The Luxuries of Travel in SE Asia

I am getting spoiled here. And I mean seriously spoiled!

One of the many luxuries of travel in Asia is the incredibly low cost of living. Sam and I are travelling as a couple and we have a daily budget of $50 for the two us. We are staying in nice guesthouses, eating out 3 times a day, and spending a little bit on sightseeing, but guess what? We don’t always reach our daily spending limit! Yes, we are seeing the world for less than $25 a day each and we sure aren’t roughing it. (How is that even possible?!)

The low cost of living has meant that we can splurge on things that we normally wouldn’t back in Canada. Things like these:

$2 foot massage

I had never been to a spa in my life! Spas are supposed to be expensive and outside the means of a twenty-something year old’s budget – or so I thought. Well, it’s a whole different world out here! Manicures, pedicures, foot massages, neck massages… Heck! You canΒ  even go to a foot spa where little fish nibble the dead skin off your feet.

Fish massage in Phnom Penh

$9 dental cleaning

Okay, I went to the dentist in Korea, which I realize isn’t part of SE Asia, but since prices for a dental visit are relatively the same around here, I’m throwing this one in.

While I was still in Korea, I figured it might be a good idea to get my teeth cleaned. I hadn’t done it all year because I assumed it would probably be costly, so I just kept putting it off. I finally got an appointment booked for a cleaning and…it was a breeze! The dental hygienist didn’t speak a word of English and she kept chatting while I would just nod along. When she was finished she explained to me in Korean that because my wisdom teeth hadn’t surfaced yet, she was giving me a discount on the cleaning – I paid $9 instead of $10. Where else do you get a price like that?

Custom clothes in Hoi An, Vietnam

$18 custom made dress

The little city of Hoi An in central Vietnam is a shopper’s paradise! You may not come here with the intention of going on a shopping spree, but once you see all the tailor shops offering custom made suits, dresses, handbags and shoes, you’ll be dropping dong in shops all over town. Hoi An tailors can copy any design you show them, and they do it with a quick turnaround. Best place to get yourself a new wardrobe!

Swimming Pool

$35 luxury suite

Long gone are the hostelling days (though I’ll probably revert to my old ways whenever I make it over to Europe)! When you’re travelling as a couple in SE Asia, a private room is often the same price as two people paying to stay in a dorm room. You eliminate the snorers, sleep-talkers and sleep-walkers, and you also don’t have to contend with the inebriated stumbling into the room and switching all the lights on at 2 in the morning. You can find a decent private room for $12-20 a night, and if you’re looking to splurge on something a little fancier every once in a while, a luxury suite at $35 a night won’t break the bank either. Bonus points if it includes breakfast and a swimming pool.

Red frame glasses

$45 reading glasses

I can see again! I lost my reading glasses while living in Korea (I probably left them behind at some cafe), and I finally decided to get them replaced months later while travelling through Vietnam. Like with most major purchases, I was putting this off because I figured it would cost upwards of $100 to get a new pair…not even! I walked into a local optometrist, had my eyes checked (it had been a couple of years), got a new prescription, picked out a new pair of frames (red nerdy ones), got a special anti-scratch and anti-glare lens, and the best part is that I only paid $45! Last time I went to the optometrist in Canada I paid around $90 and that was only for a quick eye exam.

Now it’s your turn,Β what’s the best deal you’ve come across in your travels?

40 Comments

  • Being from Canada, I always find alcohol an insane deal in other countries. Same bottle of rum in Cuba = $3, in Honduras = $4, in Peru = $6, in Japan = $9 and in Canada = $28!!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Could you live off a dive instructor’s wage on Roatan?My Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Agreed, alcohol is also quite cheap in these parts. The one place where I found it outrageously priced was in Malaysia. Lots of taxes get tacked on there…

  • Love the phto in the water! Such a great shot.

  • memographer says:

    You got great deals, Audrey!
    My best deals: $1 fish massage and $1 dinner (beer wasn’t included) in Siem Reap, Cambodia
    memographer recently posted..Street Portraits of Peru: A Continued StoryMy Profile

  • $9 dental cleaning – that just sounds ridiculous πŸ™‚ For us, the best will have to be $40 luxury suite (with free daily massages thrown in) in Phuket. Aah, good old times πŸ™‚
    Vid | Bruised Passports recently posted..Fabulous Finds: The BEST Ice Cream in the WorldMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      That sounds like an awesome deal for a luxury suite in Phuket! I’m Thailand now so I’m hoping to eventually make it down there. πŸ˜‰

