‘Travel brings power and love back into your life’. Rumi and all the greats like RL Stevenson and Mark Twain new the importance of traveling. It opens the mind, creates connections with people you would otherwise never get to know and gives you a whole new perspective on the world. Backpacking certainly brings an interesting element to it! ‘Roughing it out’ takes you close to a city’s essence because you put yourself out there. Getting to know people and trying new food adds to the experience and you come away with a fresh sense of self and purpose. And, there’s no better place to do it than in Indonesia and Thailand. These are a backpacker’s dream because they offer so much for so little. There are mouth-watering street foods, bars, adventure sports and affordable places to stay. Forget not having a huge budget; here, a little goes a long way and you’ll be able to enjoy the complete experience!
Volcanoes, komodo dragons, jungles and beaches – Indonesia embodies everything you imagine a dream destination to be. Adventure rules here and you’ll be amazed by how much action can happen even on a tight budget. Check out these must-visit places and experience to indulge in.
Places to Visit When Budget Backpacking in Indonesia
1) Lombok’s Beaches
The island of Lombok has long been known for its stunning beauty. The Eden-like locale boasts some of Indonesia’s best features like rocky inlets you’ll want to explore and, of course, Gunung Rinjani, the country’s second highest volcano. But perhaps the most visited attraction is the beaches. They’re as idyllic as they’re advertised and you can even come across some that seem all but deserted. This is because although Lombok is roughly the size of Bali, it’s not as touristy and still retains slices of peace and tranquility.
Some of the best beaches in Lombok include Selong Belanak, Mawun Beach and Tanjung Aan. Selong Belanak has more action going on and there are shops, eateries and surfboard rentals. Try to go during the weekdays as it can get a little crowded. If you’d rather enjoy time alone or don’t like a crowd, Mawun Beach is for you. There are just a handful of people and vendors so you can bask in the peace and quiet. Tanjung Aan, meawhile, has two gorgeous bays that can be seen in near entirety from a viewpoint in the middle. It’s an incredible sight and the beauty of Lombok really shines through here.
2) Saraswati Temple, Ubud
Bali’s Ubud is a must-visit when you’re on the island. It’s the center of culture and you can discover numerous aspects of Balinese life and religion here. Craft markets, art galleries and museums offer a chance to learn about the island. It’s also home to the Ubud Palace that was once the home of a royal family. Yet, our interest lies in central Ubud and towards the Saraswati Temple, a lovely water temple that features classical Balinese architecture. It’s an important landmark and tourist spot in Ubud.
Here, ponds with floating lotuses instantly catch your eye and are, in fact, the highlight of the complex. They add a dash of color to the wonderful green space and provide the best opportunities for relaxation and taking photographs.
Although the temple draws a steady stream of visitors, you still feel a soothing tranquility. Take a leisurely walk around the complex and explore the bas reliefs of the goddess Saraswati, the deity of learning and knowledge that the temple is dedicated to. There’s also a café where you can dine at. Dance performances are held as well and are worth a watch.
Like many of the temples in Indonesia, Saraswati Temple has a dress code that men and women need to adhere to. A sarong that covers the legs and clothing that covers the shoulders and midriff are mandatory.
3) Pasih Uug
Pasih Uug is a natural wonder and you’ll see why. Also known as Broken Beach, it’s an idyllic spot that was formed due to the collapse of a cave long before. This led to waters flowing through the present arch so that there’s a beautiful natural pool on one side. You feel cut off from the rest of the world and that’s certainly a magical feeling. It’s just you, the sky and the water below! Seeing Pasih Uug from above, you feel like you’re looking down into a massive well.
Pasih Uug shouldn’t just be admired from above, however; you can’t leave without taking a refreshing swim in the clear water. Keep an eye out for turtles and rays that create a mesmerizing scene with their graceful movements. Stay until sunset when the sky puts on a dazzling show of colors. The view is spectacular from the cliffs as the horizon seems to come alive.
Experiences to Indulge in When Travelling on a Budget in Indonesia
1) Hike Mount Batur
You just have to hike up a volcano, in this case Mount Batur, when you’re in Indonesia. Where else can you lay such a claim to fame? While there are many volcanoes to explore in the country, Mount Batur is one of the most popular.
