31 Asia cities by price: Backpacker Index for 2023

The Asia Backpacker Index debuted in 2011 and has been expanded and updated every year since then. The 2023 edition of the best tourist cities in Asia ranked from cheapest to most expensive contains a lot of good news for those living outside the region. Prices in Europe and North America have been going up in the last couple of years, but prices in most of Asia have been steady in most cases.

When checking the list below it’s important to notice that the top two-thirds of the list are closely bunched together, ranging from about US$20 per day to about US$30 per day for our standard basket of low-budget travel expenses in each city. Singapore is now far more expensive than all of the others, while Tokyo is looking more and more like an excellent travel value in 2023.

Asia in 2023 updates

As of early 2023, Asia looks like it will be one of the booming areas for tourism. Most of the popular countries have reopened completely or have simple COVID policies in place, and it seems likely that they will be completely open again this year.

Some more good news is that prices in most of Asia are lower for tourists than they have been in a few years, and they were fairly low already. Only a few Asian countries experienced the kind of inflation that has plagued North America and Europe in 2022, so bargains are almost everywhere you look. Some of the currencies in popular countries have dropped a bit as well, so once you get there your travel funds tend to go a long way.

How the Backpacker Index works

Prices for most things are fixed and certain, but prices for a “budget lunch” or a bottle of beer can vary depending on whom you ask. Still, our estimates are based on a lot of research, and should be very close if not right on.

Costs for each city

  • One night in the cheapest bunk at the least expensive hostel with a good location and good reviews, or half the price of a double hotel room in places where there are no hostels
  • Two public transportation rides per day
  • One paid/famous attraction per day (Every city is loaded with free things to do for budget-conscious travelers, but here we take the average cost of a major attraction in each city for each day.)
  • Three “budget” meals per day (We took our minimum meal price and added 20% to make it more realistic for a longer trip.)
  • Three cheap, local beers each day as an “entertainment fund.” Non-drinkers might have dessert and coffee or attend a local music performance instead, so this is a general benchmark that should be proportional for each city.

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Price of Travel's Asia Backpacker Index for 2023

Note: All prices converted to US dollars in January, 2023

1Vientiane, Laos (cheapest)

Landlocked and sometimes forgotten, Laos generally only tends to get visitors who are spending time touring the whole region, but those who make it are rewarded with a fascinating culture, and low prices. Laos’ capital city is so low key that it feels like a small-town river resort, though modern development is starting to creep in. All of Vientiane’s hostels with dorm rooms had closed during the pandemic, but as of 2023 there are a few back open and prices are very affordable. If you only have time for one stop in Laos it’s probably better to go straight to Luang Prabang (see below), but the capital is an interesting stop if you have more than a few days in the country.

  • Currency: Laos kip
  • Best cheap hostel: Dream Home Hostel – 94,400/night
  • Transportation: 30,000
  • Meals: 126,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 60,000
  • Attractions: 10,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: LAK320,400 = US$18.54/day

>>Vientiane prices and weather


2Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is noticeably more expensive than Vienitiane, but for now it’s still very cheap for those who travel like a backpacker. Laos is one of the few countries in southeast Asia that has been dealing with inflation in 2022, but the currency has dropped a bit as well so it’s still cheap. 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. Hotel prices are relatively high in Luang Prabang so for most travelers it would be further down this list. This is another mellow city that can be good for longer stays, partly because you won’t feel like you are missing too much if you just work or hang out in your hotel or hostel most of the time.

  • Currency: Laos kip
  • Best cheap hostel: Sunrise Riverside Pool Hostel – 65,300/night
  • Transportation: 30,000
  • Meals: 147,600
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 75,000
  • Attractions: 25,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: LAK342,900 = US$19.84/day

>>Luang Prabang prices and weather


3Hoi An, Vietnam

Until you are actually planning a trip to Vietnam you’d be excused for never having heard of Hoi An, which is just south of Danang on the central coast. But Hoi An is a very popular stop for those touring the country, and it ends up being the trip highlight for a great number of those. The old town is a perfectly preserved Chinese-style fishing village with French and Japanese influences, and the city is as filled with great and cheap restaurants as it is with tailor shops. Hoi An used to lack traditional hostels with cheap bunk beds, but that is no longer true and backpackers can find dorms in the center of town at very low prices. But again it’s worth mentioning that hotel rooms are also very cheap here, so you can probably afford a private room for only a bit more than a bunk in a public dorm room. There are also new hostels on or near the lovely beach here, which is a short motorbike ride from town.

