Digital Nomads are everywhere, and with the growing population of independent location workers – new spots are popping up everyday. The real question is, which cities are set up for affordable nomad living? There are places I’ve grown to love and others that although extremely lovely, aren’t great for productivity. The idyllic white-sand beaches of Koh Rong Samloem might be great for relaxing, but without any wifi… it certainly isn’t my top choice for getting work done. I’ve been hopping around Southeast Asia in search of the best cities to work from, and I’m going to tell you my top picks!
Nomad Living – Why Asia?
Why not? LOL It’s amazing here! Southeast Asia a wonderland of exotic foods, fast paced culture, and extraordinary sightseeing opportunities. It’s a great place for digital nomads to start out who are seeking cheaper accommodation and food while trying to grow their business. Lowering overhead can financially free entrepreneurs up to dedicate their resources towards initial start-up costs.
In this article, I’ll explain to you why the following cities are the best for nomad living. I’ll also include cost of living and co-working information.
#1 Chiang Mai Thailand
Chiang Mai has to be at the top of this list because it is certainly the best city in all of Southeast Asia for digital nomads. Located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is nestled along the border of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Surrounded on all sides by hill tribe villages and lush green mountain landscape, Chiang Mai is a city that can satisfy both a city dweller and nature lovers. Renowned for having over two hundred ancient temples, Chiang Mai is a city where old meets new. Entrepreneurs flock here for a multitude of reasons: excellent health care, delicious food, friendly locals, low cost of living, relaxed vibes, and a plethora of co-working options to choose from.
If you’re thinking about becoming a digital nomad, and you need a first destination… this should be your first pick. An average local meal costs only $1 and dinner at a restaurant only costs between $2-4. You can rent a motorbike for as little as $2 and secure an apartment for as little as $150-300. A ride in a local red pickup truck (called a songthaew) will only set you back 60 cents. The most tried-and-true nonworking space is the classic Punspace (membership required) and another favorite place to work from is CAMP which is free along as you purchase a drink.
With daily outdoor markets, a burgeoning nightlife, fast internet, and cheap prices… it’s no wonder why so many people have fallen in love with this beautiful city. It’s a city that I keep finding myself coming back to over and over again because I find that my work-life balance is perfect here.
#2 Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Ubud is paradise on earth. Located on the tropical island of Bali, this picturesque village is covered entirely in gorgeous green rice paddies and thatched huts. Notoriously famous for their rapidly growing start-up scene – Ubud has quickly become a top choice for digital nomads on a budget.
Popular with yogis and health food enthusiasts, this little village has blossomed into a hub for entrepreneurs. Ubud is also a culturally rich city filled with surreal experiences waiting to be had. Take a trip to a morning market that looks like you’ve stepped into an Indiana Jones movie, participate in a Balinese cooking class, walk through the rice fields or attend a fire-breathing Kekak show. It’s all splendid.
While travelers often refer to Bali as being “touristy,” Ubud still remains as one of the central locations that holds tightly to their traditions and old school practices. It is not uncommon to suddenly stumble upon a traditional ceremony filled with incense, chanting priests, and puppets resembling beasts parading through the streets.
Nomad living in Ubud Bali is extremely easy. Apartments can be found for as little as $300 per month while a humble room in a homestay will only set you back $12 per day including breakfast. A typical Balinese meal costs $1 while fancier options can be had for $2-5. The best way to get around Ubud is to rent a motorbike which costs approximately $1-3 per day and an entire tank of petrol is only $1.
Grab an artisanal coffee at Seniman and take pleasure in the fastest internet known to man-kind. If you’re looking for a quiet co-working space, you can check out The Onion Collective and The Outpost.
If you’re looking to get some work done, practice yoga, and drink a coconut all at the same day… Bali is calling your name.
#3 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Chaotic, fascinating, entrancing. These are all terms I would use to describe this mesmerizing city filled with a river of motorbikes streaming down the street that will make your jaw drop in wonderment. A perfectly insane triad of honking horns, devilish aromas of the herb soup pho being cooked on the side of the road, and construction being conducted just about everywhere. The bombardment of all your senses being overwhelmed all at once is a sign you’ve arrived to the magical city of Ho Chi Minh city. Saigon, as the locals lovingly refer to HCM is a city that’s had a tumultuous past that is intersected with a promising future.
