Are you strapped for cash? An adventure-seeker on a tight budget? Want to travel but you’re worried you can’t afford to get involved in the experiences you’ve seen on the ‘gram? Well fear not. If you’ve got a backpack, a plane ticket and £20 to your name, here are the best experiences in Southeast Asia.
1. Cooking Class
Have you really been to Asia if you don’t go home and whip up a tasty noodle dish for your friends and rellies? Try your hand at a cooking class and learn how to make your favourite dishes. Many hostels actually offer cooking classes, and the ones that don’t will certainly be able to point you in the right direction.
First you’ll head to the market with your teacher to pick up some fresh ingredients, before heading to the kitchen to get hands-on with the best local dishes. Learn how to whip up fresh spring rolls in Vietnam, a celebratory rendang curry in Malaysia, and of course the perfect pad thai in Thailand. You’ll return home with culinary expertise that’ll be sure to impress your loved ones.
Recommended Cooking Classes:
- Smile Organic Farm Cooking School – Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Price: 850 THB (£20)
- ABC Cooking Studio – Where: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Price: 95 MYR (£18)
- Red Bridge Cooking School – Where: Hoi An, Vietnam. Price: 485,000 VND (£16)
This is one for the thrill-seekers. Fancy leaping 15 metres off a large rock to your potential demise for less than the cost of 4 pints? Only joking, it is safe – you get a helmet and lifejacket and it’s one of my favourite things to do in The Philippines! It involves trekking to the top of a waterfall and then making your way down again by abseiling and jumping off the edges of rocks and cliffs. Canyoning is a fun day out for adrenaline junkies and it won’t break the bank either!
- Kawasan Falls, The Philippines. Price: 1300 PHP (£19)
3. Surf Lessons
From the world-famous breaks on Bali’s beaches to the legendary barrels at Cloud 9 in The Philippines, the warm waters of Southeast Asia are a surfer’s dream. The Philippines is one of the cheapest places to learn, with the island of Siargao being a popular spot. The instructors here live and breathe surfing and know the island like the back of their hands, so can take you out to the best spots to suit your level.
Batu Karas, a fishing village in Java, is a hidden Indonesian surfing gem where the waves are great and the pace of life is slow.
Phuket in Thailand also has some decent beginner’s surf if you’re passing through on your way to the islands.
Recommended surf lessons:
- Siargao, The Philippines – Average price: 200 PHP (£3) per hour board hire, 1,100 PHP (£16) for a 2 hour lesson
- Batu Karas, Java – Average price: 75,000 IDR (£4) for board hire, 300,000 IDR (£16) for a 2 hour lesson
- Phuket, Thailand – Average price: 200 THB (£5) per hour board hire
4. Take a Hike
It doesn’t usually cost to move one foot in front of the other, but the best hiking routes usually ask for a few pennies in order to protect and maintain their natural beauty. Doi Suthep National Park, just outside of Chiang Mai, is home to Thailand’s highest peak at 1685m. Its miles of trails, array of waterfalls and beautiful scenery make it a rambler’s dream.
Mount Batur in Bali is an easy enough climb no matter your fitness level, and on a clear day it’s one of the best places on the island to watch the sunrise.
Sapa Valley in Vietnam is an epic trek with multiple day options. To save your pennies but still get the most out of the hike, you can pay to join the trek but arrange your own accommodation. It’s time to dig out those walking shoes!
- Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand – Price: 300 THB (£7) park entrance fee
- Mount Batur, Bali, Indonesia – Price: 275,000 IDR (£15)
- Sapa Valley, Vietnam – Price: 1,000,000 VND (£54) for 2 nights – over budget, but arrange your own hostel to save on price!
5. Food, Glorious Food
If you’re anything like me, food comes first on your travel/expenses/life list. If you’re in a new city and don’t know where to begin, a walking food tour is a fab way to get to know the local cuisine. You can sample some of your destination’s tastiest treats for a great price, plus you get to see parts of the city that you might not usually find. A delicious bargain for any backpacker!
Recommended food tours:
- Backstreet Academy Food Tour – Where: Cebu, The Philippines. Price: 900 PHP (£13)
- Food on Foot Tour – Where: Hanoi, Vietnam. Price: 500,000 VND (£16)
- Singapore’s Chinatown Food Tour Where: Singapore – 30 SGD (£17)
6. Keep Fit
Staying fit on the road can be a challenge. Luckily there are ways you can keep your heart rate up while taking part in local culture and traditions at the same time – bonus!
When in Thailand, take to the ring for a Muay Thai class and uppercut your (spring) rolls away. At only £7-10 for a 2-hour session, it’s a great way to break a sweat and learn about an integral and revered part of Thai culture.
