How to Entertain Yourself in Southeast Asia on a Budget

Ways to enjoy your perfect Asian holidays, kayaking in Indonesia
Ways to enjoy your perfect Asian holidays, kayaking in Indonesia

Traveling on a budget can be tricky at times. Some people try to live on a certain amount a day, such as $20, but this doesn’t work for every country. There are surprise expenses, and sometimes you just want to splurge.

Many travelers will spend a large amount of their time hanging around guesthouses, eating plain rice, and doing very little apart from conversing with other guests.

This isn’t what traveling is about, this is just existing. In this situation, it might be better to have less time overseas and more cash to spend than stretching out a thin budget over a longer period.

One region you tend to see this a lot in is Southeast Asia. Fortunately, it doesn’t always have to be this way. Here are a few tips to make your vacation more enjoyable, stretch your cash, and have more fun.

Choosing the right guest house

Comfortable guest house in Laos on the river

A big portion of your budget is likely to go on three areas; transport, food & drink, and accommodation. 

Choosing the right place to stay can improve your trip immensely. Look for guest houses that have extra features that you can enjoy. This means looking at places with swimming pools, gyms, cinemas, cheap or free bike rental, and other extras included in the price.

Finding guest houses that do this at a budget will take a little research, but it is not as hard as it might sound. Hostels are in competition with each other and in the tourist town Vang Vieng, in Laos for instance, there may be 200 hotels and guesthouses fighting over new arrivals.

If you’re thinking that somewhere like this will cost a lot then you might be surprised to know you can get a private room in the aforementioned town for $5, and it includes a swimming pool, free water, cinema room, hammocks, and discounted bike rental. 

Check these 5 great low-cost countries in Asia

Make friends to reduce costs

Making friends on the way to travel Southeast Asia cheaper

Visiting the local tourist sites can cost money and make a dent in your budget, but it would also be a shame to miss out on places of natural beauty or local importance. If a tuk-tuk ride or scooter rental is looking a bit pricey to you, then ask at your hostel reception if they know of any other guests heading out to a particular place.

There is a good chance that they may have been approached by others with the same idea. Hiring a tuk-tuk for $10 for one person can put a serious hole in the day’s spending money, but putting 6 in a vehicle for $15 improves things a great deal.

Put up a notice in your hostel where people can add their names. You will meet new people, save cash, and enjoy the local sites. 

Check this Indonesia weekly itinerary

Make sure your hostel has good Wi-Fi

Nowadays, most guesthouses will have free Wi-Fi for their guests, but the quality of it isn’t always the best. When checking in, ask where the Wi-Fi is the strongest and try to be near a router. You may be grateful for this later.

When you think of countries such as Thailand and Laos, you may think of blue skies, sunshine, beaches, and jungle, but unfortunately, it also rains there a lot. Travelers also get sick from time to time.

Southeast asia panoramic view of hills and town

The internet is your free entertainment when you find yourself stuck indoors. An online casino and slots can be played for free, and there are many video games to download from the Google Play Store.

You will find many travelers play cards, so using an online casino to practice your poker or blackjack skills may put you in good stead when a group gets together to play in the hostel. 

Volunteer your time

If you are in a poorer area, you may find there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. You can go to an organized volunteer website which normally includes accommodation and food, and perhaps pay a fee, or you can do it yourself.

Take yourself off for a bicycle ride and locate some local schools. There is a high chance that these places do not have English being taught in them, especially if they are very rural.

Not only will you be doing some good with your time, you’ll meet some local people, and learn a little of their language, but you will also find it can be very enjoyable. 

Drinking and nightlife

This is the one area where budgets can be destroyed. All the hard budgeting can be undone by one drunken night on a Thai beach.

To help reduce your expenditure, look for places offering free drinks or special offers. Many places in Southeast Asia have happy hours, and lots of them do welcome drinks. Don’t expect anything fancy, but they are free.

Food markets in Thailand nightlife

You can also keep your spending down by drinking local alcohol. Indonesian local alcohol such as Arak might result in a bad hangover, but on the plus side, you probably won’t spend much cash the next day!

Check out bars with free pool tables and darts too for extra value on your night out. Beware, many bars in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, require payment for playing pool, and it might not be clear until someone is demanding cash from you after the game. 

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Splurging for one night only

If you have been tight with your cash, and you get to the point where you want a fancier night out, then see if there is a casino near you. You don’t need to be worried, you won’t be staying at the world’s most expensive hotels, but rather looking to exploit a legitimate offer.

Some Asian casinos will offer deals involving a room, food, and drink for a set price. The hope is that you will then spend money in the casino.

The trick here is to avoid spending any cash on casino games and enjoy the free buffet and flowing drinks. Anyway, you can still enjoy your online casino instead and play roulette in your luxury room. 


By finding guest houses that give away free coffee, water, and entertainment, you can reduce your expenditure and enjoy your cash in other ways. Eating like a local is a great way to not only have new taste sensations but also to save money. Look where local people buy their food, and avoid restaurants selling watered-down versions to tourists.

Card games with other guests are a very social way to spend some time at the hostel, and if you need space then there is always the internet. Online video games, casinos, roulette, and slot machines can help keep you entertained for free.

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