Top 10 Tips For Living in Southeast Asia on a Budget

A guest post by Jyotsna Ramani

Let’s get one thing straight; the best way (as per me) to experience life is living on your own in South East Asia. I have lived in Indonesia for almost a year (for work) and I ensure that I get to travel around beautiful and tropical Southeast Asia. I was a bit sceptical at first about living in an unknown country all by myself – but, hey I did it and loved every bit of the experience that followed!

It sounds really nice while you are just travelling but living in a new country can be a daunting task – even for an avid traveller like me. Since, I knew that I would be in the country for a long duration; I had to plan my expenses accordingly. I found that there were some pretty easy ways to living in Southeast Asia on a budget.

Top 10 Tips For Living in Southeast Asia on a Budget

Here’s my list of tips for anyone living in a SE Asian country for a year, based on my experience living in Bandung, Indonesia and travelling around SE Asia


Accommodation in Bandung
One of the six houses I stayed in while in Bandung.

I was given company accommodation initially for a month which was paid for (by the company) but after that the expense would’ve been mine. So instead of living there, I found shared accommodation (with an Australian teacher) at a cost of merely US$100 per month. All that asked of me was helping around with the household chores (nothing unusual). Guest houses are readily available which are dirt cheap, but make sure to get the review from locals first as not all areas are ideal for expats. Best way to find shared houses and great deals are joining local expat groups on Facebook and posting your query there – that’s how I found all the neat places plus got to meet some great expats.


A little change in food habit is all that is required to save on major expenses. Instead of going out to eat every night, try cooking at home occasionally as that would be healthier, safer, more hygienic and of course cost effective. Best of all – you cook whatever you feel like eating (simple). This will also be helpful towards inviting friends/colleagues over for a nice dinner party at home without splurging.


Since I was already in contract for a year, I decided to hire a bike taxi for exclusive use. The driver would come and pick me up from wherever I wanted to and drop me off wherever I wanted to go; all it took was a phone call. Total cost was around $100-200 per month (including driver and fuel). Compared to using a taxi every time or a self driven car, it was the most viable option – cheaper & safer than driving myself in a new country. The only drawback was getting drenched when the heavens open up without any warning. Carrying a foldable rain jacket always helps (found out the hard way).

Local gym - cheaper than Gold'sFitness

Being fit is one of my top priorities in life; hence wherever I travel to, I make sure to have my daily workout (whichever way it’s possible). A morning jog in the fresh air, a swim in any one of the many public pools, organised runs, etc. I also found that membership in hotel gyms were much cheaper compared to a regular gym.


There are a lot of places to see in Indonesia and almost all of them charge anywhere between 3 – 10 times for expats visiting them. So instead of visiting these places alone, I would suggest tagging along with locals and keeping your voice low as the guards are constantly looking out for expats. This is the best way to see all the touristy places like a local.

Eating Out

Living in Indonesia
Typical Local Indonesian Cuisine.

I know that I said cooking at home would be cost effective but that does not mean not going out to eat ever. Although I must say that even eating out can be cost effective if you know the right places to look or if you don’t mind street food. The best ways to find out about these places are through locals and (thanking my good luck), I did find some of the best people to guide me around and also join me for meals.


I strongly believe in small and simple luxuries like a good massage after a day of hard work (as if I work hard!). But the massage centres in Indonesia will try to rip you off when they come to know you are an expat. So instead of visiting these centres, it’s best to get some home spa numbers from locals and invite them for a nice massage right at your home. People are nice and friendly there so you will never feel uncomfortable doing so.


I cannot insist on how important medical insurance is until I got ill due to food poisoning. I had my travel insurance which covered most of the regular medical ailments related to travel. It is a wise idea to invest in wholesome travel/medical insurance especially in SE Asia where the stomach bug or flu can attack without notice.

Credit/Debit cards

When living in a SE Asian country, it is advisable to open a local bank account and use the credit/debit cards for expenses (if possible). This way you don’t have to run the risk of being pick pocketed, mugging, etc. These sort of problems exist all over the world (no exception). It is much better than carrying cash for 1 year or worrying about losing your international card (which happened to me and I had to wait 3 weeks to get it re-issued from India and sent to me in Bandung).

Drinking in IndonesiaDrinking out

Indonesia is a Muslim country and alcohol in Bandung is not readily available – and when it is, it’s not cheap. Find out the local drinking holes (which would be far less expensive than high end clubs/pubs). 

All in all I can say with a certain amount of authority is that living in SE Asia is a ‘rite of passage’ and once you are through it, you can live anywhere in the world (almost anywhere).


About the Author

Jyotsna Ramani is a passionate globetrotter who loves to let her hair down and maximize her trips. How does she do that? By traveling on a budget and exploring new places. She travels far and wide (Well, Europe counts, right ?) and then comes back to her blog- to share her experiences. Pretty nifty, eh?

So, don’t you want to uncover some secret drinking holes and see awesome new places through her eyes ?

Follow her adventures on –

You can also follow her on social media:

instagram | facebook | twitter | pinterest


This article was published in March 2016.

Get our Backpackers Guide to Southeast Asia 2017-2018 for a summary of budget travel in the region.


