Southeast Asia in detail

Money and Costs

Currency

Brunei dollar (B$)

Cambodia riel (r)

Indonesia rupiah (Rp)

Laos kip (K)

Malaysia ringgit (RM)

Myanmar kyat (K)

Philippines peso (P)

Singapore dollar (S$)

Thailand baht (B)

Timor-Leste US dollar (US$), centavo (cv)

Vietnam dong (d)

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than US$50

  • Cheap guesthouse: US$10–20
  • Night-market meal: US$1–5
  • Local transport: US$1–5
  • Bottled beer: US$1–5

Midrange: US$50–100

  • Midrange hotel room: US$20–75
  • Restaurant meal: US$6–10
  • Motorcycle hire: US$6–10

Top end: More than US$100

  • Boutique hotel or beach resort: US$100+
  • Dive trip: US$50–100
  • Hiring a car and driver: US$25–50

Bargaining

Outside of shops with marked prices, haggling is the norm in most Southeast Asian countries. Remember that it is an art, not a battle of wills, and the trick is to find a price that makes everyone happy. Avoid letting anger or frustration enter into the bargaining process. Typically, the vendor starts high, the buyer starts low, and eventually you'll reach a price that adds up for both parties.

The Art of Haggling

Haggling is a way of life in Southeast Asia, but for newcomers to the game, here are the ground rules. Step one is to ask the price and then counter with a lower offer. Suggesting half the asked price is a reasonable starting point, but expect to go higher to reach a final agreed price. After a few offers and counter-offers, you should reach a price that works for everyone. If not, politely say the price is too high and walk away; another vendor may accept your price, or you may be trying to get something for less than the going rate.

Most importantly, haggling should be a good-natured rather than angry process. Being aggressive or rude while haggling will cause everyone present to lose face, something highly frowned upon in Southeast Asia. Don't start to haggle unless you're serious about buying. If you become angry or visibly frustrated, you've lost the game. At the end of the dance, you may end up paying a little more than a local would pay, but the difference is unlikely to make a serious dent in your wallet.

It is also customary (and mandatory) to bargain for chartered transport. Tourists are often taken advantage of by drivers so ask at your guesthouse how much a trip should cost before chartering a vehicle. Expect a bit of back and forth before you agree on a price. If the driver won't budge, then politely decline the service and move on.

Money

Each country has its own currency. Cash is king, but ATMs are widespread and credit cards are increasingly accepted in cities in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Exchange Rates

Exchange rates fluctuate around the region, and political crises can send rates plummeting. The US dollar is the most useful foreign currency to carry; it's easy to exchange, and in many areas, shops and hotels will accept US bills in place of the local currency, though change may be given in local notes.

ATMs

ATMs are widely available in most of Southeast Asia. ATMs are limited to major cities in Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Timor-Leste. Stock up on local currency or have a supply of US dollars or travellers cheques before travelling to small towns or remote areas. Check with your bank to determine international withdrawal fees and to notify them of your travel plans, to avoid a block being placed on your card when you use it overseas.

Tipping

  • Hotels Not expected, but a small tip for carrying bags is appreciated.
  • Restaurants Not essential but a tip of around 10% will help top up low wages for servers.
  • Chartered Transport Prices are usually agreed through haggling, but a tip for good service will always be appreciated.
  • Guides If you hire guides, tip a little extra at the end for good service; 10% is a good starting point.

Money Tips

  • Keep your cash in a money belt worn on your person.
  • You can withdraw notes in the local currency directly from your home account through local ATMs, but carry either cash or travellers cheques as backup. The easiest currencies to exchange are US dollars, Australian dollars, British pounds and euros.
  • Don't use your ATM card for point-of-sale purchases (ie in shops, restaurants etc) unless you are confident of the honesty of the establishment.
  • Be aware of the overseas banking fees for ATM withdrawals; taking out larger sums, less often, is usually cheaper than many small withdrawals.
  • Carry the 24-hour international customer-service phone number for your bank or credit-card issuer in case of card loss or theft.
  • Monitor credit-card activity to protect against fraudulent charges.
  • Bring cash in crisp, untorn bills. Some money changers will reject old or ripped bills (in Myanmar, many payments must be in US dollars, and only new, undamaged bills are accepted).
  • Though fading in popularity, travellers cheques are more secure than cash, and are easy to exchange; larger denomination cheques incur lower commission fees than changing many small-value cheques.
  • Telephone money transfer services such as Western Union are a practical way for relatives back home to send you money if needed while you're on the road.