Where to travel in Asia on a tight budget.

Asian countries can be cheap or expensive vacation destinations depending on where you choose to go and what comfort level and extra facilities you are willing to pay for. For example, some people are happy to save money by getting a fan-only room, whereas an air-conditioned is a prerequisite for me when I’m travelling in a hot country.

Below are a list of cheap and reasonably priced Asian destinations based on my experiences and those of some of my travel-blogging colleagues.

1. Chiang Mai, Thailand.

If you want to plonk yourself somewhere for a few months and live cheaply while you work on a business idea, you might consider Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. You can rent a monthly hotel room for as little as $300 USD / month (but you’ll have to pay a bit more if you want a kitchen).

Lots of travel bloggers base themselves in Chiang Mai due to the low cost and ease of living.

Be warned that Chiang Mai is a polarizing place – some people love it and some people hate it. On the plus side, it’s the best place in Asia for vegan food. On the negative side, it’s nowhere near Thailand’s famous beaches. I’d rather pay a little more and live near the beach e.g., Koh Samui.

2. Thai Islands and Beaches.

Compared to similar beaches in other parts of the world, Thailand’s islands and beaches offer superb value. Thong Nai Pan Yai on Koh Pha Ngan is great and you can get lovely air con bungalows for less than $40 a night. It’s a bit isolated and well away from the party scene so ideal for couples looking for some quiet time.

3. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (HCMC)

Vietnam is extremely cheap overall. You can get guest house accommodation with marble in the bathrooms for super cheap prices ($20-30.)

I prefer the south of Vietnam to the north. You’ll encounter very few problems with touts and rip offs in HCMC (unlike in other parts of Vietnam).

From HCMC, you can take great short trips around the south of Vietnam e.g. to explore the Mekong Delta. The beaches in Vietnam aren’t as good as what’s on offer in Thailand.

Cheap food options in HCMC abound, including great vegan only restaurants and excellent vegetable markets.

James from nomadicnotes.com spent US$724 during a month living in HCMC for a month in 2012.

4. China can be cheap.

Our friends Dave and Vicky of acoupletravelers.com traveled through China on an average of US$33/per person/day which included some couchsurfing.

However traveling cheap in China requires more effort than in places like Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam where cheap travel is extremely easy.

For an alternative take on China, Theodora from escapeartistes.com is lived for a few months in Harbin, China and had her son is in local school there (not an expat/international school, an actual local school!)

Where’s not cheap?

– Japan – obviously.

– Singapore – it’s tough to find clean budget accommodation in Singapore.

– In my experience. Malaysia is about 50% more expensive than next door Thailand. However, it’s cheaper than Singapore.

– Korea falls between China and Japan in terms of cost, approx on par with Malaysia.

– Phnom Penh, Cambodia is cheap but the hotel rates are higher than Bangkok or HCMC, Vietnam. In Phnom Penh you get a room with air-con in a cheap guest house for as little as US$15-20/night/per person.

Other considerations

– There are lots of ways to save money once you’re on the road, with the most important tip being that the slower you travel, the less it will cost as you’ll save on transport, you’ll find cheap places to eat, and be able to negotiate long stay discounts.

Photo: Redang Island, Malaysia.

Health Issues on the Road

Getting sick while at home is scary enough for most of us. Getting sick while travelling can be disastrous and is something a lot of people understandably fear, especially if they’re travelling alone.

Here are some suggestions to help be as prepared as possible.

– If you can buy out your travel insurance deductible, do so. For example, for some travel insurance you can reduce the deductive from $200 to $0 for a $25 fee per policy. This especially makes sense for long trips. You don’t want to feel inhibited to go to a doc by a high deductible.

– If you’re going to be staying a while at a destination then befriend other location independent/expat folks to learn about what the best clinics and hospitals are.

– Read your travel insurance policy so you know exactly what you’re meant to do if you need to claim e.g., calling for pre-approval. Make sure you understand the exclusions so you don’t get caught out, thinking you’re covered when you’re not.

– Keep some basic medical supplies. I often find that “mefix” dressings for burns come in handy, as do a big supply of cloth bandaids (rather than the plastic kind, which just come off if you get them wet). Also, handy is 1% hydrocortisone cream and some anti-histamines for bites.

– If you’re going somewhere where you’re worried about food poisoning then you might want some electrolyte sachets that will help you if you end up dehydrated from vomiting &/or diarrhoea.

