Why we're spending four months in Asia but only going to two countries

Laying out on the hidden beach in Uluwatu, Bali.

Laying out on the hidden beach in Uluwatu, Bali.

The last few weeks of our Latin America trip have been filled with a lot of chatter about our upcoming Southeast Asia trip. Every other day or so, I'm approached at the office or pinged on Slack with the question "So, have you guys finalized the itinerary for Asia yet?" and I always sheepishly answer "No, not yet. But, soon! *smile*"

Because after 2-3 weeks in a location, you really start to get a feel for the area; you “start to hit your stride”. It’s exciting to be able to, amongst all this nomadism, have somewhere that feels a little more homey. When you’re in place for only a month, you don’t really get that opportunity. The idea of traveling is exciting but for most digital nomads, the idea of getting comfortable in a city every once in awhile is also exciting.
— Jordan Hammond

What many didn't realize was that Derar and I were in the process of a program restructure for our Southeast Asia program - a restructure that would give us the chance to spend two months in every country during this segment rather than just one. Inside I was squealing with excitement at the possibility of testing this structure out. However, the thing with program restructures is that they require a lot of research, time, and confident decision making. I was eager to tell them about the program restructure but didn't want to talk too soon. What if we didn't actually follow through? What if after weeks of research we decided this wasn't the best idea for us? A few weeks passed and this uncertainty diminished. 

Heading down Mt. Batur in Bali after a 1am sunrise hike.

Heading down Mt. Batur in Bali after a 1am sunrise hike.

Last week I went to dinner with the group, had a glass or two of wine, and decided it was a good time to talk about the restructure. I was met with a lot of positivity and the group confirming what Derar and I already knew. Phew, I didn't even need the wine!

That was the final nail in the shed. A couple days later Derar and I finalized our decision - our Southeast Asia trip for 2017 would only include two locations, with two months spent in each location. After going through our checklist of nine factors, Bali, Indonesia and Chiang Mai, Thailand made our final cuts:

Do they have a fun, immersive digital nomad community?

I can answer this with a resounding "Yes!". Both Derar and I met more people during our stays in Bali and Thailand than we did anywhere else. Dojo Bali, our office space in October and November, does a really good job at holding weekly events. Whether you're  joining a "speed dating" session for professionals, listening to a lecture about marketing, or joining the group for beers by the beach, you can always find something to do and always meet someone new when you're out. 

Do they have reliable coworking spaces and WiFi?

The best, it's true. But, all jokes aside, we chose Bali and Chiang Mai because they had the most reliable WiFi out of all the destinations we traveled to in Southeast Asia during late 2016. If not the coworking spaces, you can set up your traveling office at any coffee shop and spend the day working there.

But, we don't want to spend all our time inside an office... are there a lot of options for things to do?

Both Bali and Chiang Mai had the biggest list of things to do outside of the office. Surf lessons, dance lessons, cross fit, muy thai, volcano treks, temple tours, diving, snorkeling, island hopping, meditation, silent mediation, boat tours, yoga, kayaking... I could keep going. Honestly, even two months in each location might not seem enough when you think of all that you want to do!  

Are the housing options on the nicer side out of our options?

Listen, we get that people like to experience different cultures while traveling. But, we've realized that there's usually a hard line when it comes to housing. People join our program not realizing that housing in cities like Ho Chi Minh or Taipei are notorious for small spaces, small kitchens if there even kitchens, and shower spaces that merge with toilets. Not everyone is too fond of that, so we chose the places that had the most luxurious housing. 

What has client feedback been about spending two months somewhere? Specifically these places?

We originally spent two months in Bali last year - one month in Canggu and one month in Ubud. By the time we left Bali, the group felt like they had seen what living in Bali was really like and had enough time to relax while traveling.

Then, we spent one month in Thailand. I can't count the number of times I heard people say "I wish we had two months in Thailand!" It was a huge hub for traveling to other areas in the country and even other countries. Plus, there was so much to do and see. The group would settle into their work routine during the week and always find some new things to do on the weekends. One month just wasn't enough. 

