Sep 14, 2020
EVEN IF YOU’RE ON A shoestring budget, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy spectacular dishes, natural splendor and cultural attractions all around the region. While cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo may require a bit of a splurge, the following five Asian destinations offer phenomenal value for money.
While UNESCO World Heritage Site Luang Prabang may boast luxury boutique hotels from the likes of Rosewood, Belmond and Sofitel, the Laotian capital remains comparatively sleepy. Traditionally, most travelers have passed through town en route to more popular destinations without pausing to enjoy the sites. That’s a shame, because these days, this underrated destination offers plenty of diversions at an unbeatable price. For a budget-friendly stay with charm to spare, check into the Lao Poet (doubles from US$88).
Most travelers in Cambodia fly straight to Siem Reap for the obligatory sunset shot of Angkor Wat at dawn. As impressive as the ancient Khmer temple and its neighboring ruins may be, there’s something to be said for venturing off the beaten path, particularly if you’re hoping to spare your wallet. Battambang, the country’s second-largest city, showcases a different side of Cambodian culture. Check out works by local artists at Romcheik5 Art Space or catch a show at the world-famous Phare Ponleu Selpak, a circus that benefits underprivileged children.
The word is officially out about Penang, which continues to gentrify rapidly. Luckily, Malacca, another multicultural trading port town, has managed to stay comparatively under the international radar. From gorgeously decorated Peranakan houses to the nocturnal bustle of Jonker Street, Chinatown’s main drag, there’s much to explore here. Stock up on hand-lacquered wood and other works by master artisans or dine on seafood specialties from the Kristang community, the descendants of Portuguese missionaries who keep their distinctive language and culture alive here.
There’s a good reason this UNESCO World Heritage Site scored a spot on our Best 10 Cities in Asia in 2020 list. With its historic architecture and alleyways strewn with colorful lanterns, this historic trading port oozes ambiance. Hoi An has been a melting pot for centuries and savvy travelers will spy the cultural fingerprints left by Indian, Japanese, Portuguese, Cham and Chinese merchants on every block. Strolling past the crumbling colonial architecture snapping photos of sites like the luminous Japanese Covered Bridge won’t cost you a dime. Since street vendors serve delicious fare on practically every corner, it’s easy to dine well without breaking the bank here. Be sure to order a bowl of cao lầu, a local specialty of toothsome rice noodles topped marinated pork belly and fresh herbs.
As one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations, Thailand is far from a bargain in comparison to some of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Nevertheless, there are still affordable getaways to be found here, especially if you steer away from the perpetually popular islands of Koh Samui and Phuket. In stark contrast to other isles, Koh Phayam looks and feels much the same way it has for the past few decades. The beaches of Ao Yai and Ao Khao Kwai are as pristine as ever and low-key bungalows can still be booked for a few baht. You won’t find five-star amenities here, but with sun-kissed sands and palm trees for days, you won’t miss them.