In this report, we share our top 10 best places to retire cheap in SE Asia for 2023.
After spending several years touring around SE Asia we share our general thoughts about each country, then we share our favorite places in each country, and we conclude by each sharing our top 10 best places to retire cheap in SE Asia if we were to quit slow traveling the world and settle in SE Asia today.
Qiag and I have been traveling the world together for about 7 years and each of us has a Youtube channel and webpage.
Dan: VagabondBuddha.com, Vagabond Awake Youtube
Qiang: Hoboventures.com, Hobo Ventures Youtube
Part 1: General thoughts about each country in SE Asia.
Malaysia (Detailed Reports on Malaysia): Well, first we’ll talk about Malaysia. Malaysia is a rainforest country. The population is a mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian. So there is local priced food in Malaysia, such as Malay, Chinese, and Indian food but all the foods of the world are in Malaysia.
Malaysia is well known for being one of the top healthcare providers or tourist healthcare destinations in Southeast Asia. And the healthcare prices are pretty fair also.
As a former colony, Malaysia has colonial-era buildings in Georgetown, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, and Kuching. Malaysia is also home to the tallest twin tower in the world, the Petronas towers.
One of the surprising things about Malaysia is the low cost of living, especially given that it has one of the higher per capita incomes in Southeast Asia, and is one of the most developed countries in Southeast Asia, at about the same level as Thailand and only Singapore is more developed than Malaysia.
If you happen to fall in love with a Malaysian, and you love to travel, they have an amazing passport. They can go to 180 countries without getting a visa, whereas the US passport can go to 187 countries. So you don’t have to go through all those headaches of filling out forms, applying for things, and getting rejected as you do in some of the other Southeast Asian countries, which is a huge benefit if you love to travel.
The retirement visa in Malaysia has become sucky over the last few years, but there’s some great news on the horizon. Two of the states in Malaysia, Saba, and Sarawalk, are issuing more reasonable visa terms. I’ll be going over that in a future video, so definitely subscribe if you’re seriously interested in Malaysia.
Yeah, the other great thing about Malaysia is they speak English. It’s quite unusual to walk into a restaurant or a store and have no one there that can help you if you’re an English speaker.
All of these countries we’re going to mention we’ve spent quite a bit of time in a number of different cities. Some as many as 10 or 15 different cities. We will discuss our favorite individual cities that are our favorite in a moment.
Thailand (Detailed Reports on Thailand): Thailand has excellent healthcare, just like Malaysia, but has become slightly more expensive lately, it seems to us. I also love the dental services in Thailand and have been getting my dental work done there for 15 years.
Bangkok is a city that never sleeps. So you can party all day and night and you can almost find amazing food at any time of day close by. In my opinion, Thai food is one of the top 3 foods in the world and you can’t really overstate the value of loving the food if you’re thinking of retiring somewhere and you are a food lover.
Thailand is full of lovely fragrances like flowers and incense and the people are very friendly. They will go a mile away to help you. In an outdoor public market, we asked someone if they had tofu for sale. She said no, but then walked us across the market and showed us where to find tofu. People try their best to get us the things that we need.
Thailand is also famous for gorgeous palaces, ornate temples, and ancient ruins. So it’s a very beautiful and exotic country. The temples are just unmatched anywhere in the world.
I’ve never really felt in danger in Thailand. It feels safe to me. I’ve been up late at night walking all over Thailand and walking home. I’ve just never felt in danger there. I’m not saying there’s no danger there, but I’m just talking about my perception and experience of Thailand.
Thailand’s also a great place if you’re single and you want to date. Of course, there is a language barrier there for some people. So, it might limit somewhat who you can date. But there’s just a great atmosphere and great people there. So it’s a fun place to date.
And the visa is still pretty reasonable in Thailand. If you’re age 50 plus, and you either have $2000 a month pension or about $22,000 USD to put in a Thai bank and you are willing to provide some other paperwork, then you are pretty much on your way to a Thai retirment visa.
Those are two different paths to a Thai retirement visa, one is based on pension, the other is based on money in the bank. So that is relatively fair compared to other countries around the world. Next up is the Philippines.
The Philippines (Detailed Reports on The Philippines): The Philippines have an abundance of beautiful white sand beaches with turquoise water as well.
The Philippines is home to century-old churches, turn of Century mansions, and beautiful natural scenery spread across 7000 islands. While in Metro Makati, we visited the National Museum of Natural History, the colonial-era old town, and one of the first Chinatowns in the world.
The Philippines have one of the lower costs of livings around the world depending on whether you live in a larger city or in the less populated provinces.
It is definitely worth visiting and seeing what kind of place you wanna live in and what the rents would be for that. Food costs vary based upon whether you’re eating local food or you’re eating foreign food in restaurants, and also whether you’re shopping in an open-air market, or are you shopping in an air-conditioned grocery store with shopping carts.
There is a price point for almost anyone in the Philippines if you’re willing to live more like a local and less like an expat who came here with a bucket full of money to spend. And that’s true for all of these Southeast Asian countries.
