Food in Southeast Asia
While each country in Southeast Asia has its own unique cuisine, there are a few things that most countries have in common. The most important are cheap and ubiquitous fresh fruit, and lots and lots of affordable street food.
Whether you’re in Thailand, Indonesia or Vietnam, you’ll have year-round access to loads of cheap fresh fruit. When they’re in season, you’ll be able to find mangoes for around $1 per kilogram. You can find familiar fruits like bananas (smaller and sweeter than in western countries), apples, oranges and watermelons. However, you’ll also find numerous delicious fruits you’ve probably never tried yet, including mangosteen, guava, rambutan, rose apple, custard apple, snakefruit, jackfruit, longan, dragonfruit, pomelo, and even the (in)famous durian.
One reason it’s so cheap to eat out in Southeast Asia is that just about anyone can set up a food cart or a street restaurant wherever they can find a section of available sidewalk. At the cheapest stalls you can get a simple dish of fried noodles or rice, or a bowl of soup for under $1. While people who have just moved to the region are often hesitant to eat street food, people rarely get sick from eating it.
Other vendors are more mobile, carrying snacks suspended from bamboo poles balanced on their shoulders, or selling bags of popcorn from a bicycle. Ice-cream trucks are rare, but look out for ice-cream tricycles in most cities. One well-known vendor in Phnom Penh has a mobile pizza oven which he pulls behind his motorbike, which he sets up in the evenings near popular drinking spots.
Cafes are popular hang-out spots, especially in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Just about anyone can set up a small shop in their house or on the sidewalk. You can have a cup of strong coffee for around 50 cents and read a book or watch the traffic go by while relaxing in a lawn chair. Most shops give you free tea for as long as you stay, and some even have free WIFI as well!
While there’s lots of cheap street food, you can also find plenty of nicer restaurants as well. You can get a fancy meal for somewhere between $5-10 in most countries except for Singapore and Brunei. A number of countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, have welcomed a large number of foreign food chains, so you can easily find food from home that you’re familiar with. In other countries, though, you’ll still find smaller locally-owned restaurants that serve more international cuisine.
Housing in Southeast Asia
Have no fear about finding a comfortable place to live in the region. In bigger cities like Phnom Penh, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, you can still find apartments with WIFI, air conditioning, furniture and cable TV. You can usually find all that for under $300 per month, so you’ll likely only have to spend around 30% or less of your salary on housing.
If you live in a smaller city, housing can be even cheaper though it may take some searching to find the amenities you’re looking for. In a city like Chiang Mai, Thailand or Can Tho, Vietnam, it’s not difficult to find a fairly comfortable place for $150 per month or less. If you’re willing to come home to a simple and modest room and spend your days in cafes, it can get down to $100 per month. If you need to find cheap housing, especially as you’re setting up your work situation, it’s possible to do so in Southeast Asia. Check out this page for info on how you can find an apartment in Bangkok, one of the region’s more-expensive cities, for $100 per month.
Travel is easy and affordable for many teachers in Southeast Asia. Teachers in Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Bangkok are just a few hours from the beach, where they can find a cheap bungalow by the sea for as little as $7-10 per night. The mountains are nearby Vientiane, Chiang Mai and Hanoi. With easy and cheap bus travel and affordable accommodation, you can explore on your weekends and time off with little stress. Getting around the region is easy thanks to budget airlines such as Air Asia and Jetstar, which can fly you from, say, Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore round-trip for under $200.