Backpacking South East Asia on a budget? What’s the best route?
Now we have been there and done that! Here’s some tips to help you plan yours 😀 Before we decided to backpack South East Asia, we wanted to go Europe. After some research we know that with the budget we have, most probably we can only survive 1 month in Europe. The more we study about South East Asia, the more we wanted to go! We are living in Malaysia and it is part of South East Asia, we haven’t even seen SEA yet! So here we go SEA!
1. How much time do you have?
We decided to travel for about 3 months. It’s ok to have more or less time, determine a timeframe.
2. What is your budget?
Fix a total budget to avoid over spent. You don’t want to live in a lot of debt.
For us, RM15,000-RM17,000 per person inclusive of everything.
3. Where you want to go?
Throughout the whole planning we keep changing our mind. We also change the plan during our travel. So, for sure you will meet some new friends and decided to go places you never thought of… so do some studies about the area and prepare to change your plan and destination. The most important thing is to list down the places you want to go first. If changes happen then you know which to minus and where to plus… It is not easy to choose… Here is the list of places we have done it this trip (Jan-Mar 2013) Hopefully it helps you list down your own list.
(v) Vietnam: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh or Saigon.
Route & Flights
Next plan on the route (roughly). If you are taking flight, advance planning and flight booking can save you a lot of money.
We have 6 flights in between our travel (Kuala Lumpur-Langkawi), (Phuket – Bangkok), (Bangkok-Yangon), (Mandalay-Bangkok), (Luang Prabang-Hanoi), (Ho Chi Minh-Kuala Lumpur). We only book in advance for the first 4 air flight (with AirAsia). For Luang Prabang-Hanoi we bought the tickets 5 days in advance through the travel agency when we are in Luang Prabang, Laos. For Ho Chi Minh-KL we bought the flight ticket 1 week in advance, it cost a bomb. No choice as we don’t know when will our travel end until we buy the flight back.
4. Packing and shopping list
At the same time have a packing list / shopping list of items you are bringing along… See How to pack your bag?
5. Visa and passport
For passport, double check the expiry date and make sure it is enough for the whole travel or else it can be a trouble. For Visa, make sure you know where to get it or if there is visa on arrival…
For us (Malaysian), we need only Visa for Myanmar for travel in SEA. We walk in to the Myanmar Embassy (a week before our travel) in Malaysia with our photo and fill in the form, pay and then collect the Visa the next day. It is really easy for us. Read Myanmar Embassy and Visa application process.
6. Money, Currency and exchange rate, ATM & Banks
You don’t want to carry a lot of cash with you when you travel. For us, we make sure the cash we have is enough to last for 2 weeks. In SEA, you can find ATM almost in every corner except for Myanmar & Laos. Cambodia is still ok in big city. We withdraw cash using Visa and Master debit card. Debit card can save you a lot of cash advance interest and you will only get charged with merchant fee and slightly higher currency exchange rate.
Make sure you have saving in at least two different bank that gives you ATM card with Visa or Master. Best to have both just in case your Visa don’t work you still have Master card for cash and vice versa. You can use online banking to transfer your money within bank.
In Myanmar, it is very difficult to find ATM machine and limited internet access. Make sure you have cash and the note must be a perfect USD note (not folded or stamped at the front) so you can change to Kyat there with the black market or hotel. Check the rate before you do the exchange. Budget wise depends on what kind of hotel you stay and transportation you take. We stayed in backpacker hotel and travel by bus. We budgeted 30-50 USD per day per person more or less. In Laos, you can find ATM in Don Det, Vientienne, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.
Also, make sure you give a call to all the banks that you are bringing the credit card overseas if transaction happen please don’t block it. The bank might not be able to do a call verification when you travel.
7. Weather and season
You don’t want to end up bringing all the wrong clothes to the wrong place and travel at the wrong season i.e. shoe string and single in Inle during dry season. Beaches during raining or monsoon season. So do check the weather and season that you are traveling.
We almost freeze to death when we travel from Yangon to Inle by bus. The weather is so hot during the day and we did not carry the jacket with us. When night falls, it was 4 degree celsius at 2am, we are freezing! Luckily the bus driver allow us to bring out our backpack from the luggage storage so we can wear the jacket. The jacket save our life. I caught a cold the next day but no big deal after taken paracetamol.
8. Say good bye with family and friends
Meet everyone you love before you go. As you are not going to see them in short time.
9. Pay and check your monthly bills on time
You don’t want to end up in debt when you come home or find out your car has been tow away…
10. Pray to god for journey mercy and go pack your bag