Top 10 Budget Travel Tips For First-time Travelers In China

A guest post by Jason Blondo

Traveling across China can be pretty tough for first-timers, and even tougher if you are short on cash. Let’s face it, the days of having supremely cheap travel in China are long gone and just a distant memory. Prices for food, airline tickets and hotels are gradually increasing, with China’s economy and tourism picking up steam over the last thirty years. But with a little travel planning and research, you can have a blast and experience a cozy trip to this Asian hub, without having to starve to yourself or sleep on crappy beds.

Top 10 Budget Travel Tips For First-Time Travelers In China

1. Travel by train

A sure-fire way to save a huge amount of money, when traveling across China, is to ditch the plane, and take the train. Train tickets are usually 75 percent cheaper than airline tickets to the same destination in China. And if you travel overnight, you can also save the cost of a hostel or hotel room.

A railway map of China

2. Book your airline tickets on a Chinese trip planning site

While I recommend that you take the train as often as possible, sometimes the distances and long hours make train travel an impractical option. If flying is your best and only option, make sure to buy your tickets from Chinese travel planning sites like, and since they offer far cheaper airfare deals than you would find on Kayak, Expedia and other US-based travel search engines. You can book internal flights on these Chinese sites and pay with your debit or credit card and by the way, these websites are in English, so there is no language barrier.

3. Eat like a Chinaman

Eating in a nice and fancy restaurant in China will cost you around 44 CNY (9 USD). A simple meal of street food or noodles, however, will only cost you around 7 CNY (1 USD)! China has a plethora of mouthwatering and cheap food (which is nothing like what you will find in Western “Chinese” restaurants), meaning you won’t have a problem eating on a budget here.

4. Ditch the hotels and stay in a hostel

Sounds so cliché? Of course, this is an absolute no-brainer for traditional and experienced travelers. But if you are someone who’s used to luxury travel, this may not be such an obvious tip-off.

People, for the most part, think that hostels in Asian countries such as China are loud, uncomfortable and untidy. Though there are a few hostels like that in China, I can honestly say that most Chinese hostels are just as comfortable as 3-star hotels.

If you are traveling solo, you can save a ton of cash by staying in a hostel community room. For those who are traveling with a family or a group, and want some privacy, most hostels in China also offer a private room option, which as a little more expensive, but is still cheaper by 50 percent than most hotels in the country.

Planning on taking this route? I suggest that you take a look at Hostelworld. Not only does it have a great and wide selection of hostels, but it also includes photos as well as honest reviews from recent customers.

Staying in hostels in China

5. AirBnb or Couchsurfing

Coursurfing and Airbnb are also becoming rather popular in this East Asian destination, and can be a great alternative for those who are traveling on a tight budget.

6. Buy a local SIM card in China

China’s pay-as-you-go (prepaid) SIM cards are extremely cheap, and definitely a great investment when traveling in China. With this kind of SIM card, you’ll get to save yourself the trouble of dealing with expensive and awkward overseas data plans. Plus, it will make it a lot more convenient for you to stay in touch with your fellow travelers and hostels.

7. Try to limit your time in big Chinese cities

I’m not saying that you skip out a visit to Shanghai, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Beijing and other big cities during your trip to China. After all, anyone who visits China wants to see its main and most celebrated attractions, such as the iconic Great Wall of China in Beijing and mystical Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. What I’m trying to say, though, is don’t linger in these cities.  Based on my estimations, a day of expenses in a major Chinese city is equivalent to three or four days anywhere else in this sprawling nation.  Trust me, food, diversions and lodging all cost a lot less once you get out of the big cities.

So, when visiting a major city in China, spend a couple of days or less hitting all the attractions that matter to you the most. Afterwards, get out of there as quickly as possible.

Shanghai Bund Skyline at night

8. Visit lesser known places in China

Visiting the lesser known areas in the country not only lets you experience the real Chinese culture (not its touristy side), but it can save you money as well. In Hunan province, for instance, you can happily live paying local prices – or not paying at all because it is a great honor for the Chinese to present a foreign visitor with a gift. Plus, it allows you to see amazing natural wonders and unique sites that have yet to be featured in lifestyle and travel magazines.

9. Learn a few important Chinese phrases

You don’t have to become fluent in Mandarin, but mastering a few simple and basic phrases will help you save a ton of cash. Folks and locals in China will treat you better if they notice you making a great effort in speaking their native language. If you try to learn and speak their language, they will sometimes offer their house or apartment as a place to stay overnight. In addition, they will take you for a dinner, lunch or karaoke show, and they will pay for everything.

10. Teach in China 

Teaching English in China

One of the best and cheapest ways to travel around China is to work there as an English teacher. Not only will it give you free accommodation, but it also lets you know China’s culture on a more intimate level. Plus, the salary is decent, and it gives you a home base for affordable weekend trips.

Here are 5 things to consider before teaching English in China.


This article was published in December 2015.

Backpacking in Rajasthan – Top 5 Destinations

Backpacking in Rajasthan – Top 5 Destinations

Rajasthan is probably the most interesting state in all of India from a traveller’s perspective with an enormous wealth of history and culture to indulge in. It is the land where kings once ruled and where enormous forts and palaces have stood the test of time. Today it is one of the most popular parts of India for backpackers and it is rare that anyone on an extended trip in the country doesn’t come here.

