Feeling antsy yet frugal? So were we. Which is why we took a year off to travel and see the sights in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia (ok fine, just Kuala Lumpur), and New Zealand.
Traveling overseas was more expensive than traveling in the US, largely because of plane tickets. That aside, it was fantastically easy to eat, sleep, and tour on the cheap! We successfully stuck to our budget and never felt like we were missing out. So, without further ado, here is our list of the top five cities for free and cheap activities (in no particular order)!
We already sang this city's praises loud and clear in a previous post (see KL link above), so here's a quick re-cap: KL boasts a cheap and easily navigable public transportation system and the walkable city centre is packed with free activities like markets, mosques and museums; and decorated with excellent public space in the forms of botanical gardens, parks and watery playgrounds (or "spray grounds") - some of which have unobstructed views of the Petronas Towers and their dancing fountain. Needless to say, Kuala Lumpur is one of my all-time FAVOURITE cities, the world over.
Far from a complete recovery, recently rocked Christchurch has converted post-earthquake piles of rubble into creative art space celebrating solidarity and the healing journey. Where old English-style Victorian buildings once stood, now are colorful murals, art installations with a message, pop-up malls in shipping containers and urban art galore. Walking around and admiring the local's creativity and expressive spirit is as free as it comes! So is admission to the Christchurch Art Gallery, the Canterbury Museum and the expansive yet peaceful botanical garden. After walking around all day, you can treat yourself Happy Hour at the funky, outdoor Smash Palace.
The University of Otago is beautifully built in an old-English style and the well-manicured grounds invite wanderers (such as ourselves) to stop and take it all in. Across from campus is the Museum of Otago whose galleries touch on everything from New Zealand's unique geological history, to a survey of Polynesian and Melanesian culture - and it's free, just like the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the old train station. Wandering around Dunedin also reveals interesting murals, colorful people watching, and a look into the region's Scottish heritage. While in the area, don't forget to drive around the Otago Peninsula in search of penguins, sea lions and albatross - all of which are FREE to see from any number of roadside pullouts. Top off a full day of free activities with a tasting flight at McDuff's brewery.
Hanoi is a truly beautiful city steeped in French, Chinese and Japanese architectural style. It is full of local and international flair, and the perfect place to indulge your inner urbanite, without breaking the bank. Free activities include walking around Hoan Kiem lake, which I highly recommend doing at sunrise, getting lost in the night market, visiting free photography galleries and relaxing with a glass of freshly-made beer at Beer Corner. Ok fine, the beer isn't free, but at $0.15 per glass, it might as well be! Other affordable activities include any number of art and history museums, the botanical gardens and West Lake, and the notorious Ho Loa Prison aka The Hanoi Hilton and so, so much more.
Like Kuala Lumpur, we already wrote about how easy and affordable it was to enjoy Chiang Mai. Check it out here. Or, visit Chiang Mai and enjoy Wats (Buddhist temples), Wats and more Wats, the arboretum, hikes to waterfalls, dramatic sunsets, open-air markets and festivals galore to find out for yourself!
Runners up include Dalat, Vietnam, and Luang Prabang, Laos. Honestly, it was tough to decide the "top five" when we saw so many beautifully diverse and exciting places! But these on this list really stood out with the variety and volume of free and cheap activities. Thanks for reading and check back soon for our Year of Beer in Review!