  • Currency: Vietnamese dong
  • Best cheap hostel: Bed Station Hostel & Pool Bar Hoi An – 104,500/night
  • Transportation: 50,000
  • Meals: 204,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 48,000
  • Attractions: 80,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND486,500 = $20.72/day

>>Hoi An prices and weather


4Pokhara, Nepal

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. Fortunately, it’s not only more pleasant than the capital, but also cheaper in most respects, so it’s a great place to linger if you have time. Guided treks in the nearby mountains can be expensive, and those can be a huge drain on your budget. On the other hand, those are the main reason people come here at all.

  • Currency: Nepalese rupee
  • Best cheap hostel: Kiwi Backpackers Hostel Pokhara – 706/night
  • Transportation: 100
  • Meals: 882
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 975
  • Attractions: 100
  • Daily Backpacker Index: NPR2,763 = US$20.89/day

>>Pokhara prices and weather


5Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand’s “capital of the north” is certainly one of the world’s great travel bargain destinations. 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. Much less crowded than Bangkok, and quite a bit cheaper as well, this is also booming with expats and creative people living cheaply while they work. If you are a ‘digital nomad’ it’s pretty much compulsory to spend at least a few months here. The food in Chiang Mai is quite different from in the south and it’s a highlight for most who come here.

  • Currency: Thai baht
  • Best cheap hostel: Monkey Toe Guesthouse – 200/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 198
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 210
  • Attractions: 100
  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB748 = US$22.05/day

>Chiang Mai prices and weather


6Kathmandu, Nepal

Nepal’s capital is one of those cities most travelers just hustle through on their way somewhere else, like Pokhara (see above) or other trekking centers in this case. But it’s a fascinating and unusual place that’s worth a look for a few days anyway. The backpacker zone of Thamel is a classic traveler neighborhood, brimming over with cheap hotels, restaurants, and bars. Most of the rest of Kathmandu struggles with tidiness, but at least it’s quite cheap.

  • Currency: Nepalese rupee
  • Best cheap hostel: WanderThirst Hostels – 476/night
  • Transportation: 70
  • Meals: 1,122
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 900
  • Attractions: 400
  • Daily Backpacker Index: NPR2,968 = US$22.44/day

>>Kathmandu prices and weather


7Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnam’s cheapest big city (by just a bit) 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, especially when you are sitting amongst locals at one of the thousands of plastic-chair cafes throughout the city. Keep costs even lower by sticking with Bia Hoi, the world’s cheapest beer. Hostel beds are cheap, but private rooms are too, so don’t automatically book a bunk. The city is filled with small 5-story family-run hotels that are amazing value and usually come with a generous breakfast included.

  • Currency: Vietnamese dong
  • Best cheap hostel: Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel – 150,000/night
  • Transportation: 50,000
  • Meals: 223,200
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 75,000
  • Attractions: 30,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND528,200 = US$22.49/day

>>Hanoi prices and weather


8Delhi (and New Delhi), India

Until recently, most of Delhi (and New Delhi at its heart) was not as cheap as you might expect, but there are now quite a few really good hostels to cater to the considerable backpacking community. Hotels up to Western standards tend to be more expensive here, even in the infamous backpacker ghetto of Pahar Ganj, so it’s critical to research carefully before booking a cheaper place. The street food is cheap though and restaurants are pretty reasonable, although finding alcohol isn’t as easy as it could be.

