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. Gary says:

    Hi to all,

    Traveling solo for the first time from Canada to Asia. looking at Thailand and Cambodia as of right now. Would like to go for all of Oct and a week or 2 of November. How much of a budget do you think i need for basic food and stay living, i don’t drink. occasional site seeing of course but more to just relax. Canadian currency, and also which would you recommend going to first Cambodia or thailand? Thank you all for reading.


    1. Roger Wade says:


      The Index prices on the list above should be pretty close to a typical budget for a backpacker in these cities. You should be able to get by on less if you don’t drink, but booze in Cambodia is really cheap so the total won’t change much. Booze is a bit more expensive in Thailand, but one of the reason’s it’s included is more of an entertainment fun, so you might have coffee and a dessert or something else instead.

      One great thing about both of these countries is that you can get really good food at street stalls for all meals if you like, and you can eat reasonably well for around US$1 per meal. Even in Bangkok they have street stalls in every neighborhood where a big bowl of noodles and some meat goes for under US$1. If you prefer take out it’s more like US$3 and up if you are ordering from a proper restaurant or fast food place. And a sit-down lunch or dinner starts at around US$4 at most places. You can get cheap beds in hostels in both countries.

      As far as which country to visit first, it depends on your style. Cambodia is more basic, while Thailand is more modern with much better infrastructure such as comfortable long-distance buses and such. If it were me I’d probably start in Cambodia and then the nicer parts of Thailand will feel a bit like a luxury when you get there. On the other hand, Thailand is easier and much better at processing Western tourists. There are literally 7-Elevens on almost every block in large Thai cities, which makes things easier and more familiar. If you’d prefer to start with something less challenging then go to Thailand first. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  2. JC says:

    Hi Roger, how about Penang? Have you or anyone here visited Penang before? i think Penang is cheaper compared to KL.

    1. Roger Wade says:


      Yes, I’ve visited Penang and Ipoh and Malacca and Sepang and I even spent a whole month in the Cameron Highlands. I’m a big fan of Malaysia and KL is my favorite city in Asia. I agree that all of those other places (except perhaps for Sepang) are cheaper than KL, but that is true of pretty much every destination on this list. I try to include the most popular city in each country or region so people know about where it stands compared to other places. Once you know how much the biggest city costs, you can figure out that smaller cities are probably going to be a bit less.

      Thank for the comment. -Roger

  3. ashish says:

    Hey roger,

    Very insightful article. I got hooked up to your website last year when I first heard of the term “backpacking” and started digging into it. Although I haven’t taken that “dream” solo trip yet due to parental pressure (I am 20 and in college so need their approval) but I am planning it and hopefully will be taking it this year itself. I have saved up Rs.60,000 in the past year and want to go on a 2 week long trip. What destinations do you suggest?
    I was thinking about Malaysia as it is one of the easier countries to travel compared to rest of SE Asia. Will my budget be good enough for a 2-week trip? I can get my visa and flight for about Rs. 15k. So rs.45,000 for my stay, meals, sightseeing and intercity travel (KL, Penang, Langkawi). Can I include a day or two in Singapore at that budget?

    Eagerly waiting for your advice!
    thanks in advance mate.

  4. SN says:


    My husband and I want to take a short trip this April for our first wedding anniversary, and our inital plan for Turkey is becoming too expensive, so which pace would you suggest for a week long holiday in Asia? We have travelled to Malaysia, Singapore, Nepal, and Bali. So i was thinking of choosing between Sri Lanka, Thailand and China.

    We always prefer local cuisine and budget clean hotel with little to no shopping expense. Any thoughts?


    1. Roger Wade says:


      I’m surprised that Turkey is becoming too expensive because prices have been falling there. But among your new choices there is a lot to like.

      One thing about China is that it’s difficult to get by in English as an independent traveler, so most Westerners visit on tours. You can certainly go on your own, as long as you don’t mind the language barrier, which is far greater than any of your Asia trips so far.

      Another tricky thing is that April is the single hottest month in all of southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka. In May you start getting some cloud cover and rain storms to cool things down a bit, but in April it’s just scorching sun pretty much all the time. That said, the mountainous parts of Sri Lanka and Thailand are cooler. Thailand is more about mass-market tourism with big hotels and restaurants only catering to tourists, while Sri Lanka still feels like a newcomer to the tourism industry. Thailand has far more shopping as well, but also plenty to do without shopping. Both countries have wonderful local cuisine. Thailand is famous for spicy foods, while Sri Lanka is similar to India except with lighter sauces and more fresh vegetables.

      So really, if you wanted to visit Bangkok and you didn’t mind the heat, you’d love it, and you could spend a few days up in the cooler Chiang Mai as well. Or you could visit Phuket or one of the other islands and spend more time on the beach to beat the heat.