Getting in is fairly straight forward as India has an extensive and very cheap transport network. You can head in from the East via a train from the nearby cities of Delhi or Agra (home of the Taj Mahal). Alternatively if you’re coming from the South then Mumbai and Ahmedabad are also home to international airports. There are airports in all of the main cities in Rajasthan too with budget connections to the rest of the country via IndiGo and Spicejet but international flights into Rajasthan are relatively limited.

Once in Rajasthan, it is easiest to get around by train and in regions where there aren’t direct train routes, you can take the bus or even hire a driver to get you from A to B. A 4/5 hour journey should cost less than 1000 Rupees (under £10) by train (Air Conditioned coaches, much less in Non AC) or around 3000-4000 Rupees by car (£30-40), which can be worth it if you’re travelling as a group.

To see all 5 of our top backpacking destinations in Rajasthan, you’ll probably need about 2 weeks but they could be squeezed into 10 days if you are in a hurry.

Best Backpacking Destinations in Rajasthan


‘The Pink City’ is a large urban metropolis built around a city centre, which is absolutely nothing like anything you might find in the West or indeed other parts of Asia. Inside the city walls, you’ll find a maze of pink buildings and ancient architecture, now taken over by endless market stalls. What you won’t find is anything resembling a bar, restaurant or supermarket, which considering Jaipur is home to around 7 million people might not be quite what you’re expecting from its urban centre.

Backpacking in Rajasthan
View of Jaipur from the hill overlooking the city and in the other direction, the monkey temple.

Modernisation isn’t really a concept that Jaipur or much of the state has come round too but it’s not really what people come for in any case. The main point of interest in Jaipur is the giant Amber Fort on the outskirts of the city but there are several palaces, museums and temples which are worth a visit. There is a somewhat disappointing monkey temple complex, which was probably once great and is still cool if you like monkeys but the site has been left to rot and its a bit disgusting these days with garbage everywhere although you can get a good view of the city from there.

For a fun trip out of town consider paying Elefantastic a visit. It’s located a few km outside Jaipur and houses rescued elephants, which you will get the opportunity to feed, wash, ride and even paint. It’s a fairly pricey day by Inidan standards at about 4500 Rupees but is certainly worth a visit if you’ve always wanted to get up close to one of nature’s most remarkable creatures.

A day with with elephants in Jaipur
Elephant Sanctuary just outside Jaipur


Pushkar is a a unique spiritual town built around a small lake 3 hours from Jaipur, which is home to the nearest airport. The lake is surrounded by temples and small ghats and it is a hugely significant place for Hindus. It is said to to be the seat of one of the Hindhu Holy Trinity – Brahma. Legend has it that the demon Vajra Nabha killed Brahma’s children here however Brahma fought back using a lotus flower (pushkar) as his weapon.

Steps leading down to the lake in Pushkar
A holy cow in one of the great holy cities in India, Pushkar.

Apart from being a really pretty place to hang around for a few days you can take cookery or yoga classes or head out on a camel safari. Pushkar is only very small but there are strict rules in the town where no meat or alcohol whatsoever is permitted. If you come during November be sure to check out the Pushkar Camel Fair, which takes over the town for 2 weeks around the full moon.


The monster of a fort that perches over the city.
The monster of a fort that perches over the city.

‘The Blue City’ of Jodhpur is another essential backpacking destination in Rajasthan. You won’t need much more than a day or two here but it’s worth it just to go to the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort alone. It’s an enormous structure, brilliantly built so it merges with the top of a large hill that overlooks the city. With audio guides and better signposts it is a much more informative and interesting visit than some of the other forts in India including Jaipur’s Amber Fort which is fairly uninformative besides a few ‘security guards’ eager to make a tip by showing you where the king used to go to relieve his bowels.

Follow the walls of the fort round to the part facing Jodhpur and you get a sensational view of the Blue City and it becomes immediately obvious why and how it got its name. Hang around until the fort is about to close as dusk begins to set for the best views and some wonderful photo opportunities.

The Blue City!
The Blue City!

If you fancy taking the quick route down, take the exhilarating zip-line over the Luni River and back towards city level. It’s good fun and has bizarrely been given the seal of approval by London mayor and all-round buffoon Boris Johnson who was clearly more impressed with the zip-line than the rest of Jodhpur.

Boris loves ziplining
high praise indeed.


There is a different vibe to Udaipur from the other main cities on the Rajasthan travel trail. Built around several lakes, it was featured in the 13th James Bond film Octopussy, which predictably plays nightly in bars and cafes around town. As the sun sets over Udaipur’s lake and its glittering palaces, its not hard to see why it was chosen.

There is more than an air of mystery about the place and little can beat heading to one of the many rooftop restaurants, all with great views of the lake for a curry and a few drinks, while fully appreciating the beauty of the place.

Sunset over the lake in Udaipur
Sunset over the lake in Udaipur

Nuisance factor here doesn’t go much beyond the fact that there are seemingly 100’s of tailor shops trying to sell you a suit on the basis that they have a photo of Judi Dench visiting their store. If you are looking for a suit then be sure to shop around and preferably seek independent reviews of the quality of their goods and service.

Other than that it is a nice place to chill out for a few days, with all the main sights very close to each other and all easily accessible via a relaxing boat tour around the lake. Take a few days and appreciate perhaps the most naturally charming city in all of India.

