Just how cheap is to travel to Asia? Well, today we are going to answer just that, and more. We are also going to take a look at what it costs to LIVE in Asia. Plus, my secret tip from more than five years of nomad life in Asia at the end.
With the rise of the Digital Nomad there are more people than ever heading off on life adventures, with a copy of Tim Ferris’ “Four Hour Workweek” tucked under their arm and a laptop under the other, they are breaking free from the every day and writing their own stories. I know this because it’s something I did for over 5 years, and sure there were challenging times, lots of f’ups, but an unmissable adventure of a lifetime. And something I really want to get back to doing.
I spent my time in China, which I will undoubtedly write more about in the future, and living costs in one city where I spent twelve months were on average 3800 RMB per month (569 US Dollar). That’s rent, power, food, fun etc. , living very simply, peacefully, but very well. It wasn’t in squalor either, a modern two bedroom apartment which featured great amenities, including pool and garden. At that time I was mostly writing and keeping healthy, not traveling to much, maybe only once a month for nearby weekend trips. Under $600 USD a month, that’s budget living is it not?
This was in a satellite city in Guangdong, had I been in a major city those costs would have more than trebled. It was a comfortable city to live in, a mix of older tradition and modern progress, at the same time quite and relaxed. I am most definitely sure that you could do it even cheaper if you had to, even within that city, but if you moved more westward towards regional cities in Guizhou (pictured below) or Yunnan, or even Sichuan Province, then prices would definitely drop further. You’d also want to balance that out with how many western luxuries you’re expecting to find, and whether or not you can speak Chinese.
But what about the rest of Asia? China is a very special place, but not for everyone, so lets get some tips from the experts on where to find the best value destinations in Asia.
In Tim Leffal’s Cheap Destinations Blog, where he does a yearly, and highly regarded “Cheapest Places to Live” post, he provides these tips for Asia’s best value destinations:
Nepal is probably the hands-down winner in terms of what you get for your money. If you were set up with $1,200 a month coming in you’d be part of the wealthy elite. You could live on half that and still be eating well.
India Look to the smaller cities and Himalayan mountain towns where it’s not unusual to find a house to rent for a couple hundred dollars and restaurant meals for what you spend on a soda in your home country. There are thousands of expatriates and travelers taking a pause that are easily getting by for $600 a month total here, or spending twice that and living the high life.
Indonesia If you settle down in a place that’s not jammed with tourists, say on Sumatra or Sulawesi, this is another country where you can easily live a nice life on $1,000 a month or less.
Malaysian currency has dropped by a third against the U.S. dollar in the past few years, making Southeast Asia’s easiest country even better value. If you’re a retiree, getting residency here is straightforward if you’re willing to invest in property.
Thailand – The government recently introduced a six-month multiple-entry visa, which will make things a little easier. You can still only stay 60 days at a time, but you know you’ll be able to get back in with no issues each time.
Cambodia The cheapest place to live in Southeast Asia also has one of the best visa setups for working digital nomads. Just pay a couple hundred bucks for a business visa and you’re good to go for a year. With that you can work, run a business, be an online entrepreneur, or just kick back and be a beach bum doing nothing.
Vietnam Plenty of foreigners are living here for $1,000 to $2,000 a month and having a blast. Most don’t even have a kitchen since it’s so cheap to eat out all the time and there are lots of short-term furnished apartment rentals that come with towels and a maid.
The Travel Veteran site provides a backpacker index, in the 2016 edition there are 31 Asian cities listed, here’s a preview of the top eight:
While Kathmandu is where most visitors land first, it’s fairly hectic and its sights can be seen in only a couple days. So most people head quickly to Pokhara, which is Nepal’s tourism hub and the starting point of many fabulous treks.
Currency: Nepalese rupee
Cheap/good hostel: Hotel The Cherry Garden – 300/night
Daily Backpacker Index: NPR1,688 = US$15.85/day
Vietnam’s cheapest city for backpackers is also one that gets high marks from most visitors with its unique combination of French colonial and Asian post-communism. The food is also top-notch.
Currency: Vietnamese dong
Cheap/good hostel: Hoan Kiem Hostel – 65,800/night
Daily Backpacker Index: VND381,800 = US$16.97/day
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Hotel and food prices tend to be a bit higher than elsewhere in Vietnam, but compared to almost anywhere else in the world this is a bargain.
Currency: Vietnamese dong
Cheap/good hostel: My My Arthouse – 105,000/night
Daily Backpacker Index: VND408,000 = US$18.13/day
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Filled with ancient temples and surrounded by a moat and city walls, Chiang Mai is a major stop in the region and a highlight for many.
Currency: Thai baht
Cheap/good hostel: Jaidii House – 120/night
Daily Backpacker Index: THB668 = US$18.47/day
Goa is actually a small state, rather than a city, so it’s a collection of beach and inland towns that have long been associated with hippie and electronic-music culture.
Currency: Indian rupee
Cheap/good hostel: Anjunapalms Guesthouse – 250/night
Daily Backpacker Index: INR1,238 = US$18.59/day
The backpacker zone of Thamel is a classic traveler neighborhood, brimming over with cheap hotels, restaurants, and bars.
Currency: Nepalese rupee
Cheap/good hostel: Hotel Silver Home – 300/night
Daily Backpacker Index: NPR2,106 = US$19.77/day
Laos’ capital city is so low key that it feels like a small-town river resort, though modern development is starting to creep in.
Currency: Laos kip
Cheap/good hostel: Vientiane Backpackers Hostel – 43,200/night
Daily Backpacker Index: LAK161,600 = US$19.99/day
Luang Prabang, Laos
The local attractions are all practically free, and the ice-cold Beerlao is sold at the same low price at nearly every restaurant in the city.
Currency: Laos kip
Cheap/good hostel: Nocknoy Lanexang Guesthouse – 43,200/night
Daily Backpacker Index: LAK184,200 = US$22.78/day
Where to from Here?
Another site you’ll love is Numbeo, it features cost of living indexes for cities all over the world. Check out the Asian City Index.
Here’s a snapshot of their Cost of Living Index for South East Asian cities :
The above list is bench-marked against New York city, for example, Bali is 39.69% of what it costs to live in NY.
The secret tip? It’s a no-brainer, and it applies everywhere: live like a local. Adapt to the local food, learn the local ways, make local friends, learn to speak the local language and you’ll be living on pennies (and soaking up the culture which is priceless).