Southeast Asia is often associated with young globetrotting backpackers and sensuous nights spent at a beach bar due to its stunning beaches, affordable rates, and superb scuba diving.
However, this region is also a great melting pot of cultures…
With something for everyone, Southeast Asia’s legendary regions continue to lure with the promise and rewards of an interesting life abroad.
Whether you prefer tall, arching waves for surfing or calm, mild waters for paddling; lonely and peaceful dunes for relaxation or packed shorelines for partying, Southeast Asia has a beach for you—and they come in every shade of sand imaginable.
To assist you in locating your ideal Southeast Asian beach location, we’ve produced a list of some of the region’s top towns and cities. Not only do these destinations boast stunning coastlines, but they also have a low cost of living.
Thailand is the center of Southeast Asia, tinkling with bronze wind chimes and scented with jasmine. It is bounded on the west and north by Burma, on the northeast by Laos, on the east by Cambodia, and on the south by Malaysia. For centuries, it was known as the “Kingdom of Siam.”
Thailand is one of the most exotic and unique countries on the planet, with an ethos that appears to combine pleasure and harmony. And whether you’re considering a permanent residence, a vacation house, or simply want to enjoy an incredible vacation, it offers both value for money and a more-than-civilized lifestyle.
Thailand has it all: affordability, warmth, and friendliness. However, if you possess an adventurous attitude, its appeal increases exponentially. In recent years, a number of low-cost airlines have established operations, making it possible to see every corner of this interesting country without breaking the bank. If you’ve considered going overseas and considered Thailand as a prospective destination, now is an excellent time to do some additional research.
In Thailand, you may live comfortably on less than $2,000 per month.
Although it is only 13 miles broad and more than 15 miles long, Koh Samui is the second largest island in the country, after Phuket. It is located approximately 400 miles south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand, off the eastern coast.
Samui is beautifully beautiful. High-rise development is virtually non-existent. Samui’s glittering beaches are its primary attraction, from Big Buddha Beach to Chaweng Beach’s four kilometers of perfection. The sea is warm and mainly clear, providing excellent conditions for kayaking, sailing, and boating. Samui is one of an archipelago of 80 smaller islands, many of which are ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling.
If relaxation is at the top of your priority list, it’s difficult to find fault with it. Away from the beaches, the forested interior offers treks by foot or elephant to waterfalls and natural rock swimming pools encircled by emerald ferns. The expat community is thriving here, and you’ll never be short of opportunities to meet like-minded individuals. And with so much going for Koh Samui, it’s unsurprising that so many people have chosen to call this lovely island home.
Hua Hin, formerly a sleepy fishing village, became a famous summer getaway destination for Thais in the 1920s, when the Royal Family erected their summer homes there. It is located on the country’s eastern coast and on the Gulf of Thailand’s coastlines, with year-round temperatures in the mid-80s F, making it an ideal beach escape.
The city runs parallel to the beach, lined with upscale hotels and seafood restaurants. Hua Hin’s foreign expat community has benefited the restaurant industry. Along the waterfront are a slew of eateries selling anything from fresh, off-the-boat seafood to Indian and Greek cuisine, and it’s easy to find a delectable supper and a beer for under $10. Between the fantastic restaurants are a plethora of bars and lounges, some of which feature weekly live music.
However, despite its status as a resort town, Hua Hin lacks the congestion and bustle associated with other tourist areas. With a population of around 85,000, it’s relaxed enough to seem like a beach town while still offering all the modern advantages of any Western city. Many Thai tourists visit Hua Hin exclusively on weekends, leaving the beach virtually deserted throughout the week.
Chiang Mai translates as “New City,” and was given that name when it became the capital of the Lanna kingdom in 1296, succeeding Chiang Rai. Its geographic splendor is derived from two major mountain ranges with steep valleys and a network of rivers that also serve as irrigation for Thailand’s agricultural industry. Northern Thailand’s pastoral landscapes are characterized by rice paddies, teakwood cottages, and temples (Wats).
Chiang Mai, frequently referred to as the “Rose of the North,” is Northern Thailand’s largest city. The metropolitan area has a population of over 1 million people, and Chiang Mai is currently home to between 20,000 and 40,000 foreigners.
With five sprawling Western-style retail centers—complete with movies, ice rinks, theatres, hairdressers, well-stocked supermarkets, affordable food courts, and even cosmetic surgeons—nearly anything is available. Numerous Thai markets located around the city sell delectable fresh fruits, vegetables, and salad items, as well as seafood and ready-to-eat meals—all at incredibly reasonable prices.
