Holly and I have been on the road for 10 weeks now, simultaneously traveling and working online; doing the digital nomad thing. We’re not very good digital nomads though; are you really a digital nomad if you don’t tweet and blog about it constantly? It doesn’t seem so.
Gotta sell that lifestyle. (Or that ebook).
I’m a bit conflicted about the lifestyle: it is awesome, but it is also exploitative. Today, I’ll show the awesome side. Next week, we’ll pull out our critical thinking hats and dig into why it’s exploitative.
I bet this post gets more hits.
So what have we been up to?? Well: There’s been a fair amount of flying.
We started our travels in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. This is where the Internet tells you is the place to start, and they really aren’t wrong. Chiang Mai is a wonderful, happening city which is easily accessible to the novice traveler. I’d never been outside the U.S. before coming, and I had zero problems adapting. Literally none. Didn’t even get sick.
After a month in Chiang Mai, we moved down to Ko Lanta. Lanta’s an island in the Andaman sea off the southern coast of Thailand. It’s relatively quiet, as far as Thai islands go. We spent three weeks doing the beach thing here, although it was pretty rainy! We caught the tail end of a long rainy season— blame El Niño or just plain bad luck.
Then we went to Singapore for 2 nights, where we stayed at the Marina Bay Sands for Holly’s birthday. After that we did three nights in Kuala Lumpur, where we did the authentic Malaysian thing and spent most of our time in shopping malls. They REALLY love malls there, for some reason. And now we’re in Ubud, Bali, settling in for good long stay.
The constant travel is fun, but exhausting and expensive. It gives me zombie face:
In Ubud we’ll get our bodies and minds healthy with meditation, yoga, and the clean, raw and local diet favored by the Balinese. The people here are often very poor, but even the lowest among them is able to eat plain, simple and healthy whole foods. Not Whole Foods, just regular whole foods. Being able to eat healthy for cheap is one of those unexpected perks of the digital nomad lifestyle. Eating the same way in the U.S. would cost about 3 times as much as it does here— an unacceptable commoditization of health.
Of course, by bringing our wealth here and spending it on healthy foods, we contribute to those same economic processes here, and — no. No. Next week. We’ll get into that stuff next week.
What’s good in the life of a digital nomad?
Lots. A few curated highlights from our last 10 weeks:
Chiang Mai, Thailand
This is Wat Doi Suthep, the temple on a mountain which overlooks the city of Chiang Mai. It’s a magnificent sight, but unfortunately a little overrun with tourists. We visited during a Chinese holiday, and they had positively infested the place. If hell is a place, it’s full of Chinese tourists.
We visited an elephant sanctuary, which takes in elephants from the exploitative tourism and logging industries. Holly was the happiest— elephants are her favorite animals. They had some 70 elephants here, including young ones and some as old as 90! They’re very long-lived creatures. We had the opportunity to walk around, feed them, and interact with them a little bit. The place– The Elephant Nature Park– was very animal-minded, and had clear boundaries on what we could and couldn’t do in order to keep the elephants comfortable. It was important to be an ethical tourist here, I think, as we saw countless outlets which offered elephant riding, which is a really horrible practice for the animals.
Koh Lanta, Thailand
We hit the beach on Ko Lanta for blue skies and clear water. It was a rainy November. Quite unseasonable, we were informed. We stayed at Patty’s Secret Garden, a guesthouse and restaurant which features WONDERFUL people, but pretty uncomfortable beds. It’s located near KoHub, the island’s only coworking space. A good choice for the budget-minded nomad. Just make sure to avoid falling into the trap of eating at their restaurant every night— the food is great, but very expensive compared to more local options.
While here we did a one-day snorkeling tour (4 islands tour) where they took us out to some of the nearby islands to swim with the fishes— incredible! There’s so much life just below the surface. $30 buys you a full day, including transport, equipment, and lunch. We even got to ride in one of those ridiculously photogenic longtail boats. Not bad, Thailand. NB.
Island life has its own unique vibe, for sure. Southern Thailand felt completely different to northern Thailand. Much more touristy. Holly says: “In Chiang Mai, I felt cool, like we were on the cutting edge of something. In Lanta, I just felt like a dork.”
