Here we prove there’s more to budget travel than just finding the best cheap flights (we can help with that too of course!):
If Cambodia isn’t on your travel bucket list, it should be. Whether you’re looking for a budget, last-minute holiday, or five-star luxury without the five-star prices, Cambodia has it all. Beds can cost around Dh10 and delicious street food even less. Or if you really want to treat yourself, you could even hire an entire private island (this isn’t quite so cheap though!). Thanks to the Cambodian climate, it is a great place to go to escape the UAE’s summer heat; if you don’t mind a bit of rain, that is. The Privilege Floor @Borei Angkor – with pool, spa, gym and salon – is just 15 minutes from the world famous Angkor Wat Archeological Park and around Dh450 a night for a double room. The hotel will even throw in a local mobile phone for you to use while you stay, which means you can avoid painful roaming charges. When you’re in Cambodia, it would be a mistake not to visit Angkor Wat, ideally at dawn when you can watch the sun rise behind the temple. UNESCO considers the site one of the world’s most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia. A new visitor code warns against wearing revealing clothing, getting noisy, and giving to begging children at the site. Angkor Wat ticket prices are expected to increase soon from around Dh75 to Dh135, but it’s still a bargain to see something so impressive.
Just over the border from Cambodia is another of Southeast Asia’s best destinations: Vietnam. While it’s becoming more popular, it’s still a very cheap holiday as well as a fascinating and beautiful country. You could easily live on less than Dh50 a day, including accommodation, food and transport. The country’s local drink, Bia Hoi, costs just a couple of dirhams and is best enjoyed sitting in a tiny stool at an equally small establishment on a street corner. The Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, is the former headquarters of French Indochina and you can still see some of the French flavor. Fantastic patisseries producing croissants tasty enough to rival their Parisian cousins sit alongside pho noodle soup shacks. The country has a great train service, so you can travel across Vietnam on the tracks and head up into the central highlands to visit places like Da Lat. It’s pretty popular with tourists but the locals can point you in the direction of some tofu factories, rice terraces and cashew nut plantations. Halong Bay is another of the country’s most spectacular sights. Lots of companies offer overnight cruises where you can visit villages that exist on the water or get out on a kayak. While you’re in the north you should definitely check out Vietnam’s other main city, Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, which as some great markets and a real buzz.
There’s no country more accommodating to a tight budget than India. If you stay in five-star luxury in Delhi, or go on a designer shopping spree in Mumbai, it will likely cost you the same as it would in Dubai. But if you have a tight budget, you won’t be short of things to do and see. A first class train ticket in India (which includes a meal and air conditioning) costs from around Dh100 so you can travel the country and live like a raj for next to nothing. Due to its size, India could be overwhelming for the novice traveler so plan in advance which of the 29 states you want to visit. You could do the so-called Golden Triangle of Delhi, the pink city of Jaipur, and Agra. Agra itself is not so interesting but it’s home to the most famous and arguably beautiful tomb in the world: the Taj Mahal. The view at sunrise is worth the trip to India alone (FYI, it’s closed on a Friday). Further south you’ll find Goa and Kerala where the pace of life is much slower and you can relax on a houseboat or laze on a beach. If you’re worried about food poisoning in India, just be sensible and follow basic food hygiene tips. If you fancy trying the street food (and we recommend you do!) opt for a busy stall with a high turnover of food. Stick to untampered, bottled water and stock up on rehydration salts before you go.
