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. Saffron says:

    Hi Roger,
    A lot of my friends told me that Hotel in Japan is pretty pricey, I was wondering if you have any recommendation for staying in Japan? I was planning to visit Hokkaido next year somewhere in July/August.

    And for the flight cost, how do you get the lowest flight? It’s quite pricey to what I was searching all along. BTW, I’m staying in Singapore now. I could go to KL airport too if they have cheapest flight to Hokkaido. Kindly advice please, thank you.

    1. Roger Wade says:


      I’ve been to Japan but not yet to Hokkaido. However, I just checked hotel rates in Sapporo and they actually look very reasonable. Hotel rates in Singapore are MUCH higher than even in Tokyo these days, so I don’t think it will be too bad. In fact, while Japan has long had a reputation as an expensive country, it may not deserve it so much anymore. In general, Japan is no higher than middle of the pack compared to European countries. You won’t find bargain eats like in the hawker centers of Singapore, but you’ll be able to find normal meals for well under US$10.

      Flights to Hokkaido seem to be almost all domestic, plus a few flights from Hong Kong and Seoul. Right now it looks like Singapore or KL to Hokkaido is running about US$650 return for next July. Considering the distance and multiple stops, that actually seems like a pretty good deal for this route. I really don’t think it will go much lower than that at any point, so if you can find a fare in that range that works for you, I’d think about booking it as soon as you are sure of your dates.

      The only other thing I can think of would be to fly from KL to Tokyo on Air Asia X and then book a cheap domestic flight from there to Hokkaido. That could come in closer to US$550. Or you could fly from KL to Tokyo on Vietnam Airlines with a change in Saigon for even less, and then onto Hokkaido on another airline. That is getting complicated, but it’s the cheapest way to get there. It’s worth mentioning that if you book two separate tickets (one to Tokyo and another to Hokkaido) then you are liable if your first flight lands too late to reach your next flight. So if you do that, make sure you leave enough time. Hopefully this helps. Feel free to follow up if you have other questions. -Roger

  2. Andres says:

    Thank you Roger for such an amazing recommendation. I’ll be honest: Taking Myanmar out was kind of sad because I’ve always wanted to see the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, but I think I might follow your advice and remove Burma and Goa. I also wanted to ask you about the VISA subject. I’ve heard that each country has their rules, so I wanted your input in that regard as well. Do I have to arrange prior to my travel any specific permissions/permits? Or can they be dealt with when arriving into each country’s customs? Thank you once again!

    1. Roger Wade says:


      As mentioned, I think saving Myanmar for your second trip to the region will probably be wise, if a bit disappointing. One thing that may not be obvious before you arrive in the area is that each country has its own level of difficulty for visitors who don’t know the local language. Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore are quite easy, especially as there is a lot of English spoken in the last two, and Thailand has been a pro at tourism for decades. But when you get to Cambodia, Vietnam, or Laos, things get more challenging and it feels like you’ve gone back in time about 30 years. For example, Bangkok has dozens of trains and hundreds of buses coming in and out every day, but Phnom Penh maybe has 10 (more primitive) buses and no trains going in and out. You have to do a lot more preparation to find your way around those countries, and Myanmar is still a beginner at this with a lot of catch-up to do.

      Anyway, the visa situation depends on the country your passport is from. I’m from the US and I can pretty much just show up in most of these countries and stay for a month or so with no visa. Vietnam was an exception, but I think they now have a visa-on-arrival scheme for many visitors. If you are also from the US (or Canada or most of Europe etc) most of it will be easy. But if you are from a country with fewer diplomatic ties to this region, it could be a bit complicated. In other words, you’ll want to look up the entry requirements for each country before you start booking flights and making plans. I find that wikitravel.org has good info on most countries.

      As always, feel free to follow up if you have other questions I might help with. -Roger

  3. Andres says:

    Hello Roger,
    I love your website and recommendations. I’m planning to travel on December 2016 to SE Asia. I have some places in mind already but I wanted your input as I will have 22-25 days only to accomplish this. I wanted Thai (Bangkok) Vietnam (Saigon maybe?), Myanmar (Yangon/Mandalay) Laos (Vientiane/Luang Prabang) Cambodia (Siem Reap) Indonesia (Bali) and India (Goa). I know that if I’m to accomplish this I would have to stay a max of 3-4 days in each country. Do you think this is possible? Would you modify the city list? I’m looking for a mix of temples (cambodia) city (Bangkok) and calm (Laos). Thanks!

