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One of my occupation perks is that for the most part, my work can be done from anywhere. I spent the winter of 2016 as a digital nomad in Chiang Mai, but I realized later on that I wanted to make my homebase for now here in Helsinki. But I can still see within my future that I will want to spend a part of the long cold winter far away in the Asian warmth working on my laptop.
This spring I spent two weeks in Bali and wondered whether it could be my next destination to spend a couple of the winter months as a digital nomad. Including Chiang Mai and Bali, my other Asia interests for one would be Siem Reap or some Vietnam destination – options could be many.
In the beginning, I used to think that I wanted to live full time on the road as a digital nomad in Asia. When I started out as a full on entrepreneur in January 2016, I gave up my apartment during the summer within the same year and left on a great adventure without any exact plan for the future. And it was quite an adventure indeed. My adventure took me on a blog trip from Helsinki to Sweden and Italy, a dating failure in Malta, a conference in Vietnam and through there on living in Chiang Mai.
My enthusiasm for life as a digital nomad and my dream of being a digital nomad in Asia came from working in my previous job as a PR manager for a travel company. I met a lot of international travel bloggers and every other one told me that they were a digital nomad and living in Chiang Mai. I noticed that I was feeling jealous of every one of them – even though my job took me travelling, I really wanted to enjoy the same kind of freedom.
Within this post, I thought I would compare Chiang Mai and Bali as destinations for living as a digital nomad in Asia because I want to be far away from the cold north during the months of November and March. Both destinations are matched with warm winters, delicious food, affordable pricing and are known for digital nomad lifestyle, yoga and meditation.
Winter as a digital nomad in Asia: Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s most largest cities, located within northern Thailand, near the border of Myanmar and Laos. Chiang Mai is known for its temples and delicious cuisine. The city not only offers Thai culture but tasty vegan restaurants and healthy raw food as the city holds annually a vegan raw food festival. The city also offers sweet little coffee shops and co-working nooks due to the ever growing popularity of digital nomads.
The reason I especially enjoyed Chiang Mai was despite all of the digital nomads I still felt surrounded by genuine Thai culture. Chiang Mai is conveniently large enough for working amenities and to have them close by but ultimately still be a small and easygoing place to live. Living expenses are cheap and the internet works.
Chiang Mai’s monsoon season is roughly from May until October. In addition Chiang Mai has a “burning season” from February until April when the air is extremely poor quality.
Flights to Chiang Mai
There are no direct flights to Chiang Mai from northern Europe, so in my opinion the best route is with Qatar Airways via Doha. Back in 2016 I still had to fly also via Bangkok, so the direct connection from Doha to Chiang Mai is a huge benefit for those dreaming of a winter season in north of Thailand.
Living in Chiang Mai
On a holiday trip, I recommend staying in the lively areas of Nimman or Old City. Many staying for longer within Chiang Mai choose to move out further from these more popular areas, but I myself will definitely be staying in Nimman if I were to stay for a prolonged period of time again.
Finding an apartment within the city works best on location. I first booked a hotel for my first three nights but moved out after my first night to a rental studio apartment called Baan Thai.
The best way to find apartments would be to ask at the reception desk within apartment buildings or by joining Facebook groups such as Chiang Mai Digital Nomads, Chiang Mai Nomad Girls or Chiang Mai apartments, Condos and Houses for Rent or Sale. My slightly shy of thirty square metre apartment was 120 euros a month in rent; the location was excellent but the apartment quality was pretty standard. Baan Thai is popular with the digital nomad community and I can highly recommend it if they have any vacancies.
For living expenses I would recommend reserving about 120-400 euros a month. Staying in a hotel is of course more expensive!
Public transportation in Chiang Mai
The easiest way to get around in Chiang Mai is to rent a scooter. I myself do not have a driving license and getting around the city without a scooter can be done superbly.
Within the city are these red trucks that work as Chiang Mai’s public transportation. You can hop on where ever they are and just show in which direction you are heading! Distances are not necessarily even that far but when the weather is hot even a couple of kilometres can feel like a long way to walk. The price for a ride within the city should be 20 Thai baht, but the drivers might ask for more from a tourist, especially if you bring a detour for their path!
Another option is of course the tuk tuks, but they cost a little bit more!
Visa regulations vary per country. As a Finn, I needed to apply for a visa before arrival as I stayed for more than 30 days.
Eating in Chiang Mai
I didn’t have a kitchen in my apartment but there was a fridge where I kept yogurt, fruit and drinks – you know, the basic things. Eating out is at its best is really cheap especially if you eat the local street food. The city streets are filled with food carts early in the morning and late in the evening – I myself would often walk from my co-working place and on my way home would visit more than one food cart and eat my haul at home.
Western coffee shops with their smooth bowls are of course more expensive than the local cuisine but still cheaper than the food you can get here in Finnish restaurants. I would enjoy my breakfast at one of these places and spend a few hours doing work whilst laying in a hammock drinking cappuccinos.
Working in Chiang Mai
I had a local subscriber connection for my phone which I bought from a shopping centre called Maya on my first day. The deal came with being able to connect with the cities different wi-fi hotspot connections one of which also just and just worked in one corner of my apartment.