Many westerners, especially English-speaking westerners, think the Philippines is one of the best places to retire overseas. There is also common acceptance in the Philippines for age difference relationships. So, it is a wide open dating market there and the people are lovely.
The other great thing about the Philippines is that foreigners of many countries can arrive as a tourist without a visa and can get 36 monthly tourist extensions in a row. As an American (and many other countries) they just stamp you for the first 30 days and then for up to 36 months you can get an extension on your tourist visa for about $30 a month.
So, you can stay there without getting a retirement visa. And so a lot of people love the freedom of just extending as long as they want. And then once every three years or every 36 months, you just fly out of the Philippines for a day or two, then fly back and start the whole process over again, without getting a retirement visa. Next up is Indonesia.
Bali Indonesia: The reason we speak only about Bali is that it is the only place we have spent much time in Indonesia. We have each been to Bali many times but not many other places in Indonesia.
Whereas, in all of these other countries we’ve spent a good deal of time in many different cities there.
Bali, Indonesia has amazing food. I’m vegetarian and almost every restaurant you walk into, they have three or four vegetarian dishes, sometimes even the national dish comes in a vegetarian. You rarely walk into a restaurant that doesn’t have a vegetarian dish.
This part of Indonesia is Hindu, and many Hindus are vegetarians, so they’re serving the local community and me as a tourist. Bali is known as a land of God so its culture impacts almost every aspect of life on the island, which is partly what draws tourists to Bali.
Just to give you an idea of the cost of living here, we found that prices are really fair in Ubud Bali. We haven’t been here in five years and we came here expecting the prices to be much higher.
Normally, we’d go straight to Airbnb and we’d look for a place but it seemed like everything was overpriced. So we decided to only book the first 4 or 5 days and look for a better deal walking around after we arrived. I have a report that teaches people how to find apartments overseas.
It worked. We found this apartment and we’re going to give you a video of it in the near future. You’ll be amazed at what we got for $336 USD for a month. It’s a one-bedroom apartment surrounded by beautiful greenery all around, with a Kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom in a beautiful community.
It includes utilities, wifi, once-a-week interior cleaning, and bedsheets, and new towels. $11 per day. Yeah. And also includes the one-week cleaning and changing the battery once a week. Plus it is on one of my favorite walking streets in Ubud and there are restaurants around with $2 to $3 local meals.
Even if you wanna splurge, you can get a nice meal for five, six or $7 USD. I’m talking Western food so we don’t really find the prices are crazy here yet. Now, I do agree that if you’re not into local foods and you go down to the beaches where most of their tourists go, it is more expensive.
But, I’d rather live up here at this elevation where it is cooler with more greenery and visit the beach once a month or whatever. But honestly, I’ve never really liked living down at the beach in Bali. I like living up in this big green, gorgeous rainforest area.
But I do like Uluwatu Beach, which does have white sand beaches and crystal clear water and all that. That’s actually a beach community that I’m okay with. I like that quite a bit, but it’s still a little warm for me.
Plus, I feel really safe here in Bali. We’ve been walking around in all areas of day and night all through the central area here of Ubud and it feels really safe to me. And that is just the same as it was the last time we were here about 5 years ago. The Balinese people are, are beautiful people and they’re very friendly and I just don’t feel in any danger here. I feel more danger in my home country, the USA honestly.
The other thing we’ve noticed here is that everything is walkable around Ubud. So we don’t even need to get in the car. Some people were leaving comments on our videos about how bad the traffic has become in Bali. Well, the traffic has gotten worse here. But we don’t get in the car here.
Why would we get in the car? Everything’s walkable from our apartment. We got in the car only twice since arriving here. One was to go to was to get groceries home from the supermarket and the other time was to get down to the beach.
So, there is more traffic here, but why get into the car? Just live somewhere walkable.
Then there is the retirement visa for Bali. You need around 18,000 USD to put in the bank if you are age 55 or older. Get a good agent and complete a few other requirements and you’ll be able to get a retirement visa here.
Many people speak English here. It seems everywhere we go, like restaurants, stores, and coffee shops, there is someone speaking English with us. Next up, we also spent time in Cambodia.
Cambodia (Detailed reports on Cambodia) Cambodia is a little less developed, and a little more rugged, but is certainly a physically beautiful palace and there are a lot of interesting things to do and go see.
You’ve probably heard of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was in its day, estimated to be larger than Beijing. Satellite imagery of the overgrown streets and abandoned stone buildings show that it may have been the most populated city in the world before it was abandoned. Now, it is overgrown with gorgeous greenery everywhere deep in the rainforest.
They have these huge amazing temples and gorgeous carvings all over the walls sharing the life and history of the people of Cambodia. You have a few larger cities there but you also have smaller cities and you have a lot of nature.
So it’s a beautiful place and it’s one of the easiest retirement visas to get in Southeast Asia. If you’re age 55 or over, there’s no defined amount that you really have to make or put in the bank or whatever. It has a little bit to do with your Visa agent and, and, and which immigration official they’re sitting in front of.
