Being a digital nomad means you can generally live and work anywhere on the planet. There are of course some basic requirements for a place to have to make it a viable option e.g. living in a hut in the Borneo rainforest is going to be pretty cheap but you’ll need wifi, cafes and a social life!
The list below is not an exhaustive one by any means but do represent great value for money and an established digital nomad community. The focus of this article is on Southeast Asia.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, or LP as it’s known by many is a colonial riverside town in the northern part of Laos. The mighty Mekong river sweeps through the town and orange clothed monks go about their everyday business in a similarly majestic way.
The former French colony town is an architectural masterpiece and so laid back it’s a joy to stroll around at any time of the day.
Accommodation range is vast and you can easily pay $10 for your own room even on a short term basis. Apartments are becoming more common now.
Cafes/coffee shops are everywhere and they nearly always offer wi-fi. Laos telecom does also offer 3G services which can be a great back-up if you cannot get online.
There is great scope for a social life as LP attracts many long stay expats as well as a steady stream of backpackers. There are lots of bars although nightlife tends to be low-key compared to neighbouring Thailand.
In terms of cost of living LP is very cheap, excellent quality food can be had all over the town, from boutique restaurants.
The downside to LP is the remote location and relative difficulty getting there, for instance the road trip to the capital is still an all day bumpy ride and to the Thai border your best bet is a two day slow boat up the Mekong!
Chiang Mai, Thailand
You can rent a great apartment for just a couple of $100 or stay in a nice hotel/guesthouse for $20 per night. I stayed in one last year, it was newly built so didn’t have a name even, but offered luxury for $15, huge modern flat screen TV so I could plug my laptop into, top quality furnishings and most importantly a super fast wifi connection!
One thing Chiang Mai doesn’t lack is places to work. At one end you have a couple of Starbucks but beyond that there are lots and lots of independent coffee shops all competing for your baht.
CM also has a selection of shared work spaces, ideal for those who are in the city for a longer period of time and who are looking to hook up with other nomadic workers.
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Ubud is probably more famous for being a centre for arts, yoga and all things cultural. The ever expanding town which is actually and conglomeration of villages sits on the fertile plains away from the madness of the Southern Bali resort towns of Kuta/Seiminyak.
Ubud has been attracting travellers for years and it’s no longer off the beaten track. With a huge array of accommodation options it is actually very much on the beaten track now.
The temperature is ideal too and being up in the hills means no air conditioning at night. However it does seem to rain a lot, even in the dry season, but don’t let that put you off because the rains are usually over very quickly.
Wifi is available in many places throughout Ubud from coffee shops, guesthouses to shared office spaces such as Hubud.
I would say Ubud is particularly interesting for those digital nomads who are in holistic trends, yoga and the arts. There are many Yoga studios that double up as places to hang out and even work from such as the Yoga Barn.
Ubud is a pretty cheap destination to stay particularly if you are prepared to sign up for a number of months on a lease for a villa. Even those who only plan to stay there short term will be impressed with what you can get on a short term basis and it’s still possible to find a basic room for under $20!
If you do want to escape the lush green rice paddy fields of Ubud (why would you?) it’s possible to head to a number of beaches that are an hour or so away by shared car or minivan. One of the negative aspects of Bali is the fact the island is becoming over-populated and traffic is a nightmare to say the least and getting anywhere can be time consuming.
If you are happy to stay in Ubud then you will probably need a motorcycle or bike to get around as the area is quite spread out.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap (means Siam defeated!) is one of the fastest growing small cities in Southeast Asia. There is one reason for this and it’s in the shape of the World Heritage site of the ancient city of Angkor and the temples including the main attraction Angkor Wat.
SR is located in the north of the country and not too far from the border with Thailand. The route to the border use to be legendary with hardcore backpackers who spent the best part of a day being trucked from the Thai border along a very poor road to the city but this has been upgraded and Siem Reap is well and truly on the tourist map now.
This has also been helped by the relatively new airport of Siem Reap which has direct flights from many of the capital cities in Asia as well as domestic flights to Phnom Penh.
SR is well and truly on the radar of digital nomads these days. This is in part to the international feel of the city and the very many cafes and bars that caters to all from jet-setting high roller tourists to shoestring backpackers.
Also the visa situation is very good compared to all other Southeast nations, particularly the likes of Thailand and Indonesia. This is because anyone can arrive in Cambodia and buy a business visa for $25 month that actually means you can legally work there, so you could open up a local business to go along with your online ventures.
SR is small enough to walk pretty much anywhere although it is fast spreading out into the surrounding countryside so this may not always be the case.
Accommodation is very affordable and widespread catering to all budgets. A small apartment could be had long term for $200 to $300 which is cheap even by South-east Asian standards, yet you have all the facilities a Westerner would hope for such as international restaurants and supermarkets catering to Expats.
Indeed import tax is pretty low in Cambodia so foreign goods can be bought cheaper than in neighbouring countries.
There are lots of cafes and wifi is available pretty much everywhere. Also Cambodia has a surprisingly good 3G mobile network too so you won’t always need that wifi password.