Bolivia is a relatively remote spot and is one of only two landlocked countries in South America (the other being Paraguay). La Paz, Bolivia’s administrative capital, gives you a glimpse of South American life as it was under Spanish control. The Calle Jaen has some of the city’s best colonial buildings with whitewashed facades and intricate grilled balconies. There’s also plenty of museums, including one in the former home of Pedro Domingo Murillo, who was a key player in Bolivia’s independence. The best bit? You can pick up a bumper bargain ticket and see them all for less than Dh5. Get it from the Museo Costrumbrista, which is named after the first Mayor of La Paz, Juan de Vargas. When it comes to food and drink, Bolivia has some of the best value food and drink in South America. The local brew, Pacena, costs about Dh5 and a bowl of the local chairo (a sort of vegetable and beef stew — perfect for the cold evenings) roughly the same. Talking of cold evenings, pack well for La Paz. The sunny days are warm but much like the UAE winter, when the sun goes down it can get a little chilly. La Paz sits surrounded by the high altiplano mountains and has a rainy summer and dry winter, but is fairly cool all year round. If you want to be a little warmer, head for Oruro, a city famous for its Carnival that honors the Virgin of Candelabra. Held in February or March and just three hours by bus from La Paz, the UNESCO protected show of indigenous and religious culture showcases more than 48 folk dance performances!
If you’re spending the summer in Europe but stuck for new places to go, add Budapest, the Hungarian capital, to the list. It’s not as cheap as it once was but you can still enjoy tasty cakes or spend time relaxing in the famous thermal spas. Visit Gerbeaud’s for delicious gourmet pastries crafted like pieces of art or relax and do some people watching in a traditional kavehaz (a coffee house). With meals costing about Dh10, rooms from Dh50 and train tickets Dh5, Budapest is definitely the place for a culture-rich cheap holiday. You don’t have to miss out on life’s little luxuries when you’re on a budget in Budapest; you can get a 70-minute massage from expert hands at the beautiful Gellert bathhouse for a couple of hundred dirhams. If you’d prefer a countryside break, head to Lake Balaton in Transdanubia, the biggest lake in central Europe. In western Hungary, it’s popular with local families wanting to escape the summer heat in the city. Siofok and Balatonfured are the biggest resorts but you can still spend a week at a hotel or guesthouse for under Dh1,000. Base yourself here and head into the northern hills for a hike, or take a swim or hire a boat to sail in the lake, if you want to really unwind.
If you want Central American bargain-basement value, book a ticket to Honduras. It’s not yet made it onto all the most-visited lists but we’re confident it soon will be, so now is the time to go. Honduras has got great scuba diving, super cheap food and drink, and beaches that rival the Maldives. Honduras’s northen coast is home to Puerto Cortes, a busy port famous for trading bananas and with a strong Spanish heritage. Almost 20km west you’ll find Omoa, a gorgeous seaside town with an impressive colonial fortress to explore. Two hours’ drive northwest of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, is the city of Comayagua, once the country’s religious and political centre. Today you can see more colonial buildings and little plaza cafes where you should definitely try the traditional bistek sandwich (steak) for about Dh6 from La Casa de Sandwich in the Parque Central.
With direct flights from Dubai to Sofia a budget trip to Bulgaria is easy. While the country might have had something of a boom in tourism in recent years, it’s still wonderfully cheap and has a lots of culture and history to boot. Sofia itself offers hearty food, friendly people and a comfy bed for around Dh100 a day. As Europe’s second oldest city, Sofia is filled with galleries and museums, and is just a 20-minute subway ride from the airport. The National Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Socialist Art are two of the most popular. The further east you travel, the less money you’re likely to need. Nesebar, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast and has an abundance of historic buildings to explore if you’re wanting a cultural holiday. It has lots of old churches dated from between the fifth and nineteenth Centuries.
8. Sri Lanka
The flight time from Dubai to Sri Lanka is just over four hours so it’s a great place to escape to if you want a cheap holiday. Sri Lanka’s climate means it’s possible to escape the UAE summer, or have an unconventional Christmas, and still find pleasant weather somewhere on the island. Your money will also go pretty far here, so you can indulge in fish curries, visit tea plantations, and stay in beachfront hotels for around Dh150 a day. Or if you want to spend a bit more but still get value for money, book a room at the five-star Cinnamon Lodge in the small city of Habarana. You can enjoy fantastic views of the tropical Habarana Lake from your private hot tub while an on-call butler brings you drinks and snacks (there’s also in-room spa treatments if the hot tub doesn’t relax you enough!). A single room costs as little as Dh190 a night. You can do as much or as little as you want in Sri Lanka; there’s lots of temples that offer a window into the Buddhist life (70% of the population is Buddhist). Some of the temple highlights are the Sri Dhalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) in the mountains of Kandy, and the Sri Maha Bodhiya (Bodhi Tree Temple) in Anuradhapura, which forms part of a cultural triangle with Polonnaruwa and Kandy. Be prepared to pay a foreigner entrance fee which is usually a lot higher than the local price, but still very inexpensive!