  • Currency: Indian rupee
  • Best cheap hostel: Joey’s Hostel New Delhi – 553/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 624
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 390
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: INR1,857 = US$22.51/day

>>Delhi prices and weather


9Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Saigon, as it’s still usually known, is far more sprawling and modern compared to Hanoi, and it’s quite a bit more lively as well. 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. Hostel beds can be quite cheap in Saigon, but hotels are costlier than almost anywhere in Vietnam. Some new hostels have opened recently and that competition has pushed prices down a bit at others. Many new hostels sell beds at very low prices in the hopes that you’ll book tours through them or at least buy drinks.

  • Currency: Vietnamese dong
  • Best cheap hostel: City Backpackers Hostel – 200,000/night
  • Transportation: 50,000
  • Meals: 235,200
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 75,000
  • Attractions: 40,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND600,200 = US$25.56/day

>>Ho Chi Minh City prices and weather


10Colombo, Sri Lanka

NOTE: Sri Lanka had a rough 2022 with high inflation and political turmoil, but as 2023 begins things seem stable and calm and they are trying to lure visitors again.

Colombo is one of those overcrowded and mostly charmless Asian capital cities that people often spend a day in on their way in and/or out of the country, and that’s about all it’s good for. If you are determined you can find plenty of interesting temples and such, but most people are better off staying only a day or so. Prices of the more scenic and interesting Sri Lankan cities are similar so this is a good guide for budget planning. The country still lacks hostels and good budget hotels, so sleeping here isn’t as cheap as in Southeast Asia, although most everything else is.

  • Currency: Sri Lankan rupee
  • Best cheap hostel: Colombo Beach Hostel – 2,559/night
  • Transportation: 300
  • Meals: 3,444
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 2,700
  • Attractions: 500
  • Daily Backpacker Index: LKR9,503= US$26.04/day

>>Colombo prices and weather


11Jakarta, Indonesia

One of the most populated cities in the world, Jakarta is a major hub for anyone visiting Indonesia (except for Bali). The city itself gets mixed reviews as a tourist destination, with pretty much all of Indonesia’s charms being found elsewhere. The good news is that at least it’s quite cheap for budget travelers, and it should be interesting to anyone who likes booming Asian cities. Jakarta could be a good point to enter the country for onward travel, but it’s not the kind of place you want to focus on for more than a couple days.

  • Currency: Indonesian rupiah
  • Best cheap hostel: The Packer Lodge – 140,000/night
  • Transportation: 7,000
  • Meals: 135,600
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 120,000
  • Attractions: 10,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: IDR412,600 = US$26.43/day

>>Jakarta prices and weather


12Bangkok, Thailand

Southeast Asia’s main entry point and most notorious destination continues to be a budget traveler’s dream, with plenty of cheap hostels and hotels plus excellent street food that costs almost nothing. It’s only the relatively high price of alcohol that pushes Bangkok down the cheap-list a bit, so teetotalers are even better off than the rest of us. Khoasan Road is the main backpacker district and it’s a lot of fun as long as you don’t mind being surrounded mostly by other backpackers from all over the world. Bangkok is huge and sprawling, so pay close attention before booking a hostel or hotel. It’s better to pay a bit more to be close to attractions rather than save a little and have to spend an hour getting to something interesting each day.

  • Currency: Thai baht
  • Best cheap hostel: Born Free Hostel – 220/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 192
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 240
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB942 = US$27.76/day

>>Bangkok prices and weather


13Goa, India

India, in general, is a great travel bargain, as long as you are outside of its huge cities. 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. Not all of Goa is this cheap, of course, but those on a budget can stretch their travel funds almost indefinitely in Goa if they have to, or are just motivated to hang around for a few months. It should be noted that the cheapest hotels in Goa (and throughout India) are in a class below “1-star” so paying for a nicer place might be wise.

  • Currency: Indian rupee
  • Best cheap hostel: Dreams Hostel – 649/night
  • Transportation: 60
  • Meals: 876
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 360
  • Attractions: 390
  • Daily Backpacker Index: INR2,335 = US$28.31/day

>>Goa prices and weather


14Yangon, Burma (Myanmar)

When the informal travel boycott was lifted in 2014, this country wasn’t really ready for tourists. There were almost no hostels or budget hotels aimed at backpackers so things were more expensive than they really should have been. In the following years, that had changed and there are now plenty of good hostels and the competition has brought prices down. Yangon is where most people arrive, so it’s probably the best hub to consider for a trip to Myanmar. Food and drinks tend to be cheap, as you’d expect in this part of Southeast Asia.