    1. Roger Wade says:


      Staying 3 to 4 days in each country is a valid strategy, as long as you are content to stay in only one place while in each country. I’ve done it myself and had a good time. You DON’T want to try to see two full cities in only 3 or 4 days, however. Pretty much all of the stops on your list are far from one another, so it would take nearly a full day of traveling to get from one to another. In other words, those transit days aren’t sightseeing days, so if you have 22 days and try to visit 8 different places, it is really 14 sightseeing days and 8 transit days. Most people enjoy trips more when they don’t spend so much time in transit, and more time sightseeing.

      I’ve yet to visit Myanmar myself and I hear mixed things. I don’t think I’d include it on a first trip to the region, especially since there are so many worthwhile things that are easier to reach that you’d have to pass up to include Myanmar. Also, I’m a fan of Goa and I’ve spent a lot of time there, but I would also save it for another trip. There is almost nothing to see in Goa, so it’s all about relaxing on decent beaches during the day, and maybe partying all night. Most people go there for a week or two, as a relaxing or partying beach holiday. You’d have to first fly into India and then fly from there to Goa, so it’s a long trip if you only want to spend 3 total nights. It would be far easier and probably more fun to instead spend those days on a Thai island.

      So I’d recommend for sure going to Bangkok, Siem Reap, and Luang Prabang. I’m also a big fan of Bali and you could fly down there from Bali for about 4 days and it would be worthwhile. If you can afford to fly everywhere then you can see more things. For example, most people going from Bangkok to Laos will take a night train to near the border of Vientiane, and then a bus into Vientiane. It’s not really a very interesting city, so after a day or two you’d take a bus to Vang Vieng, which is really wonderful. Then you’d take another bus to Luang Prabang. You can see how those train and bus rides can add up to a lot of your trip. There are no cheap flights into Laos, so it’s not so easy.

      From Phnom Penh you can take a long bus ride to Saigon, which is another very interesting place. Many people arrive in Saigon then take the train up to Danang to visit nearby Hoi An for a few days, then another train up to Hanoi for a couple days and a day or two in Halong Bay. So you could have a great Vietnam visit in about 8 or 9 days. Personally, Saigon was my least favorite stop in Vietnam, and I don’t think I’d recommend a visit that only goes there. So if you want to do Vietnam, you’ve got some options.

      You should also consider a stop at a Thai island, with Ko Samui being the most obvious choice. You can get a cheap flight there from Bangkok, or a cheaper train/bus/ferry ticket. And if you are in that area you might also consider stopping in Penang, Malaysia and/or Kuala Lumpur. KL has even more cheap flights than Bangkok, so it could be used as a hub on your trip. I hope this helps, and feel free to follow up. -Roger

  4. Dianna Lynn says:

    Hi Roger,

    I have travelled extensively throughout Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and India. I was this “” close to booking a trip to Indonesia and Malaysia with a side trip to India and Nepal yesterday. I have about 3 or 4 months and I can use airpoints for almost any flights. I was excited to travel Indonesia but I hesitate to book because of the current fire conditions enveloping SE Asia. I’m not sure where to travel to now. I have a limited budget so I like Asia for its diverse cultures and interesting things to see. I would like to leave the end of November 2015 and back home (Canada) in March.

    What do you suggest for an itinerary? Taking weather into consideration, I feel as though Nepal is still on the list, but I would want to leave it to the end of the journey because of weather.

    Do you think the fires in Indonesia will be clear by the end of November? If not, Sri Lanka is probably the only other country left to see.

    I suppose I can go back to Thailand and see Laos, but it’s always nice to see something new.

    I’m a mature solo female traveller – not into young crowds so much and beachs get boring after a couple of days. I enjoy experiencing culture, seeing history, hiking mountains. Snorkelling walking around towns, etc.


    1. Roger Wade says:


      Some friends of mine have been posting photos of the air resulting from those fires in Indonesia, but I honestly don’t know much about them myself. I’m planning on spending all of February in Bali, and I’m assuming that all will be clear by then. I’d recommend checking the travel forums on travelfish.org, as it’s by far the best place for current information on that part of Asia. I’m sure people are discussing the situation regularly.

      I think it’s wise to time a Nepal visit around the weather, as you’ve suggested. There are only about 4 or 5 months each year when you can be confident that it won’t rain all day. However, during the dry months you’ll have to deal with daily power cuts that can be as long as 14 hours a day at the end of the season. At least they are scheduled, so it’s pretty easy to work around them.

