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HoiAnBridge400Once you get to Asia you’ll find most of the world’s best travel bargain cities, particularly in southeast Asia. We’ve updated and reranked all of the major tourist cities again for the 2016 travel year, and prices remain amazingly low in many wonderful places.

Unlike in Europe and some of the rest of the world, there were very few major currency swings and almost no inflation to speak of, so the rankings didn’t change much. For those earning in US dollars, things got a bit cheaper in Asia during 2015, while currency drops in other places have made it a bit more expensive.

It’s also worth nothing that (except for Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, and Tokyo), most of these Asian tourist cities are fairly bunched together in price. The more expensive ones also tend to be the more modern ones, but even then they are almost all very affordable once you get there.

Are you more of a 3-star hotel person than a backpacker?

Hostels with dorm beds are not nearly as popular in Asia as they are in Europe or Australia, and part of the reason is how cheap the normal hotel rooms tend to be. If you can afford a private room for the same price as 2 bunks in a big room, a hotel feels like even better value. 

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 (or two large 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.

Price of Travel’s Asia Backpacker Index for 2016

Note: All prices converted to US dollars in early January, 2016

1– Pokhara, Nepal (cheapest)

Pokhara BoatsWhile 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, so it’s nice that just lingering in town is dirt cheap.

  • Currency: Nepalese rupee
  • Cheap/good hostel: Hotel The Cherry Garden – 300/night
  • Transportation: 100
  • Meals: 648
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 540
  • Attractions: 100
  • Daily Backpacker Index: NPR1,688 = US$15.85/day

2– Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnam’s cheapest city for backpackers is also one that gets high marks from most visitors with its unique combination of French colonial and Asian post-communism. 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.

  • Currency: Vietnamese dong
  • Cheap/good hostel: Hoan Kiem Hostel – 65,800/night
  • Transportation: 60,000
  • Meals: 180,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 36,000
  • Attractions: 40,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND381,800 = US$16.97/day

3– Ho 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.

  • Currency: Vietnamese dong
  • Cheap/good hostel: My My Arthouse – 105,000/night
  • Transportation: 72,000
  • Meals: 156,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 45,000
  • Attractions: 30,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND408,000 = US$18.13/day

4– Chiang 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.

  • Currency: Thai baht
  • Cheap/good hostel: Jaidii House – 120/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 198
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 210
  • Attractions: 100
  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB668 = US$18.47/day

5– Goa, 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
  • Cheap/good hostel: Anjunapalms Guesthouse – 250/night
  • Transportation: 60
  • Meals: 588
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 240
  • Attractions: 100
  • Daily Backpacker Index: INR1,238 = US$18.59/day

6– Kathmandu, Nepal

Nepal’s capital is one of those cities most travelers just hustle through on their way somewhere else, like Pokhara 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.

  • Currency: Nepalese rupee
  • Cheap/good hostel: Hotel Silver Home – 300/night
  • Transportation: 230
  • Meals: 636
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 440
  • Attractions: 500
  • Daily Backpacker Index: NPR2,106 = US$19.77/day

7– Vientiane, Laos

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. Thanks to some new hostels opening recently, Vientiane is a bit cheaper than Luang Prabang, though not by much.

  • Currency: Laos kip
  • Cheap/good hostel: Vientiane Backpackers Hostel – 43,200/night
  • Transportation: 20,000
  • Meals: 62,400
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 30,000
  • Attractions: 6,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: LAK161,600 = US$19.99/day

8– Luang Prabang, Laos

Prices for many things in Luang Prabang have gone up more recently than in just about any other tourist city, mostly due to its fast-growing popularity, but for now it’s still very cheap for those who travel like a backpacker. 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.

  • Currency: Laos kip
  • Cheap/good hostel: Central Backpackers Hostel – 43,200/night
  • Transportation: 20,000
  • Meals: 66,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 30,000
  • Attractions: 25,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: LAK184,200 = US$22.78/day

9– Colombo, Sri Lanka

ColomboColombo 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, but that’s about all it’s good for. 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
  • Cheap/good hostel: Adikaram Sea View Hostel – 1,180/night
  • Transportation: 200
  • Meals: 960
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 720
  • Attractions: 300
  • Daily Backpacker Index: LKR3,360 = US$23.17/day

10– Delhi (and New Delhi), India

In what might be a surprise until you’ve actually visited yourself, most of Delhi (and New Delhi at its heart) is not as cheap as we might otherwise expect. Hotels tend to be far more expensive here, even in the infamous backpacker ghetto of Pahar Ganj, so even while dining on food from street stalls, this is not an ideal place for budget travelers, especially considering the other headaches of visiting. Recently, some good and cheap hostels have opened up, so conditions are getting better and cheaper for the backpacker set. Whatever you do, don’t plan on spending more than 2 or 3 days here before heading to a smaller town.