Note: The military junta took control of the government again in early 2021 and visiting is still not recommended as of early 2023. We hope the situation gets better again soon.

  • Currency: Burmese Kyat
  • Best cheap hostel: HOOD Hostel – 28,930/night
  • Transportation: 1,000
  • Meals: 16,440
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 6,000
  • Attractions: 7,500
  • Daily Backpacker Index: MMK59,870 = US$28.55/day

>>Yangon prices and weather


15Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

Few parts of Asia have undergone such tourist growth as Bali, even after the tragic bombings in 2002. The Kuta beach area is now a nearly solid block of guesthouses, travel agencies, and restaurants, but fortunately it’s also still quite cheap, and an excellent travel bargain in general. Those wanting less commercialism can find it elsewhere in Bali, but those wanting a great beach party can find it in Kuta. If you don’t like crowds and you want to see what Bali was like before all the concrete, head to Lovina along the northern coast.

  • Currency: Indonesian rupiah
  • Best cheap hostel: Bali Caps – 95,100/night
  • Transportation: 16,000
  • Meals: 166,200
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 120,000
  • Attractions: 50,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: IDR447,300 = US$28.65/day

>>Kuta, Bali prices and weather


16Siem Reap, Cambodia

One of the world’s great budget travel cities (and once home of the world’s cheapest hostel beds), Siem Reap was built as a staging area for daytime trips to the Angkor Wat temples just to the north, yet on its own this city is also about as pleasant and fun as they come. Interestingly, Siem Reap would be well up this list, in the super-cheap territory, if we didn’t calculate in a substantial amount for Attractions, since the amazing temple complex itself is justifiably not cheap. Everything but the temples is amazingly cheap all things considered. In fact, Siem Reap’s recommended ‘best cheap hostel’ is one of Asia’s cheapest well-reviewed hostels in general.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: Siem Reap Pub Hostel – US$3.19/night
  • Transportation: 2.00
  • Meals: 9.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 2.25
  • Attractions: 12.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$29.04/day

>>Siem Reap prices and weather


17Manila, Philippines

It’s a bit unfair to use Manila as the only city example in the Philippines, because the country is loaded with far nicer beach resorts and more interesting colonial cities, most of which are even cheaper than Manila. In fact, you’ll see Boracay Island way down this list. Still, many sun-seekers and cultural tourist head here every week, so it’s good to know that it’s very affordable for short stays on your way somewhere else. Cebu is another large city that is a bit cheaper and maybe a bit more pleasant. Several new hostels have opened recently in Manila and it’s now a cheaper place to visit for backpackers, but still perhaps not spending more than a couple days here anyway. The traffic in Manila is epic and a lack of comprehensive public transportation makes it difficult and slow to get around.

  • Currency: Philippine peso
  • Best cheap hostel: Ola! Hostel Manila – 749/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 492
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 210
  • Attractions: 150
  • Daily Backpacker Index: PHP1,641 = US$29.32/day

>>Manila prices and weather


18Mumbai, India

Mumbai is India’s financial capital and it has a famous movie industry, but it’s not actually a great tourism destination as it’s crowded and strangely expensive for India. At least there are some reasonably priced hostels that have popped up in 2023. Fortunately, one can see the main sights in a few days or less, so it’s a good idea to minimize time in Mumbai and then head out to someplace less insane as quickly as possible. Mumbai isn’t really a tourist city even though it is quite impressive, so don’t plan on staying more than 2 or 3 days here either.

