South / South-East Asia

Being able to see every country in the world is likely most people’s dream. Budget and timing, however, are the real deal breakers when actually going anywhere.

I’ve compiled a list of the cheapest and most productive places to visit as a digital nomad or as a cultural seeker. This article is Asia specific.

Always remember that in another country, they live differently to you, even if it seems similar. Respect the laws, culture and people. Your tourism helps their economy but their economy does not depend on you. Just be respectful at all costs.

Indonesia

Australia’s neighbour is made up of thousands of volcanic islands with hundreds of ethnic groups and corresponding languages.

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While a predominantly Muslim country the traditional cultures of Indonesia are very much alive and colourful.

While most nomads head to Bali (as do the bogans) there is a treasure trove of Indonesian islands that haven’t succumbed to their own success.

Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia, on the island of Java.

Other major islands include Sumatra, Kalimantan, Papua, Maluku islands, Sulawesi and Bali.

While there are other major hub islands I can’t list them all in one article.

With lakes, hiking, volcanoes, clear water, the most amazing food (get yourself to a warrung) and the most cultured and friendly people, Indonesia is a paradise without the ego.

So here are the average living numbers:

Restaurant meal: $2.50

Beer: $3.50

Bus ride: 40c

Rent p/month: $197

(not in the city centre)

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Most of Indonesia uses the barter system, so brush up on your skills before you go and follow what the locals are doing.

Language: Indonesian with plenty of English

Healthcare: standard with lacking resources but satisfactory

Sanitation: flushing and non-flushing toilets, bottled water

Politics: Democratic republic with presidential head and multiple parties.

Religions: Mainly Islamic but also factions of Catholicism, protestant Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucianism.

Currency used: Indonesian Rupiah. $1AUD= 10148 Rupiah.

 

Vietnam

Vietnam has three major cities; Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Da Nang. Hue is another beautiful city to stay in.

While most people associate Vietnam with the American war it is so much more than that with a rich history, unique culture and spirited people.

Before the American war, the people fought back colonial French rule and you can see the French influence all around the country. They are originally dated to be a huge agricultural economy due to the many river systems throughout the country. Notably the Mekong river.

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Americans are welcomed and the animosity is very minimal considering. The people are very resilient and polite and are always helpful and excited to share their culture. Always be polite, they don’t owe you a cultural experience.

The food is absolutely one of a kind and every town or city you go in Vietnam will have its own cuisines. From secret lotus flower dishes to meatball Pho there are a billion dishes to try out.

On the main city streets, you’ll find home draught beer and blue chairs. The beer is cheap and refreshing and the locals love a laugh.

Vietnam is also the most populated city of scooters so watch your step.

Living average in numbers:

Restaurant meal: $3

Beer: $1.2

Bus ride: 43c

Rent p/month: $350

(not in the city centre)

Vietnam also uses the barter system in street markets but not in stores. Don’t offend the locals by haggling set prices in restaurants or street food.

While the western world sees Vietnam as a poor communist country, it is, in fact, a booming economy, rich culture and progressive land that keeps tradition while unafraid to mend their policies to adjust to a changing world.

Language: Vietnamese and English

Healthcare: Standard. Pharmacies are everywhere and are super helpful but hospitals are clean and have standard care. Can be pricey though.

Sanitation: very clean. Flushing toilets and average water purity. Still, boil water or drink bottled water.

Politics: Socialist Republic. One party system with elected leaders, president and prime minister elected by the national assembly

Religions: majority atheist or local religions with factions of Buddhism and Catholicism.

Currency used: Dong. $1AUD= 16,333 Dong

Cambodia

Vietnam’s neighbour Cambodia may look similar due to its connection to the major river systems of south-east Asia but they are worlds apart in culture.

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While most Cambodians and Laotians can understand Vietnamese, Vietnamese cannot readily understand the others.

The landscape glitters with incredible and literal breathtaking ruins and ancient temples. Hidden behind tree roots and vines it’s clear why they filmed tomb raider here.

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The food is again so unique. Khmer cuisine is derived from very old recipes that have lasted the colourful history of war and imperialism in the region.

Top five dishes would have to be fish amok, banana flower anything, loc lac, Khmer curry and any of the street food.