The active volcano is situated between two calderas and if that weren’t exciting enough there’s a stunning caldera lake, Lake Batur, which you can explore. A winding road leads down to the lake. The serene beauty will tempt you to spend hours here but there are yet more sights to see. There are hot springs that are believed to have healing properties and you certainly need to take a dip. It’s located in the small village of Toya Bungkah. You can spend the night here too and wake up to views of the surrounding caldera.
While it’s possible to hike Mount Batur yourself, it’s not a good idea because there have been instances where hikers have fallen victim to gas discharges from vents. The trail also has narrow ridges and it’s easy to slip and fall. A guide will make sure you’re safe and you’ll have a much better time enjoying the view.
2) Go Cliff-Jumping
Great for beginners and a fun pastime for everyone, cliff-jumping is a must-try when in Indonesia. With the wind in your hair and the sparkling water waiting invitingly below, you feel the pull of adventure before leaping into space and plunging into the cool blue.
Indonesia has some spectacular cliffs but not all are ideal for cliff-jumping. You want a spot that’s acceptably risky. Top among them is the Blue Lagoon in Nusa Ceningan, Bali. It’s where most cliff-jumpers used to head to because it’s so beautiful. There are jump points of different heights ranging from four meters to 13. The quiet and lack of people add to the experience. It’s as if you’re alone in the world and it’s the best feeing!
Mahana Point is the next cliff-jumping spot. It’s also located in Nusa Ceningan. It’s become the official jump point after an accident occurred in Blue Lagoon. What’s nice about it is that there’s a dive platform and bar where you can watch the sunset.
Whether you’re jumping from Blue Lagoon or Mahana Point, choose a time when the swell is small. The current is strong otherwise and you can be pulled away.
3) Explore Pasar Baru Market
A sprawling market where it can seem like you can find almost anything you want, Pasar Baru is a popular Jakarta destination that you must visit when in the capital. Colonial architecture is prominent here and adds to the old world feel. Indeed, the market itself dates back to the early 1900s. It’s one of the oldest in the city and to this day continues to attract locals and tourists alike.
The market consists of several sections selling everything from cosmetics and fashion items to musical instruments and electronics. But that’s not all: the market has terrific food joints that serve some of the best dumplings and noodles. Delicious street food is another big temptationYou can find authentic Chinese and fusion fare to whet your appetite.
Where to Stay when Budget Backpacking in Indonesia
1) Private Villa in Lovina
What we – and others – love about Indonesia is that affordability extends even to accommodation. Just check out this pretty private villa in Lovina, Bali that’s super comfortable and luxurious but doesn’t break the bank.
The three-bedroom villa accommodates six guests and offers plenty of room for relaxation. It has a pool with sunbeds and umbrellas for those days when you just want to laze around. Indoor and outdoor dining areas let you enjoy meals and drinks with your companions. There’s a cozy living room too with a television. A fully-equipped kitchen complete with a gas hob allows you to prepare meals and snacks.
It’s about two kilometers from Lovina, the beach and restaurants. The prime location makes it a popular pick among travelers and if you like to be close to the excitement, this place is perfect.
The villa is staffed and you can approach the helpdesk for trips and tours around the north of Bali. Snorkeling, diving and dolphin-watching are some of the top activities and you can’t leave without experiencing them.
Price: INR 5200/USD 80
Location: Lovina, Bali
2) Duplex Villa in Ubud
Romantic getaways don’t get better than this! If you’re traveling with your partner, this duplex villa in Ubud is quite possibly the best place to stay. The architecture is inspired by old Balinese rice barns but the amenities are entirely modern.
The two-bedroom villa sleeps up to four guests. They’re tastefully furnished and the top floor’s bedroom opens up on to a balcony overlooking the garden and pool. What we love, however, is the stylish outdoor bathroom with beautiful stone and tile work. With the sun shining down and a cool breeze passing through, bathing is another experience altogether!
You’ll be tempted to spend all your time outdoors. The tropical garden is beautifully landscaped and features statues and pathways. Potted plants edge the pool while sunbeds with umbrellas offer a relaxing spot to lie back and enjoy Bali’s gorgeous weather.
