The Cost Of Bike Touring: China & Southeast Asia
How much will an independent bike tour cost?
In China and Southeast Asia, prices are cheap, according to our survey of bike tourists. It’s possible to spend as little as $10-15 U.S. per person, per day for routine costs such as food and accommodation, including a comfortable hotel room.
Much depends, of course, on your style of travel. Will you go for a bed in a dorm or a double room in a good hotel? Will you eat with the locals or splurge on a nice Western meal with a glass of wine?
Scroll down to see who we talked to and what they said.
The Cyclist & The Trip: Emma & Justin spent several months cycling around Southeast Asia in late 2011 and early 2012. Most of their time was in Laos and Cambodia, with a few weeks in Vietnam and Thailand.
The Cost: Around $15 U.S. per person, per day. Accommodation usually cost between $8-15 U.S. per room and cheaper meals were $2-3 U.S. each.
Outside Southeast Asia we were budget travellers, camping around 85 percent of the time and cooking our own meals at least once a day. In Southeast Asia, that same daily budget stretched further allowing us to stay in guesthouses almost every night and eat almost all of our meals out.
Tips: ”If you want to schedule in some hammock time we thought Don Det in Southern Laos was very good value compared to the prices we were quoted to stay at islands off the coast in Cambodia and Thailand, with private bungalows available for $5-8 U.S. On the eating front, market stalls are usually much cheaper than restaurants, but you might need to eat before dusk as we often found stalls shutting up early.”
The Cyclist & The Trip: Eleanor Moseman. Cycled over 10,000 miles around China, Taiwan, and Tibet – mostly solo – in 2011 and 2012.
The Cost: Around $15 U.S. a day for a solo cyclist or $20 U.S. a day for a couple.
If you know the language and the weather is good, it could be a lot less. In July, I spent only $150 U.S. but I did a lot of camping and living with locals.
Tips: ”Men can get around for $10 U.S. a day because they are allowed to stay in truck stops with the locals but women have to budget more.”
The Cyclist & The Trip: Álvaro and Alicia. Cycled Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China in 2011. They are ‘medium-budget’ travellers who spent around $28 U.S. (€22) per day total as a couple, on bike tour through North America, South America, Asia and Europe. “We love to wild camp but we don’t hesitate to sleep in a hotel if we can’t find a nice camping spot for the night.”
The Cost: Around $13-20 U.S. a day.
Thailand is more expensive than Laos. Vietnam is between them. China can be as cheap as Laos or as expensive as you want.
On Accommodation- “In China we would pay $4-5 U.S. per person for a room. Camping is quite easy if you go to the Tibetan area since the population is low and there are a lot of nice lonely spots but not so easy in the densely populated areas near the big cities. In Laos, camping wasn’t easy since every flat space near the road was used by a rice field or a house. In Thailand, we went to the Wats (temples) and asked to sleep there. They always grant you a nice safe place for you and the bike and they feed you. We called it wat-surfing. We also sometimes set our mosquito nets in platforms in the rice fields, which are used for drying rice. This is quite convenient but it can be hard to find one in good shape.
On Food – “It’s cheap and tasty all over the region, so most of the time we would buy take-aways for dinner. We normally had local soup for breakfast and rice or noodles during the day. We tried to cook the noodles ourselves a couple of times but the result was disgusting, so in the end we just bought extra rice when we had had lunch and added fried veggies for dinner. We spent about $2-3 U.S. for breakfast, $4-5 U.S. for lunch between the two of us and $3-4 to buy stuff for the day (bananas, cookies and all sorts of tasty things).”
Tips: ”Learning how to haggle always comes in handy. Also, some sentences in the local language can take you a long way, especially: “how much does it cost” and “it’s too expensive”. Always ask the price of the meals before you order them! The street food is really great everywhere, and really cheap.”
The Cyclist & The Trip: Line & Maarten. Cycled 3 months in China in late 2011 before crossing into Southeast Asia, as part of a world trip. They are medium-budget travellers who sometimes take nicer hotel rooms and treat themselves to a Western meal with a good glass of wine.
The Cost: As a couple, they spent around $30 U.S. a day in China and about $20 U.S. a day in Vietnam and Laos.
China – “We spent about $15 U.S. (100 Yuan) for a double room most nights. The standard is quite high: ensuite bathroom, kettle, clean sheets, towels and often a TV and air conditioning. For food, we had a hard time finding breakfast to suit us so often we spent a lot on cake, about $4 U.S. (25 yuan). This is clearly a luxury and not the cheapest breakfast you can find. At lunch and dinner, we mostly paid around 25 yuan for two people. If you want to go cheaper, instant noodles are available everywhere for just 3.5 Yuan a portion but freshly made food is so much better and costs only a little more!”
