31 Asia cities by price: Backpacker Index for 2024

The Asia Backpacker Index debuted in 2011 and has been expanded and updated every year since then. The 2024 update continues to show that Asia is the best place for travel bargains in the world as a few great destinations are still under US$20 per day for a hostel bed, 3 meals, 3 drinks, 2 transportation rides, and one attraction each day. Laos now dominates the cheap part of the list as you can get dorm beds for under US$5 in the most interesting cities.

There was some inflation in most Asian countries in 2023 and food prices in particular have been adjusted accordingly, but overall prices are still very low compared to even other bargain parts of the world like Latin America and eastern Europe. Tokyo is no longer the most expensive as Singapore and Hong Kong are both pricier for backpackers these days.

Asia in 2024 updates

The 2024 update of the Asia Backpacker Index did not have many dramatic shifts in rankings, but it did continue to show how affordable so many of Asia’s top destinations are compared to pretty much everywhere else on earth. There was inflation of between 5% and 10% in most of the places listed so food and other prices have been adjusted accordingly. A few countries had no inflation at all, including China, which is actually dealing with deflation and a struggling economy.

The one surprise that continues is that Tokyo used to be by far the most expensive city on the Asia list for the first 9 years of this project until it was passed by Singapore a few years ago. Now Hong Kong has also passed it and Tokyo looks like a great bargain as their currency has weakened even more and prices have barely gone up.

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 2024

Note: All prices converted to US dollars in January, 2024

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. Laos had pretty high inflation in 2023, but the currency came down quite a bit as well so the place is still unusually cheap for visitors. If you only have time for one stop in Laos it’s probably better to go straight to Luang Prabang (see #6 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 – 114,000/night
  • Transportation: 30,000
  • Meals: 164,400
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 75,000
  • Attractions: 10,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: LAK393,400 = US$19.03/day

>>Vientiane prices and weather

2Delhi (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. In fact, there are now some good hostels with great reviews that are shockingly cheap, which is why Delhi is so high on this list for 2024. 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: Backpackers Heaven@Kuldeep Friends Hostel – 200/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 720
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 420
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: INR1,630 = US$19.61/day

>>Delhi prices and weather

3Ho 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: Vy Da Backpacker Hostel – 98,700/night
  • Transportation: 50,000
  • Meals: 254,400
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 75,000
  • Attractions: 40,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND518,100 = US$21.10/day

>>Ho Chi Minh City 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. Watch out for the weather in Pokhara though as they have 4 or 5 really nice months each year and at least as many rainy and miserable ones.

  • Currency: Nepalese rupee
  • Best cheap hostel: Kiwi Backpackers Hostel Pokhara – 751/night
  • Transportation: 100
  • Meals: 924
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 975
  • Attractions: 100
  • Daily Backpacker Index: NPR2,850 = US$21.43/day

>>Pokhara prices and weather

5Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is typically Vietnam’s cheapest big city (by just a bit) for backpackers and it gets high marks from most visitors with its unique combination of French colonial and Asian post-communism. But in 2024 the hostels in Saigon are a bit cheaper. 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 – 139,650/night
  • Transportation: 50,000
  • Meals: 236,400
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 75,000
  • Attractions: 30,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND531,050 = US$21.63/day

>>Hanoi prices and weather

6Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is noticeably more expensive than Vientiane, 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 again in 2023, 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 – 122,000/night
  • Transportation: 30,000
  • Meals: 186,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 90,000
  • Attractions: 25,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: LAK453,000 = US$21.92/day

>>Luang Prabang prices and weather

7Hoi 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 – 136,800/night
  • Transportation: 50,000
  • Meals: 210,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 66,000
  • Attractions: 80,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND542,800 = $22.11/day

>>Hoi An prices and weather

8Chiang 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. You can probably afford a pretty nice hotel with a pool when visiting Chiang Mai so do yourself a favor and take advantage of that.

