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Figuring Out Where to Go in Southeast Asia

Where to go in South East Asia

For those of you who’ve been following my journey here on WWW, you know my life has taken some big twists and turns recently…

  1. I made the front page of a Boston newspaper, and
  2. I booked flights for a 2 month adventure in Malaysia

All while spending as much time as possible running business validation tests and doing customer research.

As you may know, I’m working on creating a business: an online resource for young people trying to get out of debt.

All of which has happened over the past month – this month – to be precise. It’s been a busy one.

Which is why I’m happy and thrilled to share even bigger news…

I’m moving to Southeast Asia. Indefinitely.

Yep — after Malaysia I’m not coming back. I’ve already paid the thousand bucks for the flight to Malaysia, why not stick around?

Plus, it turns out that not having a source of income sucks.

Sucks to the tune of my bank account making sad sounds every time I check it. Not really, but that would be a cool/sad feature… Charles Schwab should (probably not) get on that.

My current financial runway is somewhere around 5-6 months of living expenses at my current cost of living.

Once I get to Southeast Asia that number will likely double.

And besides the huge cost savings, there’s a really awesome entrepreneur community spread out across the region.

This goes for other parts of the world too, but the fact that this area has both 1) cheap cost of living, and 2) entrepreneur talent, means that I’ll not only have a longer runway to get a business off the ground, but I’ll have the added benefit of local hustlers and hackers I can collaborate with.

So I’ve made the decision. I’ve notified friends and family and now it’s time for another big decision.

Figuring Out Where to Go in Southeast Asia

Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam… the list goes on.

This isn’t a post comparing and contrasting every option to choose from, but I’ve done my homework on a handful of Southeast Asia locations and I want to share my notes in case you’re considering any of these.

Here are the top three locations I’m considering right now, in order of how much I’m “leaning toward” the place.

Ho Chi MInh City

Ho Chi Minh City – Photo Source

1) Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, which goes by Saigon to the locals (it’s pre-Vietnam War name), is the economic and cultural capital of Vietnam. It’s often noted as a good place to bootstrap a startup thanks to its co-working spaces and healthy startup scene.

Pros

  • Cost of Living: Rent here is cheap. I’m talking $250/mo cheap if you know where to look. Your average meal will run you 3-5 bucks (USD).
  • Internet: While not the fastest in the region, wifi is everywhere and there’s an abundance of cafes where you can hop on for free.
  • Community: HCMC is full of startups, entrepreneurs, and digital nomads. It’s a thriving community and it’s steadily growing.

Cons

  • Air Quality: Pollution is serious business here. The US Embassy currently marks HCMC’s air quality as “Unhealthy.”

Chiang Mai Thailand

Chiang Mai features historic relics and busy streets – Photo Source

2) Chiang Mai, Thailand

Known as “the Land of Smiles” thanks to their love of tourists, Thailand locals are friendly, commonly speak English, and are generally forgiving of those who aren’t quite used to their culture.

Pros

  • Cost of Living: Similar to Vietnam, prices are cheap. And Chiang Mai is significantly cheaper than its bigger brother Bangkok.
  • Internet: Wifi is pretty reliable and common, though you may not find as many coffee shops sporting free wifi as you would in HCMC.
  • Community: Chiang Mai is a “must-go” destination for many Southeast Asia travelers, as it’s a convenient and comfortable experience compared to many other places. You’ll find many young nomads and entrepreneurs starting their journey here.

Cons

Bali, Indonesia

Just driving down the street in Bali – Photo Source

3) Bali, Indonesia

Dubbed “Wonderful Indonesia,” here you’ll find beautiful beaches and lush jungles across the 18,000+ islands that make up the country. Bali is well known for its tourism, but it’s also home to entrepreneurs and expats.

Pros

  • Cost of Living: I listed this as a “pro” because it’s possible to find cheap living arrangements, but you’ll have to really look for them. Prices continue to go up regularly due to tourism and the ongoing development of Bali.
  • Community: There are entrepreneurs here, though I’ve heard it reported that Bali is most appealing to those wanting a comfortable work-life balance, with many nomads heading for the beaches for a good portion of the work day.

Cons

  • Internet: This is a serious “con” due to the generally slow internet speeds and occasional periods of the internet going down.
  • Air Quality: Numbeo lists Bali as having poor air quality, though I couldn’t find as much evidence for this as I could for the other two locations.

All three of these places sound pretty good.

Ho Chi Minh City with its strong entrepreneur scene, Chiang Mai with its easy transition from western life, and Bali with its beautiful scenery and beaches.

I care most about getting a business off the ground, so right now HCMC sounds like the best option for me.

When figuring out where to go in Southeast Asia, try reaching out to people through your network of friends and family to see if you can talk with people on the ground.

By reaching out, I heard firsthand from people who live and work in these locations and I discovered that what they said about their location differed somewhat from the many review sites I had come across online.

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