After last year, working from home or even a cafe is no longer a last resort. In fact, almost the whole world was forced into remote working. We adapted, evolved and got to a point where it is no longer a big deal for most of us, so maybe the next natural step for the working force is to not be tethered by desks. I am talking about becoming ‘digital nomads’.
As we start to travel again, hopefully sooner rather than later, it might be possible to set up temporary offices and homes wherever we want. I speak from experience when I say that we have come to value flexibility, work life integration and freedom above all else – three stepping stones for millions of digital nomads who call the world their office. But are you a real digital nomad if your new office is a coffee shop and you’re a bus ride away from your office, or should you explore and experience new things.
As a digital nomad who has worked all over Asia, I have listed five great digital nomad hubs that I’ve come across to help you get started. To make it easier for everyone, you’ll notice three commonalities that would often pop up. They are – decent WiFi connection, pricing and most importantly cost of living. These are key things every digital nomad should look into when mapping out their ideal destinations.
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
When looking up for the best destinations to travel in Thailand, you’re bound to find Chiang Mai on the list. Nestled in the beautiful rolling northern mountains of Thailand, it is a city that is full of culture, friendly locals, incredible food markets, dozens of beautiful temples. For me, the scenery and serenity make it one of my favourite destinations in the whole world.
Anyone who has worked remotely, knows that productivity is the key when it comes to remote working, so having quick access to working spaces and reliable wifi-connection are necessities. This is where Chiang Mai stands out for me. Just walking around the city centre, you’re bound to discover many awesome cafes and modern coworking spaces. Another great thing is that high speed internet is affordable and you’ll be able to find a good WiFi signal at almost any place you decide to work from. Boasting a huge digital nomad community, you’d often find like minded digital nomads around town – a great opportunity to network and exchange ideas.
As for cost of living, it is roughly USD 1,100 a month. A pretty good bargain for easy-to-find working spaces, fast internet speed, comfortable living, and not forgetting, the exquisite cuisines to explore! All of that and the fact that Chiang Mai is a great launching point to other areas in Southeast Asia, it is no surprise why this beautiful city is first on the list.
- Taipei, Taiwan
Next on the list is Taipei. Safe, convenient and affordable – those are the three things that makes Taipei a great place for digital nomads. No frets about connectivity as you’d be able to find stable internet connection nearly everywhere you go. There is even free wi-fi at MRT stations, government buildings and major tourist sites, so if all else fails you have a backup plan immediately.
Once you’re done with work, try exploring Taiwan via public transport. Go in and out of the city centre seamlessly while savoring some good food and awesome cultural experience. Plus, if you are the daring type, and find yourself just outside the city, you can always find your way back to the city center. If you’re new there, people often go out of their way to help you navigate your way around. But the highlight for me during my time in Taipei was the food – there’s nothing better than an easy night out at either Raohe Night Market or Shilin Night Market sampling some of the best street food in Asia.
Cost of living for digital nomads is slightly on the high side at approximately USD 2,000 a month. For digital nomads, Taipei ticks many of the must-haves while presenting a mix of big city, great food, and awesome cultural experience.
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh is regarded by many as ‘The Underrated Gem’ and it would be easy to see why. If you are an avid traveller, you’d appreciate the fact that it’s not only a beautiful place with iconic landmarks and unique cuisines but, Vietnam as a whole has reinvented itself for what is to be an affordable digital nomad’s paradise.
The city boasts one of the fastest internet connectivity in the Southeast Asia region. In terms of 4G download mobile data speed, they come in second to Singapore. Which works perfect for a digital nomad. Not only that, travellers don’t need to be convinced that Vietnam is one of the most affordable places to travel in Asia. Vietnamese coffee is probably the best in the region and I’ve many fond memories of sipping amazing iced coffee by the roadside before a long day’s work.
Probably one of the most affordable areas in the region, monthly cost of living hovers around a mere USD 780 a month. When it comes to accommodation, you’ll be spoilt for choices. There are plenty of Airbnbs and the prices can be very competitive. if you’re lucky, you even snap up a good place for as cheap as USD 250 monthly. However, take note that Vietnam has two major seasons: the rainy season that lasts from May to November, and the dry season which begins in December and ends in April. Do take note of this when planning your visit.
- Bali, Indonesia
Beautiful beaches, bustling islands, friendly people and great nightlife are some of the many reasons Bali is almost everyone’s ideal workation destination. For me, I tend to stay away from the crowded beaches of Kuta and Legian, preferring quieter areas down south. However, if you’re a first-timer, don’t be afraid of feeling out of place as this is a great place to meet like-minded digital nomads.
Bali now caters to digital nomads, so every cafe has decent WiFi and plug points, while there’s a new co-working space popping up around every corner. Once you’re done with work, the list of activities that you’d be able to do there is nothing short of amazing. From hiking up a volcano, to jungle trekking, or if you’re up for it, why not take a dip in some of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls. And to add to that, you could rent a scooter and explore all these activities either on your own or, you could hitch a ride from the locals.
You’d be happy to hear that freelancers and entrepreneurs in Bali are even advocating the government for a nomad-style visa in Indonesia, following the footsteps of other countries who have done so in response to the pandemic. The cost of living for a comfortable stay in Bali is USD 1,500 a month – covering accommodation, food, and transportation. That can be slashed to USD 1,000 monthly if you are ready to opt for a basic homestay, With a private room and bathroom you can score a homestay on Booking.Com for as little as USD 250-300.
- GeorgeTown, Malaysia
Georgetown, situated in Penang is a UNESCO heritage site known for its links to the colonial past including some awesome architecture. It is also a great place to explore on foot as you’re bound to see numerous century-old shophouses which are still in use. What’s interesting about this is that these historical buildings are now turned into cute boutique hotels and restaurants.
With its cozy cafes, co-working spaces and reliable internet connection, Georgetown has everything that any digital nomad needs – from feeling connected to finding happiness in solitude. If you’d like to tune-off from Georgetown’s hustle and bustle for a moment, just take a 30 minute drive for a serene day out at the beach. Soak in the island life at Batu Ferringhi, one of the most popular beaches in the Northern Peninsular. If that’s not enough, Penang is known as one of the top food spots in Southeast Asia. Meals are affordably priced, starting from less than USD 1.
Malaysia also has a great visa on arrival going on where many nationalities can enter the country for three months. It has the modern comforts needed for a home, but is still raw enough to keep it interesting. The monthly cost of living in this vibrant city is slightly over USD 1,100.
While we’ve listed some of the top places for digital nomads, it would be wrong not to suggest these honorable mentions: Singapore; Tokyo, Japan; Hoi An, Vietnam. As this list suggests, there are many beautiful places to visit in Asia, but ultimately the choice is yours. Be sure to weigh in your lifestyle preferences and comfortability before choosing your ideal destination.