapore was SURPRISINGLY cheap. Again, we chose local food markets as opposed to proper restaurants and tourist markets. We had lunch at the Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown for £2, dinner at Makansutra for £4, but both of these were recommendations from local friends, and we could otherwise have spent more than we would spend back home!

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One of the many hippie bars on Koh Lanta, Thailand

DRINK

A major reason Asia is such a popular destination for travellers is the price of booze. I enjoy drinking, but I’ll admit this wasn’t a major draw for us in the first place and consequently we didn’t want to budget too much for it.

However, in Bangkok we were drinking cocktails for 70 baht (under £1.50!), in Vietnam we had many, many bia hoi beers for 15p (5,000 dong, or 25 cents!!), and in Cambodia we were drinking $1 beers and $2 happy hour cocktails. It’s INSANE how cheap it is.

But bear in mind these aren’t always regular prices. In Thailand, I managed to find rum & cokes in Chiang Mai for 60 baht (our beloved Pentatonic rock bar), but everywhere else they were at least 100. Cocktails could be upwards of 160, and a big bottle of Chang was often 120 (90 if you’re lucky). Even in Vietnam, an actual bottle of beer, as opposed to bia hoi, is usually 25,000 dong (around 75p or $1.20).

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Enjoying some cheap beer in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Make sure you budget accordingly, and remember if you go off the beaten path you’ll probably find cheaper drinks! Stick to Khao San Road or Phi Phi and you might go above budget. Our 70 baht cocktails were from two pop up bars on Rammbuttri street.

Unsurprisingly, Hong Kong and Singapore are the most expensive places to drink – HK was much akin to London pub prices (£4 upwards) and Singapore charged an insane $12 (£6) for a pint. Needless to say, we didn’t drink much in either of those places!

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Rowing down the Mekong Delta in Vietnam

TOURS

Most of the tours we booked were in Vietnam, and charged in USD instead of VND. These were:
Halong Bay – $89 each, two day one night trip (it’s possible to book one for $45 but we were unsure on these!)
Ninh Binh – $30 each, day trip from Hanoi
Mekong Delta – $26 each, two day trip from Saigon including one night in a hotel
Cu Chi Tunnels – $11 each, half day trip from Saigon

I am a stickler for doing things independently and avoiding pricey tours, but all of these were great. We met people at the port for Halong Bay and in Ninh Binh who had had a nightmare either getting there or organising tickets or boat rides (particularly finding decent boats in Halong) once they were there, though it’s very possible to do it yourself.

Our snorkelling tour in Koh Tao cost 700 baht each and included 4 reef spots around the island, plus stopped for the afternoon on Koh Tao’s iconic northern neighbour, Koh Nang Yuan.

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Relaxing with a monk after some meditation

Our favourite tour was Bodhi Tree’s spiritual tour in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where we meditated under a tree with a monk and had a water blessing after being shown around a temple! This cost $35 each including the tuk tuk.

Our tuk tuk for Angkor Wat cost $15 between us plus $5 extra for the sunrise. Remember that Angkor Wat tickets are among the most expensive entry fees in SE Asia, at $20 for a day ticket!

We also took a tuk tuk to the Choeung Ek killing fields museum, which cost us $15 between us but I knew we had been ripped off. Try to pay no more than $12; you may even get one for $10. The one we took was outside Mad Monkey hostel and we only managed to shave $1 off his price with loads of bartering!

Always do your research beforehand, to see what’s worth it and what isn’t.

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Grand Palace, Bangkok

ATTRACTION ENTRY FEES

As above, Angkor Wat will be your most expensive entry fee. It’s $20 for a day, $40 for 3 days or $60 for a week.

Bangkok was our second highest outlay of entry fee costs; there have been large increases in the cost of visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. The Grand Palace now costs 500 baht to enter – £10! Wat Pho has doubled from 100 baht to 200 baht. Both are fully worth visiting though.

Thailand ended up being one of the cheaper countries however, as most temples are free.

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A haunting plaque at the Prison Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam

In Vietnam, we visited a lot of museums but all of them were under £1 to visit, except the citadel (ancient city) in Hué which I think was almost £10! Apart from this, Vietnam is ridiculously cheap and you barely even need to budget for the attractions.

In Cambodia, we visited both the Choeung Ek killing fields, $6 including audio commentary, and the Tuol Sleng prison for $2.

We only paid for one attraction in Malaysia – the Kek Lok Si temple in Penang. Entrance to the temple is free, but the lift to the top in the funicular is 6MYR.

We visited two paid-for attractions in Hong Kong. While the Big Buddha is free, the cable car to get up to the village costs $165HK return (£14). The Victoria Peak tram is $40HK (about £3.50). Big difference between these two costs!

And we spent the most amount of money in Singapore. A 2-park zoo pass (we did Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari) is $71 (in researching this I found we paid $64 so it must have gone up) and a day at Universal is $74. I actually got $10 off for paying with Mastercard, which may have been a temporary promotion.

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Our tickets out of Thailand

TRANSPORT

Transport is something that can eat up a lot of your budget and something a lot of people don’t consider. We found it especially expensive in Cambodia (comparatively!) – our bus to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh was $12 each way! This was almost as much as our three buses – including two overnight – in Vietnam put together!