  • Currency: Thai baht
  • Best cheap hostel: Monkey Toe Guesthouse – 207/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 264
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 210
  • Attractions: 100
  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB821 = US$23.19/day

>Chiang Mai prices and weather

9Kathmandu, 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 – 577/night
  • Transportation: 70
  • Meals: 1,188
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 960
  • Attractions: 400
  • Daily Backpacker Index: NPR3,195 = US$24.02/day

>>Kathmandu prices and weather

10Manila, 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 – 497/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 516
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 225
  • Attractions: 150
  • Daily Backpacker Index: PHP1,428 = US$25.50/day

>>Manila 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: 144,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 120,000
  • Attractions: 10,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: IDR421,000 = US$26.92/day

>>Jakarta prices and weather

12Goa, 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: The Lost Hostels, Goa – Palolem Beach – 430/night
  • Transportation: 60
  • Meals: 984
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 450
  • Attractions: 390
  • Daily Backpacker Index: INR2,314 = US$27.85/day

>>Goa prices and weather

13Kuta, 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: Celebest Kuta Hostel – 75,000/night
  • Transportation: 16,000
  • Meals: 176,400
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 120,000
  • Attractions: 50,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: IDR437,400 = US$27.97/day

>>Kuta, Bali prices and weather

14Bangkok, 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 – 284/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 192
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 240
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB1,006 = US$28.42/day

>>Bangkok prices and weather

15Phnom 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$7.64
  • Transportation: 2
  • Meals: 10.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 3.00
  • Attractions: 6.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$28.84/day

>>Phnom Penh 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$3.46/night
  • Transportation: 2.00
  • Meals: 10.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 2.25
  • Attractions: 12.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$29.91/day

>>Siem Reap prices and weather

17Colombo, Sri Lanka

NOTE: Sri Lanka had a rough 2022 with high inflation and political turmoil, but as of early 2024 we hear that things are pretty much back to normal 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 – 3,500/night
  • Transportation: 300
  • Meals: 3,444
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 2,700
  • Attractions: 500
  • Daily Backpacker Index: LKR10,444= US$32.33/day

>>Colombo prices and weather

18Yangon, 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 2024. We hope the situation gets better again soon.

  • Currency: Burmese Kyat
  • Best cheap hostel: HOOD Hostel – 36,700/night
  • Transportation: 1,000
  • Meals: 19,200
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 6,000
  • Attractions: 7,500
  • Daily Backpacker Index: MMK70,400 = US$33.48/day

>>Yangon prices and weather

19Mumbai, 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 2024. 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 – 1,037/night
  • Transportation: 60
  • Meals: 792
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 510
  • Attractions: 500
  • Daily Backpacker Index: INR2,899 = US$35.15/day

>>Mumbai prices and weather

20Kuala 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 – 23.11/night
  • Transportation: 4.00
  • Meals: 51.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 54.00
  • Attractions: 40.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: MYR172.71 = US$36.83/day

>>Kuala Lumpur prices and weather

21Taipei, 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: Fun Inn Taipei – 537/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 243.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 210
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: TWD1,280.60 = US$40.63/day

>>Taipei prices and weather

22Boracay 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 – 802/night
  • Transportation: 100
  • Meals: 840
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 270
  • Attractions: 300
  • Daily Backpacker Index: PHP2,312 = US$41.29/day

>>Boracay Island prices and weather

23Phuket, 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: BearPacker Patong Hostel – 566/night
  • Transportation: 100
  • Meals: 444
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 240
  • Attractions: 200
  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB1,550 = US$43.79/day

>>Phuket 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 2024 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: Shanghai Hidden Garden Youth Hostel – 109/night
  • Transportation: 10
  • Meals: 97.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 60
  • Attractions: 50
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY326.20 = US$45.75/day

>>Shanghai prices and weather

25Seoul, 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 – 26,292/night
  • Transportation: 2,500
  • Meals: 19,440
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 12,000
  • Attractions: 10,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: KRW70,232 = US$52.53/day

>>Seoul prices and weather

26Beijing, 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. Strangely enough, the hostels in Beijing in 2024 have shot way up in price for every date we checked. It seems unlikely that they will always be this expensive, but for the moment the capital seems to be quite a bit more expensive than it used to be.

  • Currency: Chinese yuan
  • Best cheap hostel: The Great Wall Box House – 241/night
  • Transportation: 10.00
  • Meals: 67.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 45.00
  • Attractions: 60.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY423.20 = US$59.35/day

>>Beijing prices and weather

27Xi’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. Similar to Beijing, hostel prices in Xi’an went way up in 2024 and it’s hard to tell what is going on.

  • Currency: Chinese yuan
  • Best cheap hostel: Han Tang Inn Hostel – 256/night
  • Transportation: 6.00
  • Meals: 61.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 42.00
  • Attractions: 75.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY440.20 = US$61.74/day

>>Xi’an prices and weather

28Macau, 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) – 238/night
  • Transportation: 8.00
  • Meals: 146.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 45.00
  • Attractions: 50.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: MOP487.40 = US$62.41/day

>>Macau prices and weather

29Tokyo, Japan

This is the third time that Tokyo has NOT been the most expensive city the list and the first time it hasn’t been one of the bottom two. 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 was almost zero during the pandemic. Honestly, Japan is looking like a great bargain these days as it’s still one of the world’s most modern and tidiest places and yet it’s much cheaper than it was only a few years ago.