  • Currency: Indian rupee
  • Best cheap hostel: Locomo Stay Work Eat – 778/night
  • Transportation: 60
  • Meals: 702
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 450
  • Attractions: 500
  • Daily Backpacker Index: INR2,490 = US$30.19/day

>>Mumbai prices and weather


19Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh might be visited less if not for the fact that it’s a handy stop between Siem Reap and the Mekong Delta, but its convenient location has helped it develop a large tourist infrastructure, and it’s an interesting stop for sure. The main attractions are all quite cheap, as are the happy-hour beers at the pleasant restaurants lined up along the river. That said, it’s probably not worth planning on spending more than a few days here.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: Mad Monkey Phnom Penh – US$10.00
  • Transportation: 2
  • Meals: 9.96
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 3.00
  • Attractions: 6.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$30.96/day

>>Phnom Penh prices and weather


20Phuket, Thailand

Phuket is another strange example on this list, since it’s not a city but a rather large island filled with beach resort towns. This is definitely the most expensive part of Thailand, but still cheapskates can have a good go of things if they are careful, though of course that means staying at least a few blocks from any of the beaches. Until a few years ago it was necessary to stay in Phuket Town (in the middle of the island) to get a really cheap dorm bed, but now there are quite a few cheaper hostels in the lively Patong Beach area. The cheaper places are many blocks from the beach, so it may be worth it to spend a bit more for a closer place.

  • Currency: Thai baht
  • Best cheap hostel: Baan Baan Hostel – 212/night
  • Transportation: 80
  • Meals: 444
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 240
  • Attractions: 200
  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB1,176 = US$34.66/day

>>Phuket prices and weather


21Boracay Island, Philippines

While Boracay Island has pretty much zero cultural sights, it’s still a popular stop for budget travelers in the area due to the gorgeous beaches and modest prices. The cheapest hotels and restaurants are in the Boat Station 3 area, while things can get expensive up north. The east side of the island is all about windsurfing and feels like a totally different place. A few new hostels with dorm beds have opened up in Boracay recently, and the whole island was closed to tourists for six months in 2018 to work on infrastructure. Now that it has reopened it is in much better shape than before.

  • Currency: Philippine peso
  • Best cheap hostel: Frendz Resort & Hostel Boracay – 639/night
  • Transportation: 100
  • Meals: 786
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 270
  • Attractions: 300
  • Daily Backpacker Index: PHP2,095 = US$37.52/day

>>Boracay Island prices and weather


22Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Malaysia, in general, tends to be forgotten by many, with the huge capital of Kuala Lumpur often mostly remembered as once having the world’s tallest buildings. That’s a major shame because Kuala Lumpur is a fascinating mix of new, old, and exotic, that’s also extremely easy to access since English is widely spoken. If visiting Singapore, it’s worth taking the train up for a short side trip. Hostel beds tend to be cheap here, but hotel rooms will cost a bit more so for non-backpackers it would be down a few places on this list.

  • Currency: Malaysian ringgit
  • Best cheap hostel: Step Inn Guest House and Hostel – 27.90/night
  • Transportation: 4.00
  • Meals: 47.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 48.00
  • Attractions: 40.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: MYR167.30 = US$38.11/day

>>Kuala Lumpur prices and weather


23Xi’an, China

China’s two main tourist cities are Beijing and Shanghai, and Xi’an is a solid number three on that list. This is where you come to see the amazing Terra Cotta Warriors, which is a key stop on most China itineraries. Hotels, hostels, food and drinks are cheaper in Xi’an than in the other cities, but seeing the Warriors isn’t cheap so on average this city is farther down the list than it might otherwise deserve. Lest you think this is a small town near the Warriors, it’s actually a booming city of over 8 million. China had obviously been closed to tourists from 2020 through 2022, but since it finally abandoned the zero-COVID policy, it’s worth thinking about visiting at some point and maybe in 2023.

  • Currency: Chinese yuan
  • Best cheap hostel: Han Tang Inn Hostel – 87.95/night
  • Transportation: 6.00
  • Meals: 61.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 42.00
  • Attractions: 75.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY272.15 = US$39.61/day

>>Xi’an prices and weather


24Shanghai, China

Far more modern than Beijing, and also more designed for business travelers, Shanghai is still a relative bargain for backpackers. Most things are a bit more expensive here, so budget travelers have to seek out the cheaper options, but again, compared to a similar modern city in another part of the world, Shanghai is a steal. On the other hand, sit-down dinners in nice restaurants and 3-star hotels with good locations are quite expensive. Shanghai is far more visually impressive than Beijing and it’s far easier for English speakers, so this is a better stop to linger in than other Chinese cities. Our research in 2023 uncovered a few cheap, new hostels, so this year it’s actually a bit cheaper than Beijing for the first time. Check our Go Shanghai Card review as a way to save money if you are planning on doing the big attractions.

