This is the beginning of my 4th month in Southeast Asia, and now having visited several cities & countries I have a better idea of what there is to offer here.
Keep in mind that this is highly objective, as others will enjoy other aspects that I may not enjoy.
Note: this is an un-edited draft from a couple weeks ago. Experiences have changed a lot in the past 2 weeks. Click HERE for the most recent write-up regarding life in Chiang Mai. The rest has not been reviewed.
Where I’ve Been
I’ve spent a little over a week in Bangkok, and I’ve moved back to Bangkok to spend at least one more week.
I’ve spent 7 total weeks in Chiang Mai, 4 days in Saigon, Vietnam, as well as 1 month in Canggu, Bali (while also visiting the nearby cities in Bali as well such as Ubud & scuba diving cities in the Northeast).
Here are my opinions and experiences!
Canggu, Bali is great for digital nomads & tourists alike. Basically everything caters to the foreigner, so much so that in my opinion it’s kind of off-putting.
That being said the culture is fascinating if you can immerse in it, which is rather difficult given that everything does indeed cater to foreigners.
I stayed for 1 month in Canggu, which is a popular tourist/digital nomad hotspot. Ubud is also particularly popular with digital nomads.
There are less touristy areas you could definitely stay in, but the English there will be very poor.
Even in the very touristy areas, the English levels of the locals was not so high. It wasn’t as bad as Vietnam, but not near as good as Thailand. Sometimes you will struggle with things.
Bali has everything you could possibly want, besides stable living. For this reason, I have extremely mixed feelings about it. Let’s dive into what this means.
There is an abundance of exceptional apartments, villas, houses, etc. for you to live in. You an live in pure luxury or have a very cheap room. All accommodations are available for long-term or short-term rent, due to the transient nature of the island.
There aren’t many cafes or coffee shops to work from, especially because a lot of things are outdoors where it can be quite hot.
That being said there are some exceptional co-working spaces for online workers (I worked at Matra) which have very fast WiFi.
One of the most annoying things about Bali is that the government blocks several websites, primarily porn, but even social media sites such as Reddit. Luckily many of the co-working spaces and other WiFi’s allow you to bypass the filter, but keep that on the down-low 😛
Internet is quite slow in Bali, besides the co-working spaces, where it is reliably fast. WiFi is also generally terrible.
There are an endless number of delicious restaurants to try. Local food is quite bad, and that’s something every traveler has agreed on. It’s cheap if you want it, but it’s nothing like Thai food or Vietnamese food with great diversity & flavor.
I really enjoyed the great diversity of food. I found a Balkan restaurant which had Bulgarian food owned by a Romanian, and a Greek restaurant owned by a man with such a Greek accent it was no question where he was from!
Also I enjoyed eating at an Italian restaurant, again- owned by an Italian. All of these foods are relatively affordable, and exceptionally delicious. Having traveled to many of these countries, I can confirm that the food quality is as good as local food.
International dining is beyond amazing in Bali. You name it, you can find it. Well, besides exceptional Thai food, that I couldn’t find for some reason.
There are also endless activities to do. You can surf, hangout at the beach, go hiking, scuba dive, ride a motorcycle, there are just too many things to do! You will not be bored in Bali!
The spas & massages are next-level amazing. I enjoyed a place called “Amo” where for about $20 I would get a 30 minute head & shoulder massage, and then a day pass for the Sauna + cold plunge. I made several friends there.
The culture on Bali is a bit weird. You have super touristy & expat zones such as Canggu, and ten you ride a motorbike 5 kilometers north and you’ll literally have locals taking photos with you because that’s so rare (yes, that actually happened).
Me and a friend drove up to explore the local areas & temples, away from the beaten path, and we noticed that everyone was staring at us. Not in a bad way. Just in the sense that it was clear that they didn’t get any tourists.
So in Canggu or Ubud you see white people everywhere, and then you drive a little bit up North and suddenly you’re the only white person and it becomes very obvious very suddenly.
