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3 Spots in Asia to Explore on a Budget
By Ryan Horsnail | On 19 Feb, 2014
English teachers abroad enjoy a fantastic lifestyle, and not just because we can support ourselves while living in exotic places all over the world. But because one of the perks of the job is ample vacation time, allowing us to take what we’ve earned and go out exploring whenever school isn’t in session.
But you don’t want to blow all your savings on one trip, since there are plenty of places to explore throughout the year, so a being budget-conscious traveler is important. Luckily, if you work in Asia, you’ll have tons of options for cheap, beautiful places to explore on a shoe-string.
So dust off your backpack and grab your beach sarong – here are three places you’ll want to go on your next semester break.
1. Phi Phi Island, Thailand
Even if you’ve never heard of this island by name, it has likely been the setting of many of your daydreams. Turquoise waters. Limestone outcroppings. Sugary sands. And best of all? No motorcars. The only way to get to Ko Phi Phi is by boat. So you can fall asleep to the sound of the waves without the need for ear plugs to block the sound of the traffic.
Your days there will be best spent reading a good book, eating at one of the dozens of seafood restaurants or enjoying a local reggae bar.
(Featured photo and photo above: PhuketThailandTrip.com)
Where to stay:
Bamboo beach huts are aplenty, can be booked on arrival, and are much more affordable than the high-end Phi Phi hotels. There are also more vacancies – even during busy season – as huts are the most common type of lodging on the island. And, if you’re going to stay on an island, why not live like an islander?
When to go:
If you’re looking for the best prices, avoid November through mid-January, which is the island’s busy season. Aim for the end of January or beginning of February, when prices typically drop and – bonus – the island will be more secluded.
2. Seoul, South Korea
(Photo credit: Benjamin Krause)
As the capital and largest city in South Korea, Seoul is a stark contrast between the future and the past. But bypass the markets filled with high-end Samsung phones and innovative Hyundai cars and you’ll find a rich history that’s well worth the trek. Even on a tight budget, you can get a taste of the royal treatment at Gyeongbokgung, a roughly 600-year-old palace once occupied by the country’s kings and queens.
If you’d rather be an active participant in history, consider attending the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul, held in April each year to commemorate the birth of Buddha. It’s filled with colorful lanterns in every shape and size – from dragons to elephants.
Where to stay:
Minbaks, or guest houses, offer travelers an affordable and sometimes more authentic experience. It’s not uncommon to find mattresses on the floor, as well as paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. If you want to take authenticity a step further, consider staying in a temple. There are six in Seoul that offer lodging, and guests can participate in meditation, martial arts or a traditional tea ceremony.
Warning: There are strict etiquette rules you must abide by during your stay in a temple. So, if you’re looking for a place to sleep off a hangover, this may not be your scene.
When to go:
Gloomy winter skies from November until March and impossibly humid days during the summer make spring the best time to visit by default. Think April to June for optimal weather, but no matter when you go, pack deodorant. Believe it or not, it’s difficult to find in Korea. Any Western friends traveling with you will be grateful you did.
3. Bali, Indonesia
Bali is one of the most frequented destinations in Indonesia for a reason. It’s got everything to excite the adventurer — from epic surf to scuba diving — as well as yoga and meditation classes to soothe even the most restless spirit. Experienced surfers often spend most of their time near the Bukit Peninsula, around Uluwatu, or along Bali’s southwest coast. Or if you’d rather ride by the waves than on top of them, head to the tiny and more tranquil island of Nusa Lembongan and rent a bike. There’s also plenty to explore in Bali on land, like Ubud, located away from the coast, which is a well-populated but not-too-touristy town that is famous for being steeped in spirituality, good food and a bohemian atmosphere.
(Photo credit: Tasha Hacker)
Where to stay:
Although Bali is one of the most popular travel destinations in Indonesia, you can still stay there on the cheap. Some hostels and “homestays” (which are really just small guesthouses) offer private rooms that start at $12 per night, during the off-season. And if you don’t mind sharing a room with others, that price can drop as low as $7 a night.
When to go:
The most expensive aspect of Bali is really the flight from overseas. However, if you’re already living in Asia, there are cheap flights from all over the region to Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai airport. Bali’s peak season is in the summer, especially between June and September, when high season tends to drive up prices. Avoid the crowds – and an overpriced stay – by going during the off-season from October to May.
We’ve given you the hottest destinations – now all you have to do is squirrel away a little of your teaching salary and start planning. One of the best things about teaching English in Asia is the wealth of options to explore in the region. So what are you waiting for? Get packing!
What are your favorite places to travel to in Asia? Share your budget options here and help a teacher out!
Ryan has been working in TESOL for over 15 years. He’s taught English (Hong Kong, Cambodia, Spain & Scotland) and worked in teacher training (Qatar, Spain, Sudan and the US). He travels extensively in his role as a Senior Assessor of Cambridge University Teaching Awards and for his responsibilities as Co-Founder and CEO of Teaching House.