  • Currency: Japanese yen
  • Best cheap hostel: Hostel bedgasm – 3,000/night
  • Transportation: 400
  • Meals: 2,772
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 2,100
  • Attractions: 1,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: JPY9,272 = US$63.25/day

>>Tokyo prices and weather

30Hong 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: Check Inn HK – 216/night
  • Transportation: 5.00
  • Meals: 170.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 120.00
  • Attractions: 50
  • Daily Backpacker Index: HKD561.40 = US$71.88/day

>>Hong Kong 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: Betel Box Backpacker Hostel – 30.22/night
  • Transportation: 3.00
  • Meals: 28.80
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 21.00
  • Attractions: 15.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: SGD98.02 = US$73.15/day

>>Singapore prices and weather

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  1. RB says:

    Roger, thanks for this insightful post.
    I am planning to travel to in March with my better half, and would seek your suggestions on what would be the 2 best places to be. looking at a total of USD1000 with airfare ex-newdelhi. looking forward to your suggestions 😀

    1. Roger Wade says:


      It’s extremely challenging to recommend the “2 best places” in Asia, even based on a budget and departure airport. One of the reasons I make this list is to help people discover possible destinations and know about how much they cost compared to one another. If you want to sit on a beach you might consider Phuket or one of the other Thai islands. But if you want to experience a different culture you might go to Bangkok and then Siem Reap.

      Best of luck, and if you have a more specific question I’ll try to answer it. -Roger

  2. Karin L. says:

    Hi Roger, I’m so happy to have stumbled onto your site. Sounds like you know what you’re talking about, so I’d love to get some of your feedback on my question. I’m looking to plan a 3 week trip to Asia next year – likely during December/January. I’ve been to Thailand but my husband has not, and while I would love for him to experience it, I’m also questioning whether I should return here or explore a new country. I spent time in Bangkok, Chang Mai, Koh Pah Ngan, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao. We are very much beach lovers, but I would definitely love to immerse in local culture on occasion (food, markets, festivals). I’m not a fan of staying in busy cities (i.e. Bangkok or the like), and one of the things I fell in love with in Thailand was sleeping in rustic huts on the beach, street food, and the night life on the beach. I’m totally open to suggestions, but was considering Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Or a combination of these. Or if you think that Thailand really does have the best to offer, I’m open to that too.

    I know it’s a bit of a generic request – I’m just trying to focus my scope so that I can get advance flights booked and start researching some areas. Looking forward to your thoughts!

    1. Roger Wade says:


      When it comes to rustic huts on the beach, Thailand really does stand out in the region. None of the other countries around there has nearly the development in their tourist areas, which could be good or bad. For you, having already explored Thailand, you might enjoy Cambodia (especially Siem Reap and Angkor Wat), or even spending the whole three weeks in Vietnam. But your husband might appreciate Thailand more because it’s exotic but still very easy (7-Eleven on every corner and that sort of thing).

      In three weeks you could spend up to 10 days on beaches or islands, and also still have time to visit Siem Reap for a few days, and perhaps spend a week in Laos. The very nice thing about Laos is that it’s very low-key and relaxing, even in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

      I’m a huge fan of Bali and it could also be a good fit, especially if you spent some of your time in the more-mellow Lombok. The popular areas of Bali have gotten really crowded in the past 10 years or so, and somewhat ugly as well. Specifically, the Kuta Beach, Legion, Seminyak area in Bali is wall-to-wall tourism. Ubud, up in the hills, is lovely, but you still will constantly be asked if you want to hire a taxi and that sort of thing. If you minimized your time in those crowded areas, and explored other parts of the island, it could be perfect. It’s exotic yet still quite easy, and cheap as well.

      The Philippines has a few interesting areas, but I don’t think they would suit you as well on this trip.