Price: INR 4300/USD 65
Location: Ubud, Bali
3) Nipah Villas
It’s amazing to see just what you can get for your money in Indonesia. Few places offer so much for so little. Nipah Villas is a case in point. It’s a newly constructed deluxe pool villa with views overlooking – you guessed it – the pool and hills in the distance. Imagine waking up to this. Even if you’re a late riser, you’ll be tempted to rise early just to see the view!
Nipah Villas is just a few minutes’ walk from the beach. This alone is a big plus if you love spending time under the sun, surfing or swimming. On those days when you’d rather stay back, you can make use of the infinity pool that’s set on two levels. The lower one is designed for kids.
The villa features a bar and a restaurant that serves delicious Asian and western cuisines. When you’re done dining, you can request the staff to arrange boat trips to Gili Islands where a lively party scene, local charm and laidback vibes await.
Price: INR 3000/USD 45
Location: Batu Layar, Nusa Tenggara Barat
Best Hacks to travel on a Budget in Indonesia
If you’ve traveled on a budget before, you already know where to cut corners. But, every country is different and Indonesia is no exception. Here are a few hacks you’ll want to remember on your trip.
- Bargain: Most items are priced above their value and you stand to lose quite a bit of money unless you haggle. This is true for shopping, when negotiating with a taxi for fare (unless it’s metered) and even when buying tickets. Touristy places like Bali are more difficult to haggle but you should still try.
- Use public transportation as much as possible: Taxis can be expensive especially for tourists since they aren’t familiar with the rates. They’re a lot more comfortable than buses but definitely not worth wasting money on.
- Avoid middle men: This is a no-brainer but it’s easy to be tempted to seek the services of a local. However, it can cost you big bucks. It’s always smarter to book tours, for instance, directly from a company. There’s also far less risk of scams and you get your money’s worth.
- Street food is king: Seriously! Indonesia has terrific street food like kerak telor, gado-gado (a vegetarian’s delight!) and, of course, nasi goring that will cost you less than a dollar or just a couple. The portions are sizable too!
- Avoid touristy restaurants: They can cost a bomb, don’t serve the best food and just don’t have that local charm. When searching for a place to eat, see where the locals head to. You can sure it’s pocket-friendly and whips up terrific food!
- Go during shoulder or low season: It’s another no-brainer but we still want to emphasize it! Traveling during off or shoulder season will save you a lot of money on accommodation and transport.
- Look for freebies: Indonesia has plenty of things to do, all for free, if you know where to look. You can visit the marigold fields of Desa Temukus and climb over 1000 steps to Lempuyang Temple and take in the view of the countryside. You can explore the trendy market complex of Love Anchor and take a dip in Jembong Waterfall.
This is a backpacker’s true delight. Speak to any budget traveler and chances are, they’ve been to Thailand or have it on their list. Why? Because like Indonesia, it offer an endless list of low-cost, often times free, activities and places to visit. You can stay in comfortable vacation rentals that more than give you value for money too. And the food? It’s to die for! Pad thai (of course), som tam, khao kha moo – enjoy them all at unbelievably affordable prices.
Places to Visit when Budget Backpacking in Thailand
1) Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
What comes to mind when you think of a market? Numerous stalls packed with wares, right? Well, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market takes the experience several notches up. The stalls aren’t stalls at all but boats lined with fruits, vegetables, hats, street food, clothes and more.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is located in Rathaburi. It’s a famous tourist spot and you can expect it to be pretty crowded. However, it’s definitely worth a visit. The vendors expertly maneuver their boats, chat with one another and haggle with buyers for the best prices. The chaotic yet vibrant scene will compel you to snap photographs and try your hand at bargaining.
While you can see the market from the banks (and it’s free to do so), the best way to explore it is by boat. It can range from a couple of hundred Baht to more depending on whether you want a cheap row boat or a pricier motorboat.
2) Sukhothai Historical Park
The ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai are heavy with history. You can feel the impact of ages past here and the ghosts of old royalty. Sukhothai Historical Park consists of Sukhothai, the capital of the old Sukhothai Kingdom that thrived in the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s reminiscent of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat with its numerous ruins, temples and statues. It’s just as impressive too and you can’t afford to miss it.
There are nearly 200 ruins here set amidst lotus ponds and huge figures of Buddha. The jungle creates a mysterious, haunting scene and as you explore the site, you imagine how it must have been like when the kingdom was at its peak.