This is where the annoyance of Bali crept in: there didn’t feel like a proper mix of expat & local culture.
For example when I lived in Chiang Mai I felt like I had to integrate myself partially with the local culture. I didn’t have to learn Thai because everyone speaks good English, but it earned me several points for doing so.
I noticed that a few Indonesian words & phrases didn’t really earn me points in Canggu, probably because they’re so used to tourists they don’t even care whether I learn Balinese or not.
There isn’t really a culture in Canggu or Ubud, besides that of being a complete mix of Europeans, Russians, Americans, and especially Australians. It’s cool that there’s such a diverse range of people, but where the hell are the locals?
This is the weird part: when you walk into a restaurant or cafe and it’s a ton of local Balinese serving you, and there are 0 locals eating or drinking. Just tourists. It feels really weird.
It actually made me a bit uncomfortable to look around and see only Indonesians serving a ton of Europeans n’ what not, not because of some race / identity politics, but simply because it indicated a lack of proper mixing between tourists/expats/locals.
Bali is a place to get served and treated like a king, not necessarily immerse yourself in local culture. Of course, this could change in the future, but most everyone would agree with me on this.
I have two other major complaints with Bali: the first being traffic. No, it’s not that the traffic is too crazy. I can handle that.
The problem I have is so many foreigners & expats are so disrespectful to the culture that they rent motorbikes without any idea how to drive them, and then drive said motorbikes so aggressively and without care.
I wrote in a previous post that I observed every single minute a new rider having left their turn signal on. People are literally so clueless on motorbikes in Bali that they leave their turn signals on, likely not knowing how to turn them off on a motorcycle.
Motorcycles without mufflers aren’t uncommon either, so you can get some white virgin 22 year old who loves to rev the engine and drive aggressively, hurting everyone else’s ears. As if a loud motorbike signals that you have a big dick.
Some areas in Canggu are just so underdeveloped to the point it’s dangerous. If you research the “famous Canggu short-cut,” you’ll find a 2-way road that only has enough room to fit one car and one motorbike.
It is raised above the ground with no guard rail so you can also fall a few feet off, or your car will tip over if you fall over. There are so many photos online of such happening. I didn’t witness it, but I did witness a fall close to it.
For whatever reason some genius decided to make a 2-way road that could only fit one car and one motorbike. When 2 cars come at the same time, the whole street locks up. The street is long enough to where this regularly happened, and I would get trapped in between cars and other motorbikes for so long as people had to hop out of their cars and figure this shit out.
Another issue I have with Bali is no clear residence/visa strategy for long-term living. Everyone I asked who had lived there was “visa running” every 60 days, or doing some type of “social visa.”
So in order to live in Bali short-term or long-term every 30 days you have to go to an immigration office to extend your visa, and then when the visa can’t be extended anymore you have to leave the country and fly back.
Contrast this with Thailand which offers Muay Thai visas, language visas, elite visas, and a clear path to residency.
In terms of visas & living I still am uneasy about Southeast Asia for long-term due to the fact there’s no clear path to long-term citizenship. For example, move to USA or Canada or almost any European country and there’s a clear path to citizenship.
That being said countries like Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, etc. still have a clear path to residency, which allows you at least to remain in the country.
Bali on the other hand is too vague with their visa policies, which means you don’t get the right to stay there. Imagine being told by an immigration officer you can’t enter the country- with all your stuff stuck at “home!”
So Bali is definitely a good place to visit as a tourist, or even as a month or so as a digital nomad, but I don’t want to get too attached to there as living legally is not easy.
I really enjoyed Bali and will certainly return, but I don’t like the transient nature, and the fact that everything is about the foreigners. It’s great being catered to, but it’s just so weird when everywhere you go it’s ONLY locals or ONLY foreigners being served by locals. There is just no mixing.
I’ll write more on Bangkok later. I stayed for 1 week last year, and I just moved here for another week or two. I can’t write much on it because I don’t have so much experience. So far I prefer Chiang Mai.
