RTW Budget Update: Southeast Asia

Our trip is now complete. Life is a little bit different here in the states (mostly much colder), but we’ll get to talking about that soon. For now, it’s time to take a look at how much we spent in Southeast Asia. This segment was the longest; all in, over 3.5 months. Originally it would have been a little bit shorter, but changes in plans to nix Australia and New Zealand put us in SEA for a while longer. More sunshine, more rice, more noodles, and more cheap beer is more my style. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

Part 1: Major Transportation

Transportation in Southeast Asia is made for the backpacker. Five hour bus rides can go for $10 or less; Taxis, tuk tuks, and songthaews can be had for just a few dollars, and some routes can be easily done on a train across Thailand and Vietnam. When we decided to nix Australia and New Zealand form the tail end of our trip, we were left with quite a big cushion in the budget. Because of this, we added a few flights to the mix rather than going overland and booked the best class bus or train when we could.

  • Estimated Expense: $2,400
  • Actual Expense: $1,358
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): +$1,042

Even still, we ended up on the right side of the line, well under budget.

Part 2: In-Country Costs

  • Estimated Expense: $12,320 (112 days at $55 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $9,323
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): +$2,997

But just like before, we need to account for the fact that our budget was based on a different time period spent in Southeast Asia. We spent 11 days less than we planned and we should compare apples to apples.

  • Adjusted Estimated Expense: $11,110 (101 days at $55 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $9,323
  • Adjusted Variance (+Better / -Worse): +$1,787

We did really well in Southeast Asia. There were not too many times where we had to turn down an activity for the sake of money. We did everything we wanted to do and we ate everything we wanted to eat. We even stayed in some nicer hotels to mix things up a bit (but mostly because after several long months in hostels and dirty guest houses I needed a little bit of luxury in my life). We visited a rice farm and Kristin learned to weave and dye fabric in Laos. We did some snorkeling tours, some kayaking tours, and some food tours in Vietnam and Thailand. We ate at more upscale restaurants in Saigon, Phnom Penh, and Bangkok. All in, we lived with a whole lot less restrictions than we did in Europe and Africa and still came in far under budget.

True Cost for Southeast Asia: $46 / day / person

Snorkeling in Ang Thong Marine Park
Kayaking through caves near in Krabi Province in Thailand
Full bar at Soul Food Mahanakorn in Bangok

Angkor Wat: If You Can’t Beat Em,’ Join Em.’

Visiting Angkor Wat is like going to Disneyland: it’s expensive, it’s hot, there’s a lot of walking, and there’s people everywhere.

Good luck beating the crowds in Angkor!

We tried to think of strategies to escape it, but alas, they just don’t exist. And we’re usually pretty good at avoiding the crowds. Here are some tips to make the most out of your experience, even when there will always be 1000 people around you at any given point.

1. Buy a multi-day pass. I don’t know if anyone goes to Siem Reap for just one day. Highly unlikely. If you buy a 3 day pass or a weeklong pass it’ll be less expensive in the long run. Also consider that if you visit for sunset after 5pm, the ticket does not need to be validated for the day, but instead will get stamped on the next.

Quiet sunset on the eastern perimeter of Angkor Wat

2. Eat cheap. There are a ton of restaurants in Siem Reap, almost all of them catering to tourists. That means that most of them are more expensive because, well, they can get away with it. There are some restaurants that aren’t too bad, most of them around the old market area. These will only set you back $2-$3 a meal as opposed to $5-$7 which may not be much, but over a few days it adds up to something.

3. Shop around for a tuk tuk driver. There are tuk tuk drivers everywhere in Siem Reap, and while they may be easy to find, they put up a pretty hard bargain. We managed $15 for the small circuit (day 1), $23 to Banteray Srei along with a few others in the small circuit (day 2), and $35 to Beng Melea, the Roulos Group, and Phnom Bakeng (day 3). That is compared to probably $20, $30, and $40 some people (or cars) were trying to charge for the same things, respectively. Do keep in mind – these guys work hard for their money; they work to put a roof over their head, food on the table, and to send their kids to school. Ask your hotel for rates, ask drivers on the streets for rates, and come up with a number that works for you. Don’t get ripped off, but please don’t get worked up over a dollar or two.

An early morning ride on our tuk-tuk / chariot with our driver, Mr. Pich

4. Pack breakfast or lunch. There are small shops around most temples offering food, drinks, hats, etc. but the temples are also less busy around lunch so if you pack your own it’ll probably be less expensive and maybe a little less crowded. Same for breakfast if you want to see sunrise at Angkor Wat or any other temple for that matter. Bring some apples and peanut butter or muesli and yogurt and eat your breakfast while watching a beautiful sunrise over Angkor Wat.

5. If you want to go to Phnom Bakeng and not be in the midst of hundreds try going around 2-3. We went at this time and we were there with only six other people. It may not be sunset, but I prefer less people to explore than the sun going down.

6. Banteay Srei is absolutely worth the drive. Hands down my favorite temple. Go.

Banteay-Srei- the beautiful details.
The big picture at Banteay-Srei.
A picture framed picture.

7. Beng Melea is far. Two hours by tuk tuk each way. I really wanted to go but Nick hemmed and hawed over the price. On top of the tuk tuk you pay $5 each for entry and then have to tip a guide once they show you around. We got there very early. 8AM. And while this a less travelled to temple, as we were leaving there were busloads of people, probably at least six huge tour buses, a dozen minibuses, and a handful of cars and tuk tuks, dropping people off. If you go when there are tons of people there it’s definitely not worth it. If you go, go in the morning when you basically have the place to yourself.

A real root takeover.