The country’s capital Buenos Aires, certainly lives up to its reputation of being one of the most exciting cities in the world. You can experience the flamboyant, colorful life on a budget (around Dh100 a day) if you stay away from the most exclusive hotels and hotspots. Take a walking tour and admire the bright murals on many of Buenos Aires’ buildings before heading to the streets of San Telmo to experience the bohemian vibe in its restaurants. It’s a much better option that heading to the tourist traps in the city’s Recoleta area. If cities aren’t your thing, Patagonia in southern Argentina has some of the world’s most impressive scenery. You can reach it by bus from Buenos Aires but it could take up to 36 hours! If you’re pushed for time you could opt for a cheap internal flight instead. The Valdes Peninsula is the nature reserve along the coast of Patagonia and for the entrance fee of around Dh30 you might catch sight of some whales, dolphins and cute penguins.
The economic situation in Greece means the cost of holidaying there is lower than it once was but if you’re heading to picture-postcard Santorini or Mykonos, you’re unlikely to be doing it on the cheap. Quieter getaways in places like Skiathos or Paros still have the lovely scenery and climate going for them, but most of your other expenses will be half the price. If you want to sleep in the day and party at night, then Ios would be the island for you. It’s famous for it’s all-night raves and attracts a young backpacker crowd. If you don’t have time for a full island hop, take a day trip to Hydra, one of the Saronic Gulf islands that’s just an hour-and-a-half catamaran ride from Athens. It’s known for serving up the best souvlaki (kebabs) in the Aegean Sea. Pirofani restaurant has had more 20 years’ experience serving up this delicious food and offers great value for money. If you’re still not sated, sail across to Kefalonia (where they filmed the big screen adaptation of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) to experience another local delicacy in the form of a meat and gravy filo pastry pie. You can travel between islands on regular ferries. Check out the boards at the port of Piraeus for updated schedules and prices – many of the Aegean Islands can take up to four or five hours to reach on a high-speed ferry, or up to eight on a regular ferry.
A trip to the Caribbean doesn’t have to be expensive. In Dominican Republic, Dh150 a day should cover your accommodation, food and transport if you travel smart. Look for the places the locals eat and you should be able to buy a meal for under Dh10. And if you take a bus instead of a cab, you can spend less than Dh5. The Bravaro Hostel will cost you just Dh60 and you can rest your head in a bed within a three-minute walk of the palm trees and white sands on Bavaro beach. You’ll also be offered free wifi and coffee. If you want an all-inclusive alternative, the VH Gran Ventana on the Playa Dorada (Golden Beach) has three swimming pools and four restaurants. You can water ski, parasail or scuba dive as part of the package. Rates start at about Dh400 so you’ll definitely be getting your money’s worth!
It’s not as expensive to get to Ireland as you might think if you’re flexible with the dates, and you don’t need to spend a lot to have a good time. Stay in a bed at the Generator Hostel in Dublin and enjoy free wifi, a cinema room and a 24-hour reception from just Dh60 (a private room will cost a couple of hundred dirhams, still a bargain). Free things to do in Dublin include the Chester Beatty Library, which has a world-famous and extensive collection or rare manuscripts and books. Take a walk in Phoenix Park where you’ll find company in the form of a herd of wild fallow deer. You could also do some souvenir and budget shopping at one the 30-plus stalls at Blackrock Market. Getting out the capital will also save you money; a weekend break in Galway could cost you about 20% less than in Dublin as well as a chance to enjoy a slower pace of holidaying life.
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*Published November 2016. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.