12 best-value cities in Asia for budget travelers

Similar to our recent article discussing our picks for the 11 best-value cities in Europe, we're taking a closer look at Asia to sort out the places that are highlights of many trips, plus great value for the budget traveler.

Being honest, every destination in Asia outside of Japan will be cheap for most travelers, at least once you get there, so this list shows the best of the best, which shouldn't be missed if you are nearby. You can check the main Asia Backpacker Index for 2011 list for price details of every major tourist city in the region.

It's also worth mentioning that finding good and cheap hotels in Asia tends to be less straightforward than in most of the rest of the world. If you know how and where to look you can often find lovely and clean rooms at family-run hotels that charge half of what you'll find on hotel-booking sites. We've compiled our tips for finding cheap hotel rooms in Asia for your benefit.

12 best-value cities in Asia

This list runs from cheapest to most expensive, not necessarily from best to worst.

1 – Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnam's ancient capital city has a compact and easy-to-visit center that is a great mix of Colonial and Asian architecture. While the motorbike traffic can feel overwhelming for those who are new to Asia, it's actually quite fun to learn how to safely cross the street in daredevil fashion.

The food is notoriously good here, with arguably the best street-side Phở soup in the country. If you join the locals on the tiny plastic chairs on the sidewalks you can eat well for almost nothing here, but even in the tourist restaurants things tend to be cheap and delicious. The attractions, including Ho Chi Minh's Tomb and the “Hanoi Hilton” prison, are also free or extremely cheap.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND221,500 = US$11.35/day

>>>Hanoi prices and weather

2 – Goa, India

The western Indian state of Goa is not a place to go for temples and culture, but it's a fantastic and cheap group of beach towns that are perfect for relaxing in the sun when you're all templed out. And in spite of its heady reputation, there are virtually no chain hotels or restaurants to be found, so everything feels local and authentic, even though most of the visitors are Europeans.

With no taxes on alcohol, plus an absence of laws that prevent or restrict it like in most of India, Goa is a cheapskate drinker's paradise, with giant ice-cold bottles of Kingfisher going for under US$2 even at the beach shacks. The hotels at the low end can be extremely basic, but better quality is available for those on higher budgets.

  • Daily Backpacker Index:INR646 = US$14.23/day

>>>Goa prices and weather

3 – Hoi An, Vietnam

There are a few people who aren't charmed by Vietnam's most touristy city by the beach, but for most the visit to Hoi An is the highlight of the country. The Old Town is a small and protected Chinese-style fishing village that is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and even the more-modern city that surrounds it has a pleasant feel plus some very cheap hotels.

Hoi An can have a bit of a Disneyland feel to it, but it's also beautiful and very unique. The best part for many of us is the food scene, which is one of the finest in Asia. A few special local dishes are only found here, but almost anything you order will not only be a farm-fresh treat, it will also be extremely inexpensive. This is also the best spot to enjoy Bia Hoi, which is the world's cheapest beer or the best bahn mi sandwich anywhere.

  • Daily Backpacker Index:291,800 = $14.95/day

>>>Hoi An prices and weather

4 – Pokhara, Nepal

The main highlight of Nepal for most people is its gorgeous scenery and the trekking that goes along with it. Visitors usually fly first into the capital of Kathmandu, but Pokhara is really the tourism hub, and the starting point for most treks, including the famous Annapurna Circuit.

Even though most travelers tend to be busy hiking around most of the time, it would be hard to find a more pleasant backpacker town than Pokhara. Its Lakeside neighborhood is low-key and lined with cheap guesthouses and restaurants, plus countless shops selling souvenirs and name-brand trekking gear. The only problem is that it will be chilly or rainy or hazy for at least six months out of the year, so pick your dates carefully.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: NPR1,193 = US$16.46/day

>>>Pokhara prices and weather

5 – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Between Bangkok and the Thai islands, most visitors to Thailand bounce back and forth from an enormous shopping city and touristy beach areas, but way up north in Chiang Mai you'll get something different. Noted for an abundance of beautiful temples, Chiang Mai is far more low-key and also much cheaper than those others, so it's a good place to relax and enjoy the cooler evenings and the Night Market.

