World’s best places to work from
Several months ago, I wrote an article called “Rise of the Digital Nomad” that explored the disintegrating nature of the “workplace”. Digital Nomads (DigNos) carry their office slung over their back and can do their job anywhere with a good internet connection.
What started out as a whimsical notion has blossomed into a legitimate lifestyle. Freelancers, part-timers and nomads of all descriptions are everywhere. Well, almost everywhere … and that is the real topic of this follow-up essay.
The number one advantage of the Digital Nomad lifestyle is the freedom to travel and work at the same time. So, if you decide to embrace the DigNo life …
Where is the best place to do it?
What makes a good DigNo location?
Veteran nomads cite five main criteria:
1. Low cost of short-term lodging
2. Fast and reliable internet
3. Access to a Digital Nomad community and friendly work space
4. Warm climate
5. Laid back culture
Naturally, some other factors come into play like safety, immigration hassle, medical care, other living expenses and the availability of entertainment and cultural stimulation. As you might expect, nomads have banded together and many contribute real-time data to websites like nomadlist.com to rank different destinations for their nomad worthiness. Several popular bloggers also regularly rate and report on the pros and cons of cities and sites around the world.
Without a doubt, Asia is the most favourable continent for DigNos. In fact, four of the top five locations for DigNos are in Asia.
Here are the top five Digital Nomad friendly spots according to nomadlist.com:
1. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai has long been the capital of the DigNo world as it ticks all the boxes. A warm climate with friendly people. A relatively low cost of living with many low cost short-term living options including guesthouses and dorms. Chiang Mai is also known for reliable and cheap internet with an average speed of around 20 megabytes per second (mps).
Thailand’s northern capital also caters to DigNos with dozens of community workspace options, especially around Chiang Mai University. There isn’t a coffee shop in town that doesn’t have a handful of regular DigNos hanging around part of the day. If real co-working space is what you seek, Chiang Mai’s options range from the chilled out and serene Mana Co-working and Reading Space in the Nimmanhaemon Road area to the chatty and spacious Camp workspace in the Maya Mall sponsored by AIS.
The only black marks on Chiang Mai’s report card are traffic safety and (lack of) freedom of speech … but that applies to all of Thailand.
2. Bali, Indonesia
Bali runs a close second to Chiang Mai as digital nomad capital. Bali attracts a different kind of nomad as it is more of a holiday island. The co-working scene really just started in 2013 when the island’s first co-working space, Hubud opened its doors. Bali had been tagged with a bad reputation for unreliable internet in the past, but an explosion of well-wired co-working spaces has helped to erase this notion. Nowadays, Bali is a prime spot for ‘destination working’ which is essentially the idea that your holiday destination can double as a remote work location as well.
It is important to remember that most things including food and accommodation come with tourist pricing. You’ll need to do some research and networking to find the good deals, but they are out there. What makes Bali such a great DigNo destination by far is the community of like minded and unique individuals. As far as warm weather and laid back culture, well that’s Bali in a nutshell.
3. Bangkok, Thailand
The concrete beehive known as Bangkok is a top DigNo location for those that thrive on city life. Bangkok has been named “most livable city in Asia” by several organisations that rate such things. With reliable internet at blistering speeds, hip and comfortable co-working spots popping up all over the city, and hundreds of low-cost short-term housing options, Bkk is the New York City of DigNo destinations. Notable co-working spaces are Hubba in Ekkamai, The Hive in Phrom Pong, and Wolf Co-working Space in Silom.
Many tourists do visit Bangkok, but keep in mind, it is a “city city”. The frenzied pace can be a little overwhelming to some, but that is balanced out by the endless list of things to do and see. From five-star hotels to night markets to live music, Bkk has it all. Nobody ever says the word “boring” and “Bangkok” in the same sentence.
While The Big Mango gets high marks for entertainment and culture, it does take a few hits in terms of comfort. Bangkok is a sweltering stinky city with more than 10,000,000 inhabitants. If you come in the rainy season you may need gills to breathe. Love it or hate it … it’s like no place else on Earth.
4. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
HCMC is another Asian city-lover’s dream. It may be even sweatier and chaotic than Bangkok if that is possible. The old city of Saigon gets high marks from DigNos because of its fast internet speeds, cheap rents, numerous co-working spaces and reputation as a great place to kick-off a start up tech company. One subset of DigNos are called Location Independent Entrepreneurs; folks who are looking to bootstrap a “next big thing” internet company. HCMC is Mecca for this group. The scores fall off a bit in terms of traffic safety, entertainment, and health care.
More downsides to HCMC for DigNos is the lack of a nomad community. According to one veteran nomad: “Everyone kind of keeps to themselves and if you are used to the friendly vibe you get in Thailand, it can seem a bit cold”. The same goes for the food. While Thai cuisine is cheap and consumer-friendly, it can take some time before you figure out what’s what with Vietnamese food.
Experienced nomads agree, Vietnam is great if you’ve never been to Thailand.
5. Medellin, Columbia
A shocking newcomer to the DigNo scene is Pablo Escobar’s old stomping grounds in Medellin, Columbia. It’s one of those places that became infamous but has made a miraculous turnaround.
During the past decade, Medellin has enjoyed a rebirth as a centre of culture and commerce in Latin America. Not only is it relatively safe, but it ticks a lot of other DigNo boxes as well. Short term rents are reasonable, internet is reliable and fast, and there is a surprisingly active nomad community of mostly North Americans about.
The main area for DigNos to hang out is El Poblado. With a selection of co-working spaces, international restaurants and cafes in walking distance it is quite similar to the Nimman area of Chiang Mai. One DigNo hotspot is Global Express which actually has accommodation, books tours and offers a state-of-the-art co-working space with internet speeds pushing 20 mps. Look for more all-in-one Digital Nomad headquarters like this in the future.
If you can’t handle the sweltering heat of south-east Asia, Medellin is a nice change of pace. It is called the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its mild and temperate weather. If you don’t see yourself in Asia, Medellin may be a good fit.
More Asian Hotspots and Not-spots
The remainder of the top 20 list includes mostly Asian destinations. Koh Lanta, Koh Phangan and Phuket in Thailand come in # 6, 7 and 8 and respectively. Malaysia has a few entries with Kuala Lumpur and Kuching. Vietnam adds Hanoi and Danang to the list. If Cambodia can ever manage reliable internet it will surely boast two or three prime locations.
Other Asian countries you would think should be prime DigNo hotspots like The Philippines and Laos are counted out due to unreliable internet services. Korea and Japan have great internet but are too expensive to live and China can be quite restrictive on many levels.
So, for budding Digital Nomads, Thailand seems to be the hands-down best place to be. But, stay aware … as the DigNo lifestyle becomes more popular and affluent, new locations are going the extra mile to attract and accommodate the world’s wandering workers.
By Bart Walters