I was always fascinated by people who decide to travel by themselves with no day job and still make a great living with their own small e-business’. Digital Nomads they call it. I had to meet more of these adventurers and take a glimpse at their lifestyle and that’s one of the reasons that brought me to Thailand as the first stop for my sabbatical. Here’s my 5 cent at what I have learned so far.
Thailand is one of the most touristic places in the world and after being here for 1 month you easily understand why: beach, jungle, mountains, exotic animals, friendly/relaxed people, amazing food you name it, Thailand has it all. The biggest downside however are probably the “price fluctuations”, being a “farang” (thai slang for foreigner) also implies paying a bit more in many places even if you speak the local language or are accompanied by one. That’s how it works and that’s how it’ll be in the upcoming years, I’ve been told, no discussion about it. Tourism means big business for thai.
If you look outside the big popular areas you can normally find rooms for 1 month for as low as 4000-5000 THB (expenses not included) or cheaper depending on the facilities and location/street noise. I’m talking about rooms with about 30-35 square metres with a regular king size bed/mattress, a desk, fridge, air conditioning and toilet with shower. The price goes up as you add more and more furniture/appliances, but who needs huge cupboards when you might be changing place in 3-4 weeks? Or TV… Do look for chairs though, sometimes you have to get them yourself, as well as bed clothing and pillows.
As for hotels and lodging in general they operate pretty much as you would expect, with prices often premium for resorts near the beach in the south.
I have to say I am surprised by how good the food can be for so little. You can have a portion of the typical pad thai noodles for as low as 40-60 THB with chicken or sea food from pretty much every stand on the street. Even on average restaurants prices normally don’t go over 150-300 and over 300 probably means you’re either in a fancy restaurant or you’re looking for steak or some other “farang” dishes.
After a while, if you love Thai food you’ll even find some hidden jewels – places you can have multiple great quality portions for a total of, say… 70-80 THB!
In Thailand there are plenty of cities to see and things to do. Be sure to check travelling guides and pick your favourites. If you settle with a scooter you can easily visit many places and avoid the touristic prices of most excursions.
Going out and partying can be costly, specially drinks and cover charges. Alcoholic drinks are expensive for thai standards with a pint rounding the 80-150 THB on bars and more on nightclubs. The covers vary a lot but can be easily over 200 THB.
It can depend a lot where you are and how far you want to go. If we are talking about travelling inside the big cities and for the short stay, then you should explore the constant boat ferries along the rivers (Bangkok example) which cost something like 10-15 THB or buses, a bus trip also rounds the 15-30 THB mark. Some cities even have a mix of bus/taxi service which you can get by the roads doing circuits around certain parts of the city for 30 THB and you’ll have to ask if they serve your area / they can pass there on the way. The money hungry taxis and tuktuks should be avoided unless:
1 – You have no other choice
2 – You pick a time of the day where streets are not flooded with traffic AND you make sure they use the meter
3 – You feel like negotiating which can be tough considering many don’t speak fluent english
Taxis and tuktuks are the typical examples where paying a “farang” price is not a surprise. Still, if you are used to prices in the western countries “it’s fine”. For taxi between Bangkok’s international airport (Suvarnabhumi) to the city center it shouldn’t cost more than 400-500 THB.
For the extended stay by far the most popular between the digital nomads is the motorcycle. The price can be negotiated but a simple scooter with automatic transmission can go for about 2500 THB / month, cheaper if you feel comfortable with a manual transmission and more expensive if you are looking for bigger and more powerful models.
There is no need for a drivers license, they normally require an extra deposit or they’ll ask to keep the original passport which can be a hassle. The problem though, is that you’ll have to keep an eye on the police stop operations and avoid them as much as possible, but then again if you’re staying for a while you’ll probably find out lots of options or you can get yourself a 3G SIM card and let google do the work.
As for travelling between cities, there are a few low-cost airlines which are well worth the price for the time saved. For example you can find flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai for about 1000 THB and lasting for an hour and a half versus the bus service which can take up to 10 hours and cost around 500 THB.
Getting yourself a SIM Card with 3G is quite handy. The plans can vary depending on your necessities but should be around 400-500 THB/month for:
– 3Gb limit, 3G plan
– 1THB/minute in Thailand
– One time 50 THB for the SIM alone
– International calls may vary a lot
As for the internet you can often find coffee shops with great connection. Or you get your own contract for about 600 THB/month:
– 15 Mb/s download
– 5 Mb/s upload
If I got your attention so far then you’re probably looking for some advice on what kind of business digital nomads do around Thailand. I won’t disclose specific values as many don’t either, so it’s pointless for me to guess. The lifestyle can vary a lot so the best I can do is having a clue based on that.
Blogging, blogging, blogging
Probably one of the most common digital nomad’s bread and butter. Some are really gifted, others pick a specific niche and go all out on it. It can be really profitable and of course you can find examples on the web of people making 4-5 figures a month.
Selling / Re-selling
Another top contestant is selling and re-selling either via eBay, Alibaba or their own shop. This can be a lot of work, but at the same time fun if you’re into this kind of activity.
Some even do all of it remote, so they collect the profits and don’t even need to go around looking for suppliers.
One thing to look out though is, being caught by Thai authorities doing business from locals to re-sell somewhere else even if inside the country while under a tourist visa can have serious implications. We are talking heavy fines and being forbidden to step into the country for many years. That’s why many prefer to just manage everything remote.
Google experts / Marketing artists
I didn’t really know how to call these guys, this was the best I could come up with. They normally know everything there is to know about Google Adwords and how to direct traffic with campaigns with a solid knowledge about the products they advertise.
The funny part though is that normally the products are completely random from baby products to hiking equipment, depending on the current hot trends.
Writers and teachers
There are plenty of writers too. Making ebooks, presentations, courses can be very profitable and a great opportunity to learn as well.
Becoming an english teacher is also pretty easy. Some people just have the TOEFL or are fluent enough to be hired (in many cases) on the spot with little effort.
Working remote for a company
Some jobs offer the chance of working remote so these are not a big surprise to meet, in particular if you keep a call center job and don’t mind working on shifts remotely.
Hotspots in Thailand for digital nomads? I don’t really know, but Chiang Mai is definitely one of them and besides if you’re really one, do you really want to be where everyone else is? For learning purposes maybe, but having your own business and discovering by yourself is the ultimate reward.
Finally below there’s a simple spreadsheet I set up super fast in a similar fashion to what I did for my own accounting, if you feel like playing around and getting an idea of how much would it cost to live in Thailand. Have fun and happy travels!