      Sri Lanka would be an excellent choice for what you have in mind. One sort of strange thing about Sri Lanka is that there are very few hostels and super-cheap hotels, so they don’t get huge numbers of young backpackers. As a result, it’s all very civilized rather than the nonstop party you see all over Thailand. I spent 3 weeks in Sri Lanka, most of it inland, and it felt like a good amount of time. Obviously there are similarities to India, but it’s quite different and a lot less overwhelming.

      I also think Laos could be a good choice for a longer stop. It’s very mellow and quite beautiful. Luang Prabang is the nicest place to hang around, but Vang Vieng is gorgeous and worth a few days as well.

      The Philippines is another option. Manila is kind of a frustrating city, but once you get out of it the country is lovely.

      And hopefully you can get to Malaysia, which I think is underrated by most Western tourists. Penang and Melaka are both really interesting places, and the Cameron Highlands are a refreshing change from the intense heat of the region. I also love Kuala Lumpur, though it is very large and busy.

      Hopefully my rambling helps a bit. Feel free to ask other questions if you have them. Have a great trip. -Roger

  5. ernesto alerta says:

    hi roger can i ask where among the country you van visited akready is the best.cheap and safe and friwndly people..i am from manila ohilippines and always travek.i been some asians country

    1. Roger Wade says:


      This is a tricky question. Vietnam, for example, is wonderful and cheap, but the people aren’t really known for being too friendly. India is mostly cheap and the people are quite friendly, but you have to deal with quite a few headaches (including unbelievably crowded cities) so it’s not ideal for most people. Sri Lanka is easier to deal with, but it’s a bit more expensive than most of India.

      For cheap, safe, and friendly, I can recommend Cambodia and Laos, although the tourist infrastructure in those countries is still under-developed. Thailand is a bit more expensive, but at least it’s very tourist friendly and easy, so in many ways it’s worth the extra money.

      I really like Malaysia, partly because the infrastructure there is quite modern and most of the signs are in English, but it’s not as cheap as the others mentioned above. I’m not sure if this has helped. If you have something more specific in mind I’ll be happy to try to sort it out with you so feel free to ask more questions. -Roger

  6. hemang says:

    Hi Roger

    I will be travelling to thailand 7N/8D(Bangkok 3days, pattaya 2days and phuket 2days) along with my partner on honeymoon in mid december. Could you tell me what would be the budget in total to travel this place from india. As of now I have a budget of Rs 65000 Per person. would it be wise to dine out or in hotels as one of the tour n travels guy said it would be cheaper to dine out.


    1. Roger Wade says:


      With a budget of Rs65,000 (US$1,000) per person for 8 days, you can have a great time in Thailand, assuming that this total doesn’t have to include your airfare. You will be able to find nice and well located hotels in Bangkok and Pattaya for around US$50/night, and in the same range for Phuket as long as you don’t mind staying a few blocks from the beach. By the way, I would NOT recommend staying in the Patong Beach area of Phuket for a honeymoon. It’s crowded and the main “nightlife” areas are mostly targeted at single men, if you know what I mean. The rest of the island is peaceful and more family oriented.

      As for a food budget, Thailand is one of the world’s great bargain destinations as long as you enjoy the local cuisine or dishes that are popular with the many budget travelers there. Nearly all hotels will provide a simple breakfast (eggs and toast is common). For lunch and dinner you’ll find the best bargains are the street dishes, including some great noodle soups, rice & meat/veg dishes, and the famously spicy papaya salad. If you go to where locals are eating you can get full meals for around US$1 to US$2. In sit-down restaurants a meal can range from maybe US$3 to US$8 at most places. There will be tourist-oriented restaurants everywhere you look in all 3 places you are going. The most expensive meals would be found at the restaurants at the nicer hotels, so they tend to be poor value. So your tour n travels guy is right in that it will be cheaper (and usually better) to dine in independent restaurants instead of hotel restaurants. Please let me know if you have other questions. -Roger

  7. Jonathan says:

    Hi Roger,

    Its true that Colombo is a pit stop to other destinationas in Sri Lanka. I dont know when you been there but, I have travelled in Europe and Asia, and lived in London for 7 years, but I was born & raised in Colombo. Afetr the war there has been DRAMATIC change in Colombo, so to call it charmless is a bit baseless. Revisit and properly get to know the city please. Though there are not a lot of exceptionally great tourist attractions to visit like Bangkok or similar, it is a fun city to visit and live ( although I agree with you that it is not the cheapest ). FYI- hostelworld.com has some good places with reviews with average Rs 1,500 ( USD 11/ night ). So please consider editing your article about Colombo as I think it is either outdated or you did not utilise your time properly here

    1. Roger Wade says:


      Thank you for taking the time to comment and I appreciate your opinion. I spent a few days in Colombo about two years ago and I joined the legions of other travelers who aren’t as impressed with the place as you are. Part of it is that Colombo is overly crowded and lacks a tourist center with notable attractions, and the other part is that the rest of Sri Lanka is so lovely that those with limited time would generally be unwise to focus much of their holiday on the capital.