But really, I’m ok with being a dork when you get to see this every night:
This was the view from our hotel suite on the 51st floor at the five-star Marina Bay Sands. Nicest place I’ve ever stayed. It totally broke the budget for November, but it was honestly worth it. Sometimes you need to indulge in one-of-a-kind experiences. Not that being a digital nomad, on the whole, isn’t a one-of-a-kind experience. But going above and beyond was 100 percent worth it in this case.
Singapore’s supertree grove, with the Marina Bay Sands in the background. We stayed in that tower on the far right, six floors down from the top. It’s an architectural marvel, with a huge infinity pool on top (world’s highest rooftop pool). Amazing place. The supertrees can actually be seen in the photo of the harbor, in the bottom right corner. They’re huge artificial ecosystems which also collect and recycle rainwater. They’re doing lots of awesome things in Singapore. I was pretty blown away by the city; it was far and away the cleanest and orderliest place I’ve ever been.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Petronas Twin Towers, KL. We used AirBNB to stay in a building with a rooftop infinity pool (Exclusive Stay #1 at Regalia KL). This was our view from the 37th floor. Absolutely the best part of our short stay in KL, a city where we were warned again and again, by all sorts of people, to be careful. We weren’t robbed, but the place definitely has a seedier edge. Be advised.
The KL skyline is amazing at night. Beat’s New York’s, I’d say. Although maybe I just can’t afford to get up high enough in New York, ha.
Kuala Lumpur: super Muslim city, very into Christmas. I think it’s the shopping. I seriously cannot overstate how many malls there are in this city. Malls are basically the national sport of Kuala Lumpur.
Me with our Honda Scoopy in Bali. I think I was born to drive in Southeast Asian traffic. If you can dream it, you can do it. There are zero traffic rules or enforcement. For a daring driver, this is basically heaven. Stay alert though, as the free-for-all nature of the streets means they can also be very dangerous. Here’s a quick video driving around the town, so you can see what traffic is like. Sidewalks and street lamps are in short supply.
It costs $40 to rent this scooter for the whole month. Maybe another $5 for gas. These things are insanely efficient, especially with as many people as there are in Asia. They save on space, gas, and help traffic flow better. Bali’s a pretty big island, so the scooter allows us to get around, visit villages and the beach. Even just within Ubud, a scooter is pretty essential equipment.
Obligatory shot of a Macbook Air in front of the rice paddies at Hubud. You can find a million copies of this shot all across social media, with a quick search under the hashtag #digitalnomad. Hubud’s the Internet’s favorite coworking space in Bali, but I’m not that impressed with it. It’s super expensive, often too crowded, and doesn’t have air conditioning. But it’s got the best Internet connection in town, and that’s really all that matters for a digital nomad. I bought a cheaper membership and opted to work from home more often, in order to save money. Next month, maybe we’ll migrate towards Canggu: there’s a surf beach, and the coworking space there, Dojo Bali, is half the price of Hubud.
Coworking spaces are basically shared offices for freelancers— out here in Asia they are mostly targeted towards mobile workers and digital nomads like myself, meaning they’re totally full of white people. It’s a really good place to meet people who are living a similar lifestyle and can speak your language, but because they target Westerners they can be very expensive to access. They also feel a little exploitative, to me.
Still; beats the cubicle.
Check back with ya next week.
4 thoughts on “Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Bali: A digital nomad diary”
would you recommend 4 nights in Chiang Mai or KL? Will already be in BKK .
Would like to get the most out of a few cities?
Chiang Mai is much more fun than KL. KL=kind of sketchy. Chiang Mai= super rad.
Thanks for the honest reporting of your start as a digital nomad. I’m looking forward for the next post, to your view on the exploitative side of the life-style. I’m planning to become a remote worker, but not entirely onto the digital nomad idea exactly because of that feeling. I guess I’d be more into it for the time saved not having to commute, allowing more time with family, than leveraging exchange rates to exploit less fortunate places. But not wanting to jump too fast to conclusions, I’ll wait for your next post and research other sources, before judging the concept. Thanks again for your time writing this.
Location independent/ remote work is an unbeatable perk, IMO. I worked from a ski town all last year. Awesome. With your family, even better. The digital nomad thing is a whole different set of concerns.
Thanks for reading!