1 – Hanoi, Vietnam
Vietnam’s ancient capital city has a compact and easy-to-visit center that is a great mix of Colonial and Asian architecture. While the motorbike traffic can feel overwhelming for those who are new to Asia, it’s actually quite fun to learn how to safely cross the street.
2 – Goa, India
The western Indian state of Goa is not a place to go for temples and culture, but it’s a fantastic and cheap group of beach towns that are perfect for relaxing in the sun when you’re all templed out. And in spite of its heady reputation, there are virtually no chain hotels or restaurants to be found, so everything feels local and authentic, even though most of the visitors are Europeans.
With no taxes on alcohol, plus an absence of laws that prevent or restrict it like in most of India, Goa is a cheapskate drinker’s paradise, with giant ice-cold bottles of Kingfisher going for under US$2 even at the beach shacks. The hotels at the low end can be extremely basic, but better quality is available for those on higher budgets.
The food is notoriously good here, with arguably the best street-side Phở soup in the country. If you join the locals on the tiny plastic chairs on the sidewalks you can eat well for almost nothing here, but even in the tourist restaurants things tend to be cheap and delicious. The attractions, including Ho Chi Minh’s Tomb and the “Hanoi Hilton” prison, are also free or extremely cheap.
3– Pokhara, Nepal
The main highlight of Nepal for most people is its gorgeous scenery and the trekking that goes along with it. Visitors usually fly first into the capital of Kathmandu, but Pokhara is really the tourism hub, and the starting point for most treks, including the famous Annapurna Circuit.
Even though most travelers tend to be busy hiking around most of the time, it would be hard to find a more pleasant backpacker town than Pokhara. Its Lakeside neighborhood is low-key and lined with cheap guesthouses and restaurants, plus countless shops selling souvenirs and name-brand trekking gear. The only problem is that it will be chilly or rainy or hazy for at least six months out of the year, so pick your dates carefully.