Udaipur palace
Palaces galore in Udaipur


‘The Golden City’ as it is known due to it’s proximity to the desert is the final Western frontier for many travellers in India. It’s not far from the Pakistan border and you can get pretty close to it by taking a camel or jeep safari into the desert, which is one of the highlights of a visit to Jaisalmer. Trips range from just an afternoon to upwards of a week and it’s certainly worth doing an overnight trip for a bit of stargazing in the vastness of the Thar Desert.

There is another impressive fort here, which unlike most of the other ones in Rajasthan is still inhabited, which adds to its intrigue. It is also a great place to buy leather and silver jewelry but be warned bargaining is expected and the first price you are quoted is probably 4 times what the owner is prepared to sell it for so barter down as much as you can and pretend to lose interest and eventually you should get a fair price.

the desert in Jaisalmer
head into the wilderness of the Thar Desert


This article was published in October 2015

Best Dishes to try in Thailand

5 Must Try Thai Dishes

a guest post by Sofia Angeli

thai food

When travelling to Thailand, one of the best things you can do is eat! In this country, you can enjoy all the lovely flavours in one bowl. I’m fortunate enough to be staying and travelling around Asia where I can always have access to Thai food. But of course, nothing beats getting them in the most authentic way possible – in the restaurants or food stalls in Bangkok’s busy streets.

And whenever I get the chance, these are the 5 dishes that I always indulge in.

Tom Yum Gung

This is the one that’s on top of my list. Maybe it’s because I’m a seafood lover. But maybe it’s also because it simply tastes amazing. It has an explosion of all the flavours that I like – sour, salty, spicy, sweet, and even creamy.

It’s a bowl of soup featuring shrimps and mushrooms and oozing with the Asian tastes of kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass. You can take it with coconut milk, which really makes it an incredible concoction. But if you want to stay away from the creamy ingredient, you can specify that when you order. You can tell that I prefer the original version.

Pad Thai

You’ll find various rice noodle recipes in most Asian countries, and this one’s a real favourite not just for me, but for many tourists. Imagine the tastes of bean sprouts, garlic, green onions, peanuts, scrambled egg, shrimps and tofu combined with the classic Thai seasoning combo of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chilli peppers.

You’ll find this treat everywhere in Thailand – from the outlets in luxury hotels to the street stalls. And it’s great as a meal or as an accompaniment to another Thai dish that you like.

Yam Plah Duk Foo

If you find it hard to memorize the local name of this dish, try “crispy catfish and green mango salad.” Because that is what this dish is all about. The fish and fruit are bonded by cilantro, lime, red onions, peanut sauce and sugar. The shredded catfish, by the way, is deep-fried so it’s light and crunchy – adding texture to the already incredible tastes of the dish.

This is a great appetizer to a main course of fried rice and some basil-flavoured chicken or seafood. Like all the other dishes here, you can find this in almost every food establishment in Bangkok and all over Thailand.

Gaeng Kiew Wan Gai

Here’s another challenge for the non-speakers of Thai. You can easily call it in English as green curry chicken. It’s often preferred by those who aren’t into the spicier type of Thai dishes.

Aside from chicken, it has lots of eggplant and some basil and kaffir lime leaves. The green curry paste is traditionally made from lemongrass, chillies, shallots, galangal, cilantro, basil, fish sauce and a host of spices.

You can also find green curry dishes with seafood or all vegetables, instead of chicken. But chicken is the more traditional one and is the most-loved by both locals and travellers.

Khao Niew Ma Muang

And I just have to have this dessert. It’s a perfect way to cap a meal, especially with dishes that are more on the spicy side. It looks like a small pillow of soft, sticky rice topped with ripe mangoes that Thailand is famous for. It’s drizzled with coconut cream for a final touch.

What’s great about these dishes is that you can find them in the menus of almost all commercial food shops in the country. It’s best to enjoy these treats in one of the restaurants or carts along the streets after a tiring shopping spree or a relaxing trip to an authentic Thai spa.


Read our Thailand backpacking route for more inspiration!

About the author

Sofia Angeli is a PR & communications consultant for companies in various industries. In particular, she brings her writing skills and passion for culture and travel to the online world, including


This article was published in February 2013.

Get our Backpackers Guide to Southeast Asia 2017-2018 for our latest summary of budget travel in SEA.

Best Places to Stay in Cambodia

Best Places to Stay in Cambodia

Cambodia is one of the most popular destinations with travellers and many backpackers in Southeast Asia leave the region with fond memories of their time in the country. While the price of accommodation is very much to the liking of budget travellers, the quality can certainly sometimes be a little bit lacking unless you know where to look!

This article should hopefully help you find somewhere cheap in Cambodia’s main travel destinations without sacrificing on the bare essentials.

cambodia map

Here are some of the best places to stay in Cambodia:

Phnom Penh

phnom penh

The Phnom Penh skyline around the bustling Central Market.

The Cambodian capital has the widest choice of accommodation in the country and has some dirt cheap options. Most of them were in the slightly crazy Lakeside area near the Beoung Kak lake which was popular with travellers on the tightest of budgets. While the lake no longer exists, Guesthouses 10 and 11 as well as a few others are still there and offer basic rooms starting from $3 although don’t expect amazing facilities and certainly don’t count on hot showers!

