In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s been over three full months since we left the U.S., and in others, it almost feels like we’ve always been here. Life on the road has become our new normal.
In case you’re new around here, we left our jobs and home in the U.S. a few months ago to travel full-time and work online, jumping on the “digital nomad” bandwagon after fantasizing about it for years. Back when we were living in Boston, we found ourselves stressed, busy, and ultimately not entirely fulfilled. Our day-to-day lives, and the stories we’d read about other people forging their own path, left us wondering what else was out there. As it turns out, a lot.
We’ve been catching up on blogging about our time in Montana and our road trip through the South earlier this year, so we haven’t talked much about travel in Southeast Asia, although I wrote a little bit about our experience as a digital nomad couple for a recent freelance project. But now that it’s been three months (more like 3.5 months at this point, oops), it seems like a good time to recap our journey so far.
Overall, we’re traveling around Southeast Asia slowly, usually staying at least a week in each destination. This schedule allows time for work and also gives us a chance to explore each place thoroughly, and it helps keep our expenses down as well. We’ve been in Thailand for the bulk of the past three months, with jaunts to Cambodia and Malaysia in between.
We hadn’t intended to keep coming back to Thailand, but when housesitting opportunities came up in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, we were glad to have the flexibility to jump on them.
So, where have we been so far?
Central & Eastern Thailand
After flying into Bangkok, we stayed in the city for a few days, adjusting to the time difference, the heat and humidity, and our new diet of curry and pad thai. We also took a food tour and visited a craft beer bar to celebrate Ryan’s 30th birthday!
Bangkok’s streets, trains, and malls felt surprisingly familiar, despite it being five years since we first visited. One thing that’s changed? There’s Uber now! (And Grab, a regional competitor that’s actually cheaper and more popular.)
To kick off our new lifestyle, I’d booked a yoga retreat east of Bangkok in Chanthaburi, a region that’s far off the tourist radar. We spent a couple days in the provincial capital, staying in a basic guesthouse and wandering the fairly typical Thai streets – and getting caught up in a lively parade, complete with monks who sprayed water on us.
We spent the next week apart, with me at my retreat and Ryan scuba diving on the nearby island of Koh Chang. We’ll be writing about those experiences in more detail, which are definitely both top things to do in Thailand. For now, suffice it to say, the yoga retreat was everything I imagined, and it left me feeling remarkably calm and fulfilled.
We reunited on Koh Kood, a little-visited island that’s free from the crowds and pollution of many Thai beaches. Apart from the beach, the major sites on the island include the Secret Waterfall, the Giant Tree, and restaurants with names like Sunset Bar and Good View.
Our bungalow at Cozy House was basic, with a mosquito net and mattress on the floor, but the service the owner and his daughter provided was phenomenal.
After a week that became almost two and was mostly full of wandering the beach, motorbiking around the interior, and working on the hotel’s riverside patio, we left to start our next chapter of travel in Southeast Asia: Cambodia.
Our first stop in Cambodia was a couple days in the border town of Koh Kong, a place I went when traveling with my Peace Corps friends five years ago.
Ryan went to the mangrove forest I’d visited, and we returned to the French restaurant that’s slightly overpriced but has an amazing over-water setting that made a nice workspace for the afternoon. Koh Kong doesn’t have a whole lot going on, but it was a great re-introduction to Cambodia.
From there, we took a 150-mile minibus journey that somehow lasted six hours (!) to Kampot, a riverside town that has become increasingly popular with both travelers and expats. After the limited vegetarian options and almost exclusively Thai food available on Koh Kood, we couldn’t wait for the restaurants of Kampot: pizza, falafel, veggie burgers, tapas, even homemade popsicles.
Beer on tap for only $1 was another highlight, and I was also thrilled to find not one, but two, different yoga studios in town, offering classes for $5 each. My preferred one, Simple Things, is also a vegetarian restaurant that happens to have the best pizza we’ve found while traveling around Southeast Asia.
