In Feb-March 2019, I spent 2 months cycle touring in Thailand. This trip included 12 days of stay in Chiang Mai and 7 days in Bangkok. Apart from this I visited many small and obscure towns on my cycling trip. I gauged the towns for a long term stay (2-3 months) later on as a digital nomad. I am always happy to find a nice place to stay for a couple of months, working remote.
One of the first things I noticed in Chiang Mai – my first city in Thailand was how the society molds itself for the various needs of the people and tourists. The Songtheaw is an amazing example of this. It is such a convenient public transportation option – it has a lot of space for luggage which really helps the myriad Thai vendors and tourists wanting to travel with their bags (or cycles 😉 ). The entrance into a Songtheaw is such that one can easily even roll in a fully loaded cycle without much ado (as I experienced first hand). And it plies in a semi-flexible route making it another advantage. All for 20 – 30 Bahts per person.
Value for money. This is a feeling I got very often in Thailand.
Being from India, I didn’t really find it to be the cheapest place I have visited but the value I got for the money I spent was high. And that is worth a little extra spend.
I also asked my friend Meiyi Chang to share her experience of staying long term in Thailand (mainly Chiang Mai) and here’s what she shared,
(I agree with her assessment that South Thailand with the very popular beach towns and islands is usually catering to tourists and hippies. Not VFM nor very suited for digital nomads and long term stays)
Being heavily dependent on tourism, Thailand molds itself well as a tourist destination. There are some simple advantages to staying long term in this country that I have highlighted here. And later on I also list out the challenges.
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Best Things of a Long Term Stay in Thailand
I expected to get decent stay options (a private room with attached bathroom) for about 300-400 Bahts (600-800 INR) but that was not usually possible. Nowadays, most stay places have an AC and because of this the price is notched up to 450 – 600 Bahts (900 – 1200 INR).
But the highlight is that at 500-550 Bahts we can usually get a REALLY GOOD place. Very nice aesthetic ambiance, hot water, bedside light switches, a view, mini fridge, table and chair, electric kettle and such. It’s really good value for money.
Due to the heavy influx of short term tourists, some places might not want to give cheaper long term rates. But we can always find a few who would be happy to reduce monthly rates especially in the non-peak months. So, quite affordable and comfortable stay options. The challenge would be to find a place with a kitchen. As food is easily available outside, most accommodation options in Thailand don’t have full cooking facilities.
As mentioned earlier the Songtheaw is one of many transportation options available to the public. From scooter-taxis to buses to rickshaws and metro rails, most cities of Thailand have a multitude of transport options. When there is a river, there are ferry crossings and even long distance boat options.
Another major requirement especially for long stayers is a good internet connection for work, social media and international calls. Thailand has decent options.
Thailand has 3 mobile operators – True, AIS and DTAC. All of them are supposed to be really good. If you stay in one of the bigger cities then you could make use of their public wifi spots too. One of my friend who stays in the Bangkok central area showed me that the public wifi spot from his mobile operator gave him 90 Mbps speeds! That’s amazing.
I got an AIS monthly plan at 4 Mbps (4G speed), it was significantly cheaper than same speed for 7 days. It was adequate for all my work. Maybe if I had frequent video calls to make then I would take the next level of speed.
I think the best way to get the right deal is to walk into one of their bigger showrooms and explain your requirements to the person. They offer good plans. When I went to get a recharge at one of the smaller mall stalls of AIS, they offered me very different plan options. And only once I told her my previous plan did she agree to recharge that one.
Typically, the mall-stalls and airport counters are catering to short term visitors. So as a long term traveller you could opt for a different plan with better features or lower price.
TSIM sims for short trips
People on a short tour can buy a TSIM sim from India itself. They provide prepaid SIM cards for one or multiple countries in South East Asia. They sent me a free one to try out and write about on this blog. Here’s my genuine review of it:
I was happy to have it because I didn’t have to bother buying a SIM from the airport (I usually never buy SIMs from airports). It had a really good mobile data speed, I would say 4 – 5G. I even did a few work related whatsapp calls and the connection was really good. Streaming content and video calls was also smooth.
Their packages are for a few days only. For long trips, it might be useful to keep this SIM for a week and then research the best long term SIM options. For short trips it is a good option, if you want to skip buying at the airport (when we are usually caught up with immigration, lack of sleep, adjusting with the new country and so on..)
Most restaurants and hotels have decent speed wifi. So taking a basic mobile data plan and the relying on these wifi spots is also OK. For video calling I think getting a fast mobile data connection is a good option. And also opting in for the wifi spots provided by these mobile companies should work.
In Chiang Mai and Bangkok there are good work space options for digital nomads and remote workers. But in other smaller towns there probably won’t be. But I saw that most apartments or guesthouses have a table and chair to work on. Moreover, usually there are common sitting areas and cafes easily accessible. These would help. But whether you get actual co-working spaces in smaller towns is doubtful. Especially because a lot of small beach towns and the like are tourist hubs and not aimed for remote workers.
The other major concern is the food availability and costs. For non-vegetarians or not-so-strict vegetarians they could easily rely on local restaurants for food. Would be inexpensive (about 30 – 40 Baht per person). However, being a strict Indian vegetarian who avoids onion & garlic, I had a lot of food problems. I would need a kitchen in my stay place, no other option.
Will write a detailed post on vegetarian food availability later.
Fruits & Drinks
The good part for everyone is that fruits, smoothies, milk shakes, teas and coffees are available everywhere. And Thailand being a tropical country – the choice of fruits and vegetables is very pleasing. So apart from the main meals, the rest of the time one can gorge on these snacking and beverage options.
