Southeast Asia is beloved by backpackers for a reason: with a little budgeting and a lot of imagination, 100 dollars can go a long, long way.
But that isn't a hard-and-fast rule: your travel costs can vary wildly depending on when you're going and where. Visiting during the summer peak season will certainly be pricier than visiting during monsoon season; hot tourist stops like Singapore and Bali in Indonesia will drain your wallet faster than less traveled spots like Sabah in Malaysia and Cebu in the Philippines.
So your $100 mileage will vary: the tips in the list below should give you a rough idea of just how far you can take that C-note.
After arriving in Thailand and converting your C-note to about THB (Thai Baht) 3,400, you'll find yourself burning through that amount fairly quickly if you stick close to beach areas like Phuket, less so if you go to northern or central locations like Chiang Mai.
Thankfully, food in Thailand can be cheap, costing about THB 40-100 per meal. Thailand's street food is famous for precisely this reason: the best bang for your buck in the country that invented Thai food!
Cheap accommodations are rife in many tourist areas, with private rooms going for about THB 300-400 a night. The abundance of budget hotels can lessen the quality of the travel experience, something that visitors to Phuket can confirm first-hand! Off the beaten path, you can snag some positively luxurious digs for a surprisingly low price — for example, the same THB 300 that gets you a small private room in Phuket can snag a riverside bungalow in Pai.
You can save further if you take the bus between Thailand stops, with fares ranging from THB 240 to 500 per trip depending on the distance traveled. Some routes might be closed depending on the weather; the monsoon season sometimes makes major highways impassable.
In Thailand, USD $100 Can Get You:
- 10-15 meals from any number of Bangkok street food stalls
- 300 Thai beers
- 2-5 nights in a three-star Phuket beach resort
- 60-140 one-way trips on the Bangkok rail system (BTS/MRT); 2-3 one-way flights between Bangkok and Phuket
After converting a hundred bucks to about MYR (Malaysian Ringgit) 420, you can enjoy Malaysia's surprisingly affordable attractions at your leisure.
Bus travel, for instance, is pretty well developed in Malaysia; you can book clean air-conditioned buses to take you from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to points further afield in peninsular Malaysia like Malacca, or even as far north as Bangkok in neighboring Thailand!
Accommodations are similarly friendly to budget travelers, costing about MYR 42 ($10) for a bed in a hostel dorm room. Private rooms in budget hotels can cost at least MYR 84 ($20), going higher for hotels in pricey places like Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur.
As far as food and drinks go, Malaysian street food offers a selection of dishes from the country's three major ethnic groupings for no more than MYR 10-15 per meal. Drinks, however, are heavily taxed in this majority-Muslim nation, costing about MYR 5-10 for a locally brewed beer.
As with Indonesia, some major tourist attractions may require spending on added costs for transportation and hiring local guides. A hiking trip up Mount Kinabalu or a rafting expedition somewhere in Sabah can set you back hundreds of dollars.
Some of this is down to the limited supply of passes for hot attractions like Kinabalu or diving off Sipadan (tour operators in Sipadan may issue a maximum of seven to 14 diving permits a day).
In Malaysia, USD $100 Can Get You:
- 10 nights' stay in a budget KL hostel; alternatively, one night's stay in a luxury hotel
- 15-20 Kuala Lumpur taxi rides
- Eight one-way trips on the ETS train between Kuala Lumpur and Penang
Singapore is somewhat unfairly criticized as Southeast Asia's most expensive country, but your C-note can actually go a long way if you know where to go. Convert your USD into SGD (Singapore dollars) to the tune of 138 local dollars to 100 US ones, then plan accordingly.
For starters, meals in Singapore hawker centers can be surprisingly cheap while affording you all the authentic local flavor you can stuff down your gullet. Meals with rice in Singapore (no drinks) can go for about SGD 6-15, giving you an allowance of 10 to 15 meals on a single Benjamin if you make the rounds of Maxwell Road Food Center and Tiong Bahru Hawker Center.