This is also a big hub for trekking in the area, plus visits to small and less touristy towns, so it's a great base for those on longer trips. The food in Chiang Mai is yet another highlight, with slight variations on most of the famous dishes found in Bangkok and elsewhere, at lower prices as well.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB548 = US$17.98/day

>>>Chiang Mai prices and weather

6 – Luang Prabang, Laos

The main tourist city in the often-forgotten country of Laos is one of the nicest cities that so few have ever even heard of. More charming and scenic than the capital of Vientiane, Luang Prabang is suddenly on more and more itineraries, and prices are beginning to move up, but it's still cheap and a great bargain for those exploring the region.

The old colonial city center is filled with excellent restaurants and surprisingly nice guesthouses, plus a temple on a hill that has the best views in the area. Many arrive by a 2-day slow boat ride from the Thai border on the Mekong River, but if you are able it's far nicer and less crowded if you can leave that way instead, heading to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai next.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: LAK156,000 = US$19.42/day

>>>Luang Prabang prices and weather

7 – Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

Kuta is the main budget beach resort town, often filled with Australian surfers and backpackers, but this recommendation actually goes for the whole island. The tourism scene all over Bali has been expanding at a frenetic pace for more than a decade, especially in the mid-range and high-end parts of the spectrum, but the cheap and simple options are still available as well.

Vehicle traffic is now a major problem, so touring all the temples and artist towns in a day is nearly impossible. It's better to stay at least a few days at the huge strip of places in or near Kuta, or in Sanur Beach not far away, and then spend a few more days in Ubud or elsewhere inland to get that more authentic Balinese feeling of paradise.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: IDR186,400 = US$$20.57/day

>>>Kuta, Bali prices and weather

8 – Bangkok, Thailand

As a major hub for air traffic, flights to Bangkok are usually the cheapest for Southeast Asia, which is perfect because it's also the best place to start a trip to the region. This is a sprawling and enormous city that could feel intimidating if not for the fact that most important sights are walking distance from the Kho San Road backpacker district.

Bangkok is also known for food, especially the cheap and abundant street food that is available around the clock. But this is also one of the world's shopping meccas, with a central district that is literally one indoor mall after another after another. From high fashion at reasonable prices to cheap brand-name electronics, there are thousands of shops to compare and choose from.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB648 = US$21.27/day

>>>Bangkok prices and weather

9 – Siem Reap, Cambodia

As a city alone Siem Reap would be well up this list in the cheaper zone, but the total price we used includes admission to the mind-blowing Angkor Wat temple complex just north of town. The temples are on par with the Great Pyramids of Giza or the lost city of Machu Picchu, so many people choose to spend 3 days or even a week exploring the massive attraction.

With Angkor Wat at the edge of town, you might expect Siem Reap itself to be a cheesy tourist dive, but fortunately the city is one of the nicest and most pleasant in all of Southeast Asia. There are other things to see, plus interesting local crafts, and even mellow bike paths between them. You've also got loads of great restaurants that serve cheap local dishes and happy-hour glasses of Angkor draft beer for US$0.50 each.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$23.70/day

>>>Siem Reap prices and weather

10 – Beijing, China

With all the international chatter about how “overvalued” the Chinese currency is, it might be surprising to find that Beijing is one of the more expensive cities in Asia and on this list. Still, compared to the West, this is a fantastic bargain, and Beijing is definitely one of the world's great cities.