After almost two weeks full of restaurants, yoga, and working in the town’s one air-conditioned coffee shop, we’d planned to head further into Cambodia. Instead, we ended up making a beeline back to Bangkok so I could see a doctor there about an ongoing problem (for basic health issues, facilities in Cambodia are certainly sufficient!).
Bangkok & Southern Thailand
While I was just a traveler who needed to seek healthcare in Thailand, it’s also a hot destination for medical tourism.
If you’re wondering why, well, I made an appointment with a specialist online, with two days notice (what?). The hospital, which is popular among expats and visiting foreigners, was spotless, efficient, and looked more like a fancy hotel than a medical facility. At the end, I paid $60 for my appointment and some medication, and then left. No referrals, no bills, no waiting – it was pretty amazing.
While we were disappointed to change our plans, we used the time to see sides of Bangkok that were totally new to us. We got a good deal on an Airbnb in the Ekkamai area, and we enjoyed checking out some of the city’s parks and its most bizarre attractions for upcoming blog projects.
After almost two unexpected weeks in Bangkok, we wanted to make the most of the 30-day stay our Thai entry stamp allowed – and we also wanted to take the train, because who doesn’t love train travel? Actually, it’s one of my favorite things about travel in Southeast Asia.
Owing to ridiculously hot temperatures in northern Thailand that time of year, we headed south, in search of white sand, turquoise water, and those famous karsts sticking out of the sea. The beach we found was nice, but Ao Nang was decidedly not our favorite destination.
Other than the super cheap accommodations that were available in low season, it was one of the most expensive places we’ve been – and the most touristy. Every single restaurant, spa, and tour agency (and there were many) had aggressive touts blocking the sidewalks and harassing every passerby. Every restaurant seemed to serve the same food, and at the same inflated prices.
But we did enjoy staying at the adorable Little Home Ao Nang and tackling the popular Hang Nak hike. It would have been challenging even if it wasn’t 95 degrees and super humid, but the views were unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
From there, we went on to an island I’d long wanted to visit, Koh Lanta, which I knew mainly for its popular co-working space and its yoga studios. Low season meant cheap accommodations and nearly empty beaches, but it also meant many of the restaurants and other businesses were shut down for the season. It gave a little bit of an eerie vibe, and I never did manage to get to a yoga class that was actually happening.
But what we enjoyed about low season was the incredibly laidback vibe, and plenty of time to chat with staff who had nothing else to do. One of my highlights from Koh Lanta happened by chance, when I discovered that one of the instructors from my yoga retreat was visiting the island with some friends at the same time. A girls’ night of sunset yoga with ocean views and beachfront margaritas during happy hour was an unexpected treat, and exactly what I needed.
With just a day to spare before our time in Thailand was up, we took the day-long journey to the country’s southern border and into Malaysia, where we visited the island of Penang. The city of George Town is the heart of Penang, and is so full of history it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It’s also famous for its unique street art and its food, especially the street food and night markets. I was also glad to find a combo vegan restaurant/yoga studio. We would have stayed and explored other parts of Malaysia, but an opportunity to housesit called us back to Bangkok.
Bangkok & Northern Thailand
Now our third stay in Bangkok, this one was remarkably different. We’d long been interested in the possibility of housesitting, which many people credit for their ability to travel extensively since it typically means receiving free accommodations in exchange for taking care of the place and (often) the owners’ pets. We were thrilled to land our first sit, and spent a week staying in a local Bangkok neighborhood and caring for the tenants’ two Chihuahuas.
It was so nice to stay in a house instead of a hotel room, and especially to have a kitchen and do our own cooking. And we loved having the Chihuahuas – who were in no way “yappy,” contrary to the stereotype – to keep us company while we worked at our temporary home (and yes, they do have their own Instagram account).
We were sad to say good-bye to the dogs, but when their rightful parents came back, we hopped on another overnight train to head north. We hadn’t planned to spend more than a few weeks total in northern Thailand, but when another housesitting opportunity in Chiang Mai came up, we jumped on the chance to stay longer, even though it meant paying the hefty fee for a visa extension.
Have you been to Southeast Asia? Leave your tips & recommendations in the comments!