Accommodations in Singapore can be quite expensive in the Marina Bay Area, so you'll want to find hotels in cheaper areas like Kampong Glam or Little India. Budget hotels in Singapore can cost as little as SGD 40 a night.
Singapore's EZ-Link Card grants you access to the local transportation system, both by bus and by train. You can buy an EZ-Link Card at any MRT station, bus terminal and 7-Eleven convenience store, for a cost of SGD 10 (SGD 5 for the cost of the card plus SGD 5 fare value). Top up the value with an additional SGD 10, and you'll have enough to do about four days' worth of back-and-forth commuting.
On a recent visit, local telecom Singtel offered the cheapest cellphone package for travelers: SGD 15 for a SIM card with a 4GB data allowance. The catch: it expires in five days from first use.
In Singapore, USD $100 Can Get You:
- 18-25 meals at a hawker center (about 6-8 days' worth of three square meals!)
- 2-4 nights in a Singapore budget hotel
- 3-4 weeks' worth of rides on the MRT and bus
- 20-30 GB worth of data on your prepaid card
Indonesia is mostly affordable, except for notably expensive tourist hotspots like Bali. How fast you burn through $100 — about IDR (Indonesian rupiah) 1.3 million in the local currency — depends on where your Indonesia itinerary takes you.
The cheapest accommodations in Bali can go for about IDR 200,000, or USD $18, but you'll need to go well off the main tourist drag to snag those bargains. Hotels in Kuta or Sanur can cost you over $100 a night. On the other hand, nearby islands like the Gilis offer a balanced mix of backpacker-budget stays and five-star accommodations.
The archipelagic nature of Indonesia requires you allot a fair chunk of your transportation budget to air travel. Your dollar can still go a long way if you limit your flight bookings to budget airlines like AirAsia or LionAir.
Food can be quite cheap if eaten off street eateries called warung; a filling rice-and-meat meal can cost about IDR 20,000, and there's enough variety so you can keep eating at warung without getting all warunged out. Indonesian street food is, contrary to popular belief, sanitary (if cooked to order) and utterly delicious.
Tickets and tours to major tourist stops like Borobudur and Mount Ijen can be quite pricey, if only for the add-ons that accrue. A trip to Ijen, for instance, requires hiring a 4x4 to take you from your hotel in Banyuwangi to the volcano trail. The entrance fee might be only USD 10, but that doesn't count the transportation and guide hiring cost that can add about $150-200 to the trip expense.
In Indonesia, USD $100 Can Get You:
- 10-15 days' worth of three square meals from a cheap Indonesian warung, eating nasi campur (mixed rice); 5-8 days' worth eating at Westernized or mid-range restaurants
- About 60-80 beers
- 1-3 one-way budget airline trips from Jakarta to Bali
- 4-8 nights' stay in a Bali budget hotel
What USD $100 buys you in Vietnam
Travelers to Vietnam turn into instant millionaires overnight, as 100 US dollars gets you 2,340,000 Vietnamese Dong (VND). While you won’t exactly be rich by Vietnamese standards, you’ll be set for a comfortable week’s worth of travel.
You’ll get by, backpacker-style, on US$25-40 a day, with comfortable flashpacker-level style on the upper range. Even when you visit top tourist cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, where budget options can be found on almost every corner, expect to spend no more than US$8 for a hostel solo room, or US$3 for a meal at a restaurant serving Vietnamese food.
Set aside some cash for major tourist experiences, though: a cruise on Ha Long Bay will set you back at least US$60 per person (for a two-day cruise), while hiring a guide in Sapa will cost about US$20 per day. Expect to pay entrance fees to visit tourist spots like the Hue royal tombs (about US12 for access to three tombs) and the Hoi An Old Town (about VND 120,000, or US$5).
Transportation-wise, travelers have a surprisingly wide range of options. Budget travelers can take the bus or third-class train from city to city, while more loaded tourists can either fly from airport to airport or take first-class train accommodations.
