Formally referred to as Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or Lao PDR, it is known to many visitors, drawn to its relaxed lifestyle, as “Lao — Please Don’t Rush.” Though the capital city is becoming more popular, Vientiane retains a small-town feel and is perfect for those looking to relax. Popular activities include watching the sunset on the city’s stunning Mekong River while drinking Beerlao, the national beer of Laos, indulging in a Lao massage (which will only cost you about $3 to $6), and chatting with local monks at Sangha College. The local currency is the kip, and one dollar gets you 8,000 of them. Vientiane has no shortage of restaurants ranging in fare from regional specialties to Tex-Mex. For those on a tight budget, noodle shops offer $1 meals. Even the most upscale of restaurants in the capital top off at $20 per person or less. Laos is known for its silk, which you can buy for a fraction of the price as in the U.S. (but beware of synthetic imposters).
Though it may cost a few American dollars to get to India, you’ll save once you’re there, considering that one U.S. dollar is worth nearly 45 rupees. Chennai, the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is India’s fourth-largest city, with direct flights from North America. Formerly known as Madras, Chennai was one of the first outposts of the East India Company, and its foothold, Fort St. George, was built in 1640 and still stands today. There is much to do in Chennai, from visiting India’s first zoo to viewing Mughal-era paintings at the National Art Gallery and bargaining for bangles at the Pondy Bazaar. Chennai is also known for its beautiful beaches (but don’t count on taking a dip — strong currents mean swimming is prohibited). Restaurants range from budget, many of which are strictly vegetarian, to upscale. Try one of the many South Indian fast food stands where masala, pongal and dosa cost only a couple of dollars. (Spend the money you save on bottled water, as tap water can be risky.)
Previously known as the backdrop to many a war film, Vietnam is becoming more popular with vacationers in recent years. French colonial charm blends with Eastern influences from centuries of Chinese hegemony in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital and second-largest city. The local currency is the dong (VND), and $1 is worth approximately 20,595 of them. Though you’ll have plenty of money to haggle with vendors at the Night Market in the lively Old Quarter, sample eccentric local delicacies from dog meat to cobra, or maybe even take a Vietnamese cooking class, Hanoi offers a handful of free activities as well. Visit various outdoor wartime sites, watch locals practice tai chi by the peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake, or join one of the free student-run tours around the city. To save even more, find a bed and breakfast in town for as little as $15, sample various rice dishes from street vendors for $1, and wash it down with a fresh, light and cheap Bia Hoi, a Vietnamese beer ubiquitous on the streets of the Old Quarter.