Where to go

Chiang Mai (CM) is located in northern Thailand and is considered to be digital nomad ground zero. It has the most nomads and is where many people begin their DN journey. There is an excellent guide book for nomads which really goes into depth (395 pages!) about this vibrant city. If this is your first time traveling in Asia, then CM combined with that book makes it a relatively easy place to start. Your nerves will be soothed by having all the information at your fingertips and so many people in the same boat to guide you

However there is much much more to explore! Here’s a quick and opinionated overview. 

Country

City / Region

Why it’s great

...and not so great

Thailand

Chiang Mai

Huge DN community, lots of cheap apartments, fast internet, great food, culture and entertainment.

Quite a lot of foreigners, heavy pollution during March / April, no beach.

 

Koh Lanta

Relaxed, not too busy, tropical island vibe, nice beaches and fast internet - a rare combination

Very very quiet with a lot of closed businesses during low season (May - September especially)

 

Bangkok

Rich in culture, nightlife, food and shopping. Clean with fantastic cheap dentists and hospitals. If you only experience one big asian city in your life, it must be this one.

Crowded, hot, busy and noisy.

Bali

Ubud

Large DN community, cheap rent, beautiful nature, fantastic food. Hubud coworking space is really beautiful. Interesting foreigners - usually open minded progressive types.

Choking traffic, no beach, slow internet.

 

Canggu

Surfing, beach, close but not too close to party zone.

Choking traffic, slow internet, drunken Australians.

Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City

Amazing food, amazing vietnam.

Next level crazy traffic, rip off artists (more than normal).

Philippines

Cebu

Everyone speaks English, nice nature and diving outside the city in Bohol & Moalboal. Filipinas go crazy for western men and are not shy about it.

Deeply unpleasant traffic jams, no beach (high end resorts bought them all), poor food, bad internet, filth.

Cambodia

Siem Reap

Angkor Wat - one of the wonders of the world. Average food, reasonable internet, lovely chilled out local people.

A bit pricey and many tourists.

 

Phnom Penh

Your mental parameters will be reset in ways you didn’t know they could be. It won’t always be pleasant but it’ll be good for you in the long run. Lots of good food to try. Friendly lovely people.

Sketchy as hell. Traffic gets dangerous at night because everyone drives drunk. Lots of HIV. Darkness in many forms.

I've only covered major cities, but many of the great things about this part of the world are waiting for you to explore!

Not included in this list are

  • Singapore - prices are similar to the west. It’s very well developed - efficient, clean, safe. This makes it a bit boring to me, but others might like it. Singapore is good for visa runs as the flights are plentiful and cheap.
  • Indonesia (except Bali) - beyond terrible internet, conservative, and a bit creepy.
  • Laos - the internet is very bad. This is a real shame because it’s my favorite country out of the ~25 I’ve visited. Lovely people, very scenic in the north, nice food, gentle culture, nearly no sex tourism. I highly recommend it as a side trip when you don’t have much work to do. Unfortunately flights are pricey-ish and Laos Airlines’ safety record is a state secret (so you know it’s really bad). I have personally flown on their planes 3 times & didn’t die, so you’ll (probably) be fine.
  • Philippines (most of) - either has ISIS rebels or ghastly internet. Also, Google “Duterte Human Rights”.
  • Brunei - I’ve never been but it looks deadly boring and expensive. It’s an oil field owned by a sultan.
  • Malaysia - I’ve only been there for one night, en route to somewhere else. I hear Penang is a foodie’s heaven...

Do your own research

Google the place name - you’ll end up looking at a bunch of official tourist promotional material and the Lonely Planet. That's fine - you need to know what sights there are to see. However most of the information will be sugar coated or intended for people who want a 5 day holiday and don’t care how much money they spend. So you need to dig a bit deeper.

If I’m thinking about going to a new place, these are the steps I take

  • Search on Google Images for the city to get an overall visual impression. Is it colorful and leafy? Are the buildings shown mostly drab apartment blocks or something more interesting?
  • Check nomadlist.com for more information about the city, from a DN perspective. How’s the wifi, the cost of living, and the coworking spaces?
  • Go to Wikivoyage (like Wikipedia except for travel) and see what tourist attractions there are and what transport links are available. What is the climate like in the time of year I want to be there? When is peak tourist season? Plain old Wikipedia can be good for background information on the economy, history and culture.
  • Poke around the city layout using Google Maps to get a feel for distances and locations. How close is the beach, where is the airport, rivers, CBD, parks? How easy is it going to be to get around? Use street view to look at a few especially interesting spots.

If it’s all looking good then I move on to booking flights and accommodation