Bangkok traffic is crazy and long, but public transit is available. There’s probably nowhere better for parties & dating, especially considering that the female-male ratio is higher, meaning that there are more women than men. This begins glaringly obvious on Tinder, where hundreds of girls will match you.
Parties are amazing and fun as well!
Note: I started writing this post a few days ago, and now I am finishing it up. So now I’m adding more to the Bangkok section here:
My sleep has been a complete disaster, and I still have very mixed feelings about Bangkok. With my sleep schedule being a disaster, it’s only natural that I’ll feel like shit and not be able to clearly identify whether Bangkok is for me or not.
After doing some writing & talking with friends, I think I’ve came to this conclusion:
Bangkok is much more expensive than I thought it would be.
If you want to come here as a tourist and party, it won’t be that expensive, but in terms of actually living it actually is a lot more expensive than I thought it would be.
The reason for this is in Chiang Mai there are a ton of fun, free things to do. That’s not really the case here.
You either must rent a motorbike, which I’m very hesitant to due to the increase in danger of riding, OR take taxis/public transit.
Public transit + taxi costs add up. I haven’t been keeping track but so far I’d say it’s equal to or even more expensive than the cost of owning my own motorbike in Chiang Mai!
If I were to rent a motorbike it would be a tiny bit more expensive than in Chiang Mai, but the problem is parking. Chiang Mai is so relaxed you can literally park anywhere.
Here you aren’t allowed to be so relaxed. You must find a legitimate parking place. The parking fees will no doubt add up and eat up more of the budget.
If you’ve got cash to drop, this seems to be the place. The malls are legendary. Bars & clubs are next-level. You can enjoy rooftop bars and sip fancy wine, or get down n’ dirty on a wild party road called KhaoSan road.
Dining is next-level amazing as well, but local (cheap) Thai markets are more difficult to find than in Chiang Mai.
With everything being more spread out, commute times increase. This is also what has me iffy.
In Chiang Mai I ride 5-10 minutes everywhere, max 15, and then maybe like 20 minutes to go up the mountain to a beautiful waterfall. Here it’s minimum 20 minutes which includes a lot of walking, motorbike taxis, and the public transit system.
To meet one girl, I spent almost an entire hour in public transport!
This could just be the area that I’m staying in however. Bangkok is such a big city I would need to experiment with living in different places.
I’ll also probably have to rent a motorbike. I’m considering doing that later today or tomorrow for a few days to get a feel for riding around here.
One annoying thing is that I’m finding it difficult to find suitable cafes to work from. The last coffee shop I was at printed me a fucking 1 hour WiFi ticket, and the WiFi was so bad that I couldn’t work.
So I went to a place I thought had good WiFi, and same same: the WiFi is so bad I’m back to uploading a YouTube video via my phone’s SIM card.
If you want to live & work here remotely, you must find what’s called a “co-working” space to get your work done, or have a home office. Both of these things are expensive and will add an extra $100-$200 onto the monthly budget.
After posting on Reddit for feedback, I realized that I probably need to double my monthly budget in order to fully enjoy live here. Right now I can’t do that.
On one hand I love the excitement of Bangkok. It’s a big city with everything you could imagine- even if it’s quite spread out.
Bangkok has western amenities, amazing apartments, quiet accommodation, and most importantly for me an endless list of literally hundreds of tinder girls waiting to match me and meet me.
With cash, this is the city to live in. I’ve dated an average of 2 new girls per day since moving here, but I’m also finding that exhausting. It would not be unrealistic to say that if you had the drive you could bang a new person every day here (is it like this in other big cities??).
Today I’ve kept my phone away from me for the most part, and stopped responding to all of the messages. I need some me-time, some time to relax in cafes, wander aimlessly, and not schedule dates & work in by the hour.
With cash you can enjoy a life so incredible here, I think that once I do have the cash this might end up being my favorite place to be! I’d be able to have an epic apartment, nice motorbike, date tons of girls, and actually do exciting things such as bowling, rooftop bars, crazy parties, fine dining, and more.
