Getting Around in Asia
Traveling across Asia can be both confusing and easy, heavily depending on the country you visit. Some regions like India or Thailand are incredibly affordable, while China or Japan may cause some certain troubles. Virtually all countries in Asia have cheap transport, especially in Southeast Asia, the region that is extremely popular with backpackers because of an extensive network of roads and public transport services.
Most people in Southeast Asia are friendly and speak a little English, so you can try your hand at bargaining. On the other hand, negotiating can be confusing in China, outside big cities like Shanghai or Hong Kong. You should definitely calculate your travel budget before you hit the road, to get the most out of the country. US dollar or Euro can go further in countries like Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
Getting around Asia can be time-consuming sometimes, so if you are short on time, consider using domestic or other short distance flights. With several discount carriers to choose from, you can get pretty value for money.
I believe buses are the number one way of traveling in Asia. While you can find cheap local buses to travel slowly within a city, most backpackers prefer more expensive and comfortable long-distance coaches when it comes to overnight travel. You can kill two birds with one stone by choosing it and save on accommodation. You can expect to pay around 11-16 USD per ride with an overnight bus. Just remember, the cheapest option isn’t always the safest option.
While in Southeast Asia you won’t miss small tuk-tuks that scurry around and ready to get you virtually everywhere. Tuk-tuks are a bit more of a gamble. Many drivers don’t speak much English, so sometimes you have to resort to sign language. They often don’t use meter and start with a really high price that you have to negotiate afterwards. The price is normally double to triple what the local transportation is. Always negotiate the price before you get into the taxi or tuk-tuk in Asia!
Accommodation In Asia
As many other things, accommodation in Asia is plentiful and prices heavily depend on the region you visit. You may be surprised at how standards differ from the Western standards. While generally cheap, prices vary from country to country. You can find the cheapest options in Cambodia and Laos for around 5-7 USD per night in a hostel and pay a lot more for a night in South Korea or Japan. Typically, prices are lower outside major cities and higher in touristy spots.
If you travel across Southeast Asia, you may consider pre-booking accommodation for one night to find better rates (and options) later. Hostels in China can not only be cheap (around 15-25 USD per night) but also offer great help with getting around. Just ask the staff to write down Chinese directions you need to show taxi or bus drivers to make your trip easier. They are usually very helpful. On the other hand, hostels in Southeast Asia aren’t always the best deal. For example, family run guesthouses often provide greater opportunities for saving money on accommodation.
If you’re planning to stay at the hotel do some research in advance to find options that fit your budget. While most of us often expect a certain level of service, in Southeast Asia it is wise to keep an open mind. Be ready to try some new options as sometimes the only available accommodations (especially on islands) is private hut or guesthouse with shared amenities. Western hotel chains tend to offer higher prices, so avoid them to save money.
Food In Asia
After spending several months wandering across Asia, I have noticed food there has so many influences and flavors that one life is not enough to explore them all. Since Asia is actually a vast area, food (like almost everything else) is heavily depend on the country and climate. Some dishes (like in Mongolia) typically contain a lot of extra calories due to cold continental weather. Thus, they eat meat in winter and pretty much dairy products (kumis, for example) in summer. On the other hand, humid climate in Thailand promotes using more fruits, seafood, herbs and vegetables.
In countries like China, Thailand and Singapore street food is incredibly cheap. Noodles, dumplings, steamed buns and variety of soups can be enjoyed for pennies from the stalls lining major streets. If you travel with a group, you can not only save money on food but immerse yourself deeper into food culture as you share meals around the table (like Chinese people do). However, most locals eat pre-packaged food from shops like Lawson and 7-Eleven, you can get decent traditional meals for less than 3 USD from street stalls.
It is important to stay open-minded with food as well. While in most Asian countries Western food is normally more expensive than local groceries, stick to them if you want to save money.