So I don’t have much to say about that. But if you get a good agent, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a retirement visa here.
Cambodia for me is a very hippie country. We crossed over byland from southern Vietnam into Cambodia. Most of the bus was full of foreigners. Many seemed to be doing a visa run and coming back from Vietnam.
There seemed to be a lot of Europeans in Cambodia which we enjoyed.
We went to 4 cities there and it depends on which city you go to, but Cambodia seemed full of very hippie people. There were all these french style colonial buildings from the French Colonial period. So, it is a very colorful and very interesting town.
By the way, all of these places, are worth a visit. If you move to one of them and retire, everything’s within an hour, hour and a half flight, other than the Philippines might take you two or three hours to fly to. So, depending on where you are in Southeast Asia, everything else is not too far away. So you need to go see all of it even if you settle in one of these countries.
Or you can take these minivans and do what we do, which is called slow traveling. We go to all these places and enjoy them and notice the differences. And that’s why we like to talk about all of them.
If you want to know more about where to stay in each country when we slowly travel around the world, whether SE Asia or anywhere else, just go to Vagabondbuddha.com and you can find all the detailed reports there.
We have written reports on all these places. Where to eat, where to stay. Best parts of town. Our favorite cities. We’re just kind of giving you a short review right now because we just spent about a year here in Southeast Asia on this trip after we spent a couple of years in Latin America. But all of the reports are at VagabondBuddha.com
So now we’re gonna give you the top 10 of our favorite places to retire in SE Asia. But first, we have to talk about Vietnam.
Vietnam (Detailed Reports on Vietnam): Vietnam also has some of my favorite foods in the world. It’s very fresh, delicious, and reasonably priced. It is the same with $2 dishes if you eat in the local family places, as compared to the expensive tourist and expat restaurants.
The cool thing about Vietnam is the vegetarian food everywhere, They have Buddhist temples all over Vietnam, and all you have to do is just look around and look for a Buddhist temple. Then usually right across the street or next door, not more than a block away, there’ll be a pure vegetarian restaurant. And so you’ll be able to easily find vegetarian food and it’s often quite reasonably priced.
And then of course, when you’re in Vietnam, you’re gonna want to see Halong Bay. You’re gonna wanna see those gorgeous bays with huge Mountains hanging up in the air over the boat. You should also see Phu Quoc which has white sand beaches with these red starfish and Hoi An, which is one of the oldest trading cities in Southeast Asia. All of the best pottery or China came through the Hoi An trading post a few hundred years ago.
So there are gorgeous museums, colonial-style architecture, amazing food, and other attractions. And of course, the capital of Vietnam must be experienced with your own eyes. You cannot forget Hanoi. Of course not. Such great people watching in the ancient city center where you will see people sitting on the small Vietnamese stools drinking $1 beers and eating amazing food.
Hanoi has all these little streets. The cars can’t get through. Lucky to get a scooter down them. Yeah. And they’ll put all these benches out with the short little Vietnamese stools you’ll see with all the great food.
Now, here’s the bad news about Vietnam. They had a lovely visa. It was a business visa you would get once a year, or you could even get a tourist visa up to a year, and you could do visa runs once a year and start over. It wasn’t much of a problem. But during COVID, they shut all that down and they were issuing just one-month visas. So you have to do a visa run, and leave the country.
And there are some exceptions if you get a good visa agent, like a marriage visa, or education visa, and others if you are willing to get creative. But the easy way of just calling a travel agent and getting a one-year or three-month visa or whatever, that’s over. You have to be a little more clever now to stay longer in Vietnam if you don’t want to do monthly visa runs.
So that concludes our short survey of where we’ve been in SE Asia over the last few years.
Part 2: Our favorite places in each country in SE Asia
So, in part two we want to talk about, our favorite cities or favorite places in each country. Then in Part 3, we’ll rank our top 10 best places to retire cheap in SE Asia. So this video went on a little longer than we thought. So we’re gonna continue this discussion on Qiang’s Youtube channel.
Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown Penang, Kuching, Sarawak*
Thailand: Koh Samui, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Jomtien
Philippines: Baguio, Puerto Galera, Dumaguete, Panglao
Bali: Ubud*, Uluwatu*
Cambodia: Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampot
Vietnam: Nha Trang, Hoi An, Dalat
*Reports coming soon.
Part 3: Top 10 Best Places to Retire Cheap in SE Asia for 2023
Qiang and I separately ranked our top 10 best places to retire cheap in SE Asia for 2023. It turns out we have many of the same places but not in the same order. But that is probably a good thing.
It shows that there are many great places to retire cheaply in SE Asia and two different people that visited these places together, put many of the same ones in the top 10. But you will have to visit them yourself to know which ones are your favorites because you are likely to rate them differently than either of us.
We are sharing them in reverse order so you will have to wait until the end to know each of our favorite places to retire cheaply in SE Asia for 2023. The links to the detailed report for each of our favorites are in the below table.
Uluwatu*, Bali Indonesia
Ubud*, Bali, Indonesia
Ubud*, Bali, Indonesia
*Reports coming soon.