      Hopefully this helps, and feel free to follow up. -Roger

      1. Karin L. says:

        Thanks so much Roger! Your note definitely increased my interest in Bali and I’ve been reading up on it. I wanted to inquire a little more into the feasibility of it all, given that 3 weeks is a short time (in my opinion). Do you think it would be realistic to make our way there overland without rushing through too many places? My initial thought is to spend 10-12 days in Thailand, from Bangkok down to the south (haven’t decided yet whether to do the same islands I saw last time or to hop over to the Andaman side and explore there). Then spend a couple of days making our way through Malaysia and over to Bali where I’d like to spend at least 5-6 days before flying back to BKK. Do you have any thoughts on this? I’d love to experience Malaysia on the way, but given the time constraint am thinking that we might just end up passing through, either overland or in flight. Also, if you have any recommendations on the best route/mode of travel, that would be greatly appreciated.

        Thanks again!

      2. john says:

        Hi roger,

        Can’t remember which blog I spoke to u on but I was asking about cheapest place to travel a month or two ago.

        I spoke about lonely travel and meeting mates etc, and whether to go to India or Thailand. You said to keep in touch.

        Anyway I opted for Thailand Cambodia and enjoying koh Chang now.

        But checking exchange rates u were right about India being cheaper now.

        Oh well I messed up a bit there, I also see there’s now a 180 baht charge on ATM now which wasn’t sure here last time five years ago.

        I used my email if u said u might meet up if ur in Cambodia or somewhere after u finish Bali.

        I’ll prob be in Cambodia for a month after Jan 3 4 5 not sure exactly when

        Any way cheers

        1. Roger Wade says:


          I definitely remember you and I’m glad you followed up. India is probably cheaper, but I think you said you’ve been there, so you know that there’s a reason things are so cheap there.

          And yes, those 180 baht ATM fees are pretty much unavoidable through most of Asia now, which sucks. I get as much out each time as I can to minimize it, and I don’t think theft is a major problem in most of those areas.

          Personally, I did an intense tour of Europe to 29 cities in 3 months, and got somewhat burned out so I headed to Miami for the winter. I’ll be heading to Asia again later in the year, but not sooner. Best of luck with your trip. -Roger

          1. john says:

            Arh OK, well Miami isn’t a bad fall back!

            Just endured the south east Thai – Cambodia border with a 1300 baht fee which is something like 42usd instead of the official 30usd fee.

            In sihanouckville, its a little more expensive then koh Chang, meals around 3usd, rooms 10usd to 15usd but going up for NY.

            Dorms start at 4usd but everywhere is full

            Happy ny

  3. Selena E says:

    Hi Roger,

    This is by far the best article and thread I’ve come across for a beginner looking for info about how to spend time in South East Asia on a budget. You seem so knowledgeable and well travelled. It’s amazing. I’ve never been to Asia (unless you count my stay in Istanbul on the Asia side of the Bosphorus) but I’m looking to travel there in March 2015.

    So long as my annual leave request at work is granted, I’ll be leaving the UK on 18th March, and returning on or around the 8th April in order to be back for my trip to Ibiza on 11th April. For the last 5-7 days of the trip I’ll be staying in Singapore, where my boyfriend’s sister lives, so we’ll have accommodation. So I’m looking to fill the rest of the trip up with some interesting visits. I am more likely to chow down with the locals than dine at a tourist restaurant, and I prefer real culture than beaches and sightseeing tours. I’m a fan of beer too, particularly if we can’t get it at home. I’ll be on a tight budget, so cheap and friendly is good. I wouldn’t mind a day or two on a pretty and unspoilt beach though to be honest.

    I’m drawn to Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Not sure why. Perhaps because they seem more raw and less spoilt by the modern world. Maybe Nepal and Malaysia too, if there is time – but I suppose I can pop over to Malaysia on the train from Singapore when I’m there. I’m not sure how long I should be looking to stay in each place or what to see and do. I thought about flying into Bangkok from London, but wonder if there are cheaper or better routes to start from. My boyfriend will be going straight to Singapore on 18th March and will be meeting me at some point along my trip before we both head to Singapore to complete our trip.

    Can you recommend a route, some features and possibly travel arrangements to consider? e.g. airlines, trains, what to avoid and where to go. I very much look forward to a response! 😀

    Kindest regards,


    1. Roger Wade says:


      Thanks for the kind words, and I’m always happy to hear that this information helps.

      It sounds like you’ve only got about two weeks before you have to be in Singapore, which isn’t really enough time to cover the region very well. It will take most of a day to get from one place to another, so the more often you move around, the less time you have for sightseeing and all that. I wouldn’t recommend going to Vietnam unless you had at least a week for it, so I think you should save it for a future trip where you’ll have more time.