Malaysia, a former British colony that retains its vibrant hue, conjures up all the mystery of Asia. Beyond the capital city of Kuala Lumpur’s tall towers, Malaysia’s stunning landscape is interwoven with tropical beaches, mountains, deep jungle, and vibrantly green tea plantations.
Malaysia has excellent infrastructure, and foreigners are permitted to purchase freehold properties. Additionally, there is no inheritance tax and no tax on income repatriated from abroad.
Malaysia, too, has an enthralling history. The Portuguese seized Malacca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in 1511, while the first Englishman set foot on a beach on the island of Penang (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in 1593.
When you combine the country’s magnificent beaches with excellent healthcare at rock-bottom pricing, you get a country unlike any other in Southeast Asia. The fact that the majority of Malaysians also speak English is the cherry on top.
Malaysia has a low cost of living. A couple may easily survive on slightly more than $1,500 per month, but a budget of $3,000 or more will put you in the lap of luxury.
Penang is one of the former British Empire’s oldest colonies, covering 110 square kilometers with tropical gems. Victorians dubbed it “the Pearl of the Orient” due to the verdant, mountainous island’s abundance of history and legacy. It is located on the Spice Route, right off Malaysia’s west coast, and is only a two-hour drive from southern Thailand’s borders.
George Town is the capital of Penang. Since 2008, it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most likable cities in Southeast Asia. Modern high-rises encircle streets densely packed with mansions, shophouses, and Chinese clan houses, fusing old and new.
Penang National Park is located on the island’s northwest tip. Even though it is the world’s smallest national park—at little over 6,178 acres of rainforest and wetlands—it boasts an abundance of wildlife. The park contains hiking trails, a canopy walk, a meromictic lake (water layers at the lake’s surface and bottom do not mix), eight beaches, and over 1,000 species of flora and fauna.
Vietnam is a vibrant, dynamic country with a lot to offer.
Expats enjoy a good standard of living at nearly unfathomably low costs. The coverage for cell phones and internet is good and fairly reasonable. Rents vary significantly, but even a five-star luxury lifestyle is significantly less expensive than you may imagine.
Vietnam is a vast country that runs from China to the Gulf of Thailand in the north and the Gulf of Thailand in the south. Beach enthusiasts will relish the opportunity to explore the state’s more than 2,000 kilometers of coastline. Additionally, it is a hilly country, with several breathtaking waterfalls, mighty rivers, enormous cave systems, intriguing karst towers, verdant terraced rice terraces, and amazing landscapes.
The Vietnamese people are the strongest argument for living in Vietnam. They are diligent and determined, but most importantly, they are consistently pleasant and hospitable. Sincere and inquisitive, they frequently approach foreigners in the intention of brushing up on their English or learning about the outside world. It is not difficult to adapt into Vietnamese society, as these encounters often develop into lifetime friendships.
Vietnam’s extraordinarily inexpensive cost of living is a significant draw for residents. Wherever you are in Vietnam, you will discover a low cost of living. Even in the priciest cities—Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi—two people can live comfortably on less than $1,500 per month.
Ho Chi Minh City
Not only is Ho Chi Minh City the largest city in Vietnam, but it is also the country’s commercial capital. From the finest shops to the deepest recesses of vast marketplaces, from the most elegant restaurants to an endless succession of street sellers, from the most magnificent hotels to the most basic of guesthouses, Ho Chi Minh City is a city that will not be overlooked.
Ho Chi Minh City is the epicenter of Vietnam’s growing economy. The city is densely packed with ultramodern buildings and stylish designer malls, and it appears as though everyone is rushing to earn money, buy, be seen, and make the most of their little leisure time.
Since 1870, the charming city of Vung Tau has welcomed sun lovers to its beaches. It is close enough to Ho Chi Minh City to attract a significant number of weekend visitors who come to frolic in the sea, play on the sand, fly kites, and enjoy the ocean breezes. Surfers flock here to ride the waves, and joggers like the area’s practically perfect year-round climate. Seafood lovers like the several superb eateries, and everyone adores the laid-back beach town atmosphere.
Vung Tau’s population of approximately 527,000 individuals includes several thousand Western residents. The majority of expatriates are Americans and Australians. While the majority of expats are retired, a handful have established modest restaurants, pubs, and other businesses.
