The past few years have seen a growing collection of people stepping away from the standard 9-to-5 office environment, instead of changing how they want to work, when they want to work, and where they base themselves while doing it. For some nomads, it’s mainly about working remotely (it could even be in your own city, yet away from a traditional workplace) and not necessarily the constant travel. Though for many it’s a combination of both as they get to experience an array of cultures and connections, all while meeting like-minded people and networking along the way.
Welcome to our world of digital nomads, or “location-independent-workers” as they are also known. Good quality WiFi, cool coffee shops, co-working spaces and jobs that allow you to work remotely have become the new kind of workforce, leaving the daily grind, office politics, cubicles, and commutes far behind.
With a diverse range of career options, there are numerous ways in which to be a digital nomad. Many nomads are self-employed for greater flexibility, although more and more companies are coming on board and embracing remote workers who want to live this lifestyle. Hence, at its simplest, a laptop and phone have become the new office, and stunning sandy beaches, lush green rural landscapes, or snow-capped mountains have become the greatly sought after “corner office” with a view.
There is a broad scope of options: Web and app development, sales and marketing roles, design-based roles, English or foreign language teaching and translation, freelance writing and editing, accountant/bookkeeping just to name a few. You can even apply to be a cryptocurrency developer, a math expert, or enter an online retail sector with dropshipping. Entrepreneurs are also out there developing strategies, creating proposals, organising events and even launching startups.
Digital nomad hubs are popping up all over the world, although for this article we will focus on Southeast Asia. We have highlighted five great places in the region below.
Chiang Mai – Thailand
The consensus across nomads and bloggers appears to be that no list of “best places in Southeast Asia for digital nomads” would be complete without Chiang Mai. With an abundance of work-friendly coffee shops, free workshops (taking place regularly within the inspirational community of entrepreneurs), the low cost of comfortable living, delicious fresh food and markets, and fast internet speeds, it’s no wonder Chiang Mai tops most lists.
There are a few different visa options available for Thailand, with extensions and “border bounces” possible, that are generally simple and not too costly to arrange.
Ubud – Bali – Indonesia
“Notoriously famous for their rapidly growing startup scene – Ubud has quickly become a top choice for digital nomads on a budget” Stunning vistas of rural communities and rice fields, yogis, creatives and progressive types, culturally rich lifestyle and experiences, super-healthy food, and cheaper accommodation options are the draw cards here. Ubud is home of the co-working space Hubud, one of the top 10 co-working spaces in the world, according to Lonely Planet.
Ubud has long been an integral part of the Digital Nomad scene and is growing all the time. Internet speed can sometimes be problematic, although it largely gets a good rap. Most foreigners are only eligible for a 30-day stay, however, you can extend your stay if you meet certain criteria.
Georgetown – Penang – Malaysia
Hostelworld reports: This is “one of the best places for Digital Nomads who also have a deep love of food”. The charming British architecture, the combination of cultures living in harmony, the diversity of temples, sightseeing and experiences, the affordability of accommodation and public transport are all huge pluses here. Internet issues now appear to be a thing of the past, with the introduction of co-working spaces becoming the game-changer for Penang.
There are a number of visa options including a “social visit pass” that is good for 14, 30 or 90 days. You can exit and re-enter Malaysia twice a year. Of course, as with all visa requirements, this can change and it’s best to research the information that is relevant to your situation and country of origin.
Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City
“Chaotic, fascinating, entrancing, and mesmerising” is how one nomad describes Saigon. This bustling city has everything you want and need. A strong expat community, incredible nightlife— particularly around the backpacker district—relatively cheap accommodation options (although filtering through the sheer number can be a large task) are only some of the reasons Ho Chi Minh City is on our list. And if that’s not enough, the street eats are cheap and plentiful and the city hosts an assortment of co-working spaces with reasonably good internet speeds, spread throughout the districts. Visas on arrival are from 1 to 3 months, with both single and multiple entry options available.
Siem Reap – Cambodia
In a country that has certainly had its fair share of past struggles, the touristy city of Siem Reap, famous for the incredible Angkor Wat Temples, gives you familiarity and peace of mind. It’s become a trendy destination for digital nomads, with cute cafes and bakeries, lovely locals, traditional culture, and the social enterprise AngkorHub. Being a tourist destination means it can be a bit pricier than some of the others we have covered, however, it is possible to live budget-conscious here.
If the idea of living in the main tourist area is making you cringe, then consider Kampot. It’s off the beaten track, “has a surprisingly good foodie scene and a welcoming expat community”. Internet in Cambodia can be a little hit and miss, but for the right price, you can upgrade to higher quality. The biggest perk is the extremely relaxed visa policy, allowing both tourism and business visas on arrival. You can also arrange an eVisa before your arrival.
There are many more up-and-coming digital nomad destinations, in Southeast Asia – Taipei, Taiwan and The Philippines, for example – and beyond. For comprehensive information about digital nomad locations around the world explore Nomad List.com. Having said that, Southeast Asia has the fastest growing startup scene, with developments continuing at a rapid pace over the coming months and years, creating immeasurable opportunity and innovation.