7 Magnificent Ways to Eat for £2 in SE Asia

If you’re ballin’ on that backpacker budget in SE Asia, you won’t wanna miss these cheap eats!


South East Asia can be, in equal parts a treat to, and an onslaught on, the senses – the sound of seven million scooter horns in Saigon, that scent, a fusion of durian fruit and fish scraps that remains long after the wet market has closed, or the warmth of the sun felt and the kaleidoscopic colours seen by the Thai island snorkelers. Perhaps the greatest delights of all are the flavours and textures of the food sold at the region’s innumerable hawker centres, street food carts, and kerbside eateries. That the cost of a meal can be as little as one or two pounds is just the cherry on top. 

Read on for some top value eats, including a couple of backpacker staples, a Northern Thai street food spot whose fame is rapidly spreading following a TV appearance, and Michelin-starred food for the price of a Greggs Sausage and Bean Slice.

As they say in Vietnam – Ăn nào!

1. Break Fast and Rehydrate with a Fruit Shake. From £0.50 – £1.50 – Anywhere there are Backpackers.

The merits of the humble fruit shake are plain to see, it is affordable, filling and readily available, and accordingly it sits alongside banana pancakes and 7-Eleven cheese and ham toasties within the backpacker’s Holy Trinity of nourishment.

There are usually several competing traders situated within any backpacker districts and selling the familiar – passion fruit, banana and mocha, to the more exotic – jack and dragon fruits and sweet custard apple juice.

2. Get Boozy on Bia Hoi. 5,000 Dong ~ 18p – Hanoi, Vietnam.

There are whispers of Bia Hoi being sold for as little as 3,000 Dong (11p) in some of the nooks and crannies of Hanoi’s French Quarter, but we recommend pushing the boat out and experiencing the ambiance of Bia Corner, where a host of bars sell mugs of the locally-brewed beer of indeterminable strength for around the price of a Freddo Bar.

If the thought of 11 beers for £2 sounds appealing, then proceed with caution, you may well find yourself paying for it the next morning.

3. Join the line at Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodles. From $2 SGP ~ £1.12 – Chinatown, Singapore

What this hawker stall may lack in a snappy name, it makes up for with something that no other restaurant at this price point can boast – a Michelin star.

The after-effects of the 2016 award mean that queues of two hours are normal, but never mind the quality of the food, the bragging rights alone are worth your time.

Chicken Rice ($2.00 ~ £1.12) is the number one seller, drawing most of the plaudits; and of course you should try it, but come with an empty stomach and order a portion of the Char Siew Pork ($2.50 ~ £1.40) too – it is arguably even better.

Worth noting is that a second, larger, premises has recently opened, and thanks to its somewhat tacky signage, draws the bulk of the crowds. For the authentic experience, hit the upper level of the Chinatown Food Complex, located just a couple of blocks away.

4. Sample Cowboy Hat Lady’s Khao Kha Moo. 50 Baht ~ £1.10 – Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak , Chang Phuak Gate, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Setting up shop seven days a week, within a small night market just outside Chiang Mai’s North Gate, Cowboy Hat Lady is quickly becoming something of a Chiang Mai institution. Featured in Anthony Bourdaine’s Parts Unknown TV series in 2014, this is another spot where queuing is required.

Despite having seating sufficient for 100 customers, there’s no varied menu here, just one dish – and it’s fantastic. Chunks of slow-cooked leg of pork portioned up on rice, served with a hard-boiled egg and a generous selection of complimentary table condiments and sides, including fiery chillies, garlic cloves, pickled greens and a tub of beautifully balanced sweet chilli sauce.

5. Try Kapitan’s Tandoori Chicken & Garlic Naan, 10 Ringgit ~ £1.80 – Georgetown, Malaysia

When we visited the island of Penang in the final months of 2016, we shared a dorm with a lovely Canadian guy who lived in Bangkok and regularly visited Penang for week-long spells whilst on visa runs. Ben had stayed in Georgetown eight times and sampled just about every cuisine Lonely Planet’s 2014 Best Food Location in the World has to offer.

That this food-lover enthusiastically visited Kapitan and ordered the Tandoori Chicken & Garlic Naan Set every second day during our stay, I hope, will be adequate testimony that Kapitan is bloody good.

To top this off, Kapitan is open 24-hours and produces first-class interpretations of a number of other dishes including Lamb Briyani Claypot (11 Ringgit ~ £2.00) and Nasi Lemak (2.20 Ringgit ~ £0.40)


6. Get a Fresh Spring Roll Vegetable Fix, $2.50 US ~ £2.00 – Sok San Road, Siem Reap

Just a few minutes walk from the Western-priced international cuisine of the city’s Pub Street, lies a stretch of restaurants with an emphasis on local fayre at backpacker friendly prices.

One of our favourite bites available here were the fresh spring rolls – crispy vegetables and optional shredded pork rolled up in rice paper and served. As tasty as the deep-fried variety can be, sometimes fresh, crisp vegetables are what the body desires.

7. Finish the Day with a Mango Sticky Rice, Approx 60 Baht ~ £1.35 – Thailand

When I asked Kath for a suggestion on the best use of £2, her response was immediate – Mango Sticky Rice.

It’s sweet, but not too sweet, it’s nutritious, a source of carbs and although it tastes exotic, it is really quite simple to make at home!

Top tip, avoid stalls where the portions are pre-assembled, the chances are that the mango will be preserved in syrup and overly sickly. The best stalls carve up ripe juicy mango onto a bed of coconut rice, and top with a little condensed milk and sesame seeds as you watch on, salivating.


Originally written by John and Kath via www.johnykath.com