Sure, the thrill of moving to a new country every month sounds exciting on paper. But, when it comes down to it, it can get exhausting and time consuming to do it month after month - making it hard to really capture as much of your surroundings as you'd like to.

I think Jordan, our participant in Latin America continuing through Asia, said it best "Because after 2-3 weeks in a location, you really start to get a feel for the area; you “start to hit your stride”. It’s exciting to be able to, amongst all this nomadism, have somewhere that feels a little more homey. When you’re in place for only a month, you don’t really get that opportunity. The idea of traveling is exciting but for most digital nomads, the idea of getting comfortable in a city every once in awhile is also exciting."

What does this mean for future trips? 

Will we continue this two month path for every experience? Well, we're not sure. Our biggest concern is our client's experience and we want to make sure we adapt their wants and needs.

For the next few months we'll be gathering feedback from our participants to see which structure they prefer. Is the quickness of traveling every month alluring enough to sustain? Is the calmness of traveling every two months more appealing? Do they want a mix of both, where the duration changes depending on the country? Once we gather enough data and feedback from our group(s) we'll make plans for our future structure. 

The Remote Experience: Exploring Doi Inthanon in Thailand

Being a remote worker has many perks, namely, being able to work anywhere in the world! But sometimes sitting in front of your computer day in and day out can be exhausting! Resets are needed every now and then, which is exactly what we did last weekend. 

Last weekend we closed our laptops, turned off our phones, and headed to the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon. At the base of the mountain we were met by men of the local Karen Tribe. They guided us for hours up the mountain - a feat that seemed effortless to them. When we were sweating and panting, they were sitting there with cigarettes perched in their lips, not winded at all.

Along the way we stopped on a narrow footpath as the men took a machete to some bamboo stalks. They hoisted the bamboo stalks on their shoulders and we went on our way. Little did we know, these bamboo stalks were about to be our cooking and eating utensils!

About two hours into the hike, we made it to a waterfall. We dropped our bags down and got to work - lunch needed to be cooked! The group split up doing various activities. Some of us poured rice and coconut milk into small bamboo stalks. Others grilled and peeled vegetables. Some ground up spices in a thick bamboo stalks. We even made chopsticks out of the bamboo!

At the end of all our preparation and cooking, we had a delicious lunch ready for us. Chicken, fish, sausage, grilled veggies, sticky rice, and noodles. To top it off, the tribes men prepared coffee in bamboo cups for us! They knew we had another hour and a half of hiking to do, so they wanted us to be fully charged. 

the-remote-experience-doi-inthanon-meal-excursion-thailand

After lunch, we hiked some more, hopped on a pick up truck, and headed over to Elephant Paradise Jungle Park. This sanctuary rescues elephants from the logging industry and riding camps. We spent two hours feeding the rescued elephants sugar cane, giving them mud baths, and playing with them in a waterfall. The baby elephant was extra greedy in particular - he kept trying to steal several pieces of sugar cane at once! It was a truly incredible experience that showed us just how gentle, elegant, and smart these beautiful giants are.

After the sanctuary we headed to Spicy Villas, which were  all-wood bungalows located in the middle of the jungle. They survive off of solar power and don't have access to Internet or cellular service. 

We spent the rest of our weekend at the villas with Samart and his staff. Samart is our local ambassador. He was a monk for eight years before changing his path and becoming a tour guide in Thailand. During the weekend he taught us a lot of stuff. First and foremost, he hosted two cooking classes for us. Our bellies were stuffed the whole weekend! And, our mouths were on fire. Thai food is spicy!

Samart also taught us a lot about Thai culture and history. We spent hours sitting with him as he told us stories and facts about Thailand. He described how Asian elephants made it to Thailand. He told us the history of the King and the legend of the white elephants. He explained the philosophy behind Buddhism. He whispered stories of animism.

Overall, the weekend was exactly what we needed. We took a hard reset from our computers and had a chance to dive into Thai culture first-hand.