Semester in SEA.
January 14, 2008 11:04 AM   Subscribe

A friend wants to spend 3 or 4 months in South East Asia. His budget is US $3000 (including transportation). Is this enough money, if he stays in mid-range guesthouses? He is a writer, and is wondering if bringing his laptop is a good idea. He's been to China before, but is completely unfamiliar with South East Asia, and hasn't traveled extensively in the past. Any itinerary ideas would be appreciated.
posted by jne1813 to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Even if he finds a cheap place to stay, say $20 / night x 90 days, that is $1800.

Food $7 / day x 90 days = $630

Including transportation? Expect to spend a couple hundreds dollars at least for each leg of INTERNAL flights (i.e. Hanoi to Siem Reap). Much less if he wants to use a bus.

With a budget of $3,000, he can easily do a month or two, but 3 or 4 months would be really tight unless he plans to earn some money on the side to supplement his budget.

I would not bother bringing my laptop. Internet cafes are plentiful and cheap if you plan on just quick emails. UNLESS he plans to write for work or pleasure while traveling. If he does, then yes, bring it, but make sure you have one of those laptop security ropes that will make it harder to steal.

Loved Vietnam and Cambodia, cared less for Thailand (more touristy).
posted by HeyAllie at 11:11 AM on January 14, 2008

heyallie nails it. $3000 is good for a month or two, but not really for 3-4 months, especially if you are including your flight from the US/Europe which will probably run @ $1000.
posted by gnutron at 11:31 AM on January 14, 2008

He can probably do it if he stays in one place - somewhere in say Vietnam or Laos (I'd pick Luang Prabang) - with occasional local bus trips. HeyAllie's math is about right though (about $2500 for lodging and food) and this assumes that the travel to and there has already been taken care of.

The lodging can even be knocked down a bit. Decent guesthouses can be had for $10-15 a night and for a long stay something might even be negotiated up front.
posted by vacapinta at 11:37 AM on January 14, 2008

He's a writer but is wondering if bringing his laptop is a good idea? Isn't that like a soldier wondering if he should bring his rifle to war?

Unless he's exclusively a long hand writer or uses a typewriter I recommend the laptop. If he writes while there he can email it home to himself so it'll be safe is his bag/laptop is stolen. Also, it's better than hunting for an internet cafe or waiting for a hotel computer to become available.
posted by sharkfu at 11:38 AM on January 14, 2008

I agree, the laptop is a necessity for a traveling writer -- but make sure to have a plan B (backing up like crazy, keeping thumb drives in a separate place, etc) in case the laptop is stolen, which is a very real possibility.
posted by changeling at 11:44 AM on January 14, 2008

$3k is definitely short due to cost of transportation. If the budget was $3k outside excluding the initial cost of getting there, he'd be fine.
posted by Nelsormensch at 11:55 AM on January 14, 2008

It really depends on what mid-range means for your friend. Decent rooms in Vietnam can be $5. Decent food for a day can be $5 throughout the region. The activities and transportation will really determine if this is doable. 4 months would be a stretch, unless your friend is very good at low-budget traveling.

If your friend tries to do all the major SE Asia stuff from Singapore up through Hanoi, he'll have to either cut way back on time, or come up with more cash. If he sticks to one or two countries, he can make the budget work for 3 months. But some people don't want to hang around in every town for 10 days.
posted by bluejayk at 12:17 PM on January 14, 2008

Is he going there to travel or going there to write?

If he plans to go everywhere, see everything, he doesn't have enough money. If he just wants to go somewhere else to write though, he could easily set himself comfortably enough in Cambodia or Laos with that much money (assuming the flight there is already paid for).
posted by twirlypen at 12:56 PM on January 14, 2008

Chiang Mai, Thailand is nice-a little touristy BUT great staging area for day trips that are less so.
posted by konolia at 12:57 PM on January 14, 2008

Make sure to have the correct power and plug transformers for the laptop. You'd be surprised how easy it is to forget.

Power in most - if not all - parts of Southeast Asia runs at 240 volts, which will easily fry a 120v laptop. The plugs also tend to be of the larger three-pronged type.
posted by Xere at 2:51 PM on January 14, 2008

Like everybody else says, it depends where in South East Asia he wants to stay and how much he wants to travel and do.

I spent three months in Vietnam a couple of years ago and more than got by with $2500 Australian dollars, outside of the plane tickets.

But: the bulk of my time was spent living at a university campus on the outskirts of Hanoi and working an (unpaid) internship at a business magazine. While my daily routine was work/exploring the city/hanging out with people I met at work, I COULD NOT spend money. I think I went through about $800 in maybe eight weeks and visited an ATM twice. Including accommodation and eating out twice a day. And multiple cups of coffee/snacks.

Because, outside the city centre, everything was ridiculously cheap - 50c for a huge pint of draught beer, $2 for a meal, $3 to catch a motorbike taxi to work and 25c to catch the bus.

But then... when I spent a week in Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, and another week in Cambodia, in Phnom Penh and Siem Riep and I went through $1000 in what felt like five minutes, doing touristy stuff. Which was totally worth every cent. But I was amazed at how quickly the dollars started to disappear between plane fares and pricier digs and ohmygod I have to get my dad a T-shit from Angkor. And in tourist spots, with a million other Westerners, everything cost more. So a room was $12, not $6, the beer was a $1, not 50c and so on. Still really, really cheap, but about half as cheap as before.

When I got back to Hanoi, for the last part of my trip, I moved into the centre of town and paid $12 a night for a room in a mini hotel (up from $6 at the uni), all the better to blow my remaining money on ridiculously cheap clothes and accessories. I went home with, like $40 US. And I had to buy a second suitcase for all the stuff I bought.

So. Just as others have said, Y friend's MMV.
posted by t0astie at 3:08 PM on January 14, 2008

This really depends on where in SEA he's planning on going. Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei are far different than Cambodia, Vietnam, or Laos, which are far different than The Phillipines, Indonesia. and Burma. Singapore's crazy expensive but very organized, Brunei is very conservative but close to many countries, Malaysia is a mixed bag, etc etc. You may thrive in one place but hate somewhere else. Two of my friends travelled across Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore (for one of them) recently - they hated Vietname and Cambodia but loved Malaysia. It probably helped that myself and another friend both lived in Malaysia, but yeah.

Food isn't that expensive if you know where to eat. Can be a risk to your stomach but again, it depends on being smart. Another way to cut down costs is to live with host families. The Hospitality Club is strong in Malaysia, and there are Couchsurfers here too (also, they will FEED you. Seriously. You will not get hungry.). Plane tickets would be your only issue, but even within the subcontinent there are cheap options, such as AirAsia.

If your friend plans to visit Malaysia for part of his trip, connect him to me. I'm part of a writers/media group here and I can hook him up with some useful people. Hey, maybe he'll get some freebies out of the deal.
posted by divabat at 3:07 AM on January 15, 2008

Oh yeah, as far as Malaysian accommodation goes: $20/night could get you somewhere really nice. Guesthouses/youth hostels go for RM25/night, which isn't even $5.
posted by divabat at 3:10 AM on January 15, 2008

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