The park is divided into different zones. Although you can purchase tickets for all of them, they’re valid for just a day. It’s smarter to buy tickets for each zone as and when you visit. If you’re fortunate to visit during Loy Krathong, you’ll see the lakes come alive with lights. You can also attend Loi Krathong events if any are held in the city.
3) Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park is one of the places that just sweeps you off your feet. Away from the lure of city lights and bars, it gives you a glimpse into another side of Thailand. It spans a good 740 square kilometers or so and is home to the country’s largest virgin forests.
It’s a surreal feeling, stepping into Khao Sok National Park. In a place where tourism is thriving and development booming, it’s a terrific experience seeing huge trees, birds and animals. It reminds you of how Thailand once was and you can’t help but wish it were still so.
The park has numerous species of wildlife ranging from the Asian black bear to serow and osprey. However, don’t expect to make their presence felt if too many tourists are around. Still, the environment is full of life and you can go on nature walks to see it in more detail.
The park comes even more alive during the rainy season but it can be uncomfortable for some. The drier months of December to April are preferred by most as the trails are easier to walk on and there’s less chance of rain.
Experiences to Indulge in When Travelling on Budget in Thailand
1) Go Island-Hopping
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Thailand? If you said beaches, you’re right and we’ll tell you why. There are over 1000 islands here, each of them stunning and waiting to be explored. The best way you could spend your time is to go island-hopping, exploring one paradise after another. Palm trees, rocky cliffs and turquoise waters seem endless and they are in a sense.
You can start your adventure from anywhere but you need to select a group of islands to visit otherwise you’ll spend money quicker than you know it. The Phi Phi Islands are very popular not just because they’re so beautiful but because the largest island, Koh Phi Phi Don, was the filming location for the Hollywood movie, The Beach. The Similan Islands are another group. They boast some of the most interesting dive sites so if snorkeling and scuba diving are your thing, this is where you should head to.
The best way to figure out which islands to explore is to decide what you want to do. If partying and the bustle of the city are right up your alley, you’ll want to stay in Phuket, Koh Samui or Koh Phi Phi. If undisturbed relaxation is what you prefer, the lesser visited islands like Koh Kut and Koh Payam are perfect.
2) Get a Thai Massage
You won’t believe how cheap a Thai massage can be! Sure, there are upscale spas that offer it at expensive prices and you do get to enjoy the works but you can find numerous local massage parlors that do a great job for as low as USD 6. An hour of having your body twisted into positions you didn’t think you could achieve is painful pleasure!
One of the best places to get a Thai massage is at Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School. Prices are slightly higher but you won’t find a better place that gives traditional treatments. The Foundation for the Employment of the Blind is another center to head to. Located in Bangkok, blind masseuses and masseurs perform their art to relieve stress and promote healing. It’s believed by some that the lack of sight enables blind masseuses/masseurs to be more in tune with their clients’ bodies and needs.
3) Full Moon Party
The island of Koh Pha Ngan is a gorgeous piece of heaven with all the attributes we’ve come to expect from Thailand’s islands. Green hills, white sand, blue water – they’re all here. But there’s another more boisterous claim to fame it has. It plays host to the often times infamous Full Moon Party that takes place before or after each full moon.
The party had humble beginnings. It started with a handful of people who found that the full moon looked particularly beautiful from Haad Rin beach and decided to have a party. It was so successful that it caught the attention of tourists around the globe. Today, it draws over 10,000 partygoers, each eager to get together, celebrate the full moon and have a good time. It costs about USD 3 to enter.
There are bungalows around Haad Rin that you can stay at. If you’re putting up somewhere else, you’ll need to get to the venue beforehand. The last boat leaves Koh Samui at around 6.30pm. Avoid taking a speedboat as it’s expensive.
Where to Stay when Budget Backpacking in Thailand
1) Contemporary Apartment in Bangkok
If you’ve chosen Bangkok as your home base, this is where you want to stay. It’s located in the neighborhood of Krung Thep Maha Nakhon. The renovated two-bedroom apartment is part of a family-owned building and boasts a stunning view of Silom especially at night when everything is illuminated.