  • Currency: Chinese yuan
  • Best cheap hostel: Meego Youth Hotel – 76/night
  • Transportation: 10
  • Meals: 85.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 60
  • Attractions: 50
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY281.20 = US$40.93/day

>>Shanghai prices and weather


25Macau, China

Yes, it’s true that nearly everyone who visits Macau does so to gamble at one of its new and huge casinos, but it’s also long been an interesting destination for cultural visitors, offering a parallel tourist infrastructure in and near the old town itself. Many continue to stop over for a day or two on a Hong Kong side-trip, and bargains are still there for those who look (and don’t gamble). Since there are no hostels here, Macau is not a great choice for those on lower budgets. It’s easier to come on a day trip by ferry from Hong Kong to see the main sights.

  • Currency: Macau pataca
  • Best cheap hotel (private room for 2): Hou Kong Hotel (private double) – 89.00/night
  • Transportation: 8.00
  • Meals: 132.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 45.00
  • Attractions: 50.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: MOP324.00 = US$41.49/day

>>Macau prices and weather


26Taipei, Taiwan

If you want to witness historic Chinese culture and artworks without the hassle of getting a visa and visiting the mainland, Taipei is a perfect stop. This is a huge and bustling city that isn’t really oriented for English-speaking visitors as much as most on this list, but all the important signs are in English so it’s not overly challenging. Taipei is known for its foodie culture, and fortunately the street stalls and even many local restaurants are as cheap as they are delicious. Hotels here are pricey for Asia, although still good value by international standards.

  • Currency: Taiwan dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: Meander Taipei Hostel – Ximending – 657/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 228
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 210
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: TWD1,385 = US$45.14/day

>>Taipei prices and weather


27Beijing, China

Beijing is one of those cities that you just have to visit at some point in your life, mainly to see the Forbidden City and a part of the Great Wall. Aside from those things this is a huge and sprawling city with less charm than you might guess. Hostel prices here have been going up although food and drinks are still quite inexpensive. Visiting China on a tour often tends to be cheaper than visiting independently, and you end up going to the same places anyway. Now that China has ditched the zero-COVID policy in early 2023, it’s worth keeping an eye on the COVID situation. Predictions are that cases will run rampant for months and then perhaps be under control again. Fingers crossed!

  • Currency: Chinese yuan
  • Best cheap hostel: Peking International Youth Hostel – 154/night
  • Transportation: 10.00
  • Meals: 67.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 45.00
  • Attractions: 60.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY336.20 = US$48.94/day

>>Beijing prices and weather


28Seoul, South Korea

These days Seoul seems to be known mostly for its lightning-fast internet connections, and its professional videogame culture, not to mention its pop stars, but there’s obviously a lot more to it than that. Fortunately, the city is still quite reasonably priced for this kind of technology, although its remote location and less-than-perfect climate will keep most people away. The food here is amazing as well, assuming you like kimchee and their famous barbecued meat.

  • Currency: Korean won
  • Best cheap hostel: Time Travelers Party Hostel in Hongdae – 25,000/night
  • Transportation: 2,500
  • Meals: 18,120
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 12,000
  • Attractions: 10,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: KRW67,620 = US$53.29/day

>>Seoul prices and weather


29Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong used to be famously cheap, and it’s still somewhat reasonable by international standards, but there are now so many rich people and business travelers coming through here that backpackers have to really search for the bargains. Since the recent crackdown by mainland China, many longtime residents have fled and many tourists are worried about visiting. Hotels can be quite expensive, though some hostels are still great value. Backpackers wanting to keep expenses low will have to suffer in terrible hostels and eat at local noodle shops in order to do it. Alcohol in bars in Hong Kong is extremely expensive, so backpackers usually prefer to buy from mini-markets and enjoy it somewhere else. If you really want to see the main attractions in a short time you might consider getting the Hong Kong Pass.

