This post Budget Travel Tips For Asia was written by Michelle Peng, a graduate of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design focusing on graphic design and digital media. Michelle has a passion for adventure, looking for inspiration for her creative practices wherever she travels. She hopes to pursue her graphic design career while finding ways to continue exploring the world. Check out Michelle Peng’s portfolio here.
On April 28, 2018 I graduated from the University of Michigan and opened the doors to a new chapter in my life. I began it by spending a month and a half traveling with some of the amazing people I met throughout college. We spent a month in Asia starting in Japan, then Vietnam, Thailand, and last but not least, Indonesia. As recent graduates and unemployed 22 year olds, we were on a mission to travel the world and save as much as we could in every aspect of the trip. Let me take you through our journey with how we budgeted for about $45/day (not including flights), our favorite activities, delicious food spots, and some tips we learned along the way.
Budget Travel Tips For Asia: General Flight Tips
We knew flights were going to take up a large part of our travel expenses and we were willing to sacrifice some time and comfort to save money. The majority of our flights were booked with AirAsia (which we liked to refer to as the Spirit Airlines of Asia). Although it wasn’t the most comfortable, it was definitely our cheapest option and most of our international/all of our domestic flights were short distances. Also, many of our flights ended up not being full so we were able to shift into empty rows as soon as boarding ended.
One of the biggest mistakes we made was thinking we could take our carry-on luggages as carry-ons along with small backpacks. We learned the hard way that on AirAsia and VietJet Air, the carry-on limit was only 7kg, which was the weight of our backpacks alone! Therefore, if you don’t want to pay extra for checked-baggage, make sure you check the baggage allowances for every airline or pack under 7kg.
Budget Travel Tips For Asia: Japan
My favorite activity in Japan was going to the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto where there are thousands of orange torii gates. My friends and I decided to head into Kyoto at 6 AM so we could do the 2-3 hour hike in the peace of the morning without the sweltering heat and crowds of tourists. The early rise was the best decision we made because we had the mountain to ourselves!
Once we reached the bottom of the mountain around 10AM, the area was packed with travelers and the streets were lined with vendors selling a variety of foods. The options ranged from sweet and savory dumplings on sticks and octopus balls to bento boxes and bowls of udon noodles. Beyond Kyoto and street food, restaurants were too pricey so we mostly headed to Japan’s magical 7-Elevens. There, you will find endless beverage options, snacks, pre-made bento boxes, rice triangles, and so much more. It helped us stay on the move and on a low food budget in the most expensive country on our trip.
Budget Travel Tips For Asia: Vietnam
The best decision we made in Vietnam was booking a Halong Bay cruise with La Paci Cruises for $140 per person. The rooms on the boat were really nice and the two day/one night cruise included 3 traditional meals, kayaking in the bay, and a smaller boat tour.
Since food in Vietnam was pretty cheap, averaging $8 a meal, we weren’t afraid to explore a variety of trendy cafés and restaurants. Secret House is a Vietnamese restaurant and café in Ho Chi Minh City that had really cool vibes and even better food!
Pasteur Street Brewing Company creates craft beer in Vietnam and combines American craft brewing techniques with Vietnamese ingredients. They have Tap Rooms in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi where you can try their diverse selection of flavors. We went to the one in Hanoi where there is a great rooftop terrace!
One last place that we absolutely loved was the Hanoi Social Club. This café was adorable and had really delicious Vietnamese coffee. Although there are Vietnamese food options, this place is more for “Instagram worthy” brunch foods.
Budget Travel Tips For Asia: Thailand
Our first stop in Thailand was on Phi Phi Island where we splurged to stay at the PP Princess Resort for $53.50 a night. The island was beautiful and it was the perfect way to relax after two weeks of non-stop travel.
The White Temple and Blue Temple were two of the many beautiful temples we saw, but you can’t go to Thailand without going to an elephant sanctuary. We booked a tour with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary which has multiple ethical elephant nature parks in Thailand. We went to the one in Chiang Mai where we were able to feed the elephants, get close and personal with them, bathe them, and take a mud bath with them! If you can get past how much elephants poop, then you’ll have an educational and fun day.
While we were in Phuket, it consistently rained for the two days we were there. Therefore, we found indoor markets and took a Muay Thai boxing class right outside of the Patong Boxing Stadium. It was an amazing workout with a one-on-one training session with a professional fighter.
Thailand has a lot of night markets that have a variety of food options. I spent the week eating myself sick of Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, and mango sticky rice while chugging Thai iced tea. The Dow Restaurant on Phi Phi Island is vegetarian friendly and has some of the best local food on the island!
Chiang Mai is known for art cafés which are cafés that display and/or sell home decor and art. One my favorites was Woo Café which was also an art gallery and lifestyle shop. They had many food options, including local cuisine, as well as larger than life smoothies!
Budget Travel Tips For Asia: Indonesia
Last but not least, we flew to Bali, Indonesia where we spent a few days in Ubud. This is my second time in Indonesia and it felt like home. I immediately brought my friends to the Sacred Monkey Forest right in Ubud. While in the forest, listen to the rules and stay cautious because these monkeys like to grab water bottles, sunglasses, and other fun items.
Another memorable activity was visiting the Tegalalang Rice Terraces which is an incredible scene of greenery. I would suggest going earlier in the day or later in the afternoon so you’re not walking uphill and downhill through the terraces in unbearable heat.
Bali has a lot of aesthetically pleasing cafés and restaurants for all the tourists that come through and they’re easy to find with one quick search on TripAdvisor. But to be honest, I don’t care where I’m eating as long as I’m eating Mie Goreng, which are Indonesian fried noodles. It had been two years since I ate my last order of Mie Goreng and I finally returned for more! Other notable dishes to try are Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and Nasi Campur, which is a rice dish with a sampler of a few small dishes.
As the Chapter Continues…
Although we saw and ate so much more than what I wrote here, there was still only so much we could do with a week in each country. Traveling from country to country in Asia is definitely harder and more time consuming than Europe but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else. As a group of young girls, we always felt safe, but we also always remained cautious and protective of each other. We were very aware of our surroundings, our belongings, and of people who were trying to scam us. Anywhere in the world can be dangerous but I wouldn’t let that stop you from experiencing new cultures. Just be aware, do your research, and travel smart. What countries have you traveled to or want to visit in Asia?
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