      In Sri Lanka you’d want to mostly avoid the capital of Colombo and head to the towns in the hills or along the southern beaches. Thailand is far easier to visit because it has a much larger and more established tourist infrastructure. But Sri Lanka is also wonderful and won’t be too difficult since you’ve been to Asia before. I’m not sure this has helped much, but I’m happy to help you decide if you have more specific questions. -Roger

  5. Ravi says:

    Hi Roger,

    Great Website and very good recommendations.
    I am from Bangalore, India. Myself and my friend wish to travel to any of the south east Asia countries. We are 55 and 58 years. We will be traveling for, maybe 10 to 12 days. We just want to go around on our own, with the most reasonable budget. Which are the good places and when is the best time and season to travel in terms of low cost travel. What would be our costing apart from one point to and fro air travel.

    Would appreciate your suggestions, and would be of immense help.


    1. Roger Wade says:


      Thank you. For a first visit to Southeast Asia I’d recommend starting in Bangkok. It’s extremely popular with English-speaking tourists so there is a very good tourist infrastructure and things are pretty easy and well organized there. It’s also quite cheap and it has excellent sights and tourist attractions.

      After 3 or 4 days in Bangkok, and possibly a day trip to Ayutthaya nearby, you have many good choices for where to go next. You could go to one or more of the Thai islands such as Ko Samui or Ko Phi Phi, or you could go up to Chiang Mai, which is one of the cheapest destinations in all of the world for hotels. Or you could go to Siem Reap to spend a few days there and visit the amazing Angkor Wat. Or you could go down through southern Thailand and then into the island of Penang in Malaysia and then down to the wonderful city of Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is a bit more expensive than Thailand, but it’s even more organized and easier to visit because most people speak English. It all depends on what appeals to you most. You could instead go to Vietnam and go from Hanoi down to Ho Chi Minh City with a stop in Hoi An on the way. That would be even cheaper, but Vietnam is more challenging and I wouldn’t recommend it for a first trip to the region. One thing to consider is that you might save US$10 or US$20 a day if you go to one of the cheapest places, but it would probably be more difficult and less enjoyable. Once you let me know which place sounds most interesting I can give you more information.

      As for the best time to go for cheap flights, it’s probably most expensive in December, January, July and August, but for a flight from Bangalore to Bangkok it should be pretty cheap all year, and the earlier you buy the cheaper it will be. I’d avoid late March to early May in Southeast Asia because that is the hottest period of the year and it can be really uncomfortable to be outside in the middle of the day. Being from Bangalore maybe you are used to that and don’t mind it. Still, I’d go another time of year.

      The totals in this article are a typical budget for each city for a backpacker. If you are staying in budget hotels instead of hostels, the costs will be a bit higher, but not much. In these area’s it’s pretty easy to get 3 meals a day for under US$10 total per person if your money is tight. You can honestly get really good meals at little street markets in Bangkok for around US$1 each. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  6. Krish says:

    Hi Mr Roger,

    I live in Mumbai, India and would like to make short trip (4 days, 3 Nights) can you help me with destination best places my budget USD 100 per day and we are two adults and two kids.

    Thanks you in advance.

    Krish KG

    1. Roger Wade says:


      I’ll be happy to try to help. Is the US$100 per day meant to cover all 4 people? And will you have extra for airfare? There are some affordable places that might cost a bit to fly to, especially for 4 people. What sort of places are you looking for? Nepal has excellent scenery and outdoor activities, plus it’s very cheap and not far from you. And Sri Lanka is another interesting option, although the main city isn’t very nice. Give me a bit more to work with and I’ll come up with some suggestions. -Roger

  7. Jan St says:

    What would be the top 3 safest cities among the cheapest ones in Asia? Lets say or a 1 month stay on each. Thanks

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Jan St,

      Hmmmm…interesting question. First we have to define “safe”. Violence against tourists of either sex is extremely rare through most of Asia, although you do hear a few news reports now and again. But petty theft such as pickpocketing isn’t unheard of in some cities. Then there are places that are pretty much completely safe, yet some locals are known to harass visitors while trying to sell goods or services. So it’s a difficult question to answer.

      Vietnam is a place where some tourists seem bothered by merchants and taxi drivers, yet they also have police often patrolling busy areas and the locals take them seriously. I’d say Hanoi, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City should feel safe and are very cheap.

      A bit up the price scale I’d recommend Kuala Lumpur or one of the other cities in Malaysia. They seem to take security seriously there, and it’s also nice that English is one of the main languages.

      India is also very peaceful and generally very safe, although with 1.1 billion people there are going to be incidents that make the news. After having spent 4 months there in total, it seems very safe for men and women, although some women do get a bit more unwanted attention than they do elsewhere.

