I’ve had a love affair with travel in Asia for more than a decade and I’m still astounded at how cheap many of the popular tourist destinations can be. Naturally, travel is even cheaper when you get off the beaten path. However, when you want to get your selfie stick out for a touristy trip, you can get those bucket list shots without breaking the bank to stay nearby.
Cheapest Tourist Destinations in Asia
Hội An, Vietnam
Other than the inner confines of its magical, lantern-lit Ancient Town, Hội An offers everything you need as a tourist, for bargain prices. Hotels and homestays with rice-field or river views, and even swimming pools, can be as cheap as $8 per night. Stay near the calm waters of the South China Sea at An Bang Beach and eat in quaint, local restaurants for a couple of dollars. Jump in a taxi to get to town for under $2 or hire a bike and use peddle power to get you everywhere cheaply.
No matter where you stay in Hội An, you’re in easy reach of the UNESCO-listed Old Town. You’ll have to jostle for space with tour groups and wide-eyed historians, but it’s worth it to see the living museum of wooden shops, Chinese temples, French-Colonial houses and gorgeous arts and crafts. For cheaps eats in the old town, venture beyond the Japanese Bridge to local stalls along the riverfront.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is on most traveller’s bucket lists and it doesn’t disappoint. Your first sight of the breathtaking complex should be at dawn for the spectacular light. Also, because it takes a day or more to explore the Angkor Archaeological Park. Your ticket to the site is likely to be the most expensive singular thing you’ll buy in Siem Reap, at $37 USD for a one-day pass. Make sure you get it the afternoon before you want to go, to get in at dawn and also avoid intense crowds.
Other than that, Siem Reap is incredibly cheap, with fancy hotels for $30 a night and clean hostels for as little as $3. Local beer will cost you about 50 cents and dinner should only set you back $4, unless you eat Western food in hotels. To get around, tuk tuk rides are usually $2 for a few kilometres. It’s best to hire a driver to explore the temple complex privately and this costs anywhere from $10 to $20, depending on your bargaining skills and the time of year.
Bali is a paradise island with all the trappings of tourism, and the prices that go with it. However, escape the centre of Kuta and you won’t believe how cheap it can be. No matter where you choose to stay, you’ll find lovely hostels and hotels for $10, local food like Nasi Goreng for $1, transport with a driver (for a whole day) for $25, great Indonesian traditional massages for $5 and beer in convenience stores for $1 to $2.
If you really need to stick to a budget, head out to local villages and book a homestay or Airbnb, with a kitchen to cook your own food. Stock up on groceries at roadside stalls, where you’ll walk away with a bag of tomatoes, cucumbers, coffee, rice and eggs for under $5. When you’re comfortable on a scooter, hire one for the duration of your stay and explore beaches, rice fields and temples on a tank of petrol for $2. All of this also makes Bali an incredibly affordable destination for digital nomads.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is distinctly cheaper than many tourist destinations in Thailand. Plus, there’s so much to explore, including ancient temples, markets, a fantastic cafe scene, mountains and traditional villages. Street food here is excellent and you’ll find your Pad Thai for as little as $1. As there’s quite a large expat scene, Western food tends to be cheaper too, especially when compared with Phuket or Krabi.
You don’t have to spend much, if anything, to entertain yourself. Stoll around Chiang Mai old town to see crumbling ancient walls and quaint shophouses. Soak up the atmosphere of the Sunday Night Walking Market and chill out by a fish pond at pretty Suan Buak Park. Go on a photographic journey to over 300 ornate temples, most of which offer free entry.
India is, on a whole, certainly one of the cheapest tourist destinations in Asia. If you love the beach and the vibe that goes with it, Goa has all the tourist action you could ask for, along with low prices. You’ll find a beach shack on the sand and get change from $20. However, there are plenty of guesthouses off the beach, for a lot less. Look forward to incredible Goan feasts for $5 and cheap taxi rides around town, especially if you hire the same driver for your whole trip.
Lastly, for the absolute lowest prices, time your trips to Asia during low seasons and bargain for everything – it’s generally expected and even relished.