With the Forbidden City at its heart, and the most popular section of the Great Wall just a short bus ride away, Beijing is the only place to really begin to understand China's ancient past alongside its surging future. The quality of even the cheaper hotels here tends to be surprisingly good, and some excellent local food is never more than a block or two away.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY178.60 = US$26.94/day

>>>Beijing prices and weather

11 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Along with the rest of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur tends to be forgotten and under appreciated. This is another ideal city for its cheap long-distance flights, plus an exotic-feeling culture that is very easy to deal with for new arrivals. Similar to Singapore, which is not far south of KL, this is a large and very modern city that seems to have more than its fair share of shopping centers, but it's also weirdly cheap considering the cosmopolitan feel.

The influences of both China and India tend to be easy to spot in the food and the culture, but the mixture of the two provides another interesting counterpoint that you don't find in many other places. There are excellent international restaurants in every neighborhood, plus more liberal alcohol laws that help make this a worthwhile party city as well.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: MYR83.20 = US$27.10/day

>>>Kuala Lumpur prices and weather

12 – Hong Kong, China

Decades ago, Hong Kong was known as one of the cheapest tourist cities in the world, but things have been changing and many of the bargains are gone. Still, even though it's relatively expensive for Asia, this is such a striking and dynamic city that it's worth paying a bit more during a visit.

The skyline of Hong Kong Island itself is one of the most scenic in the world, and the views from the Peak are unforgettable any time of the day. The bustling harbour and the cheap and famous Star Ferries are attractions unto themselves, plus the food culture and party scene here are absolutely world-class, though not necessarily cheap at the same time.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: HKD291.60 = US$37.53/day

>>>Hong Kong prices and weather

Additional photo credits: Beijing by Szymon Kochański
on Flickr
, Hong Kong by jlcalgary on Flickr

20 Responses to “12 best-value cities in Asia for budget travelers”

autisticglobetrotting says:

We just returned from Hong Kong last week and absolutely loved it.Many of the sites are free ,transportation is cheap and you can find an incredible assortment of different foods.An amazzing place to just soak it all in.

Si Knight says:

Hong Kong? Relatively inexpensive? LOL Finding a room under $50 means either sharing a dorm or staying at the cockroach infested, low-life plagued Chungking mansions. Sure there are plenty of shopping bargains and the food in Kowloon can be cheap but other places could have been included on your list. Many places in the Philippines are great value, for example.

    Roger Wade says:

    Si, thanks for your opinion on this. You do make some really good points and I might update this article at some point to make some changes. But “good value” isn’t the same thing as cheap. All that information is elsewhere. Hong Kong is way cheaper than Tokyo, for example, and for those who stay in hostels, it’s a great value destination as well as one of the world’s great cities.

    I’ll probably add more Philippines content soon. Which specific Philippines cities do you think are great value, meaning both uniquely interesting and relatively cheap?

brix says:

Ive travelled thailand,hk,indonesia,cambodia,shenzhen china and from experience itself theres no such thing as cheap.u will spend money depending on what u need and what u wanna buy… bottomline is the happiness during the trip…

Kconan says:

I disagree with Bangkok and the Kuta area of Bali being best value, as the prices in each place have really gone up over the years. In fact, Bali has much better spots than the overcrowded and touristy Kuta Beach. And Hong Kong for value? This list should be updated with the smaller, much cheaper and more obscure spots like the resort town of Nha Trang, Vietnam and Qingdao, China.

Warner says:

Jetwing Holidays does amazing tour packages to most of these destinations. We loved the Amazing Bali trip last year.

Shoshana says:

I actually found it impossible to eat in Hoi An on a budget. Everywhere was overpriced and touristy – that goes for the entire town, not just the food!

    Roger Wade says:


    Nearly everyone loves Hoi An but I’ve heard from some who don’t get it as well. As far as I can tell, the people who never leave the historic Chinese village area are the ones who feel the place is too touristy. I spent several weeks, mostly outside of the tourist area, and I’m one of the many who adore the place. But to each his or her own. Thanks for the comment. -Roger

Mia says:

Philippines is way more better than either Beijing or Hong Kong in my honest opinion.

