How to Save Money Whilst Travelling South East Asia

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


travelling south east asia

Go  travelling in South East Asia they said. It will be cheap they said.

Over the past five weeks I’ve spent my time backpacking around South East Asia. I’ve also spent a shit tonne of money in the process. This is why I’m now qualified enough to write a post that will ensure you don’t make the same mistakes.

I was certain I had it all sussed before I left. I'd spent months reading blog posts about budgeting and had a rough amount worked out for my total time. But there were two things I didn’t account for.  One - the British currency taking a dive for the worse and two - reading blog posts that were not up to date and using those figures as estimates for 2016 (things are expensive in the future).

So baring that in mind here are my timeless top tips for saving money whilst travelling South East Asia -


Always buy water from a supermarket


Unfortunately in Thailand and in fact I think the whole of South East Asia it’s unsafe to drink the tap water. So unless you want to spend your trip glued to the toilet the cheapest place to buy legitimate bottled water from is the supermarket.

Also keep in mind that restaurants are happy for you to bring your own water so stock up on big bottles and multipacks at 7/11 and take them with you if you’re going out for the day. Some hostels also offer free refills so if you’re staying somewhere that does this take advantage and fill your own bottle - or ten.

Buy snacks in advance for long journeys


This might seem like a no brainer but it’s actually embarrassing how many times I forgot to do this and ended up spending an unsightly amount of money on crap fake Pringles from a Thai bus station. Again, I’m an idiot and fell victim to buying a cup noodle on a ferry that was four times the price of buying it in the shops. In my defence it couldn’t be avoided – you don’t wanna see me when I’m hangry.

Shop around for tour deals


Although your hostel or accommodation may the most convenient place to arrange tours remember that you are their captive audience so they can get away with hiking prices up a bit. I learned this the hard way booking an overnight bus to Bangkok at my hostel only to find that two doors down the same bus ticket was A TENNER cheaper. I still haven’t got over it.

The only hostel I’ve stayed at where this didn’t seem to be the case was Tribee Kinh in Hoi An, Vietnam. Never book on the spot even if it sounds like a really great deal. When you’re tired it is a bit of a hassle going from shop to shop comparing prices, but even by just visiting three or four travel agents you can usually save yourself a few quid if not more!

Top tip: if there are a couple of you looking to book the same trip tour agents are usually willing to cut you a group deal. Just remember to ask the price for one person first so you can compare!

Be savvy when choosing transport


Taxis will rip you off. Motorbikes will rip you off. Tuk Tuks will take you for everything you’ve got. As a general rule if you’re getting a taxi insist that they turn the meter on even if they tell you it will be “same same” without. It’s not so if they won’t do it – get your ass out of there and move on to the next one.

For motorbikes and Tuk Tuks agree a price beforehand and again do not take their initial price as fact. Before you get a ride check how far the actual distance is as drivers will often try to convince you that something in walking distance is extremely far away in order to get a fare from you.

It’s also really helpful to ask locals what the correct rates are and hostels are great for this! In larger cities it’s possible to use Uber or GrabCab. Booking a ride via these apps is not only way cheaper, but also better in terms of safety as you know your driver is who they say they are and have an electronic footprint of getting from A to B. I’ve noticed that the Uber drivers graft really hard for that five star review too - from offering free in car wifi to carrying your 100 tonne backpack across the street to the hostel in the rain.

Bargain on everything


Obviously some things like meals in restaurants and hostel rooms will have a set price, but as a general rule when travelling South East Asia it is expected for people to bargain. This includes anything for sale at a market – food, clothes, shoes etc and methods of transport.

If you’re worried about what price to set or how to effectively haggle follow these tips. Ask how much and assume the item is actually around half that price (in my experience this usually seemed to be the case if not even less). Alternately have a price in your mind you’d be happy to pay and work your way down from their price to yours. Feign extreme surprise at their initial price and be confident and persistent with the price you want. If they won’t budge start walking away and usually they will come round. If not move on to the next shop. Think of it like dating – would you really marry the first person you’d ever spoken to? 

You’re a tourist in a foreign country and locals want to make money from you. Remember it’s their industry so in general any ripping off is not done with malicious intent. South East Asia is an amazing place and there are some bargains to be had if you keep your wits about you.

This is in no way a comprehensive list but these are just some of the things that have helped me make little savings.

What about you guys? What are your top trips for saving money when travelling? Let me know!

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