      First off, the best airports (by far) to fly into in the area are Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Once you land in any of those, you can take cheap Air Asia flights to get around, or long-distance buses or trains in some cases.

      Obviously you’ll want to spend at least a few days in Bangkok itself. After that, the main highlight nearby is Siem Reap to see the incredible Angkor Wat temples. Siem Reap is a fun town, and the temples live up to the hype.

      After that I’d suggest going to one of the Thai Islands for a different experience. The ones in the south are generally better than the ones closer to Bangkok. Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan are both popular and ideal for shorter trips like yours. Or you could head to the west coast and choose Ko Phi Phi or Phuket. I don’t really recommend Phuket for a trip like yours (it’s a place where Europeans go to sit on the beach, and that’s it). There are a few other smaller islands that you can read about when you are deciding.

      On your way from an island to Singapore you could stop somewhere in Malaysia. Georgetown on the island of Penang might be the best choice, but you could also stop in Kuala Lumpur for a day or two, and even Malacca on your way to Singapore. Kuala Lumpur is interesting, but not very exotic compared to the others.

      Check Airasia.com for flights and book as early as possible for the best fares. You can also take luxury buses around the area, for good prices. To get to the islands you’ll want to take a bus to a ferry port and then a ferry, or you could fly depending on which one you choose. In Malaysia, there is a train, but honestly the buses are better and can be more comfortable.

      Once you get your itinerary a bit more together I’ll be happy to give you more advice on making the best of it. Have a great trip. -Roger

  4. TWN says:

    The amount allocated for the meals and transport budget for Taipei seems too low. Most budget breakfast you can get is typically 40~50NT (“dan bing”/sandwich/Burger + milk tea/black tea in a breakfast shop/street store). Lunch & Dinner would usually cost around 80~100NT each, (unless you don’t really mind eating the 7-11 49 or 59 NT meal, some street food doesn’t cost much, but you would have a hard time filling your hunger with those finger food you bought from the street store). Transportation wise, unless you are willing to walk a lot and only take a short ride with train, it can easily cost you more than 50NT/day (buses & trains). It getting much more expensive, the price of the food are on par with Singapore or even more costly.

    1. Roger Wade says:


      Thanks for the info. We are updating all the prices in the coming weeks and we’ll adjust the Taipei stuff with your suggestions in mind. -Roger

  5. cestitke says:

    can anybody say to me it safe to be with my wife and baby dother in pataya?

  6. Amelia Pratiwi says:

    Jakarta is the worst city. You would be disappointed. Bali, Yogyakarta or Lombok is better. Both are in Indonesia.

  7. Mouza says:

    Hi roger,
    i,m a fun of travelling especially in asia countries. i had been to many places such as Thailand more than 6 times visiting (Bangkok, Shiangmai,pattaya, Phuket,Ko samui) i had been to Indonesia twice, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia. i need your help to find place similar to Bangkok or Thailand in its budget and night markets for staying 3 weeks with my husband and 2 kids (4years and 2 years old), some where we have fun not quiet and bouring.some where with alot of night markets too.

    1. Roger Wade says:


      If you are going to stay three weeks in one place, it might be difficult to find somewhere that won’t become boring. Fortunately, there are night markets in every city in that part of Asia, so that won’t be a problem. Some places you might consider are Sihanoukville, which is a popular beach in Cambodia, and Luang Prabang in Laos. Both of those would be quite mellow compared to anywhere in Thailand that you mentioned.

      If you’ve been to Vietnam then you are probably aware of Nha Trang and its fantastic beaches, and Hoi An, which is most people’s favorite place in the country. And in Malaysia you’ve got Georgetown on Penang and Malacca on the way down to Singapore. Also, it sounds like there are several major islands in Thailand that you’ve yet to visit, like Krabi or Ko Pha Ngan. Hopefully this gives you at least one or two ideas to consider. Best of luck. -Roger

  8. Julie says:

    Hi Roger! This is a really helpful article for those that are planning to travel to Asia although I live in the US now I grew up in the Philippines and my mom is still there. We want to visit Bangkok, Thailand around October for 3 days but I think Bangkok look the same as Manila as a city it’s both busy and crowded, canyou suggest how we can go unwind on the nearest beach in Thailand after touring around Bangkok? What is the name of the place and how do we get there? Please advise and thank you.

    1. Roger Wade says:


      Thanks. It’s true that Bangkok is very large and crowded like Manila, but it’s also easier to get around and the sightseeing is much more interesting than in Manila. So I’d encourage you to spend at least a day or two in Bangkok if you can. The Royal Palace area is very impressive, and there are many temples (called ‘wats’) that are worth a look as well.

