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Top 10 Southeast Asian Locations to Live and Work as a Digital Nomad

by Jillian Q

December 21, 2018

News & Trends 7 min read

Top 10 Southeast Asian Locations to Live and Work as a Digital Nomad

For most corporate dwellers, the digital nomad lifestyle is a dream. You’re no longer confined to a 9-to-5 job, and you don’t have to worry about rush hour traffic.

But perhaps the biggest advantage is the freedom to travel from one place to another. What better place to kickstart your globetrotting journey than in Southeast Asia?

The Digital Nomad Life: Why Travel to Southeast Asia?

The Digital Nomad Life: Why Travel to Southeast Asia?

Or better yet, why not Southeast Asia?

Among the different regions in the world, Southeast Asia is the most-visited location for digital nomads. According to Medium.com, 45% of digital nomads were based in Asia in 2017. The most common locations listed were Thailand and Indonesia.

Southeast Asia is on the nomad radar for a number of good reasons. The region is known for its rich culture, low cost of living, and friendly locals. A travel agent is stationed in every major city, giving digital nomads from all corners of the world the ease of travel.

Technology and internet connection are also within reach in most cities, making it easier for you to stay productive while soaking up the view. Whether you’d rather work by the sea or a charming coffee shop, there’s a Southeast Asian city for you.

10 Southeast Asian Cities for Digital Nomads

1. Chiang Mai, Thailand

1. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Average cost of living per month: $1,004

Internet speed: 20mbps

Travellers have coined Chiang Mai as the Digital Nomad Capital of the World. This northern city in Thailand is renowned for its low cost of living and high quality of life. With an eclectic mix of lush green mountains, temples, and urban structure — Chiang Mai delivers a little bit of everything.

Along the trendy Nimmanhaemin Road, you’ll come across a large community of nomads. These open social network groups provide seminars, outings, and networking opportunities. If you are at the starting point of your digital nomad journey, then you would want to put Chiang Mai first on your list.

*Living accommodations and food

Pros:

  • Abundance of cafes and co-working spaces
  • 3rd safest city in Southeast Asia
  • Plenty of networking opportunities for digital nomads
  • Affordable cost of living
  • Friendly locals
Cons:

  • Low English proficiency
  • Lack of transportation options
  • High number of western expats can make it difficult to connect with Thai society

2. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

2. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Average cost of living per month: $1,241

Internet speed: 8mbps

Right at the uplands of Bali, Indonesia lies Ubud. This traditional country town is one of the two top nomad destinations in the island, the other being Canggu.

Amidst the terraced rice paddies, Hindu shrines, and ancient holy sites is a sprawling community of digital nomads. You’ll find a handful of quiet co-working spaces that offer fibre-optic internet connection and great food to match. But if you prefer working alone, you can do so at the comfort of affordable apartments, guesthouses, or villas.

Pros:

  • Growing community of digital nomads
  • Affordable cost of living
  • Variety of healthy food options and wellness activities
  • Tourist spots are easily accessible
Cons:

  • Crowded with tourists all year
  • Constant parties all day long
  • Plastic waste and pollution is abundant

3. George Town, Penang, Malaysia

3. George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Average cost of living per month: $1,014

Internet speed: 4mbps

Fancy a food trip? George Town, Penang has a lot of choices to offer. This former British colony is now a multicultural hub and nomad haven. When you’re not exploring George Town’s vibrant streets, take out your laptop and catch up on work at the many cafes in the area.

Pros:

  • English is a common language
  • Fewer tourists
  • Variety of food choices
  • Easy access to hospitals
Cons:

  • Litter
  • Lack of activities
  • Construction and development causes a lot of noise pollution

4. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

4. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Average cost of living per month: $836.73/ month

Internet speed: 9mbps

If the streets of Penang are decorated with remnants of British architecture, then Ho Chi Minh brims with French colonial landmarks. As the most populous city in Vietnam, you’ll be pleased to find out that its people are as charming as its rich coffee culture.

You might be put off by Ho Chi Minh’s busy traffic. But you can manage by renting a place at the heart of the city and a motorbike in case they want to get around. There’s a community of international entrepreneurs in Ho Chi Minh as well. So make it a point to head out to your nearest co-workspace and start networking.

Pros:

  • Vast selection of markets, coffee shops, street foods and restaurants
  • Friendly locals
  • Wide variety of accommodation for every budget
  • Strong expat community
Cons:

  • Busy traffic
  • Pollution
  • Floods during monsoon season
  • Low English proficiency

5. Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

5. Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

Average cost of living per month: $1,262

Internet speed: 20mbps

Ever dream of working by the beach? The sleepy seaside village of Canggu can make that come true. Canggu hasn’t been a digital nomad hotspot for so long. But compared to the mountainous Ubud, this village is rapidly increasing in popularity thanks to its close proximity to the beach.