  • Currency: Indian rupee
  • Cheap/good hostel: Zostel Delhi – 600/night
  • Transportation: 30
  • Meals: 456
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 240
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: INR1,576 = US$23.66/day

11– Phnom 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.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Hostel Nomads – $4.50
  • Transportation: 2
  • Meals: 9.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 2.25
  • Attractions: 6.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$23.75/day

12– Yangon, Burma (Myanmar)

YangonAs of 2016, Burma is still likely in its infancy as a travel destination. With the informal travel boycott called off only recently, travelers are suddenly pouring in, and the infrastructure has a lot of catching up to do. Yangon is where most people arrive, yet there is still a lack of quality budget hotels, among other things. At least food and drinks tend to be cheap. We expect more hostels and backpacker hangouts to open soon, but until then this place isn’t quite as cheap as you’d expect.

  • Currency: Burmese Kyat
  • Cheap/good hostel: Agga Guest House – 14,470/night
  • Transportation: 1,000
  • Meals: 7,800
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 2,100
  • Attractions: 6,500
  • Daily Backpacker Index: MMK31,870 = US$24.37/day

13– Manila, 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, many of which are even cheaper than Manila. 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.

  • Currency: Philippine peso
  • Cheap/good hostel: Our Awesome Hostel – 400/night
  • Transportation: 60
  • Meals: 372
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 180
  • Attractions: 150
  • Daily Backpacker Index: PHP1,162 = US$24.67/day

14– Hoi 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, and the city is as filled with great and cheap restaurants as it is with tailor shops. Since there are very few real hostels with dorm beds in Hoi An, the city doesn’t seem as cheap as it really is. Hoi An is cheaper than Saigon, except that you probably have to (and should) stay in a hotel instead of a hostel.

  • Currency: Vietnamese dong
  • Cheap/good hostel: Hoa Binh Hotel – 171,500/night
  • Transportation: 60,000
  • Meals: 162,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 45,000
  • Attractions: 120,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: VND558,500 = $24.82/day

15– Mumbai, India

Even more expensive than Delhi, Mumbai feels like a shock this far down the list, but perpetually expensive hotels and no real hostels make this city pricier than you might expect. 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
  • Cheap/good hostel: Anjali Homestay – 650/night
  • Transportation: 60
  • Meals: 456
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 240
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: INR1,656 = US$24.86/day

16– Bangkok, 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.

  • Currency: Thai baht
  • Cheap/good hostel: New Road Guesthouse – 250/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 180
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 180
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB900 = US$24.89/day

17– Jakarta, Indonesia

JakartaOne 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.

  • Currency: Indonesian rupiah
  • Cheap/good hostel: Six Degrees – 124,600/night
  • Transportation: 7,000
  • Meals: 120,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 90,000
  • Attractions: 10,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: IDR351,600 = US$25.13/day

18– Siem Reap, Cambodia

One of the world’s great budget travel cities (and 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.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Hak’s House – 3.00/night
  • Transportation: 2.00
  • Meals: 9.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 1.50
  • Attractions: 12.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$27.50/day

19– Phuket, 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 well away from any of the beaches in the process. Staying in the heart of any of the resort areas will at least double lodging prices, while Phuket Town itself remains quite cheap. For backpackers, there are better beach areas in Thailand that are also cheaper.

  • Currency: Thai baht
  • Cheap/good hostel: Phuket Backpacker Hostel – 253/night
  • Transportation: 60
  • Meals: 336
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 210
  • Attractions: 200
  • Daily Backpacker Index: THB1,006 = US$27.82/day

20– Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

Few parts of Asia have undergone such tourist growth as Bali, even after the tragic bombings. 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.