The term Khmer is synonymous with the Khmer Rouge. While there are parts of Cambodia’s history most of the world remembers, the term actually refers to many parts of Cambodian culture and history. The Khmer empire was the Angkor empire that existed before modern Cambodia.

The Khmer script is the language spoken and the Khmer people are the ethnic group that mainly inhabit Cambodia.

Living average in numbers:

Restaurant meal: $5

Beer: $1.50

Bus ride: $3

Rent p/month: $380

(not in the city centre)

Language: Khmer and mostly English

Healthcare: Above standard. The gov is working towards universal healthcare which can be a struggle due to the majority of rural areas.

Sanitation: Flushing toilets but bottled water.

Politics: An elective monarchy with a prime minister.

Religions: over 90% Buddhist with factions of Islam, Christianity and tribal animism.

Currency used: The Cambodian Riel. $1AUD= 2831Riel

 

India

India is a huge country! Absolutely massive! You could fit India only twice in Australia so it’s pretty damn big.

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Due to its size, the country has several landscapes and climates. The Himalayas, the Indo-Gangetic plains in the north, central highlands, The Thar desert that’s 10,000 years old, the mountainous Ghats in the east and west, the beaches all around its coasts, the Andaman islands and so much more!

India is a place you’ll need a lifetime to explore.

The history before the British colonial rule was one of incredulous scientific and mathematical discoveries. It holds one of the oldest civilizations in the world with some of the first humans to leave Africa.

Remnants of the Gupta empire and before are found throughout the country and the people while portrayed in lacking in civility are resourceful and intelligent people with traditions that have brought economic power to their country.

The food is also different all over the country.

The north uses more meat and more cream in their recipes like their famous rice puddings, while the south is more vegetarian based like appams and Ishtu (crepes and stew in a way you’ve never had).

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this photo is not my own.

With countries like India, we’re going on averages, because the country is so diverse these numbers are a seriously loose estimate.

Living average in numbers:

Restaurant meal: $3

Beer: $2.45

Bus ride: 40c

Rent p/month: $150

(not in the city centre)

India also mostly uses a barter system, practice a heap before you jet.

The culture itself in India is also super diverse. The dance, customs, languages and customs are different in each city let alone each province so it’s very difficult to pinpoint the best place to stay in such a huge country.

Language: 22 languages are listed in the constitution. Most people speak Hindi or English but many others including Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati are also common.

Healthcare: state responsibility therefor is varied from place to place. Basic healthcare may be found in cities and major towns but not as equipped in many other places.

Sanitation: mostly manual flushing toilets and bottled water.

Politics: A constitutional republic with a prime minister and a president.

Currency used: Indian Rupee. $1AUD= 50 Rupee.

 

Philippines

 

Oh the Philippines, how I love you.

A country made up of over 7100 islands. Each island is unique with its own cultures and biodiversity.

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People from here call themselves Filipinos and they are found in almost every country you visit. Probably because of how friendly they are.

Before the US occupation and the Spanish empire saw a collection of ethnic groups with rich agriculture, explorers and warriors. These cultural traditions and practices still survive today with tribal tattoos that are distinct and characteristic of their homes.

The food is also different on each island as each island has similar but distinct ecosystems.

Dishes you must try while there are Lechon, Adobo, Sinigang, Kare Kare and the rum.

Emperadado rum is the local favourite in most places and it is normally drunk with lemonade.

Living average in numbers:

Restaurant meal: $4.50

Beer: $1.30- San Miguel or Red Horse is the local.

Bus ride: 30c

Rent p/month: $215

(not in the city centre)

While there is bartering in the Philippines most of the main areas are westernised and don’t use this.

When using transport, the Jeepney is the king of the road, the public bus comes second and the scooter is last on the list of choices.

Don’t bother with cars you won’t get far, especially in Manila.

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Language: Tagalog, English and some Spanish.

Healthcare: Above standard. It’s very inexpensive to see a doctor and buy medicines and the health professionals are very well trained.

Sanitation: manual flushing toilets outside the major cities and bottled water.

Politics: democratic republic with a president.

Religion: majority Catholic with Islamic factions.

Currency used: Filipino Peso. $1AUD= 37 pesos.

While there has been unrest politically due to drugs and other issues, the Philippines is a very safe place. Always use caution when being a foreigner but almost all of the Philippines is welcoming and safe.

Leave a comment with your favourite destinations or any advice on where to go next!

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