The biggest hostel in the city with a lively social scene is The Mad Monkey Hostel. They have modern dorms as well as private rooms and offer a huge choice of tours and also have 3 bars and a restaurant. For solo travellers it’s the safest bet for finding somewhere modern, sociable and fun but still budget friendly.

There are plenty more cheap options in the centre close to the Central Market with prices starting from $4 or so but again the standard is variable. Other solid options with travellers looking to socialise include Velkommen Backpackers and Top Banana Guesthouse while Capitol 3 Guesthouse have cheap clean private rooms which may suit those seeking a bit more privacy.


Cambodia’s most famous beach destination has plenty of budget accommodation although some of the better options do sell out quickly during peak times. Sakal Bungalows offer everything from basic huts on the beach to better equipped air-con rooms with a nice sea view. If you’re looking to meet people then try The Led Zephyr Backstage Bungalows which have several bungalows that act as dorms from $4 a night and generally receive excellent reviews.

If you want to get away from the increasingly commercialised centre then Cinderellas Dive Resort & Beach Bungalows on Otres Beach provide a quieter alternative with beachfront accommodation from $6.


mad monkey hostel in kampot

Pictured above – The Mad Monkey Hostel in Kampot.

Just a short journey from Sihanoukville and conveniently located for the beautiful Bokor National Park is Kampot. It’s quite easy to find a budget room in town as it is very small and the imaginatively named ‘Guesthouse Street’ has many offerings that cater to foreigners. Popular options there include the Magic Sponge and Blissful Guesthouse with prices starting from $3 for dorms and $4/5 for private rooms.

There is also a Mad Monkey hostel in Kampot which is one of the best places to stay in Cambodia. It is located on the riverside and boasts one of the few swimming pools in the town which can be a welcome relief from the heat.


The riverside town is a good place to get to experience what life is really like for Cambodians and there are some interesting homestay and community options. BOVA (Battambang Orphanage Village Assistance) Village Homestay is a bit more expensive than most of the options featured here with rooms costing $12 but it includes the chance to eat Khmer cuisine and live with a local family. You can also provide some much needed help at the local orphanage so it’s a nice way to get involved with locals and make a positive contribution to the lives of young Cambodian orphans.

Contact for info.

If you just want cheap and friendly then try Tomato Guest House were beds start at just $2! Somewhat obviously you shouldn’t expect the height of luxury though.

Siem Reap

siem reap

You can help the local communities by supporting the Mad Monkey Clean Water project.

Located close to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap receives hordes of new backpackers every day so there are plenty of budget places to eat, sleep and drink. Beds start again at just a few dollars a night and private rooms can be found for as little as $5.

The Mad Monkey in Siem Reap boasts a rooftop pool bar and has plenty of fun events and trips to get involved with. You can also help support their important community based projects in and around the town.

Garden Village Guesthouse & Hostel is another sociable option. There are also plenty of small guesthouses close to Pub Street and the Night Market that can’t be booked in advance but be sure to ask to see the rooms before handing over any money. Also be wary of tuk-tuk and moto drivers who try to take you to specific guesthouses as they are working on commission. Either tell them exactly which hostel you want to go to or get off at Pub Street and find somewhere yourself.

This article was first published in February 2015.

Get our Backpackers Guide to Southeast Asia 2017-2018 for a more up-to-date summary of budget travel in SEA.

Best Places in Gili Trawangan to Get a Drink

Best Places in Gili Trawangan to Get a Drink

A Guest Post by Heather Sinclair

gili Trawangan beach

Gili Trawangan is the largest of three small islands off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia. Backpackers have flocked to this island since the early nineties, where the sound of screeching bike brakes and the clip clop of horse-drawn carts replaces honking horns and screeching tires.

During the day, tourists SCUBA dive, stand-up paddle board, or relax on a white sand beach. At night the island changes: backpackers know Gili Trawangan as a party island, and there is no lack of places to wet your whistle.

Finding a place to drink on Gili Trawangan’s main street isn’t a problem, because every other building is a bar. To help you narrow your choices, here are three of the most happening places with cheap drinks to get you started:

Tir Na Nog the Irish Bar

irish bar Gili T

Sunday is Ladies Night, which means it’s half price drinks for everybody (figure that one out). Tir Na Nog (called “Irish” by locals) is notoriously expensive (ha!) at 47,000 IDR ($3.75 USD) for a local Bintang beer. Besides Bintang, you can get imported beers and spirits that aren’t available at other establishments. The place is huge, and hugely popular, not just on Sundays.


Bumping up against the beach, this venue is basically a wooden platform with a bar and some tables and chairs. Relax on a stool at one of the tables, or ease into one of the bean bag chairs near the firepit. When you get bored of watching the movie screen continually showing indie music videos and Red Bull stunts, look up and see if the fire dancer is doing his thing on the roof of the bar.

Sama Sama

On Gili Trawangan Bob Marley tunes come out of restaurants, convenience stores, and…well…anything that plays music. If you’re not tired of reggae tunes, Sama Sama has live reggae bands and a dance floor for when you’re feeling energetic. It’s guaranteed you’ll hear more Bob Marley, but this time it comes with a performance. Find a table near the dance floor or hop up on a stool at the long tables closer to the bar and suck down some Bintangs while you make new friends.

gili t main street

Main Street on Gili T

heather sinclair

Author Bio

Heather’s passion for travel compelled her to change careers, and start writing to encourage anyone who feels stuck in their life to find their fulfillment with travel. Among Heather’s loves are yoga, scuba diving, and exploring the world.