      As for nearby beaches, Pattaya is the closest beach town with sandy beaches and many hotels. It has a reputation for having a great number of “go go bars” and that sort of thing, but most of the town is actually family oriented and those not looking for adult entertainment can easily avoid it. There are buses going to Pattaya from Bangkok and Bangkok Airport every 30 to 60 minutes.

      Just beyond Pattaya you can go to Ko Chang, which is the nearest island and only a short ferry ride from the mainland. If you don’t mind taking a short flight, then Ko Samui is a very popular island down in the south, with a few other nearby choices. And Phuket is even more popular, on the other coast. If you research these options, I’m sure you’ll figure out one of them that will work for you. -Roger

  9. Tish says:

    How come Osaka, Japan did not make the list when it is cheaper there than in Tokyo? Or did you only include places where you’ve been?

    Any way, this is a very helpful article, nonetheless.

    1. Roger Wade says:


      I’ve tried to start with the most popular tourist destination for each major tourist country, and then I’ve added extra cities that are also popular as well as different enough from the first one. I’ve been thinking about adding Kyoto, but would you say that Osaka is more popular for a second stop in Japan? I’ve been a bit surprised about how infrequently Japan comes up in these conversations, so I’m glad you mentioned it. Thank you for taking the time. -Roger

  10. Alyna says:

    Hi Roger,

    First of all, I love your articles. Secondly, I would be grateful if you can help me choose an Asian country/city to travel to.

    For my 19th birthday in November I have chosen to travel!

    My budget is around $2k-$2.5k and since I’m an 18 year old individual girl, I need the place to be safe. I’ll be visiting for no more than a week. My priority is kind people who can speak English, I want to make friends and I want an adventurous trip. Another thing is the food, a city which has at least a couple of Halal places. Any weather is fine, but I would prefer windy and neutral or even cold rather than hot. Any ideas?

    1. Roger Wade says:


      Thank you for the kind words. I really enjoy trying to help people choose destinations, but this one is quite challenging. If you were to take out one or two things from your wish list, I would have several suggestions, though there really isn’t one place that matches them all. You’ll find “kind people” pretty much everywhere you go. The levels of English-speaking vary widely throughout Asia, however, with generally more expensive places speaking English more commonly.

      Going in November is also a bit tricky for climate if you prefer cold. You’ll get cold in most of China and Japan, and also South Korea, but you also get short days, limited English, not a great social scene (that time of year), and perhaps a struggle finding Halal places.

      The places that fit most of your wish list are in Southeast Asia, which is blazing hot pretty much every day of the year, though a few of the northern spots like Hanoi or Chang Mai would have mild weather. Bangkok would normally be my first suggestion because it fits everything you want except for cool temperatures, but right now there is uncertainty about the political situation ahead. As of now, the tourists are safe and sound, and almost everything is operating normally, though there could be disruptions and protests have even shut the airport for days at a time in the past.

      Considering your age and that this is your first big overseas trip on your own, I have two suggestions that I think would each be great as long as you can put up with hot weather. One is Bali, Indonesia, which is always loaded with young visitors from Australia and Europe, English is widely spoken, and there will be plenty of Halal restaurant choices as well. You could spend a few days in the Kuta Beach area and then a few more days in the Ubud area up in the hills (also a bit cooler). Bali is gorgeous, friendly, amazing, and cheap. Its main problem these days is that it suffers from its own popularity, with road traffic between towns being horrible. You’d love it, and you’d feel safe there.

      The other suggestion is to visit Kuala Lumpur, Melaka (also in Malaysia), and Singapore. KL and Singapore are both large cities, but they are friendly, safe, and largely English speaking. Melaka is a historic town between the two that could be a nice contrast along the way. You can get between them by bus or train (even luxury buses there are pretty cheap). Malaysia is mostly a Muslim country (and Singapore was part of it not that long ago) so your Halal choices are nearly infinite. Singapore in particular is fairly expensive (at least for sleeping), but it really is a fascinating place with a lot to do.

      I think you’d have a great time with either of those choices. Bali is really more of a resort island, and only a few areas (around Kuta Beach) are crowded, while KL to Singapore would be more of a city trip. Hopefully if you research both of those options, one will stand out to you as the best choice. I love this sort of puzzle, so feel free to follow up and ask more questions if you have them. -Roger