– Prevention is better than cure. Take care to wash your hands before eating and after you’ve been out and about using public transportation. I sometimes carry hand sanitizer but only ever use it occasionally. Mostly I still like to carry it. However, I am religious about washing my hands once I arrive back at my hotel or apartment after being out for the day, and prior to eating.

– Vegetarian food is generally safer but some vegetarian foods like hummus can be very prone to making you sick if they’ve not been refrigerated correctly. Therefore always use common sense. Use your eyes and nose to ascertain if food looks like it has been prepared and stored hygienically. Look for the food stalls that are the most popular with locals.

– Some of my friends swear by drinking whiskey with all street food to kill any bugs, lol. (yeah, don’t trust these friends ;))

– Another form of prevention is a healthy diet or a multivitamin when you’re not able to be as awesome as you’d like to be with your diet.

– Familiarize yourself with whether it is safe to drink the local tap water or not. Sometimes I’ve forgotten to check this and then drunk it without thinking. Quite a few times I’ve accidentally brushed my teeth in tap water in locations where bottled water is recommended, and I’ve never had any issues as a result ( probably because I spit rather than swallow 🙂 )

– Take a first aid course before your trip, or just watch some youtube videos. You’ll really want to be able to help someone if you see someone choking or needing CPR. Chat to fellow travellers you meet and encourage folks to upskill themselves in these areas if they haven’t already – You or someone else might need assistance from a fellow traveller at some point.

Photo Credit: Ran Yaniv Hartstein under Creative Commons license.

Ideas for healthy convenient meals in Turkey

I am currently living in Turkey for a while, and I’m finding the food absolutely delicious here. It’s the Mediterranean way – cooking with delicious, fresh produce. You can eat healthily and heartily by either eating out or cooking from scratch yourself. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy or inclination to prepare a meal so it’s great that there are so many convenient and yummy options here for eating out or taking in.

Turkish food is all about fresh produce, which is why the weekly fruit and vegetable markets are always bustling and busy, with locals packing their cupboards with cheap and delicious tomatoes, cherries, potatoes, peaches, aubergines … the list is endless, and the cost is low.

Like me you might not have the time or facilities to become the best Turkish housewife or house-husband out there, so here are some ideas for cheap and healthy convenience meals whilst maintaining that fresh and delicious Turkish taste?

Head to a Turkish restaurant.
If you want the best flavours, a seriously fully belly, and a very low cost at the end of it, go to a Turkish restaurant that is away from a tourist resort, or at least away from the tourist resort main streets. Go where the locals head, and you’ll find you eat yourself into oblivion and you pay very little. BBQ’d, or ocakbasi-style, cooking of meats is the order of the day here, and you will find it cheaper to eat like this, than you would if you bought meat from the butchers and made something yourself. It’s also much less hassle!

This is my addiction, and ever since I moved here, I’ve had it for breakfast and even an evening meal several times a week. The plus point is that you can either eat out and grab it, or you can make it yourself very cheaply and easily. It’s basically scrambled eggs with peppers and tomatoes in oil. Throw in some fresh bread and it’s a taste sensation and a half, as well as being very filling.

Turkish pizza is much healthier than the pizzas you would find from a takeaway elsewhere. It’s not advisable to try and make this yourself, because it contains lamb, and lamb isn’t the cheapest thing in the world. You can get lahmacun from a takeaway for as little as 3tl, and when folded over with salad and lemon juice in the middle, it is delicious!

Chicken kebab.
If ever I’m hungry and want something quick and easy, I call at the nearest kebab shop and get myself a chicken wrap with salad for as little as 7tl. I’m full for hours afterwards and I know I’ve had several of my five a day. This isn’t the kind of kebab you associate with a greasy night out, it’s actually chicken donor meat, carved up in a tortilla style wrap, with salad and mayo if you choose. Yum!

Whether you make it yourself by grabbing some oil from the supermarket and some fresh veg from the market, or whether you buy it from a takeaway, soup is a very popular and filling meal in Turkey. Because of the fresh produce used to make it, it is often tastier than the tinned variety, and much more filling. Again, fresh bread in Turkey is delicious too, and very, very cheap.

A fresh diet is a healthier one, and you can easily find that on the cheap whilst travelling or living in Turkey.

Guest post by our friend Nicky.

Photo Credit: Paul Keller under Creative Commons license. Menemen