After taking a break from surfing, start networking with fellow nomads and digital entrepreneurs. Wi-Fi may be slim in areas close to the beach. So in the worst case, you can always connect to mobile internet with a sim card.

Pros:

  • Fast internet connection
  • Close proximity to surfing resorts
  • Variety of amenities
Cons:

  • Plastic pollution
  • Overcrowded with tourists
  • Tedious visa regulations

6. Davao City, Philippines

6. Davao City, Philippines

Average cost of living per month: $ 1,014

Internet speed: 5mbps

Among all the cities in the Philippines, Davao is the top choice for digital nomads. It's relatively low in terms of digital nomad population, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This should give you a chance to get to know the culture better and avoid falling into the “expat bubble”.

Compared to other megacities like Manila or Cebu, Davao ranks high in terms of safety. The country’s incumbent president, Rodrigo Duterte, hails from Davao. His zero tolerance for crimes (and sometimes controversial approach to criminals) has made this Southern city one of the safest places in Asia.

Pros:

  • Crime rates are low
  • Food and accommodation is cheap
  • High English proficiency
  • Variety of coworking spaces
Cons:

  • Limited food options for vegans or health-conscious eaters
  • Internet connection can be slow and unreliable

7. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

7. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Average cost of living per month: $ 1,061

Internet speed: 4mbps

With cheap living costs, a growing expat community, and a wide range of co-working spaces and coffee shops — Phnom Penh is rapidly becoming the prime destination for digital nomads.

This former hub for the Khmer Empire and French colonialists is now a sprawling urban jungle. Nomads will be pleased to find that the internet is faster in Cambodia compared to other Southeast Asian destinations. Phnom Penh is a nice alternative to Bangkok, offering fewer crowds but great entertainment.

Pros:

  • Friendly locals
  • Easy Visa requirements
  • Less expensive compared to Thailand, Malaysia, or the Philippines
Cons:

  • Access to healthcare is difficult
  • Tourist activities are limited

8. Hoi An, Vietnam

8. Hoi An, Vietnam

Average cost of living per month: $992

Internet speed: 8mbps

If you’re looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh, then you can take a short detour to the coastal city of Hoi An. With an abundance of rice paddies, vegetable gardens, and rice fields — it's the perfect destination for those who want to experience rural life.

The digital nomad scene in Hoi An is still at its infancy, so don’t expect to see a lot of coworking spaces here. Wi-Fi is generally strong and reliable, but this will depend on the area you’re staying.

Pros:

Safe for women and single travellers

Affordable amenities (spas, bars, etc.)

Low cost of living

Ease of access to tourist spots and beaches

Cons:

Limited tourist activities

Lack of nightlife

Low English proficiency

9. Bangkok, Thailand

9. Bangkok, Thailand

Average cost of living per month: $1,413

Internet speed: 17mbps

Thailand’s capital city sees millions of tourists visiting each year. For digital nomads, the combination of exotic sites, great coworking spaces, and internet availability makes Bangkok a great destination to set up base.

Transportation is easy thanks to Bangkok’s organised metro system, tuc tucs, taxis, and ride-sharing apps like Grab. Bangkok is also known for being a hub for medical tourism. So if you want to access internationally-accredited health care, then make sure you make a pit stop in Bangkok.

Pros:

Fast internet speeds

Plenty of coworking space and coffee shops

Variety of tasty (and cheap!) food

Affordable accommodation

Accessible healthcare

Cons:

Low English proficiency

Thai language can be difficult to understand

High rates of poverty and prostitution

10. Siem Reap, Cambodia

10. Siem Reap, Cambodia

Average cost of living per month: $1,303

Internet speed: 4mbps

Approximately three hours from the Thailand-Cambodia border sits Siem Reap. Perhaps best known for the temple complex Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is also working its way to becoming a digital nomad destination. It's very first coworking space, Angkorhub, opened in 2017. The group lets nomads connect with a mix of local and international freelancers, remote workers and entrepreneurs. It would be a great opportunity to meet local creatives and network with fellow digital nomads.

Pros:

Growing digital nomad community

Great place for startup entrepreneurs

Friendly and accommodating locals

Cons:

Misdemeanour offences (petty theft, tourist scams) are abundant

Low English proficiency

Conclusion

Digital nomads are always on the hunt for new cities to visit. Where you want to go and how long you want to stay is all up to you. If you’re new to the digital nomad lifestyle, then Southeast Asia is a great place to start. Hopefully, this list will be helpful for you as you begin the adventure of a lifetime.

Skip to section

1. Chiang Mai, Thailand
2. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
3. George Town, Penang, Malaysia
4. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
5. Canggu, Bali, Indonesia
6. Davao City, Philippines
7. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
8. Hoi An, Vietnam
9. Bangkok, Thailand
10. Siem Reap, Cambodia