Last month was spent partially in Vietnam and Singapore, but mostly in India. It's by far the cheapest country I have traveled to, and certainly the most challenging yet. Right now I am in the state of Goa, a very tourist-friendly region. However, the rest of the country (so far at least) has been quite the adventure. You never know what you will see in India. I've eaten some of the best food I've ever had, stayed at some of the worst hotels, and have gotten ill more times than I'd care to count. The country manages to be both frustrating and rewarding at the same time; it is not a place I will be forgetting anytime soon.
I'm going to give you a brief sneak peak of the upcoming month. In roughly a week, I'll be taking a hiatus from India, by spending some time in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. The Maldives is an extremely expensive country, and is mostly filled with tourist resorts; it will likely be my most expensive week of traveling ever. Both countries are islands, and are situated within one or two hours' flight from India. After the excursion, I will fly back into India, and travel in the middle and northern regions. The country is so densely packed, there is no way I'll be able to see everything in a few months. Nevertheless, I plan on doing my best, and making the places I do go to, count.
The three currencies I used during my fifth month: Vietnam Dong, Singapore Dollar, and Indian Rupee. The latter stretches quite far. In fact, if I would have only been in India this month, my total costs would have been even less. Nevertheless, this was my least expensive month yet. Here's a breakdown of costs, by category.
Accommodation - $142.24. Average of $4.74 per day. Unlike in Southeast Asia, there are very few dorm rooms in India, so I've been staying in private rooms the entire time. Even so, the costs are very low, with a night's stay usually ranging from $4-7. Even in Singapore (a relatively expensive country), I didn't pay more than $20 for two nights' stay.
Food and Drink - $172.28. Average of $5.74 per day, or $1.91 per meal. This is one of the areas where India truly excels at being a budget destination. In most places (besides for Goa), a meal will cost you about 50 cents. A large meal, including juice and/or Chai tea runs you no more than $1.
Alcohol - $16.81. I've not had much beer in India, but is relatively affordable. A large bottle of Kingfisher is about $1. I didn't drink in Singapore, but I've been told it's extremely expensive. Once again, you can get local brew in Vietnam for as low as 15 cents in some places.
Transport - $67.81. I cannot stress how cheap it is to travel by Indian rail. I've taken a ten hour train ride for as low as $1. Obviously, the price will go way up if you opt for an air-conditioned or luxury car.
Miscellaneous - $86.55. Includes things such as toiletries, laundry, ATM fees, etc. It also includes the price of an Ipod cable, a haircut, and some internet cafes.
Total amount spent - $485.69. Average of $16.19 per day. This was by far my cheapest month yet, and my first under $500. If I had only been in India, it would have been even less. Like always, this amount does not include international flights or visa fees (which will all be tallied in a separate post some day).
Once more, thank you to Simon and Erin, the creators of Trail Wallet. Their app continues to be my #1 budgeting tool. If you feel so inclined, check out their journey at neverendingvoyage.com.
In the past eighteen-and-a-half weeks, I’ve traveled through five Southeast Asian countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Singapore. However, there are still six more countries in the region that I have yet to visit: Myanmar, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, and East Timor. I recently flew to India, to begin tackling the large subcontinent. However, I will certainly return to Southeast Asia someday to explore new territory, and perhaps revisit some old stomping grounds.
Although the places I visited had a few similarities to each other, I find them to be mostly diverse. It’s amazing just how much of a difference a thousand kilometers can make. Each country has a unique cuisine, vibe, and terrain.
The first four countries I went to are particularly convenient travel destinations, because they are connected by land. You can navigate these areas completely by bus; no need for expensive flights!
Thailand, with its spicy food and developed infrastructure, is the perfect gateway into Southeast Asia. It’s different enough (from the Western world) to warrant a culture shock, but not different enough to scare you. It’s a very easy country to travel in, and is practically made for tourists.
Cambodia can be a bit of a shock to the system, because it is a rather poor, undeveloped country. You get the sense that its citizens are still recovering from the horrific genocide, carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime back in the 1970’s. However, it is still a must-see country, if only for Angkor Wat: its beautiful, ancient temple complex.