Come on over and say hi at or find me on Facebook or Google+.



This article was published in March 2015.

Get our Backpackers Guide to Southeast Asia 2017-2018 for a more up-to-date summary of budget travel in SEA.

Crossing the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama

Crossing the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama

Crossing the Darien Gap

Darien Gap, CC BY-SA 2.0

NOTE – This article is now over 5 years old. Some of the info may be out-of-date.

The Darien gap is an 80km stretch of jungle between Panama and Colombia. It will be of interest to anyone looking to combine our South America backpacking route with our Central America routeA quick look on google maps would suggest that America is one huge continent and it should be possible to travel overland from Alaska right down to Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina.

However this narrow strip of land connecting North and South America has no roads and the jungle is tough to cross even if you are fit and have an excellent knowledge of the local area (guessing you don’t)…oh and there’s Colombian rebel fighters in the area who are at war with the government and have been known to kidnap foreigners. If you do decide to chance it on foot and make it across the dangerous Darien Gap then it’s fair to say you have well and truly graduated into a hardcore traveller! (you’re also probably a bit of a nutter).

Trekking Through the Jungle

Some people do indeed cross the Darien Gap by foot every year, numbers are unknown but we’ve met people who’ve done it and are planning to do it again. Although Colombia is now pretty much a safe place, certainly much more so than 5 years ago, many of the FARC rebels (those who haven’t been killed by the government forces) are believed to have retreated back to the jungles of Darien Province thus making the trip even more dangerous.

You will probably have to use local guides if you do try and do this trip and you will have to pay for them, so the costs could well make this the most expensive option as well as the most dangerous. Other things to consider include the risk of malaria which is high and you will be trekking 80km through jungle so prepare to be eaten alive by all sorts of insects.

You can get more information on attempting the crossing in local towns on either side of the border and if you are lucky you may find other mildly insane travellers who are planning to cross the Darien Gap on foot. If you do go for it attempt the crossing in the dry season and take lots of food, water, a machete and hope for the best. is not responsible if your head gets decapitated by a Colombian guerilla 🙂

The Safer Options

1. Boats

As if the situation wasn’t bad enough there are no public ferries between Panama and Colombia and there haven’t been for many years. It is possible with improved security in the area that ferries may start up again one day but don’t hold your breath.

Luckily there is no shortage of sailing boats that do the trip and this is probably the most popular option and definitely the most scenic. Most people who have done the trip rave about. It is typically 4 to 5 days and includes a couple of days stop in the beautifully quiet San Blas Islands. From Colombia to Panama, it’s best to head to Cartagena and even if you don’t stay there head to Casa Viena hostel which has a whiteboard with a list of boats doing the trip and remaining spaces on each. Try and talk to the captain of the ship before deciding on one. Going the other way then Panama City is the best place to arrange the trip (ask in your hostel) and there is normally plenty of boats doing the route every week. It’s worth considering whether food/drinks are included in the price, what extras are included such as diving/snorkeling etc, maybe try and meet your fellow passengers/crew (make sure they’re not going to drive you insane) and also consider whether you suffer from seasickness because you will be spending several days on a fairly small boat.

The Darien Gapster (no idea if they are good or bad) is a company that does the trip for $200 which is about as cheap you are going to find. There route is quicker than the others taking just 3 nights and still stopping in the San Blas Islands.

2. Fly

One solution to crossing the Darien Gap has cropped up recently with Spirit Airlines who offer budget flights from it’s Fort Lauderdale base to Colombia and cities across Central America. Flights to Cartagena are as cheap as $1+taxes+baggege fee (about $65) as of October 2010. Flights to Central America are slightly more but it’s possible to fly to San Jose for around $130. This brings the total to around $200 for the trip (eg San Jose to Fort Lauderdale to Cartagena), possibly more or less depending on the promotions they have on. Therefore the cost is similar to the sailboat option and you won’t have to worry about seasickness plus you have the option of spending a few days in Miami (there are worse places to get stuck waiting for a flight).

Otherwise there are direct flights from most of the major cities in Central America to Colombia. Flights from Panama City are normally the cheapest but still $200 or more so for a relatively short distance. It’s the quickest but least exciting way to cross the Darien Gap.

3. A Combo of Boats & Flights

The cheapest option when everything is running properly but the situation is regularly changing and it’s hard to say with any certainty what is currently possible. Firstly head to Turbo in Colombia, get a boat to Capurgana (2 hours 30). Capurgana (right) and nearby Sapzurro are great chilled out backpacker friendly beach villages and well worth hanging around a few days. Get your exit stamp at the DAS in Capurgana the day before you leave. Catch a motorboat from Capurgana to Puerto Obaldia in Panama (45 mins COP25,000). From here Aeroperlas had direct flights to Panama City for $80ish but at some point in 2010 they stopped running. Instead you can catch another motorboat from here to Mulatupo which has an airstrip (1 hour) or to Miramar which is a longer potentially choppy trip but will take you further north to Colon Province from where it isn’t far to Panama City. Reverse steps for the trip to Colombia and again it’s probably best to head to Panama City and gather current information there.

