Luxury for Less in Southeast Asia is possible year-round. While travelling to the region during the low season will get you jaw-dropping bargains on flights, hotels and tours – and help the local economy – Southeast Asia offers affordable luxury in abundance all year and a warm welcome.
We’re launching a Luxury for Less series and kicking it off with Luxury for Less in Southeast Asia. I’ve been planning an affordable luxury series for a while – we live in the home of barefoot luxury after all, and as Grantourismo readers who have done our culinary tours or creative retreats can attest, it’s possible to experience proper pampering in Cambodia for reasonable prices.
My motivation for starting the series now has been the readers’ comments on a recent New York Times Travel piece on How to Have a Luxury Trip for Much Less Than You Think (the story has mysteriously disappeared from their website) which suggest the time is right. Travellers seem to have had enough of travel stories that present expensive hotels as bargains in the same-old destinations – some of which are experiencing over-tourism and taking action to limit visitor numbers.
We agree, especially when there are real deals to be found in destinations in Southeast Asia that offer a high level of luxury at affordable prices – and they’re destinations that need more tourists to visit year-round so you can be assured you’ll be warming welcomed.
Luxury for Less in Southeast Asia
The thrust of the New York Times Travel story that’s motivated our new Luxury for Less in Southeast Asia series, like most pieces on affordable luxury, was that a high-end vacation need not cost a fortune and that you can have “upscale experiences without paying premium prices”.
But the travel experts who the New York Times Travel writer Shivani Vora consulted for luxury for less tips on ten cities – Barcelona, Paris, New York, London, Milan, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Hong Kong, Mumbai – were high-end travel agents who recommended $400 hotels and $32 museum tickets.
Readers responded. ‘Be Bop’ wrote: “…even with a 50% discount, these hotels are out of reach for the ordinary traveller…” while ‘Agrthv’ wrote: “As a New Yorker, I don’t get how you can tell would-be tourists that $25 for the Met is cheap. It is not. Neither is our subway cheap. It’s $2.75. For a family of four, that’s $11 one-way. I welcome tourists to my great city but I’m not going to tell them it’s cheap.”
Vora acknowledged in her intro to the story that what constitutes ‘luxury travel’ can differ from one person to the next: “For some, it means hotels with butlers and fancy sheets and flying first class; for others, it’s about hitting three-Michelin-starred restaurants and hiring the occasional private guide and car with a driver.” We agree, however…
Luxury for Less – As Long as You Walk Everywhere and Cook Your Dinner
The New York Times travel ‘experts’ consulted for the story recommended travellers walk everywhere, eat lunch out which is usually cheaper than eating dinner at restaurants, and even forego dinner. One travel agent propose food court eating to save money.
Another recommended staying in apartments to cook meals at night. A great tip and one we’ve long suggested apartments for travellers who want to live like locals and foodies who like to shop markets, families with young kids, and long-term travellers who don’t want to dine out every meal.
But we have to concur with the New York Times readers who agreed that walking everywhere and cooking on holidays wasn’t their idea of luxury for less. While we love apartments and cooking in for some of our meals when we travel, ‘luxury’ suggests that someone is going to do the cooking for you. Readers had better ideas.
Alison Castle noted in the comments: “A more apt title for this article would be “How to pay slightly less for your luxury vacation by going off-season and using public transportation.” Somehow the luxury got drained out there. I was expecting a selection of more obscure destinations where total luxury – going during high season, hiring a car, staying in a fancy hotel, etc were actually affordable.”
Another reader, Nick, suggested: “With a little imagination and a map of currency values around the world, you can come up with a much more interesting list and better results. Eastern Europe, for example, has some very affordable gems with history, culture, great food, apartments available for the cost of hotel rooms elsewhere: try Poland or the Czech Republic.”
‘Stellabean’ wrote: “…the title suggests “luxury travel for less” and yet every destination begins with “…An upscale vacation to [insert city here] can be a pricey proposition” without really offering that great of tips… how about a real curated list from unusual cities that could use more exposure.”
Exactly. Barcelona doesn’t want more tourists – this year the city introduced laws to try to curb visitor numbers. Many European cities, from Paris to Dubrovnik, are complaining of over-tourism. Why are experts directing travellers to destinations that want fewer tourists? Why not suggest lesser-known destinations that have fine luxury hotels that can offer plenty of pampering for less than travellers would pay for the same level of experience in Paris or Chicago?
Luxury for Less in Southeast Asia – Proper Pampering While Giving Back
We would have included more Southeast Asian destinations on a luxury for less list. Such as Siem Reap, for instance, or Luang Prabang, Yogyakarta, and even Phnom Penh. They may be better known but popular destinations such as Bali, Chiang Mai and Phuket also offer high-level luxury for less in Southeast Asia and can use more tourists in low season.
Oddly enough, Bangkok wasn’t on the New York Times list and yet Thailand’s capital offers some of the most affordable luxury hotels in the world. And what about Kuala Lumpur? Even Singapore, an expensive city as far as Southeast Asian cities go, offers more luxury for less in Southeast Asia than Hong Kong.
In view of our focus on luxury for less in Southeast Asia, let’s use Bangkok as an example: we just spent ten days in the Thai capital, including two nights at 137 Pillars Bangkok Suites and Residences, one of the city’s most luxurious hotels, with plush hi-tech suites with kitchenettes with wine fridges, two bathrooms, big balconies, and a butler.
Prices on booking sites fluctuate, of course, but when I checked at the time of writing this piece, you could book a Suite at 137 Pillars on booking.com next month for US$398 – on par with the NYT travel expert’s US$400 hotel – or book one of their Residences, a luxurious serviced apartment, which is just as spacious if a little less sumptuous and with fewer perks, for US$173.
Or buy a package at 137 Pillars on Luxury Escapes for 5 nights from A$1,998 for two people (valued at A$5,047!), which includes limousine airport transfer, daily all-day breakfast, club access with all day drinks and snacks, afternoon tea, sunset drinks, a three-course meal at Nimitr restaurant, exclusive access to a spectacular rooftop infinity pool, 24-hour butler, and use of a cool mobile phone with unlimited 4G data and overseas calls.
That’s what we call luxury for less in Southeast Asia. All of that for A$399 or US$295 a day (at today’s exchange rate) makes paying US$400 for a hotel room in Chicago seem like a really bad deal.
And that’s why we’re starting a series on Luxury for Less in Southeast Asia, kicking off with Siem Reap, one of the best value destinations in the region and one that needs more tourists year-round. And who doesn’t want a holiday where you can be a better traveller by giving back to the local economy and enjoy some pampering in the process?
Book Luxury Experiences in Southeast Asia
Have you experienced luxury for less in Southeast Asia? If so, we’d love to hear from you. How do you think luxury travel in Southeast Asia compares to elsewhere in the world?