Finding a cheaper hotel is not very easy. They are not easy to recognise for people who cannot read Chinese. In bigger cities, youth hostels with dorm beds start from about $5 U.S. (35 Yuan).
Vietnam – “Accommodation in Vietnam is a bit cheaper than in China. Most nights we paid $7-10 U.S. (150,000 – 200.000 Dong) for a double room. The standard isn’t as high as in China but often the better rooms have free wifi internet. For food, we spent $1-2 U.S. on breakfast (20.000 – 30.000 Dong) for bread, jam, Nutella, cheese and fresh fruits. Lunch and dinner will set you back around $2.5-3.5 U.S. (50.000 to 70.000 Dong).”
Pho soup is the cheapest option. You can double the prices if you go for Western food: steak with a glass of wine instead of fried rice with a Tiger beer.
Laos – “Accommodation is often simpler and cheaper than in Vietnam: between $5 U.S. (40,000 Kip) for a fan room with ensuite bathroom and $15 U.S. (120,000 Kip) for a room with air-conditioning and TV in a touristy place like Luang Prabang. For breakfast, we buy bread if possible. About $1 U.S. (10,000 Kip) gets us going in the morning; double that if we buy noodle soup or sticky rice with an omelet. Lunch is often cheap: noodle soup for about $2 U.S. (20,000 Kip) for the two of us. Dinner can be just as cheap but more often we pay around $6 U.S. (50,000 Kip). Spending around $20 U.S. on a very nice dinner with a glass of wine is also possible in Luang Prabang or Vientiane.”
Tips: ”Eating in a simple place on the road is often very cheap and the food is almost always great. Especially in China! Also, travel in pairs. That is the biggest money saver! In Southeast Asia, there is no price difference between a single or double hotel room.”
The Cyclist & The Trip: Rik & Paula Bradshaw. Cycled two months in Thailand, at the end of 2011. Focused on nicer rooms and good food, so paid a bit more than the average bike tourist.
The Cost: Around $20 U.S. a day for a solo cyclist or $35 U.S. a day for a couple.
We definitely didn’t travel on a shoestring! We met people bartering down prices but we thought prices were reasonable enough and the standard was great.
Guesthouses – “We stayed in a mix of guesthouses and hotels. At the lower end, we landed a clean room with private bathroom and air con for $10 U.S. (300 Baht) up to the beautiful resort at Khlong Yai at the end of our trip for $30 U.S. (900 Baht). We had the place to ourselves including the delicious pool. On average, we paid about $15 U.S. (450 Baht) per night.”
Food & Drinks – “We ate at a mix of street stalls, restaurants and sometimes in Western-style cafés to satisfy those cravings for egg and bacon breakfasts. We also splurged once on the most amazing soft shell crab. In short, we didn’t hold back when it came to meals. We spent about $10 U.S. per person, per day (375 Baht) on food.”
Tips: ”We’d often grab BBQ pork skewers and sticky rice at a street stall for breakfast – only $1 U.S. (30 Baht) per person!”
The Cyclist & The Trip: Paul & Grace cycled in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and China in 2011 and 2012.
The Cost: Around $33 U.S. per day, as a couple.
In these countries it’s quite easy to achieve that. Like most westerners cycling in this region, we eat street food since it’s so good and cheap.
Tips: They recommend hotels over camping, for a number of reasons:
- Heat and Humidity. - “In Thailand, Cambodia and at lower elevations in Laos and China it never really cools down at night and stays humid. Even after cycling months in this region we still find it difficult to sleep well without air conditioning. Plus it’s a wonderful feeling after a hot day of cycling to lie down in an air-conditioned room. Pure bliss!”
- Showers. “At the end of each day we are covered in sweat so our evening showers let us feel ‘human’ again.”
- Landmines. “Unfortunately Cambodia and Laos are covered in them. It’s not safe to just go put up your tent behind the trees.”
- Hills. ”Laos and Yunnan China have some very steep ones, so the less weight /baggage we carry – the easier it is for us to cycle over them.”
Can You Help?
Keeping these sections up-to-date and adding new sections relies on the community. That’s you!
If you’ve recently been on tour and can tell us about your daily budget, please Get In Touch and share your answers to these 3 basic questions:
1. What did you spend per person, per day on average? This is for daily expenses like food, hotels, public transport within a country but not exceptional extras like bike repair, flights to/from the country.
2. Can you briefly describe your style of travel? Are you ultra low budget (e.g. a devoted wild camper, cook all your own food) or more medium budget (e.g. will occasionally splash out on a hotel, meal in restaurant)?
3. Any tips you want to share related to costs in this region? Was something particularly cheap or expensive? How would you recommend others save money?
We’ll add your answers to the relevant page, along with a photo of you on tour and a link to your bike touring blog (if you have one). Thanks!