10 ways to see Southeast Asia without breaking the bank

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If you think flying half-way around the world is out of your budget this summer, think again. Airfare prices heading into the summer travel season are at a five-year low, making this an ideal time to visit far-flung locales.

While Southeast Asia’s capital cities are boasting budget-friendly airfares, don’t overlook off-the-beaten-path destinations, too, which pack as much culture, fun and sun at a fraction of the cost of more popular spots. We compared average flight prices found on Cheapflights.com during the period of Jan. to April 2016 with the average from the same period last year and found airfare costs have dropped significantly to some of Southeast Asia’s most sought-after destinations.

Here are 10 places to hit while prices are down. Get packing (and saving!).

Jakarta, Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia
Journey to Jakarta, Indonesia for super savings. (Image: Thrillseekr, Jakarta Night via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

While the island of Bali remains the world’s largest archipelago’s top destination, according to the Ministry of Tourism, Republic of Indonesia, there is value monetarily and culturally in visiting the capital, Jakarta. And with flight prices 46 percent lower this year than last, there is no better time to see for yourself. The bustling city is home to luxury hotels, shopping, spas, and street-side food stalls – all at a fraction of the cost of other spots. Located on the north coast of western Java, the financial center of the country is home to 9 million people. Spend a few days enjoying the world famous spas and wellness centers (which are some of the most affordable in the world) and boutique shopping before moving on to one of the archipelago’s 13,466 islands fringed with white sandy beaches.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Ride elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Image: Katherine Brunn)

Chiang Mai is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. A short flight, or better yet, a night train away, Chiang Mai is a bucolic, peaceful wonderland in northern Thailand. It’s a popular place to enjoy nature and admire the scenery, whether by bamboo raft or on foot. Strolls through evening markets and home-stays with locals help visitors become immersed in the culture for just a few dollars a day. Airfare prices from the U.S. to Chiang Mai are down an average of 39 percent, so you can check it off your bucket list without breaking the bank.

Cebu, Philippines

Cebu, Philippines
A cheap beach vacay to Cebu, Philippines is just a flight away. (Image: Isabelle Acatauassú Alves Almeida, Cebu, Philippines via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Located in the heart of southeast Asia, the Philippines has 7,107 islands. One of the best islands to visit, particularly for divers, is Cebu, a tropical paradise with pristine beaches and perfect weather (and flight prices down 27 percent compared to last year). It was on this island where Ferdinand Magellan placed a cross to commemorate where 800 natives were baptized in 1521. Visitors can still see this cross as well as indulge in affordable dives in some of the most beautiful places in the world.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand
Go on a temple tour in Bangkok, Thailand. (Image: Katherine Brunn)

When heading to Thailand, Bangkok is most likely the place you will fly into and for good reason. Airfares to Bangkok International have been trending down (25 percent), making it a great time to check out this up-and-coming hotspot. There’s lots to see and do; plus, it’s the perfect starting off point to head north to Chiang Mai or head south to the offshore islands. Bangkok is known as backpacker heaven; there are numerous hostels, cheap (and delicious!) street food and even cheaper bars along Khaosan Road. Bangkok is also home to many wats (Buddhist temples) like Wat Pho, which houses an impressive 150-foot-long reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf, and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which is built on the grounds of the Grand Palace and houses an emerald Buddha carved into a 2-foot block of jade. Don’t miss the chance to take an inexpensive water taxi along the Chao Phraya River.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Holiday in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on a budget. (Image: Katherine Brunn)

Admire the French colonial architecture, stroll Ben Thanh Market for souvenirs and savory treats that cost just a few dollars and indulge in Vietnamese pho in Ho Chi Minh City, which is a short, budget friendly plane ride from Hanoi or nearly a day-and-a-half by train. Flights to Tan Son Nhut International Airport are down 20 percent compared with last year. If you’re a fashionista on a budget, Ho Chi Minh City is one of the cheapest places in Asia to purchase tailor-made clothes. Ho Chi Minh City is also a convenient city to continue onward via a short bus ride or a one-hour flight across the border to Cambodia, where you can explore the temple complex Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, in Siem Reap.