Until then, Bangkok not might be the city for me to be. And even all that being said, I miss the “Sabai sabai” (relax relax) vibes of Chiang Mai or the peace of Sofia.
Part of it could be that I’ve traveled a bit too much recently. I do recognize in myself that I’m sick of searching for a new place to work from, especially because I am prioritizing my work more recently.
I noticed recently that I was feeling very bad, and I felt much better when I got some work done.
I was happy when a girl was late to our meeting because it meant that I could spend 30 more minutes making some progress.
This is completely my fault to be enjoying too much the women of Bangkok instead of work, but damn is it distracting! And a bit much!
It’s a man’s dream to date 2 new girls every day, but now that I’m living the dream, WOW I need to slow down…
So in short, I’ve got extremely mixed feelings about Bangkok. A part of me loves it. The controlled chaos, dating, parties, and western amenities.
The other part of me cringes at the prices I’m paying (which often exceeds the prices in Bulgaria and even Western Europe) for various things, and simply desires some comfort & familiarity.
The human can only travel so much… We need to relax and enjoy comfort too. I’m learning that about myself.
I’m finding it very, very hard to purchase a flight out though. The dating & excitement here is keeping me trapped. I want to go but can’t yet.
Perhaps Bangkok will serve as my motivation for earning more money with online business.
When I get another client or two and can justify doubling my monthly budget, Bangkok will be a totally different experience.
I may write another report as well because as I said my sleep schedule has been totally fucked up (day 2: too much wine on a rooftop bar and staying up late with a hot girl) which definitely adds a negative hue to the experience.
Also, I’m not so much in “abundant” feeling. What I mean is that I may need to share more good energy from friends in Chiang Mai / Sofia before I have the capability to properly integrate into a new city.
As mentioned, you can only have so much newness until you start to crave a familiar face.
Last year I spent 3 weeks in Chiang Mai but dipped out fast. I was heart-broken, isolated, didn’t have healthy habits, had a surgery, and a motorbike crash in the nearby mountains.
I was not in a good mental space or ready to enjoy it. I was also experiencing massive culture shock.
Now I went back to live there for 1 month, and all I can say is “WOW!” I never could’ve expected I’d enjoy it so much!
After 30 days my visa expired, and instead of extending I took a weekend in Vietnam (and now I’m in Bangkok). I must say, Vietnam was too much (more on that later) and I kept thinking of how I wanted to go back to Chiang Mai.
After just 30 more days, Chiang Mai… already feels like home. I could totally see myself living there, maybe equally to Sofia, Bulgaria.
In fact, it feels a lot like Sofia. It’s generally quiet & relaxed, but there are great parties available as well. There are amazing coffee shops, food, and a great local culture to immerse yourself into! There’s also many foreigners permanently living there.
In a way it is still slightly transient from all the digital nomads coming & leaving, but most people seem to return… like myself, so take that for what it’s worth.
The traffic in Chiang Mai is relaxed, people are respectful & kind, the local food is incredible and cheap, and there’s an abundance of great places to stay short, medium, and long-term at an affordable price.
I am intending on spending 1 week in Bangkok and then after I might go back to Sofia, Bulgaria, stay longer in Bangkok, or even do 1 more month in Chaing Mai- it’s that amazing!
In fact, after 3 months in Sofia, Bulgaria (which is what I’m leaning on doing in about 2-3 weeks) I will then probably go back to Chiang Mai for about 3 months to properly immerse myself in Thai culture & language.
I don’t even know what to write about- it’s just so amazing. You can meet locals, expats, foreigners, travelers, hangout in the mountain, explore waterfalls, relax by the lake, and go to local markets.
Parties are also a lot of fun, but the main clubs close at midnight. I actually prefer this so that my sleep schedule doesn’t get totally ruined by a party starting at 11pm and ending at 5am.