Yoga is ubiquitous in many Southeast Asian countries and it’s a great way to take a break from a busy travelling schedule. Some travellers spend weeks at a yoga retreat but, if you haven’t got that kind of time (or budget) on your hands, many hostels offer free classes. Give some TLC to your mind and body!
If you like to swim, step out of the pool and make your way to the ocean. With some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Southeast Asia is a water baby’s dream. Head to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia for a slice of paradise and join in their mammoth 16km swimming sesh. Or, just head to the nearest beach!
Recommended fitness options:
- CharnChai Muay Thai – Where: Pai, Thailand. Price: 300 THB (£7) per session
- Puri Garden Hostel – Where: Ubud, Bali. Price: – from £13 per night with free yoga!
- Swimming – free anywhere there’s ocean!
7. Pamper Time
Where else in the world can you get a full body massage, a mani-pedi and still have change for dinner? In Southeast Asia, you can get pampered for pennies.
In Thailand, Thai massage costs around £7 for 60 minutes. If you haven’t had one before, imagine a really thorough sports massage crossed with a spa experience. You’ll take a bit of a beating but leave feeling totally rejuvenated! Massage parlours are on every corner in the cities and are all super cheap, so just choose whichever one takes your fancy.
The spas in Bali are to die for and it’s the place go if you want a bit more luxury. We’re talking essential oils, face-in-a-hole, total relaxation.
The prevalence of Chinese culture in Malaysia means that the acupuncture centres in Kuala Lumpur are some of the best in the world, so head there if you’re in need of some pain relief.
- Thai Massage – Bangkok, Thailand. Price: 300 THB (£7)
- Spring Spa – Bali, Indonesia. Price: 350,000 IDR (£18) for a raw facial
- Tabib Yong Kwek Sing Acupuncture – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Price: 30 MYR (£6) per session
8. Rent Scooters and Explore
Southeast Asia is packed with free things to see and do, but it can be a pain to get between them all. After squeezing onto your millionth public bus in 30+ degree heat you might feel the urge to get your own wheels. Luckily scooters are everywhere. They’re easy to drive, cheap to rent and give you the freedom to see whatever you want, whenever you want.
The Ha Giang Loop in northern Vietnam is a 4-7 day track that’s popular with the biker crowd, or the beautiful Hai Van Pass is a beginner-friendly route.
If you’re spending some time cruising lazily around Pai in northern Thailand, the Mae Hong Son loop is right next door, offering stunning views of the mountains and surrounding landscape.
The Thakhek Loop offers riders a 3-7 day scenic trip through central Laos, driving through jungle valleys, mountain passes, caves and waterfalls. Don’t forget to wear a helmet and always take your driving license with you. Safety first! Oh, and please, please don’t rent in a hectic city like Hanoi unless you’re a pro.
Recommended scooter routes:
- Ha Giang Loop, Vietnam
- Mae Hong Son Loop, Thailand
- Thakhek Loop, Laos
9. Budget Boozing
Everyone knows that backpackers are partial to a tipple or two. If you’re a fan of a beer at the end of a long day’s exploring, you’ll be delighted to know that in Southeast Asia you can buy about 6 for the price of your average London pint. Think Bali Bintangs, Filipino Tanduay, Thai Changs and full moon buckets for mere pennies. Imagine going on a night out at home for a tenner!
- Full Moon Party – Koh Phangan. Price: around 100 THB (£2.50) for an infamous booze bucket
- Ladies Night – Kuala Lumpur – different bars, every night (Google it!) Free drinks for ladies
- Pub Street – Siem Reap – local beers from 50p!
10. Local Entertainment
Boozing might not be something you want to do every night, but you can still make the most of your evenings – Southeast Asia is where it’s at for live entertainment. Whether it’s drag cabaret in Thailand, water puppetry in Vietnam or singing karaoke ‘til 6 in the morning in The Philippines, there’s no shortage of things to see after dark. Loads are free, some are ticketed and some you just have to buy a beer to get in to, so even the most budget-conscious backpackers can enjoy.
Recommended local entertainment:
- North Gate Jazz Cooperative – Chiang Mai, Thailand – free shows every Saturday night
- Kecak Fire Dance – Uluwatu Temple, Bali. Price: 100,000 IDR (£5)
- Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre – Hanoi, Vietnam. Price: 100,000 VND (£4)
So whether you’re a thrill seeker, food fanatic or you just love a good knees-up, Southeast Asia has it all for under £20. Get your ticket booked and start planning!
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About the author
Abbi is a freelance writer, peanut butter enthusiast and travel lover. At the moment she’s haphazardly finding her way around the Southern Hemisphere with a full faced snorkel and 4 unnecessary pairs of shoes in tow. She is the author of The Ten Pound Traveller, a budget travel blog on what you can get around the globe for a tenner. You can find her on Instagram @abbiconnor.