  • Currency: Hong Kong dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: Budget Hostel Hong Kong – 83.60/night
  • Transportation: 5.00
  • Meals: 166.80
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 120.00
  • Attractions: 50
  • Daily Backpacker Index: HKD425.40 = US$54.47/day

>>Hong Kong prices and weather


30Tokyo, Japan

This is the second time that Tokyo has NOT been the most expensive city the list. For many years now Tokyo has been about the same price as a mid-range European city even though it was tops in Asia. You won’t really find much street food here, but the food in the million or so 7-Elevens is famously good and cheap. Considering the quality of everything in Japan and how well organized it is, Tokyo is really a bargain by international standards. Hostels are cheaper lately, which might be because tourism has been almost zero since the beginning of the pandemic. The weak Japanese yen has actually turned the country into a real travel bargain for 2023. It’s not that it’s super cheap but rather that it’s incredibly nice and very reasonably priced all things considered.

  • Currency: Japanese yen
  • Best cheap hostel: Sakura Hostel Asakusa – 3,060/night
  • Transportation: 400
  • Meals: 2,520
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 1,800
  • Attractions: 1,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: JPY8,780 = US$66.20/day

>>Tokyo prices and weather


31Singapore, Singapore

Easily one of the world’s most modern cities, Singapore can actually be quite expensive for most, and now even the hostels are super expensive by Asian standards as well. It could be a COVID thing that closed down hostels for one reason or another, but prices have doubled in the last year. That said, eating most meals from the famous hawker centers will keep your budget intact while letting you sample some excellent (and very hygenic) local specialties. The attractions here tend to be quite expensive, so this is still a tough place for backpackers. Singapore’s popularity has soared also due to the success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ but of course you won’t see much wealth flaunted at the hostels here.

  • Currency: Singapore dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: The Bohemian – 47.66/night
  • Transportation: 3.00
  • Meals: 27.12
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 21.00
  • Attractions: 15.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: SGD113.78 = US$84.91/day

>>Singapore prices and weather


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  1. Siobhan Tomkinson says:

    These prices are way off – in reality some of the accomodation costs at the hotels/hostels are 10 times higher!

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Siobhan,

      I’m not sure if you are just trolling me or not, but these prices are all researched each year and the hostel is even linked for each city so you can check yourself. There has obviously been some inflation in the last year, and if you check for peak season you will see prices at least a bit higher, but there is no way any of these cities has become 10 times more expensive in the last 9 months. If you have an example please provide it. -Roger

  2. Martin says:

    Hotels and hostels prices are completely wrong. Take Vientiane for example. It’s TRIPLE the price (in any dates I check) that what’s mentiones in the article. I’d understand a little difference, but triple is too much I think.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Martin,

      Funny you should mention that because I just did these tests yesterday. I used the dates 15-September and 16-September to get an average of one weeknight and one weekend night. Please let me know what you are seeing for those dates. By the way, this isn’t meant to say that you can book these hostels for ANY particular date that you want, but rather they are used as an index to compare one to another. I used September because it’s shoulder season, so high season dates will be higher. Thanks for reading. -Roger

      1. Martin says:

        Comment*Yep, the Azalea Parkview hotel is over 400,000 Kip for 15th September, very far from 119,000 kip.

        1. Roger Wade says:

          Martin,

          Thanks for taking the time to check this. In almost every city around the world the price we show is for a bunk in a dorm for one night (averaged between weeknights and weekends), but in a very few cities there are no available hostels at the moment so we have to substitute a cheap hotel instead. Vientiane, Cesky Krumlov, and Abu Dhabi are all in this situation this year. In those cases we find the cheapest well-located hotel with plenty of good reviews for two guests, and then we divide it by two because this is per person.