I love Thai food, and there is an abundance of great Thai restaurants in Chiang mai! There are also other places, such as burger restaurant & Italian restaurant, and even an American restaurant with great Mac n’ Cheese.
What I love about Chiang Mai is the relaxed vibe. It’s a healthy mix of working, social life, and everything.
For example in Bangkok dating is off the charts amazing, but you have to deal with annoying traffic and a bit more of a hectic life.
I think the most ideal situation for Chiang Mai would be to get a girlfriend, so I’ll probably try not to get a girlfriend when I return to Bulgaria just so that I can get a Thai girlfriend.
The Thai girls are so amazing, kind, etc. that I truly believe they might be the best to date.
I met a really cool, special girl in Chiang Mai also. I told her I wasn’t ready for anything serious because of my last relationship’s ending, which she understood.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a bit of love for her… But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want her to get her expectations up just for me to leave to Bulgaria.
Chiang Mai has me really re-considering whether I want to immigrate fully to Bulgaria or not, simply because of how amazing it is!
There’s just so much to do, but it’s at a more relaxed, happy place. It’s got the fastest internet I’ve experienced. Service is off the charts amazing.
I feel genuinely excited at learning Thai and immersing myself more into Thai culture and Chiang Mai life. I’m actually torn between spending 3 months now in Chiang Mai or going back to Bulgaria, but I’ll probably go back to Bulgaria.
The only problem with Chiang Mai is that there’s something called “Burning Season” from February to April, where it becomes the most polluted city in the whole world! The farmers are burning something as the name implies, and a ton of smoke comes.
So if I were to live there permanently, I couldn’t live there during that time- in fact, no one wants to live there during that time!
Other than that Chiang Mai is perfect and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be besides Sofia, Bulgaria. I’ll be returning soon as Chiang Mai is holding a special place in my heart.
Saigon, now referred to as Ho Chi Minh City, is crazy. I spent 4 days there, and have mixed feelings.
The party on Friday night was too crazy to the point of absurdity and danger. The craziest girl I’ve ever dated was on Sunday. Another girl I met opened up and started looking through Tinder at the party there.
The culture is not so kind as Thailand, so maybe it’s the contrast from the kind service of the Thai to the more frowning style of the Vietnamese. There are still very nice people though.
Some of the Vietnamese I met were very funny, kind, etc. even though they hardly spoke any English. Most people have very low English speaking, you can get around with English but it’ll be quite hard!
Others were angry, downright rude, and there are a lot of hagglers that annoy you. People are aggressive drivers, and it is not safe.
For example traffic does not stop for you if you want to cross the street. I think technically you get the right of way, but nobody cares. HONK HONK, move out of the way!
If you aren’t moving fast enough? HONK, move! The buses & cars would honk at bikers, demanding they move or get hit.
When crossing the street you literally have to play “frogger” with your life, dodging motorbikbes and cars. It’s quite the adventure. Sometimes exciting, but in hindsight not a place I’d like to live.
The party in Saigon was the craziest I’ve had in my whole life- not in terms of enjoyment, but just in terms of random shit going on. Hardly anyone dances, which is weird.
So the “walking street” also allows motorbikes and cars to pass through and mix with the people, making it super dangerous.
All kinds of people line the streets haggling you to buy their shit, which is useless stuff.
Drug dealers are everywhere and offer you weed, meth, cocaine, whatever you want. They also have balloons filled with laughing gas. I saw no police, and locals confirmed that you can do or buy whatever you want- the police don’t care.
Fire breathers and performers would randomly go on the street and spit fire. Hookers would literally grab onto you. Massage therapists (probably with happy endings) would grab onto you also.
Little kids also lined the streets trying to perform and show you things. There were also street food vendors.
It is… to say the least, a shit show, packed person to person and bike to bike in all this craziness along with absurdly loud music.
A bit too crazy, but definitely a place to have a wild night.
Honestly I was excited to leave Vietnam. It gets to be too much too fast. It’s a cool place to visit, but it can’t compare to Bangkok.