The apartment accommodates up to six guests. The clean, contemporary décor complements the spaciousness. The living room is designed such that you can socialize with ease and utter comfort. The open kitchen Floor-to-ceilings windows let in natural light and create a bright, airy space.
Silom is a bustling Thai neighborhood with characteristic markets and street food stalls. You’ll also find the customary junker bars and cheap massage parlors. If you want to sample something different, there’s an Italian and Vietnamese restaurant and a local bar. There’s also a rooftop bar and restaurant called Cloud47 if you’re in the mood to party.
Price: INR 5700/USD 80
Location: Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, Bangkok
2) Kinkala Deluxe Garden Apartment
If you’re traveling solo or with a partner, Kinkala Deluxe Garden Apartment is just the place for you. It’s a gorgeously designed apartment that makes great use of the 60 square meter space. It’s set in a quiet estate that’s just 20 minutes from the airport and the attractions in Chiang Mai.
The apartment feature one bedroom with an attached bathroom, a living room that’s perfect for kicking off your shoes and relaxing in, and a fully functional kitchen. There’s a fridge, microwave and gas hobs for cooking your own meals. Cutlery and other small essentials are also available.
The apartment features a private terrace with views of the neighborhood and a shared saltwater pool. It’s a great place to escape the Thailand heat.
Kinkala’s biggest asset is its location. It’s close to golf clubs, Sankamphaeng hot spring, Borsang handy craft village and Chiang Mai City Center. Transport and excursions can be arranged if you don’t want to go through the hassle.
Price: INR 3600/USD 55
Location: Tambon On Tai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai
3) Water Park Condo
If you’re headed to the city of Pattaya, Water Park Condo is the perfect place to put up. It’s a brand new building in Pratumnak and less than a kilometer walk to Sugar Beach. It’s also just a few minutes from Central Pattaya so you can stay close to the action such as Walking Street.
The condo is just steps away from Pattaya Park Night Market. The park itself is large and dotted with stalls selling delicious snacks and food, most at cheap prices. Spa and massage centers are also located nearby.
The one-bedroom apartment is part of a huge building whose facilities include a communal pool on the ground floor, sunbeds with umbrellas, a pretty landscaped garden and even a rooftop pool. You can enjoy glorious views of the city and the bay while taking a luxurious dip. There’s also a gym fitted with modern equipment that you can use. A mini playground for kids complete with slides and ensure children are never bored.
Price: INR 3700/USD 60
Location: Muang Pattaya, Chang Wat Chon Buri
Best Hacks to travel on a Budget in Thailand
Thailand may be one of the best budget travel destinations but there are always ways to save more money. Check out these simple hacks that will help even if you’re already a pro at saving.
- Travel by songthaews whenever you can: These are converted vehicles fitted with rows of seats that ply on a shared basis. They aren’t the most comfortable but you’ll thank us when you see just how much you’ve saved on transportation!
- Eat cheap at street food stalls and local eateries: Anything that looks touristy probably is and you can expect to shell out double or more. Besides, local food is so much tastier and isn’t it one of the reasons you’re traveling to Thailand in the first place?
- Go in a group: Tours always cost less when you’re traveling in a group. If you want to engage in activities like trekking and day tours, consider going with friends and family.
- Make use of happy hour: Happy hours will save you a lot of money on drinks just like anywhere else. You can get two-for-ones and drinks at half price if you choose to go during this time. Incidentally, 7-Elevens are one of the best places to buy drinks. They’re about a third of the price and you can enjoy them at your leisure back at your apartment.
- Go during low season: Thailand is hot during summer but if you want to save money, go during low season. This is between May to October. Granted, you’ll work up a sweat but you’ll enjoy fewer crowds, lower prices and more personalized services.
- Bargain: This is Southeast Asia and bargaining is a way of life! Big cities like Bangkok are harder to haggle in as tourists tend to pay the price quoted. You should still try, however, as there’s a chance to save big bucks. Whether you’re buying food from the market, souvenirs or clothes bargain for at least 20 percent lower. Be polite, smile and walk away if the seller doesn’t agree. Chances are, you’ll be called back!
- Get a Thai SIM: 7-Elevens and airports sell Thai SIM cards loaded with data and calling minutes. Of course, you can use Skype to talk to your loved ones but it eats into bandwidth and needs speedy internet.