Southeast Asia has become a popular region for student travel. While it can be a little bit expensive getting there, and you can certainly have a high-priced vacation if you’re looking for one, this is also a part of the world where you can have amazing experiences on a budget. Broadly speaking accommodations are affordable, activities revolve largely around nature, and some of the most authentic and delicious food and drink is quite cheap.
That said, we often over-simplify when thinking about destinations in Southeast Asia. We either think in very broad terms about places to visit (The Philippines, or Southern China, for instance), or we narrow things down to a small handful of famous destinations (Singapore, Hong Kong, or Bali, perhaps).
Lately, it seems like every student is posting pictures from backpacking in Thailand. In this article, we’re looking to expand the conversation a little bit by pointing to five underrated destinations in the region, and a why each one offers a unique, affordable, and memorable travel experience to students.
1. Krabi, Thailand
People around the world know Thailand for its gorgeous seaside destinations, yet only a few of them have ever gained popularity. Krabi is a group of islands you just don’t hear about that often, but the islands exemplify the natural beauty that draws so many backpackers to Thailand. Activities for visitors to Krabi vary, with some requiring a little bit of money (like shopping at the markets or indulging in a beach massage). But it’s definitely possible to enjoy Krabi on a student budget. Other activities – like swimming and snorkeling, to sampling local cuisine, to rock climbing and hiking along the beaches – can certainly be enjoyed on a budget. It’s ultimately a place where you can find plenty to do, but where the real memories will come from your surroundings.
2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Because it’s known mostly for the towering Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur can come across as a gigantic, bustling metropolis. In some ways, particularly as compared to much of the rest of Malaysia, it’s exactly that. However, Kuala Lumpur is also a city where there’s plenty to enjoy besides the biggest and gaudiest attractions. Off-the-beaten-track options in Kuala Lumpur include hiking trails, authentic bakeries and cafés that won’t cost you too much, small but fascinating museums, and the Taman Connaught night market, which is really a must-see. It’s possible to visit Kuala Lumpur and spend a great deal of money enjoying more upscale attractions, but going through places like these gives you a better feel for the city’s underlying culture, and allows you to save your money in your student travel budget for the actual travel expenses.
3. Lake Toba, Indonesia
When it comes to Indonesia, Bali typically dominates the travel discussion. Indeed, as mentioned above, it’s really one of the destinations that stands out most in all of Southeast Asia. Closer to the northern end of Indonesia though, just west of Kuala Lumpur in fact, is an underrated destination called Lake Toba. Lake Toba is a spectacular spot to visit if you’re more interested in hiking, backpacking, and a generally natural experience. It’s a 100km-long lake, 500m deep at its deepest, that naturally occupies the caldera of a massive volcano. In the immediate area, you can tour small villages, try local cuisine, hike around the lake, drive or hike around the island on the lake, and even reach Lake Sidihoni – a rare lake within a lake, on the island.
4. Manila, Philippines
Like Kuala Lumpur, Manila is a legitimate city, and one of the biggest in all of Southeast Asia. It’s still an underrated destination in Southeast Asia. Here, even some of the places that at first look like more luxury, high-end options can be affordable. For instance, Manila has become known for its big, bright casino resorts, but really it costs very little to explore a casino and perhaps play a few hands of blackjack. Soltaire in Manila was mentioned by an Irish gaming site as one of the best casinos to visit this summer, with the fact that it caters to players of every budget being noted specifically. And major attractions aside, some of the best things to do in Manila actually involve exploring its underlying cultural history as a former Portuguese colony. On a student budget you can tour the city and enjoy all kinds of fascinating historical structures.
5. Luang Prabang, Laos
Located more or less in the middle of the country of Laos, Luang Prabang is an ancient provincial capital. Now, it’s a colorful village nestled in a shallow valley between two rivers and known primarily for its numerous Buddhist temples. Luang Prabang is a little short on specific activities, but if you’re the sort of traveler who just wants to see the world in all its beauty and variety it’s a destination you certainly won’t forget.
This guest post was written by Erica Miller, a freelance writer and travel enthusiast. She enjoys visiting new places, trying new foods, and practicing photography.
Check out this post about How I Planned My First Southeast Asia Trip