  • Currency: Indonesian rupiah
  • Cheap/good hostel: Gong Corner Guesthouse – 75,000/night
  • Transportation: 16,000
  • Meals: 144,000
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 105,000
  • Attractions: 50,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: IDR390,000 = US$27.88/day

21– Xi’an, China

XianChina’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 largest cities, but seeing the Warriors isn’t cheap so on average this city is farther down the list than it might otherwise deserve.

  • Currency: Chinese yuan
  • Cheap/good hostel: Xian ShuYuan International Youth Hostel – 30/night
  • Transportation: 2.00
  • Meals: 56.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 30.00
  • Attractions: 75.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY193.40 = US$29.57/day

22– Beijing, China

Even with its Olympics boom, Beijing continues to be a great budget travel destination, with prices that are suitable to nearly anyone. The backpacking set can stay cheaply and see the Forbidden City and Great Wall for just small change, and those with larger wallets can find a bit of luxury and class for not too much more money.

  • Currency: Chinese yuan
  • Cheap/good hostel: Qianmen Hostel – 45/night
  • Transportation: 10.00
  • Meals: 60.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 36.00
  • Attractions: 45.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY196 = US$29.97/day

23– Taipei, Taiwan

Another destination that is often forgotten, partly due to its remote location, Taipei still gets high marks from most visitors, and the rest of the island is even more interesting. The tourist infrastructure is well built, so things do tend to be fairly easy, and the city is quite cheap by international standards.

  • Currency: Taiwan dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: JV’s Hostel – 400/night
  • Transportation: 40
  • Meals: 204
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 150
  • Attractions: 200
  • Daily Backpacker Index: TWD994 = US$30.03/day

24– Shanghai, 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.

  • Currency: Chinese yuan
  • Cheap/good hostel: Hidden Garden Youth Hostel – 45/night
  • Transportation: 6
  • Meals: 72
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 60
  • Attractions: 40
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CNY223 = US$34.10/day

25– Boracay Island, Philippines

BoracayIslandWhile 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. While accommodation prices aren’t too low, at least every place is only steps from the beach, so they are generally very good value.

  • Currency: Philippine peso
  • Cheap/good hostel: Frendz Resort – 600/night
  • Transportation: 100
  • Meals: 588
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 150
  • Attractions: 250
  • Daily Backpacker Index: PHP1,688 = US$35.84/day

26– Kuala 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
  • Cheap/good hostel: Step Inn Guest House Hostels – 22.40/night
  • Transportation: 2.40
  • Meals: 36.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 36.00
  • Attractions: 45.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: MYR141.80 = US$39.50/day

27– Seoul, 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.

  • Currency: Korean won
  • Cheap/good hostel: Seoul Base Camp – 12,070/night
  • Transportation: 2,500
  • Meals: 16,200
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 7,500
  • Attractions: 12,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: KRW50,270 = US$42.24/day

>>>Seoul prices and weather

28– Hong 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. 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 questionable street food in order to do it.

  • Currency: Hong Kong dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Dragon Hostel – 129/night
  • Transportation: 5.00
  • Meals: 144.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 72.00
  • Attractions: 40
  • Daily Backpacker Index: HKD390 = US$50.32/day

29– Singapore, Singapore

Easily one of the world’s most modern cities, Singapore can actually be quite expensive for most, but fortunately there is still a decent collection of hostels that keep sleeping prices down. Also, 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.

  • Currency: Singapore dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Footprints Hostel – 19.60/night
  • Transportation: 1.60
  • Meals: 25.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 18.00
  • Attractions: 15.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: SGD79.40 = US$55.52/day

30– Macau, 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
  • Cheap/good hostel: Urban Pack Macau – 213/night
  • Transportation: 6.40
  • Meals: 132.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 30.00
  • Attractions: 50.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: MOP431.80 = US$55.72/day

31– Tokyo, Japan

No surprises at the most expensive end of the list, and thanks to a drop in its currency, Tokyo isn’t as bad as most made it out to be from a budget perspective. It’s now actually cheaper than most of the popular cities in Europe, and this is truly an amazing city that everyone should try to visit at least once.

  • Currency: Japanese yen
  • Cheap/good hostel: ACE INN Shinjuku – 2,200/night
  • Transportation: 340
  • Meals: 2,520
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 1,800
  • Attractions: 1,000
  • Daily Backpacker Index: JPY7,860 = US$65.86/day