          It appears that the Azalea Parkview is not running that same promotion on Agoda right now, so it’s 200,000 kip per person. However, there are loads of other hotels that are currently running even better promotions on those dates. The first one I checked is the Villa Sisavad, and it’s currently going for a bit over 93,000 kip per night for one person based on double occupancy. As you probably know, hotel prices (especially on a huge site like Agoda) tend to jump around a lot more than hostel prices on hostelworld.com. In this case they probably ran a promotion and got a bunch of bookings and then went back to their normal price when they didn’t have many rooms left for those dates. I could change the listing to the Villa Sisavad and lower the price, but once that promotion is over it would also look wrong. Check those dates on Agoda yourself and you’ll see hotels in Vientiane for way under US$10 per night. I don’t use them unless they have a lot of very good reviews, so I go down the list until I find something solid.

          Again, I appreciate checking our work like this. It’s nice that some people care enough and provide the feedback. -Roger

  3. Danjela says:

    Hi Roger,
    Hopefully, you are doing well with all of this going in the world lately.
    I and two of my friends (all girls) are planning to visit South Asia next year by October. It will be a long trip, proximately for 6 months and we want to visit almost every country there. (India, Nepal, Myanmar, Hanoi, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines). I found this article very helpful and I appreciate your effort and work that you have put here. I would really appreciate it if you could help us make a trip just naming the places from the first to the last one because I have no idea where to start at first. We have a 3000 euros budget (not including flights) Do you think that it is enough? (We think we can handle it because we have traveled around Europe also and we know how to manage our money very well, for example, we have managed to spend in places like Rome 15-20 Euro per day max).  Thank you in advance!
    All the best,
    Danjela

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Danjela,

      I’m happy you found this useful. First off, based on your experience I think €3,000 could be enough to visit all of these countries, but if you want to stretch it out for six months that obviously means only €500 per month per person, or €17 per day per person. As you can see in the article, you can have a decent time in many of these places for something close to that, but Singapore and the worthwhile places in Malaysia will cost quite a bit more. In my experience, living on a small budget can be possible and even enjoyable for perhaps weeks at a time, and yet I think it gets old quickly after that. Sharing dorm rooms and using public showers in them (even one at a time) gets a bit exhausting.

      You’d have to move through the more expensive places pretty quickly in order to stay on budget, however you could slow down in places like India and spend very little.

      I’ve yet to make it to Brunei and I believe you have to go as part of a guided package and it’s quite expensive. I’ve also yet to make it to Myanmar, but I know many who have been there and now it’s getting pretty normal after being closed to tourism for so long.

      Rather than try to see most of South Asia on your first visit, I’d recommend picking the places that interest you most and focusing on them. After a couple months of those places you might continue on to most or all of the others on your list, although you might enjoy traveling slowly in your favorite countries instead. For example, I spent four months in Vietnam on my first and only trip and I loved it.

      I’d probably save Brunei and Philippines for another trip. Indonesia might also work better for a future trip, although cheap flights to Bali and Jakarta are possible from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. India is the most “hardcore” of all of these places and it can break your spirit, especially if you spend time in the big cities. So you might want to start with it to see if you like it, or save it for the end. Either way, I highly recommend focusing on smaller towns in India if you plan on staying more than a week or two. With a flight to or from India to Bangkok, you could do most or all of the rest on buses, trains, and a few boat rides. Nepal is probably best as a side trip from India as long as you have your visa worked out properly in advance.

      I hope this helps you get started a bit. Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos are all an easy circuit on land or boat, and Myanmar is easy to reach from northern Thailand by bus as well. For that group I’d start in Bangkok and focus on Thailand at first because it’s the perfect buffer between “modern” destinations and more challenging places like Laos or India. Once you get used to Bangkok, the rest of Thailand will be easier and once you get used to those places then Cambodia and Vietnam will seem easier. Lastly, be a bit careful in Vietnam because travel agents there tend to be harder to trust than in the other places. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  4. Alain says:

    In your regional ranking you say Hanoi is the cheapest city but you say Ho Chin Minh in your global ranking???

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Alain,

      Thank you so much for pointing that out. I discovered that I failed to update the Backpacker Index total for 2020 for Ho Chi Minh City when I updated the others. It’s updated now. Much appreciated. -Roger