Josh The Explorer says:

Great Post! Thank you for this, But in Philippines you can also have cheap travel, and It is filled with a lot of tourist spot, you might want to take a look in Palawan, Puerto Princesa in Philippines. I hope you make blog again and consider my recommendation.Thank you!

Claire says:

thanks for the recommendations above however I would beg to disagree with Hong Kong. I traveled there last November 2015, taking along my brother and sister, between MTR, attractions and especially food, I might say that its not a cheap country to visit at all.

    Roger Wade says:


    The original article is a few years old now and this reminds me that I need to update it. I generally agree with you about Hong Kong having become more expensive lately, especially for well-located hotels, so I think I’ll substitute something else on the updated version. However, I was just in Hong Kong a few months ago and I was pleasantly surprised how inexpensive the food was at the local-oriented places. I was eating good meals at noodle houses and such alongside locals and spending around US$4 or even less. Public transport also still seems cheap. Alcohol, on the other hand, has become ridiculous in Hong Kong, at least in bars and nicer places. Thanks for your comments, and I’ll update this article for 2016 soon. -Roger

Annie Kennedy says:

dear Rodger , we are South African and want to go somewhere from 20 Des

anywhere that the climate does not go below about 15 c
we like Castles Churches , temples and museums , old ancient cities and charming mid century villages
we are open to any suggestions please ?

mabe Madrid, Rome ???

regards Annie

by the way any info needed on Western Cape South Africa , i am happy to help

    Roger Wade says:


    The article above is about Asia, and that is where you are going to find warm temperatures in December (assuming that is what you meant). If you do mean December, then Madrid, Rome, and everywhere else on continental Europe will be much colder than that.

    If you like temples and ancient cities and such, I’ll highly recommend going to Siem Reap in Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat. It is probably the single most amazing sight I’ve seen around the world, and the town of Siem Reap is really nice as well. It will be warm that time of year, but not blazing hot. If you go there you’ll also want to fly into Bangkok and spend at least a few days there first. It’s an excellent and interesting city that also has many temples and monuments, along with a modern center with shopping malls and great restaurants and nightclubs and such. There are many other interesting places in Thailand to consider, including Chiang Mai up north, and many of the islands such as Ko Samui or Phuket.

    That is my first suggestion. If I misunderstood your question, let me know and I’ll try again. -Roger

Melanie says:

Hi. We would like a family trip meaning 5 adulls for January. We will be coming from ultra cold salt lake city. Would like any info or tips for best beaches to relax. I think first stop will be vietnam

Thank you

    Roger Wade says:


    The best beaches in Vietnam are along Da Nang, if you prefer to stay in a large hotel, or in Nha Trang if you prefer a smaller hotel and a real city as opposed to just a string of beach hotels.

    After Vietnam you might head to Cambodia, and there the best beach area is Sihanoukville. After that you’ll probably want to head to Thailand, which is loaded with great beaches. Pattaya is the closest nice beach area to Bangkok, but most people prefer the islands. You can either head to Ko Samui or Ko Pha Ngan if you also want some interesting scenery and culture, or head to Phuket if you prefer more of a slick and professional atmosphere. Just avoid Patong Beach if you go to Phuket, as it’s anything but relaxing. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

Huma says:

How could you miss Pakistan? It has the most beautiful peaka n mountains to hike n climb, lakes to fish trout/rainbow trout, camping meadows, k2, rakaposhi and nangaparbat r all visible from northern areas! Ur missing out on a lot of information regarding Tourism in Asia.



    Unfortunately, Pakistan still isn’t even close to being on the radar of the typical English-speaking traveler. I could also have included Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and many others in that area that are cheap. The problem is that at this point, the only people who go to those places are people who are already bored of places on lists like this. They are really “adventure” destinations, for better or worse. Thanks for the comment though. -Roger


Leave a Comment

    Name (required)
    Mail (will not be published) (required)