You should treat this trip as something as an adventure because it is unpredictable and frustrating but one way or another should be possible, you may have to spend a couple of days hanging around in towns waiting for a boat with space for you so don’t do it if you’re on a strict time schedule or at least do some major research beforehand into the current situation.


This article was published in November 2011.

August 2015 Update

Read this detailed post for more on the land crossing and it includes the sad story of Jan Philip Braunisch, a backpacker killed in Colombia´s Darien Gap.

The author reports that the land crossing is now more dangerous than ever but a small airline called ADA fly direct Medellin – Acandi then boat trip (20 minutes) to Capurgana etc. (No more direct flights to Capurgana).


Discovering the Best of Cyprus

Discovering the Best of Cyprus

While Cyprus has long been a popular holiday destination for hordes of Northern Europeans, it is still relatively undiscovered by many visitors to Europe. Meanwhile adventure seeking Brits, Scandinavians and Germans are perhaps under the impression that there isn’t much more to the island other than the odd raucous beach resort.

That couldn’t be further from the truth and many people continue to have an incredibly misguided view of what Cyprus is like, what is has to offer and even where it is!


So perhaps we should start by dispelling a few myths:

First of all Cyprus is a country!

cyprus map

Unlike islands such as Crete, Corfu and Santorini which are part of Greece and very popular with travellers, Cyprus is an independent nation and although heavily Greek influenced it has its own identity and customs that are uniquely Cypriot. It is also a full member of the European Union which makes travelling there relatively easy.

Where is it?

Most people’s geographical knowledge of Cyprus doesn’t stretch much past the fact that it is somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, probably close to Greece. When you tell them that it is in fact just 100km off the coast of war-torn Syria and closer to Israel, Lebanon and Iraq than the almost 1000km trip to Athens you might be greeted with the odd disbelieving look but it’s true. Look at a map!

The Cyprus Problem

This is where things get a bit confusing and there are plenty of books, movies and documentaries dedicated to it and many conflicting views so it would be impossible to go into too much detail here. The basic facts are that the island is shared between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. In 1974 hostilities broke out between the two sides (with a fair amount of encouragement from the Greek and Turkish governments) resulting in Turkish troops arriving and taking control of the predominantly ethnically Turkish north of the island.

The United Nations intervened and put in force a de-militarised buffer zone between the two sides and 40 years later it is still there and UN peacekeepers continue to operate it although tensions are nowhere near as high as they are at the DMZ in Korea for example and there are a few official crossing points between the North and the South so travelling between the two sides is very possible.

While many people in the Northern part and in Turkey regard Northern Cyprus to be an independent state, this isn’t a view shared by the majority of the international community which still sees Cyprus as one entity albeit a divided one.

Famagusta Map

Pictured above is the once thriving tourist resort of Varosha, which was abandoned in 1974 after the Turkish invasion. It has been abandoned ever since as it happened to fall inside the UN initiated buffer zone which remains to this day. If you visit Famagusta you can see it’s crumbling hotels very clearly although armed guards will prevent you or anyone from entering it. It makes our piece on the Top 10 Ghost Towns and peering into what is effectively the 1970’s is a weirdly eerie but fascinating experience.


So what is there to see and do in Cyprus?


Lets start with the obvious one. Cyprus has some gorgeous beaches!

cyprus beach

As Europe’s Southernmost country it also has a fantastic climate with long sunny days and warm weather year-round. From March to November most days are warm enough for lazing on the beach and this alone sets it apart from pretty much everywhere else on the continent besides Spain’s Canary Islands which are also located a long way South of mainland Europe. The winter is mild and still generally pleasant although the summer can be uncomfortably hot.

By avoiding the busy Summer holidays period (late to July till early September) you can beat the crowds, get warm but slightly more bearable weather and get much better prices. Tour operators like First Choice often have good all inclusive deals throughout the year and the island is small enough to get anywhere in a day so it’s sensible to find yourself a base and explore Cyprus at your own pace.

If you want to escape the crowds, there are still many beautiful unspoilt beaches to be found especially in the North of the island which receives much less in the way of tourism but is equally enchanting.


With under 1 million people living in Cyprus, there are no major cities but Nicosia is home to a third of the island’s inhabitants and is the political and commercial centre and also lies on the frontier between the Northern and Southern parts of the island.

A visit here is a must and you can easily explore both sides of the city on the same day. In the Turkish half grab a bargain at the bustling bazaar or visit the traditional baths. Hopping back over into Southern Nicosia you can find great parks, squares and a few museums which document the troubled recent history of Cyprus in more detail.

Explore the Cypriot Countryside

If you want to experience the real Cyprus away from the hustle and bustle of Nicosia and the touristy coastal towns you have to venture into the countryside where it is surprisingly easy to get a feel for the laid back Cypriot way of life. The Troodos Mountains (pictured below) in the west of the island are incredibly beautiful and a nice place to escape the summer heat. If you’re with friends then renting a car out for a day or more can prove fairly inexpensive and you can visit sleepy villages, discover peaceful monasteries and take in some of the numerous UNESCO world heritage sites.

troodos mountains


As well as the interesting recent history, life in Cyprus dates back millennia from the New Stone Age all the way to the Roman Empire. Ownership of Cyprus changed hands many times before the country finally declared independence from Britain in 1960. The British influence means English is very widely spoken so it’s easy to find information and organise trips or do it yourself in a rental car. There are important historical sites in and around Nicosia and in the Troodos Mountains but also in the East and North of the island.