Laos seems to get skipped by a lot of travelers, but they don’t know what they’re missing out on! Although its infrastructure is less developed than say, Thailand’s, it is a gorgeous country. It has several must-see cities, delicious food, and a chilled out vibe.
Vietnam has a feel unlike any other. It is crowded, bustling, and full of noise. Like Thailand, it is a very easy country to navigate, and has plenty to offer its tourists. The food, while not particularly spicy, is cheap and tasty.
Before heading to India, I decided to travel to the smallest country in Southeast Asia:
Singapore is one of the most culturally diverse places I have been to. It is a business capital of Asia, and is as affluent and modern as the United States (if not more so). While its highly organized structure may bore some, it does have a fantastic cuisine, with a little something from every country.
Even though I am far from done with Southeast Asia, I feel like I’ve explored a significant chunk it. However, these four months have seriously enlightened me to how big the world is. Even Southeast Asia (a fairly small region of the planet) takes a lot of time to explore. Hell, I haven’t even been to half of its countries!
I seriously think that I’m all the better from having traveled. I begin tackling India with some traveling experience under my belt, and that’s a great thing.
If you’d like to read more in-depth about my thoughts on these various places, check out the Country Guide page.
I really wanted to like Singapore. Despite everyone telling me that it was a boring place, I kept my mind open. Surely, the squeaky clean city-state would prove to be a nice contrast from the other grungy Southeast Asian countries I had visited. I thought Singapore would be a nice vacation: a relaxing haven from the touts, honking motorbikes, and dirty streets. Unfortunately, I am not impressed with Singapore. Instead of singing its praises, I will be quoting from author William Gibson’s article Disneyland with the Death Penalty.
Gibson, well known for his speculative fiction novels, went to Singapore and then wrote the extremely controversial article for Wired magazine. It was so controversial, in fact, that the magazine was banned from the country for a while. In it, he says such things as:
“Singapore is a relentlessly G-rated experience, micromanaged by a state that has the look and feel of a very large corporation.”
I disembarked the airplane, and stepped into Singapore Changi, the most beautiful airport I have ever seen. It had lush carpeting and was really easy to navigate. After getting my passport stamped, I took a bus into the center of the city, in search of my guest house. I guess you could call me “excited.” Upon stepping out into the city’s streets, I received further proof of an insight I had long ago: Airports are not indicative of what a country will be like. Unlike the pretty airport I had just exited, Singapore was kind of ugly.
The country isn’t ugly in the way you’d expect. It is very organized, super clean, and sports citizens from many different cultures. No, the ugliness I’m talking about is its lack of soul. Singapore is so developed that it lacks charisma. The streets tend to all look the same, and the buildings reek of uniformity. The city is “kid-friendly” but in the safest, least personable way possible. Crime is virtually non-existent here, but it’s because of draconian laws. It is illegal to walk around your own house naked, because it’s considered a form of pornography. Importing drugs will result in the death penalty. It’s even forbidden to sell chewing gum, as there are concerns that gum leads to litter. Gibson’s allegation that Singapore is like a giant corporation, seems to be true. Everything here somehow seems skin-deep.
It seems that the general attitude here is one of hard work and consumerism. The country is less than 300 square miles in size, yet has one of the world’s highest GDPs. Basically; you work really hard, and then buy lots of stuff. Repeat. It feels like an Asian version of the “American Dream,” only more buttoned-down.
I’ll finish with the one positive thing William Gibson says about the country:
“The food in Singapore, particularly the endless variety of street snacks in the hawker centers, is something to write home about.”
Indeed, this is true. Food is the one thing I’ve been impressed with. It’s delicious and plentiful, and is actually quite affordable. Singapore gets a lot of grievance for being expensive (at least, compared to other Southeast Asian countries); however, a full meal can be had for $2-5. Being a very diverse country, the cuisine is multicultural. You can find delicious Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Indonesian dishes here (amongst many others).
Ok, so Singapore was not my cup of tea, but I’m not upset that I came here. Honestly, three days was the perfect amount of time for this city, and it has made me more excited for India. Rickshaws and grime, here I come! I've missed you.
I’d be interested to hear from those of you who have been to Singapore. I understand that plenty of people will disagree with me; I admit that first impressions are not always correct. Did you like the country, hate it, or fall somewhere in between?
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.