      Laos feels unusually safe in that area, so you might look at Luang Prabang. If you had something else in mind, let me know. -Roger

      1. Jan St says:

        Thanks for the most complete reply I have got on the safety vs price matter in Asia 🙂

  8. Ramien lover says:

    Hi Roger,great site and advise. I plan to visit Tokyo in Aug with my family of four(about 5-7 days) . so budget is my main concern as i know prices in japan is high. I want to travel using the train/rail system to sight see near. DO you have any recommendations on what to do and where to visit. Really appreciate you taking time to ans my questions.

    Ramien lover

    1. Roger Wade says:


      Thank you for the kind words and I’m happy you find this useful. While Japan is (along with Singapore) one of the most expensive countries in Asia, it’s not as expensive as you might expect. Prices on almost everything haven’t budged in about 15 years and some have come down. You can get good hotels even in Tokyo for under US$100 for a double, and you should be able to find meals starting at around US$5 each. That said, there are far better sources for specific recommendations of where to go in Japan.

      Obviously you’ll want to spend at least 2 or 3 days in Tokyo. Then Kyoto is another one to consider. I’d go to wikitravel or lonelyplanet.com and seek their detailed advice and suggestions. Have a great trip. -Roger

      1. jasper junsay says:

        Hi Guys,

        Me and my wife together with our baby which is 1 year old is planning to take our vacation this December part in Asia aside from Philippines since we are from Philippines. We are looking for a cheaper place to visit but full of fun and not so crowded and hustle free because we have a baby. We need a cold place to visit. Any suggestion or advise?

        1. Roger Wade says:


          Finding a “cold” place in Asia, even in December, can be tricky. Cities like Beijing and Seoul will be “cold” to the point that almost no tourists visit that time of year, and you’d need heavy winter clothing. If you are from the Philippines, I’m unsure what you consider cold.

          Taiwan and Hong Kong have cool Decembers, but they are both quite crowded (at least in or near Taipei). My best guess as to what you are after would be Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was warm days in December, but cool evenings, so it would be a nice break from the Tropics and the Philippines. It’s also a mellow city and it’s very tourist friendly. There are great hikes and activities in the nearby mountains, and plenty of cultural things to see in the center.

          If you are looking for something different, give me more clues and I’ll try to help. -Roger

  9. chay says:

    Hi Roger,

    Great post. My partner and I are travelling SEA in October for 3 months. We will only spend a week from singapore up to bangkok and then proper backback for the rest around thailand, cambodia, vietnam and Laos. What do you think would be a reasonable budget. We don’t mind shared dorms and street food etc and the odd trip here and there is ok not every day, we are happy to just chill.


    1. Roger Wade says:


      Thanks. I actually think the prices listed for each city are a pretty good target budget because they include the normal expenses, and they aren’t actually a “minimum budget.” In other words, you can actually have quite a good time in SE Asia on about US$30/day per person. And with two traveling together, you’ll usually be able to get a decent double hotel room for less than two hostel dorm beds, so it can be a bit cheaper. Honestly, in Vietnam especially, you can find pretty nice hotels for way under US$20 per night for two people, including breakfast. You can get full meals on street stands for US$1 to US$2 in most of the area, including Bangkok itself, or maybe US$3 to US$4 for a cheaper meal at a sit-down place. The street food in that area is excellent, so many people prefer it to the tourist-oriented restaurants. I’m actually in Bali for a month now, which is a bit more expensive, and I can get big meals for around US$3 or less if I go to the cheaper places.

      Your bus rides from one city to the next will average around US$10 each, and most of the attractions in that area are very cheap as well. As long as you don’t feel the need to buy a lot of souvenirs, you should be okay on US$1,000/month each. And anything more you can bring will give you more luxury like hotels in prime locations and more alcohol and whatnot.

      Singapore itself is VERY expensive for hotels and even hostels, so spending more than two days there will eat into the budget. I’d recommend stopping in Malaka and/or Penang in addition to KL while in Malaysia. I’m headed there myself in about 3 weeks.

      Hopefully this helps, and let me know if you have other questions. -Roger

  10. Oliver Mortimer says:

    Great article, just a quick question.
    Myself and my girlfriend will be travelling around south east asia for 167 days with a budget of 9500 euro. I’m just wondering if you think that budget will be enough for us? We have our flights and vaccinations already booked. Thanks

    1. Roger Wade says:


      Your budget will definitely be enough, so it will just be a matter of how much “luxury” you’ll allow yourselves in order to stay on target. Outside of Thailand’s top destinations, you will be able to find double hotel rooms for around US$10 per night, and meals around US$1 each. Obviously some cities even in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are a bit more expensive, but if you are willing to stay a bit outside of the tourist areas you’ll still find amazing bargains. On your budget I suspect you’ll want to splurge just a bit and get rooms in central locations because that really makes for a better stay. Best of luck and have a great trip. -Roger