Here’s roughly what we spent in each country:
Vietnam – overnight train (Hanoi -> Hué, £20 or 700k VND)  + 3 bus journeys (Hué to Hoi An to Nha Trang to Saigon, £15 or 500k VND) + onward travel to Phnom Penh ($12 bus): under £50 each
Cambodia – buses to/from Sihanoukville and to Siem Reap (all from Phnom Penh, $12) + onward travel to Bangkok ($8 bus): $44 (£30) each
Thailand – overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (approx. 1000 baht), bus & ferry to Koh Phangan (600 baht), ferry to Koh Tao (250 baht I think), ferry & bus to Koh Lanta (over 1000 baht), return ferry to Koh Phi Phi (600 baht), bus to Krabi (250 or 300 baht), return longtail boat to Railay (300 baht), bus to Surat Thani (250 baht), return minibus to Khanom + onward travel to Penang (882 baht train): £100+
Malaysia – bus to KL and train to Singapore: 32MYR and 35MYR (about £10)

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On the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

And inner-city travel where we used it:
Hong Kong – $100HK from airport to city centre (£8.50) – the bus is cheaper but we were arriving very late. MTR fares vary but it’s usually under £1 each way – view the fare system here (PDF file)
Bangkok – MRT & BTS sky train: between 15 and 40 baht each way. Minivan to Ayutthaya: 60 baht each way
Chiang Mai – 20 baht for songthaews, or 30 baht to/from the train station
Penang – 2.40MYR for the bus to Kek Lok Si temple
Kuala Lumpur – 1.20MYR for a single ticket on the underground
Singapore – $20 for a 3 day underground pass

Taxis, tuk tuks and songthaews varied greatly – on Koh Phangan, we had to pay 200 baht EACH to get to our accommodation! That’s ten times more than Chiang Mai! We also took a pick up truck from Mae Haad to Sairee on Koh Tao which we were also quoted 200 each for. We managed to barter him down to 100 each.

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We bought a 60 day visa for Thailand to save doing a visa run

VISAS

Let’s not forget the legal part of travelling – being able to enter the countries! As UK citizens, we are privileged to have access to many free visas or extra time allowed, so please make sure you check the rules for your passport. Here is a summary of the visas we had:

Hong Kong – 6 months granted on arrival, free
Vietnam – $22 approval letter, $65 on arrival for multi-entry 1 month visa (single-entry is $45)
Cambodia – $30 on arrival, they also charge $5 admin fee which I didn’t want to pay!
Thailand – we paid $40 in Hanoi for a 60 day visa, passport/visa took one day to process
Malaysia – 30 days on arrival, free
Singapore – 30 days on arrival, free

I hope this guide will help some of you to budget your travels! I went to Asia with no idea what to expect on costs of buses, food or drink, but I think I budgeted really well – the only time we ran short was less a week before leaving Thailand, and also we spent far more dollars in Vietnam than expected and had to exchange more for Cambodia.

If you need any more info, or see any info that has changed drastically, let me know in the comments below!

Please note: we travelled between March – May 2015 and some prices may differ. Please use this as a guideline for budgeting.

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12 thoughts on “Budgeting For Your Southeast Asia Trip

  1. This is very useful as I am planning my trip to Southeast Asia from January on as well. Will be making some notes out of this post. Also, did you go to Vietnam over land or via plane? Cause I know you need a visa approval letter if you get a VOA at the airport, but does the same go if you get a visa at one of the embassies in Laos?
    Anyhow, another great post! :)

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    1. Thank you Angelique! Sorry I completely forgot to include Hong Kong to Vietnam!! We had a bit of a disaster with that and had to book a last minute flight!

      We arrived by plane and you just need the letter of approval and they will stick the visa in your passport at the airport. If you arrive by land you will need the visa in advance. :) Hope this helps!

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      1. Yep, that’s what I meant. Cause I’m going over land via Laos to Vietnam. I know you can get a visa upfront in one of the bigger cities at the Vietnam embassy. I just wasn’t sure if you would need a letter for that or not. I guessed not, but I just wanted to be sure. ;-) But thanks! I’ll keep following your posts. :)

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        1. I am pretty sure you don’t as the embassy is processing your visa so they’ll do the work. Whereas the letter provides extra security for the visa on arrival.

          Are you getting the bus to Hanoi? I hear that’s a pretty epic journey! And thank you btw! :)

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  2. you have a relatively accurate prices re: Bangkok and Cambodia. I had been to these places myself. Thank you for your suggestions to Vietnam and Malaysia. Will visit these on my next vacation. Enjoy your travelling! Thank you!

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    1. Thank you, Bernard! I travelled there in March – May of this year so some prices may have changed slightly. (I still can’t believe some of the Bangkok attraction fees had doubled!!)

      Hope you have the best time on your travels, Vietnam is one of my favourite countries! :D

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      1. We visited Wat Pho in August this year and the entrance fee was still at THB100 – that includes a cold bottled water and a cloth bag for the shoes (to be returned at the temple’s exit). We passed up the chance for the Grand Palace – hundredssss of tourists were lined up for tickets – you are right the entrance fee was THB500. You forget to mention that entry to these temples are incredibly strict : no tank tops and mini skirts for the ladies-legs and shoulders should be covered for both gender. There are “pajamas” for sale for THB100 at the souvenir stalls near the gate, though. :)

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        1. That’s really interesting, I’m sure I remember it being 200 baht because I was really surprised! Thanks for the extra info, I forgot it included those. :)

          Grand Palace was ridiculously busy but I enjoyed it. SO many tour groups though! And I can’t believe how many people I saw trying to get in with short shorts and tank tops (all over Asia, not just here). This post is dedicated to budgeting so I haven’t included all extra info like this. :)

          And for what it’s worth, I preferred Wat Pho!

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