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand
Penny-wise paradise can be found in Phuket, Thailand. (Image: jenny downing, just a few drops via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Arguably the most famous, and most popular Thai island, Phuket is home to lush rain forests, majestic mountains and beautiful beaches that front the Andaman Sea. Phuket is often the starting-off point for island hopping as each Thai island offers its own fun, from diving to partying to relaxing. Just a short plane ride from Bangkok, Phuket also offers a range of accommodations from inexpensive beach huts and cheap guest houses that cost a few dollars per night to ultra luxe resorts. With flight prices down a whopping 38 percent compared with last year, it’s a great time to see this gorgeous island.

Search for flights to Phuket

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam is a haven for budget holidays. (Image: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier, Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hà Nội, Vietnam via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hanoi’s French-influenced architecture and chic cafes coupled with its rich Asian culture make for a perfect and cheap East-meets-West vacation. Inexpensive accommodations can be found throughout the city. Spend lazy days strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake, exploring Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum complex and the Presidential Palace or checking out a traditional water puppets show. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy exceptional eats, which cost just a few dollars. Pull up a plastic stool or squat on the sidewalk like the locals do to slurp pho and savor banh mi. Fly into Noi Bai International Airport and save 17 percent compared to last year.

Singapore

Singapore
Save big on a trip to Singapore. (Image: Gardens by the Bay)

Singapore is known for its high cost of living, but there are plenty of cheap and free things to do in Singapore, and airfare to Changi International is down 17 percent from last year, which helps you save even more. A trip (or two or three!) to the famous hawker centers for dinner is a must. Spend time window shopping on Orchard Road and at shopping centers like Gardens by the Bay, a stunning mall that boats the OCBC Skyway, an aerial steel walkway suspended from two “supertrees” that form part of a vertical garden of 12 “trees” in the heart of the shopping complex. The 420-foot-long skyway soars 72 feet above ground and is the perfect spot to take priceless panoramic photos of Supertree Grove entertainment complex, the surrounding Marina Bay area, the skyline and the requisite selfies.

Bali, Indonesia

Bali, Indonesia
Have a blast in budget friendly Bali, Indonesia. (Image: Kai Lehmann [thank you for 710k views :-D], sunset XII (Bali) via Flickr CC BY 2.0)
Bali is arguably the most picturesque of Indonesia’s 13,700 islands. Skip the fancy hotels in Jimbaran and save big by bunking in Sanur on the south coast, which has equally alluring yellow sand beaches. Bali’s beaches boast calm seas and sizzling nightlife, and flight prices are down 11 percent compared with last year. Don’t miss taking tours of Bali’s opulent temples and ornate palaces, which serve as reminders of the ancient kingdoms that once ruled here. Surfers must visit the town of Kuta and shoppers should be sure to stock up on splurge-worthy souvenirs like Balinese jewelry expertly handcrafted by goldsmiths.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Enjoy an inexpensive vacay in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Image: Andrea Schaffer, Kuala Lumpur via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Kuala Lumpur has transformed from a 19th-century tin miner’s camp into a 21st-century commercial center and increasingly popular travel destination (flight prices are 9 percent lower than they were last year). Whether entering by air, by train from Singapore or Thailand, or by cruise ship, KL is a magical metropolis for travelers on a budget. Head to the iconic Petronas Twin Towers and, if you’re brave enough, walk across the skybridge and take selfies from the observation deck. Take time to stroll through the capital’s lush parks and savor quintessential Malaysian specialties like roti canai (a flatbread), satay, teh tarik (milk tea) and ais batu campur (a shaved ice dessert) at the city’s bustling night markets.

Main image: iStockphoto/Kevin Landwer-Johan

10 ways to see Southeast Asia without breaking the bank was last modified: June 14th, 2016 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (265 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.