      If I worked for a company that transferred me to Colombo, I assume that within a few weeks I’d discover some cool and interesting little corners of town that could impress out-of-town visitors. I actually think that’s true of pretty much any large city in the world. The real question is how much effort do tourists want to put in to find an interesting part of town when there is so much else to see once you leave the area? When I first got there I stayed in Negombo for a couple days and I thought it was also reasonably pleasant, but nothing I couldn’t find in many other parts of Asia.

      For the record, many huge Asian capitals and cities are in the same predicament. Jakarta and Manila come to mind, as does Mumbai. In the end, I was happy to spend a couple days in Colombo but it’s way down my list of places to recommend in Sri Lanka. Still, I’m interested in what I might have missed. What would you say are the top 3 can’t-miss attractions in Sri Lanka? It’s possible that I missed one or more of them. -Roger

      1. Jonathan says:


        Thanks for the reply, mighty decent of you. Appreciate you taking your time, Cheers mate. I am a bit curious on what you did in the city and places you visited. Couple of things you could do that I would recommend is:

        a) Take a a open deck bus tour within the city- e.g http://www.colombocitytours.com. It has day and evening/ night tours. Alternatively if you like to see a list of places to visit, just go to the website also. It includes temples, Museums etc
        b) If you are staying for a couple of nights, stay in the Colpitty/ Galle Face area for city experience, and visit the Mount Lavinia Beach. It has a lot of nice bars & restaurants with good food, drinks etc, and can have a nice swim during the day time.
        c) Go PUB hopping during happy hour. Highly recommend it as this is one of the favourite past times for locals- youngesters specially. Places vary with time but generally is 1.5 hours in establishments that offer, between 5.00pm- 8.00pm, where all drinks are half priced ( I can send a list if you like ).
        d) Visit the Dutch Hospital Precinct during Fridays & weekends or grab a bite to eat at the nearby Colombo City Hotel roof top restaurant with a nice view. Both are opposite the World Trade Center
        e) Ride a tuk tuk ( 3 wheeler ) at least once. DO NOT go near the Fort Railway Station/ Market area. It is crowded and not that great
        f) Stroll along the Presidenst House road. It has great architectural buildings and newly opened shops, restauranst etc
        g) Visit Crescat Boulevard or OdEL shopping complexes
        h) Realise that Colombo is NOT a typically cheap asian capital. Comparitively its expensive, though never as Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo. If you accept this, and not go for the really cheap places and experiences, then it is realistic to enjoy the city at its best

        If you like further information, please contact me.


  8. gin says:

    i am a girl 23 yrs old, currently looking for a traveller buddy during sept. anyone interested pls email me. my email is [email protected]

  9. waqas says:

    Thanks roger for your valuable guidance to the mankind
    please guide me to travel in asian countries with wife and two kids
    i have the budget around 5000 USD and i plan for 20 days
    i have to travel from islamabad..we like to travel and visit natural beauty and places

    1. Roger Wade says:


      At first it sounds to me like your budget should be enough for many great destinations within Asia, but when I tried to research the airfares out of Islamabad, I find very little information. At least with the tools I typically use, it looks like flights to almost everywhere will cost at least US$1,000 per person. I’m assuming that there are cheaper flights that just aren’t shown where I’m looking.

      In other words, I can help you with some good suggestions if you give me more information on the flight situation. Is there a good hub city that you can get a relatively cheap flight into?

      My first suggestion would be to head to Thailand, probably starting in Bangkok and then going to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and also one or more of the Thai islands, but I don’t know if flights into Bangkok are affordable. You could do something similar by flying into Kuala Lumpur, and maybe they have cheaper flights? If you hope to stay halal, it would be much easier in Malaysia than Thailand. Let me know more about where you can fly into cheaply enough, and I’ll try to make more suggestions. -Roger

  10. Chris says:

    You should include Kyoto. When you think of Asia when it comes to travel, Kyoto always comes into mind with 30 million tourists annually. Just went there this January and it seems lovely, with a lot of UNESCO world heritage sites to boot.