Prices are affected by local holidays; travel to Vietnam during Tet mean that prices for hotels and transportation will be at an all-year high, so you should book long beforehand.
In Vietnam, USD $100 Can Get You:
- 15-18 nights in a budget hotel, or 5-8 nights in a three-star accommodation in Hanoi
- 15-20 mid-priced restaurant meals
- 1 one-way trip from Hanoi to Da Nang via Livitrans luxury train
Five thousand PHP is enough for two or three nights in a three-star private hotel in the capital; you'll get up to three weeks in a Philippines budget hotel on a single C-note's worth.
Local transportation is dirt-cheap, costing about PHP 8 for a short jeepney ride and PHP 25 for a reasonable ride on the MRT in the Philippines' capital Manila. As the Philippines is an archipelago, domestic travel leans heavily on flights, so set aside a chunk of your budget to buy airplane tickets (pro tip: plan ahead for seat sales with budget airlines to keep flying costs down).
Food in the Philippines can cost as low as PHP 60 for a rice-and-meat meal in a “carinderia” (open-air eatery) and about PHP 150-200 for a meal in an air-conditioned restaurant. Expect to do plenty of drinking in beer-happy Philippines, with a bottle of beer going for as low as PHP 40 a bottle.
In the Philippines, USD $100 Can Get You:
- 2-3 nights' stay in a three-star Cebu or Manila hotel
- 1-3 one-way trips on a Philippines budget air carrier
- 100-150 Filipino beers
- 30-40 budget Filipino meals
What USD $100 Buys in Cambodia
You'll stuff your wallet full with $100 worth of Cambodian riel (KHR) – about 400,000 at last count. And that will take you very far, considering Cambodia's reputation as one of the cheapest countries to visit in Southeast Asia.
Entry passes to Angkor Wat may end up as the biggest item in your budget — everything else is cheap relative to the rest of the region. Even in heavily touristed Siem Reap, you can spend as little as $5 for a bunk in a hostel dorm and $20 for a full days' tour with a tuk tuk and driver.
For transportation between cities, VIP bus lines can cost between USD $8-16 depending on the distance covered.
Food, though, can be more expensive than you'd expect; there aren't many street food options in Siem Reap, but plenty of restaurants to go around. As tourists, you'll end up spending around $4-10 per meal.
In Cambodia, USD $100 Can Get You:
- 5-8 day-long tuk-tuk tours
- 15-18 nights in a budget hotel, or 5-8 nights in a three-star accommodation in Siem Reap
- 10-18 mid-priced restaurant meals
What USD $100 buys you in Laos
Laos is one of Southeast Asia’s less prosperous countries – but the upside is, your $100 goes a long, long way here. Your C-note converts into 850,000 Lao Kip (LAK) – which is a lot by local standards. You can spend as low as $10 a day (for backpackers) to about $50 a day (if you want to travel comfortably) – and even on the low end, you’ll still get plenty out of your trip!
Even touristy destinations like Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng can be positively affordable for budget travelers. Lao food served outside of Luang Prabang’s main peninsula might cost no more than 10,000-30,000 LAK ($1.25-$3.75), but expect to pay about 30,000-60,000 LAK ($3.75-$7.50) for the same meal in the UNESCO Heritage Area.
Accommodations around backpacker areas like Pakse and Vang Vieng can go for as low as 20,000-60,000 LAK ($3.75-$7.50) for non-airconditioned rooms. Luang Prabang accommodations can be surprisingly pricey, with newer boutique hotels approaching the same prices as you’d find in Thailand resort towns.
Finally, real value travelers use the bus for their point-to-point travel; the overnight bus between Vientiane and Luang Prabang will cost only about 80,000-120,000 LAK (about $10-$15), a bargain compared to the same flight route that connects both cities!
In Laos, USD $100 Can Get You:
- About 80 rice + meat meals from a street stall; 30-40 restaurant-level Lao food meals
- 100 cans of Beerlao
- Three to five nights in a three-star Luang Prabang heritage hotel