What does it cost to travel in Asia?
First published 14th October, 2008
It seems discussions about the cost of travel are all the rage at the moment, so here's the first part of a series of stories on what it costs to travel around Southeast Asia. In this piece, we'll discuss all the costs you face before you even get out of your home country. Later stories will cover each country individually.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when planning and budgeting for their first trip overseas is to forget to take into account all the expenses they'll face before heading overseas. There's nothing worse than saving $3,000 for a three month trip in Asia, only to realise you could well be spending a quarter of that before you leave home. Some costs, like a flight ticket and travel insurance, are pretty close to essential and largely fixed, while others, like a backpack and vaccinations are less so. Here's our breakdown on costs and a few ways to save some money. Note all dollars are Australian dollars unless otherwise noted.
Fly to a hub
Unless you're already in Asia, you're going to need to get on a plane to fly here -- and aren't budget airlines just the best thing since sliced bread? Southeast Asia is especially well served by budget carriers offering cheap flights -- AirAsia, Jetstar, NokAir and Tiger Airways are the big ones. These carriers criss-cross all over Southeast Asia at bargain basement rates, often with fares for international flights costing as little as $50 (after taxes and surcharges). What this means is even if you're actually planning a trip to Vietnam, it may be cheaper to fly in with a long haul carrier to a regional hub -- Singapore (Tiger and Jetstar), Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia) and Bangkok (Nok Air and Thai AirAsia) are the best choices, and then fly onto Vietnam with one of the low cost carriers. Kayak is a good price comparison website for the long haul carriers and Skyscanner is good for low cost carriers.
It never ceases to amaze us how many travellers we meet who haven't bothered with travel insurance. Theft and loss are, in the scheme of things, minor -- what you really need travel insurance for is medical coverage. Yes, medical care in Southeast Asia is far more affordable than in many more developed countries, but, well, it's not always so developed! Fees for serious accidents can still be very high. A friend of ours racked up over $15,000 worth of medical fees in under two weeks of treatment at a Bangkok hospital after a motorcycle accident. A month-long policy through World Nomads (which is who we use when travelling), would set you back a little over $100 -- a bargain.
Estimated fees* through World Nomads
One month: $100 (around $3/day)
Two months: $150 (around $2.50/day)
Three months: $180 (around $2/day)
Six months: $250 (around $1.50/day)
See -- it makes sense to travel for longer!
* Exact prices vary depending on your country of residence and assume no travel within North America and Japan.
Like travel insurance, checking that your vaccinations are up to date is a no brainer when it comes to travel in Southeast Asia. At a minimum, we'd suggest you check you're inoculated against the following:
If you're after more comprehensive coverage, then consider:
Regarding malaria, it depends very much on exactly where you are going. Read our related Malaria in Southeast Asia story for more information. Overall we do not recommend taking malaria pills unless you'll be travelling extensively in seriously affected areas.
The costs of these vaccinations vary tremendously from country to country and are also dependent on what pre-existing medical insurance you already have. Sample prices we found online are below:
Another investment on the medical side of things is a small medical kit. These vary in price from around $20 to $50 depending on how much stuff you want. Sure you could just pilfer your parent's medicine cupboard and toss it all in a plastic bag, but these professionally produced packs are well worth the money -- they're well organised, compact and light -- just what you need in a probably already overloaded pack.
Get a pack that suits your needs
You're off travelling in Southeast Asia -- not hiking the Himalayas -- so get an appropriate pack. Backpacks are measured in litres and anything over about a 70 litre pack is too big -- a 70 litre pack is really heavy when it's packed full of wet socks, bongo drums and snorkelling gear. The main decision is whether to go for a top loader or a back loader. The former tend to be tall and narrow -- rest assured that every time you need something, it will be at the bottom of the pack. The latter are squat, wider packs, often with daypacks that zip off the back. Rear-loading packs are the more popular overall among travellers in Southeast Asia. Relatively inexpensive packs can be bought online for under $100 and we'd say, for the casual visitor, there's little reason to spend more. See our buying a backpack page for more advice.
Boots or sandals?
Do not go and spend hundreds of dollars on a flash set of hiking boots -- all you'll do is buy some flip flops once you're in Asia and carry the boots in your pack. Unless you're planning on extensive trekking, expensive boots are a waste of money and you're better off buying a pair of comfortable, sturdy sandals -- Teva (http://www.teva.com/) is a good brand.
Passport and visas
No passport? You'll be needing one of those! Sample costs include Australia A$208, Canada C$87, UK £72 and USA US$100. Remember to allow enough time for the application process.
Regarding visas, the most important point is that in most cases it is far cheaper to get your visas in Southeast Asia than in your home country. If you're travelling to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam for example, but are starting in Thailand, get your visas for the other three countries in Bangkok. It will save you money. If you must get a visa beforehand, sample visa costs for Laos, Thailand and Vietnam at selected overseas embassies are below.
Add it all up
So if you're travelling to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam for two months you should have the following in your "before I even leave home" portion of your budget:
Return airfares to the region: $500-$1500
Travel insurance: $150
Vaccinations: $200-$300 (varies tremendously)
A couple of visas: $100
Yup -- over $500 in expenses and you've not even picked up an air-ticket yet!
But don't fret, it's not all bad news! In the next story (coming soon), we'll be looking at what it costs to travel in Cambodia -- that should bring down your costs a little -- and it's more fun than getting jabbed at the doctor!
Read 6 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (15)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (8)
- Cambodia (23)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Kampot or Kep?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking in Virachey National Park
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (14)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- Pasola, Sumba
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (17)
- All stories
- A breeze through Luang Prabang
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- What to buy in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Malaysia (9)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (76)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (32)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (21)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The best hostels in Bangkok 2014
- The best places to stay on Ko Chang, Thailand
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (16)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.