      • You must, Audrey πŸ™‚ We had the best time there – even though we stayed in the Patong area, we used to venture out to the quieter beaches (rented a scooter :)) – there are so many untouched beaches there with pretty little shacks serving the best thai food ever – bliss πŸ™‚ As you can tell from our latest post, we have a soft spot for hidden and untouched beaches (well, who doesn’t? :)) Where are you at the moment?
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  • I think the inexpensive nice accommodation are the most important piece of this. Anywhere else in the world – even central america these days! – its impossible to find such nice hotels and hotel owners for such a reasonable cost.

    also, i love me some cheap scarves and sundresses.
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  • carla says:

    Salon trips and fancy meals are also a whole lit cheaper in SE Asia

    • Audrey says:

      They sure are. The cost of a fancy meal out in Asia is often equal to the cost of a regular meal back in Canada. πŸ˜‰

  • Zhu says:

    I don’t care if that makes me a shallow woman… but what I miss the most from Asia is the cheap (and great!) massages. Thai massage, Chinese massage, you name it… I could do that everyday! I haven’t tried the fish pedicure though. I wanted to and kept on opting for massages instead πŸ˜†

    I wish these kinds of services weren’t so expensive in Canada.

    I also miss “kawai” stuff, great street food and amazing photo ops πŸ™
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  • Maria says:

    Bargains everywhere! Massages (even full body) are very inexpensive as are pedicures and other Spa treatments so definitely indulge while there.

    Runaway Brit had Lasik surgery to correct her vision in 2011 while in Vietnam – cost her about 500.00 (USD) for both eyes – quite a savings over the 3k you’d have to pay in the US or elsewhere. Her post stated the exam was intensive (as one would expect), the facility clean and the service above par.

    So glad you’re indulging and keeping up with your health. Those are great habits to form. πŸ™‚
    Maria recently posted..Return of Garage ImpMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Lasik is a big one over here. I met a few people who had it done when I was living in Korea, and the savings (compared to Canada) were astronomical!

  • Kellie Netherwood says:

    Ahh, this post took me back to my own travels in SE Asia where I enjoyed massages on a weekly (and often more regular) basis! My other ‘luxury’ was a hair wash and straighten in a local salon. Whilst living in Cambodia, I did this weekly and even though (with naturally curly hair) it frizzed in the heat the minute I stepped outside, I felt great for at least 10 minutes! And it was always an enjoyable conversation in the salon, a head massage…and all for $10!

    I’m currently back home in Australia for the first time in years and am finding it SO expensive that I’m actually considering returning to Asia to travel whilst I figure out what I want to do next!!

    I had a laugh over the dental clean discount, that is so lovely!!

    Happy travels πŸ™‚
    Kellie Netherwood recently posted..Photo of the Week: Fire Starting – RwandaMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Ooo, not a bad deal for a visit to the hair salon! I haven’t had my hair cut since I started this trip, but I’ll be looking forward to the head massages and all the pampering once the time comes. πŸ˜‰

  • Sam says:

    So jealous of your $45 glasses! I am cursed with REALLY BAD VISION and have to wear glasses all the time, and dread to think how much I’ve spent on glasses over the years (though probably not as much as if I’d had contacts all that time). Let me just book a flight over to Vietnam right now and get some new ones (mine are scratched). It’ll probably be cheaper than getting them in Europe or the Americas!
    Sam recently posted..Travel Diary: 2013, Week #20My Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Hehe, this would be the place to stock up on a few pairs. πŸ˜‰

    • Ashley says:

      By the sound of the posts, you may as well go to Vietnam and get lasik! $500Us a girl said. It’ll save you from buying glasses for the next few decades! And you get a vacation out of it (though Id say vacation before the surgery) πŸ˜‰
      Ashley recently posted..Prayer and VolumeMy Profile

  • Thomas Dembie says:

    Great post! My friends tried the ‘fish massage’ in Ubud. and found it strange but enjoyable. One item I’d add to the list is a cheap hair cut. In Hanoi I remember seeing men who set up shop near a park by hanging a mirror on a wall. I didn’t ask the price, but I’d assume it’s no more than $1… even for a tourist!
    Thomas Dembie recently posted..8 Things I Can’t Wait To Do In Italy This SummerMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      I have seen those as well! They just set up their chairs on the sidewalk, hang mirrors on the wall, and start cutting hair, haha. πŸ™‚

  • Dean says:

    I love that I can get a really nice room with ensuite bathroom and air con for $15 or less most of the time. We are managing to get by on $40 for the two of us in SE Asia. Some days it’s more some days it’s less. It is certainly going to be hard going back to Australia where it is cheap for us to eat out for $40!
    Dean recently posted..Relaxing at beautiful Munglinup Beach, Western AustraliaMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      That’s awesome! Sounds like you two are doing really well with your budget! Keep enjoying your travels. πŸ™‚

  • I love the fact that you can get dirt cheap massages (for as little as $4), manicures or pedicures (for as little as $6), contact solution ($2) or hair cuts for about $10. Going to the hairdresser is a major risk though and I only do it when I have to. My hubby Chris once ended up looking like a WW1 soldier. They shaved off his sides and left the top long. It was hilarious, even though he wasn’t as amused about it as I was. πŸ™‚
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Can an Englishman fall in love with Germany?My Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Haha, the same thing has happened to Sam before so now we always go with a picture in hand. πŸ˜‰

  • This Battered Suitcase says:

    Oh man, you are making me miss Southeast Asia! I have a really bad back and so I would go for massages two or three times a week when I was travelling around that part of the world. I loved all the 60Baht foot massages, the cheap pedicures, and all the other spa treatments that I would normally only splurge on once or twice a year in Canada (if at all).

    I also really miss the cheap accommodation – I’ve only been in South America and Europe in the past year, and for the most part it was far too expensive for a private room! Enjoy xx
    This Battered Suitcase recently posted..The Best Restaurants in Tel AvivMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Accommodations out here are the cheapest I’ve ever come across. I thought some parts of S America were relatively affordable, but then SE Asia’s prices blew that out of the water.

  • Ashley says:

    This post made want to travel! I can picture all the dresses and custom made clothes I would get (it’s quite hard finding clothes that fit right when you’ve got some spanish hips that dont lie!).
    I would definitely be doing massages, and upping accommodations! Though Id be hesitant about mani/pedi and sterilization. Does anyone know how this works in SE Asia?

    As per my cheap find, I think I recall paying just a few dollars for a bottle of wine in supermarket in France!
    Ashley recently posted..Prayer and VolumeMy Profile

  • $1.65 (50 baht) access to a infinity pool on the grounds of a luxury resort in Pai, Thailand

    $9 for a three course French food lunch in Vientiane, Laos

    Renting motobikes for $3-5 a day (depending on insurance package) in Pai, Thailand

    Big 3-4 star hotel room with bathtub/shower, granite floors, queen size bed with an awesome mattress and pool right outside in the courtyard in Hoi An, Vietnam for $23

    Bucket of 3-4 beer for $3 at Himmel Bar in Koh Chang, Thailand

    A large Heineken bottle of beer (500 ml+) in Saigon, Vietnam for $0.97

    And list goes on and on and on! πŸ™‚
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  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica says:

    I got one of the best haircuts of my life for under $5 in Bolivia.

    And I had a broken tooth fixed and got my teeth cleaned for under $50 in Argentina.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Random NashvilleMy Profile

  • Amber says:

    In Ubud, there are a few street stalls for cheap food. I found a great woman named Nyoman who makes the famous Gado Gado vegetable dish. She makes the whole thing from scratch with a mortar and pestle with garlic, chilis, peanut sauce, veggies, tofu, etc. She wraps it all up in a brown paper wrapper for take away. It is soooo tasty and costs $.70. Love it! And, for Bali, this is a steal.
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  • Clayton says:

    You are making me jealous as I’m in Ireland and it costs almost 2 euros just to buy a 20oz coke. I will definitely have to go visit Asia much sooner.
    Clayton recently posted..Tasty Food in Cork that won’t Bleed you DryMy Profile

  • Amy Turner says:

    I am a simple one so I get high with these whole body massages that completely relax and make me want to sleep. Never could, however, with all the rubbing and pressing, slapping and kneading. After a real hard day, you can even find blind masseurs ready to soothe your tired muscles in malls.
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  • Abby says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes lol. I also felt like I got spoiled by friendliness, if that makes sense. Made me want to stay forever.
    Abby recently posted..Mixed feelings on Coco’s growing upMy Profile

  • Ceri says:

    I definitely intend to do what you did and save up money in Korea before doing some exploring in SE Asia. I think the low cost of everything is an added advantage to how incredible it all seems. πŸ˜€
    Ceri recently posted..The Sweet Sound of SummerMy Profile

  • Peter Lee says:

    Asian countries are really inexpensive whether it is shopping, sight-seeing or anything else. You can travel in any Asian country with a very small budget.

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