Sample the Local Cuisine

Cypriot food is very tasty and many dishes are unique to the island and while Greek food is widely served it is generally with a special local twist. Some of the better offerings include Cypriot meze which is often an enormous serving of various different meat and fish dishes. Other specialties include halloumi and tahini while local wines are also normally very good although often on the strong side!


If you need to let your hair down, then Ayia Napa is the undisputed party capital with a lively bar district that parties till dawn on a daily basis in the peak season. Truth be told you can find decent nightlife in most of the bigger coastal towns during the summer months and although there are perhaps classier places to party, most are unashamedly good fun.


This article was published in December 2014.

Money, Vaccinations & Entry Requirements for Europe

Money, Vaccinations & Entry Requirements for Europe


NOTE – This info is accurate as of January 2014!


EU countriesIf you are from the European Union

If you are from an EU country (see map on right) or have a passport for one then you can travel freely between any of the member states and stay as long as you like. Should you wish you can also get a job without any form of visa and minimal fuss.

In addition, Swiss and Norwegian passport holders typically have exactly the same rights even though they are Non-EU members.

If you wish to visit a Non-EU country then check with the relevant embassy but very few require you to have a visa although your passport will be stamped and you will only be allowed to stay in the country for a certain time period.

If you are from outside the European Union

The term Schengen Zone may not be too familiar with you but it is important you understand it before embarking on a European backpacking trip. Basically it is treated as one big country and once you have entered you don’t have to show your passport again until you leave the zone, no matter how many borders you cross within it.

The Schengen Zone is not the same as the European Union but is very similar. The UK and Ireland are the only members of the EU to not be part of the Schengen Zone or legally obliged to join it (as is the case with Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria which will join the zone in the near future).

Current Schengen Zone Countries:

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland

schengen zone

Anyone from countries in blue above such as USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Brazil can enter the Schengen Zone visa-free and stay in the zone for upto 90 days. You could in theory visit all 26 members without having to show your passport once in this period except to gain entry to the first country you visit and to leave your final destination. Ensure you are given a stamp on your initial entry as border guards can be a bit dopey and forget.

That is all good but crucially once those 90 days are up and you have left the zone you cannot re-enter a Schengen member (visa free) for another 90 days. i.e. in every 6 months you can only spend a maximum of 3 months within the Schengen area.

US citizens may find this page useful.

When visiting European countries outside the zone, there are separate entry requirements and you may well require a visa. See our How to Guide for Sorting out Visas for more info on how you can find out.

A few countries, most notably Russia require you to sort out a visa several weeks in advance of your trip so it’s a good idea to plan ahead if you are planning on visiting countries outside the Schengen Zone.


Euros have since the turn of the millennium been the principal currency in the European Union but several countries have opted to retain their old currency. Even in these ones however it is often possible to pay in Euros although generally it works out better for you to pay in the local currency.

EU countries that don’t use the Euro:

Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania (joins in 2015), Poland, Romania, Sweden

Expect to be charged a small fee every time you use your debit or credit card in any European country. That said, it is of negligible difference to the fees you will be charged for exchanging money.


None really required. To our knowledge there are no countries that require any form of medical certificate or proof of vaccinations for entry into their country. It might be a good idea to check you are upto date with common vaccinations like hepatitis if you are visiting one of the less developed countries but most travellers go without.

This article was published in January 2014.

Travel Resources – Budget Travel Guidebooks


flights | hostels | backpacker insurance | group travel | travel gear | shoestring guides | visas

Budget Travel Guidebooks

Believe it or not, it is possible to go travelling without a guidebook and it can lead to a much more fascinating trip. That said almost everyone leaves with home with some kind of guide and having a decent budget travel resource can be really helpful in terms of saving money and deciding where to go.

There isn’t a huge amount of competition in the shoestring guidebook market.

Here are three options:

lonely planetLonely Planet

For most budget travellers their search for a decent guidebook starts and ends here. Lonely Planet have a range of shoestring guides that provide an in-depth look at budget travel in Southeast Asia, South America, Central America and Europe. The travelling hardcore cringe at the mere mention of LP and it can come across a bit pretentious and preachy at times but thousands of travellers wouldn’t dream of leaving home without the latest edition so I guess they must be doing something right!

For an hilarious parody of their guides check out Phaic Tan – Sunstroke on a Shoestring.

rough guidesRough Guides

Rough Guides provide the main competition to LP and they also cover the same regions with their ‘Rough Guide to …………. on a Budget’ range. Truth be told they lag a fair way behind in terms of popularity but do still have a loyal legion of fans. Rough Guides perhaps appeal more to slightly older travellers and are similarly priced to Lonely Planet and offer a comparable amount of content.

funky guidesFunky Guides

Our guides are considerably cheaper than the others but far less detailed. We aim to cut the content down to just the important stuff rather than providing 800 pages of info. We might be more Maidstone United than Manchester United at the moment but we’re upwardly mobile so Lonely Planet you better watch out!

More guides will be posted here as we publish them.