Chiang Mai offers different co-working stations and locations to which you can buy either a membership to or a day pass. I often spent my longest working days in the Camp working station which can be found on the upstairs of the Maya shopping centre. Most of the time though I spent my working hours in a cafe which is for the most part ok as long as you occasionally buy something through out the day. In almost all the places I used my phone’s hotspot connection, though wi-fi is often available.
Chiang Mai pros and cons in a nutshell:
+ inexpensive accommodation
+ cheap and delicious food
+ lots of nice coffee shops to work in
+ presence of authentic Thai culture
+ cheap massages at every corner
+ easy to fit in with the other digital nomads
– air pollution especially during the so called ‘smoky season’
– haggling for rides
– no beach
Winter as a digital nomad in Asia: Bali
Bali is a well-known dream holiday island destination, which is popular among the digital nomad community. Bali is a perfect location for remote working in Asia for many of the same reasons as Chiang Mai –affordable accommodation, warm weather during the winter, good internet connections and lots of suitable co-working places and coffee shops to work from.
Bali in itself has enough places to spend your winter and I in no way have experienced them all. For working as a digital nomad the most popular places are Canggu and Ubud. Many have praised the untouched northern regions but for working digitally you may need more amenities closer by, such as reliable internet connection and places to work from and for these reasons Ubud and Canggu are the most popular options for sure.
Ubud is Bali’s centre for spiritual life and yoga within the jungle. The destination is popular among the tourists as well as laptop workers. You can find suitable coffee shops to work in and co-working places, of which Hubud is definitely the most popular.
Canggu works best for beach yearning surfing diginomads. In my own opinion, Canggu is a digital nomad dream where it’s easy to live within your western bubble by your laptop. In Canggu it’s easy to get to know people, spend time at the beach and party all night long – not that it’s a Kuta like party spot, but truly mostly exceedingly comfortable place to live for a longer period of time. It felt a lot like Australia for me and I would definitely be comfortable with renting a place a bit further out and commuting with a scooter to the beach and coffee shops to work.
It’s good to know that Bali’s monsoon season starts from October until April. The rainy season shouldn’t discourage you as it rarely rains for the entire day. I was in Bali during March and mostly it rained during the evening and at night, otherwise the sky was clear blue and the air hot and humid.
Flights to Bali from Helsinki
There are no direct flights to Bali from Helsinki but the best possible route is flying with Qatar Airways through Doha in my opinion. The flight from Helsinki to Doha takes 6 hours and from Doha to Bali around about 10 hours.
Living in Bali
Living in Bali is inexpensive but still a tad more expensive than living in Chiang Mai. Finding accommodation most likely works best on location but many of my own acquaintances have rented apartments through Airbnb or Canggu Community Housing/Ubud Digital Nomad Facebook groups before arrival.
Moving around within Bali
In Bali the best possible way to get around is most definitely using a scooter and in some peoples opinion without it you can’t make do. Bali doesn’t have any public transportation options and distances can be quite far. I got around just fine without a scooter, but it demanded a bit of pre-planning beforehand. I booked drivers in advance and booked my accommodation so that I was within walking distance of amenities and the Canggu beach. If you need a good driver for your time in Bali, do drop me a line and I am happy to recommend a local friend to you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bali does have a GoJek app, through which you can book yourself a scooter ride. These kind of apps are forbidden though from tourists using them so I recommend using local taxis which you can catch on the street. Many who have lived or stayed in Bali for longer periods of time do use the app GoJek anyway.
With a Finnish passport, you can stay in Bali for 30 days without a visa as long as you have a return ticket. Your passport also must be valid for at least 6 months after your trip. If you would like to stay in Bali for longer, check your own visa regulations beforehand.
Eating in Bali
It is cheap to eat out in Bali, but there isn’t as much street vendors as there were in Chiang Mai. In Canggu and Ubud there is a lot of western food on offer, but I recommend eating at local Warung restaurants. If you are staying longer, the GoJek app might come in handy for ordering restaurant food to your doorsteps!
Working in Bali
Bali’s Ubud and Canggu are filled with the most comfortable coffee shops and their excellent wi-fi connections. All the coffee shops have the same unwritten rule – if you are going to spend an 8-hour work day there, it’s only fair to buy something every other hour. Through my own experiences and generally speaking, the internet seems to work a tad better in Chiang Mai than in did for me in Bali.
Bali’s pros and cons for working as a digital nomad in Asia:
+ affordable accommodation
+ friendly people
+ comfortable coffee shops to work in
+ nature’s diversity from beaches to the jungle
– abundant amount of tourists
– lack of public transportation and long distances
– trash and pollution
– Bali belly
Chiang Mai or Bali?
Well, well, these destinations are tricky to compare as they are so similar on many levels, yet world’s apart. Bali is definitely the more diverse one and if longing for beach life, Bali is your pick. I like both equally as much that I could easily spend some of the winter in Bali and some in Chiang Mai. But if I absolutely had to choose, I would choose my very close to heart, northern Chiang Mai.
Do you dream of life as a digital nomad for winter?