A special acknowledgement for the water units that are found almost everywhere in Thailand including highways and in small villages. These reuse rainwater or some such system. But mainly with only 2-5 Bahts we can get 3-5 litres of drinking quality water. I found it amazing!
Laundry & other cleaning Services
The other thing I love about Thailand are the washing machine spots in most tourist areas. Often you would find a washing machine just around the corner of your stay place. Sometimes it may be a short walk away. Usually a small washing machine costs 20 Baht + 5 Baht for washing powder.
Manual laundry services are also available at per kilo prices. They provide ironing services too. However, once I had to avail of these due to ludicrous language problems and it turned out to be quite expensive. Like 70 Bahts to wash half a bucket of clothes. Moreover, there was a possibility of bed bugs getting into the clothes. (In India, this happens sometimes as the washing/ironing folks keep a huge load of clothes all together. Either these other clothes or their ironing tables or other wooden furniture might have bed bug infestation)
If you do hire a domestic worker or house cleaner, the services are usually very inexpensive. Specifically I hear that the Burmese house helps are not only very meticulous but also very inexpensive (owing to the economic disparity in the country). The Thai locals themselves I think are hard working and happy to provide a good service for a reasonable price.
Events & Celebrations for your free time
If you are in a tourist spot then most weekends there would be some events taking place in your area. In Chiang Mai for example, they had closed most of the old town lanes during Sunday and there were some music and dance stalls set up in the middle of the lanes. These can provide a good break from our daily remote work routine.
Even in non-touristy areas, the nearby Buddhist temples would see a fair share of events taking place. As with India, the Thai culture has many auspicious days as per the lunar calendar. These are celebrated in all Temples.
Daily there are chanting sessions in all Buddhist temples. Sometimes they may also have meditation camps and monk chat sessions.
Quite a few small non-touristy towns and mega touristy cites with adequate healthcare facilities – long term stay here can provide a good lifestyle. One can take up sports like cycling, archery, golf and so on. Bangkok – a mega, international level metropolis is also just a hop away via flight, bus or train. For short trips, there are a plethora options from mountain retreats to beach towns and ancient ruins. Overall the people are also chilled out and used to tourists.
The plethora of meditation retreats in Thailand could be more than Ashrams in India. They are so common! And many of them are really serene and aesthetically done locations sometimes with lakes or rivers nearby.
For longer stays you can make use of these. Depending on the area you are going to, you can check for a nearby meditation retreat or Assom (Ashram) as they are called. Usually, they are a form of Vipassana but the exact retreat details would differ.
If you want recommendations for meditation retreats do ask me. 🙂
National Parks with Camping Facilities
Most national parks have camping facilities. These are accessible by a website and one can even book camp spots in advance (here’s the official website). Great for a bit of an outing over the weekend or whenever you feel like.
International travel into Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, Singapore, Vietnam and other nearby countries is cheap and visas relatively easy. And one can find tourists from all over the world here, providing us with ample socializing opportunities.
Since there are quite a few areas of poverty and destitution in Thailand despite its tourism success, there are many volunteer opportunities. This can be a fulfilling addition to our routine. As I have mentioned below in the challenges section, women are often oppressed – from prostitution to domestic violence – Thailand needs change! Depending on where you are staying you can search out local groups and non-profits to help. If this is too serious a matter then teaching English could be another option. There are also a lot of yoga and other youth groups in urban areas which would have volunteer opportunities.
Border towns like Mae Sot which face refugee problems are especially in need of volunteers.
Challenges of Long Term Stay in Thailand
Thailand is one of the top choice for digital nomads and long term travellers. So much so, that the country doesn’t seem to want them anymore. Visa renewals are becoming stricter I hear. And they are cracking down on illegal immigrants and work rule violations. The main reason, I think, is that a lot of western tourists, especially the long-term stay kinds are extremely stingy. And the nearby countries like Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos offer very easy “visa run” opportunity – basically they travel to a border town, hop over to the other side, and immediately re-enter into Thailand. Thus, getting a renewed visa. Effectively, a lot of these privileged passport holders who get easy 1 or 2 month entry every time are becoming like tourist-citizens of Thailand.
For Indians a tourist 60 day visa is available if we apply to the embassy. Renewal as far as I know can only be for 7 days. I went with a 60 day visa. (here’s the story of my Thailand visa where the VFS guy gave me a 100% rejection guarantee)
Prostitution & Other Social problems
Thailand has open prostitution. While theoretically, one can argue about it being a positive step and how it can help the society. The fact is that when I visited Pattaya and saw the ambiance for myself, it was a massive turn off. It changes the social fabric to have women standing around as if they are commodities on sale. Apart from this women issue, there are other very strong patriarchal and women abuse problems in the country.
As tourists and travellers we need to see how we can contribute to this social situation positively and not add to it.
Traffic is kind of Unruly
Being from India I thought I wouldn’t have a problem with this traffic. But I did. When I visited Taiwan, the foreigners kept saying the traffic is unruly, but I didn’t find it so at all. However, in Thailand I did find it unruly and fast – which is a bad combination. And there have been many cyclist deaths in the past. One needs to be careful, that’s all. It’s not a very big red flag, just a caution.
Apart from a few places like Chiang Mai and Bangkok, language will be a challenge. You can make do with Google translate and a few words here and there. But if you are thinking of making friends with the locals or engaging with them at a deeper level then it would be tricky. However, I suspect that in all small towns there would be at least a few English speakers and also some foreigners who have settled down there.
So these are my thoughts on long term travel in Thailand for digital nomads and slow travellers.
Have you stayed in Thailand for a long time? How was your experience?
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