Trang Nha Trang
Nha Trang is located on the Nha Trang Bay in southern Vietnam, approximately 275 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. With more than four miles of beach, it is a favorite Vietnamese vacation resort. Additionally, it is home to 400,000 residents, including hundreds of expatriates. The city has a tropical climate, with highs of 82 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit and lows in the upper 60s Fahrenheit.
The best part is that Nha Trang has a lengthy dry season, lasting from January to August. October and November are the wettest months. Three sides of the city are surrounded by mountains, and a big island close off the shore protects Nha Trang during severe storms.
Along with wandering along or simply relaxing on one of Nha Trang’s several beaches, expats benefit from a low cost of living.
Phu Quoc Island
Pretty Phu Quoc is an island in southern Vietnam, just south of the Cambodian border. It is located on the western edge of the Mekong Delta. Though it is roughly the size of Chicago and has a population of less than 100,000 permanent residents, Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island. Although it has a long history of producing superb black pepper and what many Vietnamese regard as the best fish sauce in the country, its economy has grown mostly through tourism.
Over half of the island is protected as a national park, which features roughly 610-meter-high mountains and lush tropical rainforest. However, it is the beach that draws visitors to Phu Quoc; fine silky sand, magnificent picture-postcard sunsets, coral reefs, and great restaurants have established this as one of Vietnam’s premier beach destinations. Numerous foreigners have landed in Phu Quoc, which they characterize as a paradise. Phu Quoc features an international airport and a Vinmec International Hospital.
If you’re attracted to Vietnam’s inexpensive cost of living but dislike living in a hot environment, try Dalat (or Da Lat), a small city surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, and pine woods in the lofty Central Highlands’ southern region.
Dalat was founded in the early nineteenth century by the French as a cool-weather getaway from the hot plantations and cities of the lowlands. It’s a lovely area, with parks, lakes, and flowers. Many of the city’s structures are fashioned in the early French colonial style, while others are modeled after Swiss chalets.
It’s dubbed “the Municipal of Flowers,” and you’ll find flowers on practically every street and in every city park. Outside of town, flower fields reach into the distance, brimming with the vibrant hues of lilies, chrysanthemums, and roses.
Hoi An is a charming and historic town. Once a peaceful riverbank village, it has developed into a tourist destination, with hotels, restaurants, pubs, tailors, and souvenir stores dominating the historic district. Despite this, Hoi An’s charisma is undeniable.
The old town core, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, features perfectly preserved buildings from its heyday as a major port in the 15th through 19th centuries. Tourists go to view the honey-colored, timber-framed structures and to identify Japanese, Chinese, and European influences. Additionally, they come to have couture apparel and shoes manufactured at a fraction of the amount they would pay back home.
However, the steady flow of foreigners has not settled in the ancient town. Rather than that, the 300 or so foreign residents live in areas along Hoi An’s 18-mile-long strip of beautiful beach, where dazzling, golden sands meet warm, tropical waters. Eight small islands, about 12 miles away, create a biosphere reserve where you may dive on coral reefs and observe wildlife.
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam. It serves as the country’s political, cultural, and historical center. The city, founded over 1,000 years ago, is still steeped in history. Hanoi was occupied by the Chinlore, an ancient civilization’s ruins.
ese for a significant portion of its early history, and then by the French. Both nations left an indelible cultural influence. Throughout the city, centuries-old Buddhist temples coexist with hundred-year-old French colonial homes and an ever-growing number of modern skyscrapers. It’s a kaleidoscope of East and West, ancient and modern.
Wherever you are in Hanoi, you will encounter an eclectic, chaotic jumble of activity that never seems to stop. Markets bustling with activity, bicycle vendors peddling their wares, people passing the hours in outdoor beer halls and sidewalk cafés, and children playing in the streets while their mothers chase them down with bowls of food—all of this contributes to the unique Hanoi experience.
Da Nang is the largest city on Vietnam’s central coast and the most progressive city in the country. It is a sophisticated and lively destination that aspires to become Vietnam’s “Singapore.” The expanding skyline features a new municipal administration structure that bears a striking similarity to London’s futuristic bullet skyscraper, and the entire center oozes cosmopolitanism.
Surprisingly, for a city of over a million people, Da Nang lacks hustle and bustle. There are, however, wonderful parks and promenades along the river, as well as a long, uncrowded powdery sand beach. Residents of Da Nang are laid-back and sociable. It may be the simplest area in all of Vietnam to meet new people and create new friends.