Bangkok is cleaner, kinder, and more respectful. Vietnam is so crazy to the point that nobody cares about your life. It’s brutally dangerous.
I was happy to leave Vietnam and arrived at the airport extra early. Then my flight got delayed, so I spent like 2-3x longer in the airport than I did the length of my flight.
When I landed back in Thailand, a wave of relaxation washed over me. I was back home.
Asia: In the Future
Right now I’m currently in Bangkok (see: Bangkok section). I’ve got mixed feelings, primarily because I am against craving some familiarity/stability from either Bulgaria or Chiang Mai.
Furthermore this city appears to be above my budget. Definitely I could live nice in my budget, but to properly enjoy “the life” in this city you need to be wealthy, even by American standards.
I’d like to return to Chiang Mai & Bali, and when I have more wealth Bangok. My AirBNB expires Tuesday and I don’t know what I’ll do from there.
I’m considering staying in Bangkok one more week (I feel attached already to many of the girls I’ve seen, and not gonna lie, enjoying all this female attention/crazy life) and getting a motorbike to better experience it. We’ll see if my wallet can afford it first though.
My heart originally called me to Bulgaria, but now strangely… I feel drawn to Chiang Mai. The dating may not be as legendary, but it’s ultra-cheap for an incredible lifestyle and now that I’ve seen more girls than I can even keep track of I’m discovering other personal priorities such as me-time, male friends, business, and fitness.
I’ve never had a crazy dating lifestyle, and now that the “pendulum” has swung far towards that way I’m discovering that the fantasy- when realized- isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I do wish to return; I struggle to leave any destination as often I find myself attached to at least one person and place.
So far there’s not much else in Asia I’d like to see. I’ve traveled so much that sights are kind of meh, and I’m valuing more having a home base and stability + great social circle.
Japan & Korea would be cool to visit, and Koh Phangan, Thailand is on the list as well.
I’m also putting a small amount of effort into learning Thai, which is also why I’m enjoying Thailand so much more. The locals love it that a white “farang” is speaking some Thai.
In some instances at cafes I can speak enough Thai to complete the entire order, ask some questions, and say thank you! It feels so amazing to speak Thai, even more so than speaking German or Bulgarian!
It just feels right. I keep saying, “I’m gonna travel to Bulgaria,” but then I say 1 more month in Thailand.
Should I really stay 3 months in Bulgaria, or is that too long? The longer I stay here, the longer I wish to stay. The more I wish to learn more Thai, and integrate myself more into the culture.
A beautiful girl I was seeing in Chiang Mai (and connected deeply with) gave me a child’s book for learning the Thai letters, which is even crazier than Thai. Every Thai girl I meet is excited to teach me more Thai, and so in every date or hangout I go on I learn more and more Thai.
Thai people are also some of the nicest, kindest, most amazing people I’ve ever met. In Chiang Mai you see people casually leaving wallets full of cash, laptops, and phones out and about in cafes because of how safe it is.
It’s a culture based on respect, and for that reason I’m finding more and more reason to stay..
I do really want to go back to Bulgaria… But I also observe how many “Asian” habits I’m developing, such as bowing and smiling very widely at everyone. Both of these would be soo weird in Bulgaria.
I’ve already resolved subconsciously that after Bulgaria I want to go back to Thailand and live for at least 3-4 months. If I have the budget I’ll try a month in Bangkok, otherwise Chiang Mai.
I’ll also have a vacation in Koh Phangan.
Like I said, I don’t intend to do a lot more traveling to new places anymore. It’s exhausting and my brain needs stability. So I’m planning on having a home base in Bulgaria, and then another in Thailand.
From there if I feel compelled to explore I will, but I don’t now. I’m.. happy, here. Genuinely happy.
Sure I don’t “have it all” and things could be better, but there’s just something here in the way of living that makes me content. “Sabai sabai,” as the Thai say. Relax, one moment at a time..
After all, isn’t the present moment all we really have?