Saigon is a city that has so much to give, and yet is superbly underrated by many travelers. If you’re into big cities and world-class food, Saigon is my top 5 choices for comfortable (and highly entertaining) nomad living. The former capital of Vietnam hasn’t had the spotlight shown on it too much but it’s a destination prepared for the influx of entrepreneurs. Ho Chi Minh city alone has over a dozen co-working spaces, with new ones being built every year. Work Saigon in District 3 is one of my favorite co-working spots because of their reliable internet and amazing kitchen serving up healthy salads and fresh pressed juices at a reasonable price. No membership needed, just purchase some food and you can stay all day.
The average price of an apartment in Saigon for a digital nomad is approximately $450. Street food is plentiful and a bahn mi sandwich only costs 50 cents. The price of a local meal is $1-2 while dining out at a tourist restaurant usually costs $3-5. There is a strong nightlife scene, especially on the backpacker street Pham Ngu Lao where you can purchase a drink for as little as $1. In short, Ho Chi Minh city is the perfect destination for thrill seekers looking to work hard & play hard.
#4 Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot is a sleepy seaside village in Southern Cambodia filled with dusty streets and crisp breeze. Famous for their durian (a spiky stink fruit that tastes like heaven), this little town is often skipped over by most travelers en-route to Sihanoukville.
Kampot doesn’t have any modern architecture, or fancy nightclubs, or even a proper grocery store. But what it does have is one of the most relaxed atmospheres in all of Cambodia. What it does have is a beautiful river, friendly locals, bustling farmers markets, tons of street food, and charming stilt houses built over the river.
I was shocked to find out just how small Kampot really is; the entire city can be easily seen within a couple hours of walking. What made me fall in love with Kampot was the surprisingly good foodie scene and welcoming expat community.
I spent most of my time swimming in the river at Greenhouse, exploring Bokor mountain by motorbike, and eating stinky durian. Kampot is light on my wallet and I found this town to be incredibly affordable compared to Phnom Penh. A typical meal such as a bowl of noodle soup will set you back $2, while a meal at an international restaurant will run $3-5.
Street food can be purchased for as little as $1 including coconut ice cream, crepes, donuts, and sliced fruit. Dorms start around $3 per bed and you can easily find a decent room for $15 which includes air-con.
There are also plenty of coffee shops to work from with great wifi including Ellie’s Cafe, Epic Arts, and Cafe Espresso Roastery. I also really loved taking $5 yoga classes at Simple Things restaurant as well as eating their delicious vegetarian food. I highly recommend checking out Kampot if you’re into relaxed vibes, good coffee, and immersing yourself in nature. Just be warned that you might never want to leave.
#5 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
The entire city of Georgetown has been deemed a UNESCO world heritage site. Charming British colonial architecture, diverse cultures mixing together, and an unbelievable street food scene make Georgetown a must-visit for any travelers chasing exotic adventures. After living three months in Penang in a remote village during the rainy season, I can easily attest that this island has their fair share of internet issues. However, I recently revisited Penang on a visa run and was happily surprised to find out that a new co-working space called Cat has opened up shop. This is certainly a huge game changer for the city of Georgetown.
Three cultures live in harmony on the little island of Penang: Chinese, Indian, and Malay. The interesting combination travers into the exotic cuisine, traditions, and customs. Penang is not only a culturally rich city, but an affordable one to boot! Penang is a great place for budget travelers to visit because the cost of living is very low. A typical meal costs $1 at a restaurant and street food starts at .30 cents USD. A typical room at a homestay is $6 per day while an apartment typically costs about $300-500 per month. Georgetown is a very walkable city and public transportation is practically free. A city bus ride costs 50 cents. If you work online, are addicted to Indian food (like I am), and enjoy visiting Hindu and Buddhist temples, Penang is a great place to check out!
Best Nomad App
If your traveling around the globe and you’re trying to track how much you spend, there is no better travel companion than Nomad Budget (available for iPhone). Nomad Budget converts over 200 currencies so you don’t have to. It’s made especially for digital nomads on-the- go who need to know who much of their daily budget is left for the day. It also helps you track your monthly spending with categories and reports. The best part about this app is that it works anywhere in the world and your first 25 expenses are FREE!
I hope you enjoyed this article about the top destinations for affordable nomad living. As a traveler on a budget, I’m always on the hunt for new digital nomad cities in Southeast Asia! Southeast Asia has a growing start-up scene and I think it will continue to develop at a rapid pace over the next several years. With a low cost of living, high safety standard, and amiable locals always willing to lend a helping hand, I think Southeast Asia is the best place to live as a digital nomad. If you have any recommendations for digital nomad cities in Southeast Asia or around the world, feel free to leave a comment. We would love to hear what you have to say!