The 10 Cheapest Cities In Southeast Asia For Digital Nomads


If you’re starting out your digital nomad on a tight budget or if you’re looking to bank as much of your cash as you can while you travel, then Southeast Asia is a great region to be in. With a few exceptions, mainly Singapore and Hong Kong, most places are pretty affordable.

However, there are places which are cheaper than others and we’ve got a list of 10 places that are cheaper than normal and which we expect to stay cheap throughout 2020 (and possibly beyond) for digital nomad work.

Our 10 Cheapest Cities In Southeast Asia For Digital Nomads

 

Number 1 – Da Nang, Vietnam

 

Vietnam has come of age for digital nomads in the last year or so. When you take all aspects of living into account, it’s the cheapest country in the region now and the Internet is great.

Da Nang is our top pick because it has a pre-built digital nomad community (which doesn’t seem to be dreadful like Chiang Mai and Bali, maybe some lessons have been learned?) and it is cheaper than both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. Hoi An, which is just up the road is just as cheap but a little more basic (though it is prettier than Da Nang).

There are cheaper options in Vietnam but we think without speaking Vietnamese, you’re going to struggle to get things done at times in smaller cities.

You can rent an apartment from $150 a month in Da Nang though most people will spend a bit more in order to be closer to other expats/nomads and the beach.

Yes, Da Nang is a beach town. We’ll spend some time there soon and will be building a city guide for it.

 

Number 2 – Hanoi, Vietnam

 

Yes, Vietnam occupies the top two spots on our list. Hanoi is ridiculously cheap and if you live near one of the two lakes (either in the Old Quarter or near West Lake), you’re talking about a walkable place with a huge number of cultural attractions.

You’re going to spend more on accommodation than you would in Da Nang but that may be worth it for the massive increase in Western-style facilities.

We’ve lived in Hanoi for 3 months this year and fallen deeply in love with the place. We’re going to be sorry to leave and we’re already planning to come back.

It is the home of Bia Hoi which is the world’s cheapest beer but given that Vietnamese beer is already insanely cheap – you may not care too much.

You can pay from $250 a month in Hanoi for an apartment or a room in a homestay (most of which are equivalent to a Western “bed and breakfast” now). Our place was $450 a month, it included a private bathroom, and kitchen, all bills, and breakfast at local stalls. You really can’t beat that for value in a capital city.

Number 3 – Battambang, Cambodia

 

Battambang is definitely the quietest city in Cambodia and thankfully, for now at least, it has been spared the Chinese invasion that the other major destinations in Cambodia have seen.

The Internet is excellent in the city and while electricity is a bit “stop and go”, it’s not hard to find accommodation with a generator that can minimize the issues.

You can find accommodation from about $250 a month and the overall cost of living is very low.

The only thing wrong with Battambang is the sleepiness of the place, it’s a beautiful city, with decent food options but there’s not much to do particularly late at night. You’ll either fall in love with the place as a retreat from the insanity of the rest of Southeast Asia or you’ll hate it.

Number 4 – Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

Chiang Mai makes our list because it is still, probably, the best destination for really cheap accommodation. However, the cost of living is much higher than in Vietnam and Cambodia and it’s not possible for you to spend less in Thailand than in Vietnam or Cambodia without making substantial sacrifices in your lifestyle.

We’ll be publishing our city guide to Chiang Mai in the next few days and we can tell you that we have mixed feelings about the place. We think the digital nomad community is overrated but that the city itself is pleasant if a little dull

You can find accommodation from $120 a month in Chiang Mai and of a decent standard too.

Number 5 – Dumaguete, The Philippines

 

We’re big fans of the Philippines, well we would be, wouldn’t we? It’s where Megan’s from, after all. However, we’re not unaware of the drawbacks of living there.

The best two cities to be in Manila and Cebu are polluted and accommodation is expensive. Boracay, the most famous beach resort, is gentrifying and prices are rising while the Internet remains unreliable.

Dumaguete (and possibly Bohol in the near future) is an exception to the background issues. It’s a very popular destination with Western retirees. The cost of renting is very low compared to the big cities and while the Internet is never perfect in the Philippines – it’s much better than in most places.

There is even a coworking space or two. You can find a place to stay for about $250-$300 a month in Dumaguete (less if you want to seriously compromise your quality of living).

Number 6 – Penang, Malaysia

 

You may be surprised to find a Malaysian destination on our list but if you ignore the steep price of beer in Malaysia (which can often be offset by drinking in happy hour – when prices are comparable to Thailand) then Malaysia is a very affordable place to be.

Penang is our top pick because of the availability of cheap apartments, beaches and overall quality of life. I’ve spent several months in Penang now and our destination guide is coming soon.

You can’t stay forever because Malaysia is much stricter about visa runs than other nations in the region, but you can stay for a while and you’ll be glad you did.

You can find accommodation from $200 a month in Penang and if you spend a bit more you can find something really nice. Be aware, though, that the Internet is a little slow on the island.

Number 7 – Bali, Indonesia

 

No surprises that the other major digital nomad hub in Southeast Asia is also on the list. The reason that places become nomad hubs out this way is that they’re cheap and pleasant enough.

We’ve not spent any time in Indonesia, yet. Which means that we don’t have any firsthand experience of the place. However, we have several friends who’ve visited and who have positive things to say about Bali.

Its culture is mainly Hindi and thus, it’s a bit more tolerant of Western behavior than the rest of the country.

You can rent from $150 a month in Bali, though we’d want to pay a bit more for somewhere in a better location and with more facilities.

Number 8 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

Prices are rising throughout Cambodia thanks to a huge influx of Chinese “investors”. That means that the Khmer capital isn’t as cheap as it once was.

However, it’s still much cheaper than living in the West and despite the increase in accommodation costs – everything else is still pretty much bargain basement. Cambodia’s low tax regime keeps luxury costs down, but you need to make certain that you’re buying the real thing rather than a Chinese-made fake.

You can rent a decent apartment from about $300 a month in Phnom Penh but you will need to pay more if you want to be near the city center.

Number 9 – Ho Chi Minh, City

 

Ho Chi Minh’s only lower down our list because decent accommodation is noticeably more expensive than in Danang and Hanoi. Otherwise, the cost of living is near identical.

If you’re only spending a short time in the city then living in or around District 1 is pretty much mandatory as it’s the most interesting area and it has the nightlife.

We’d advise you skip the backpacker haunts of Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao – they are the only parts of Vietnam designed to rinse tourists for everything they have. You have been warned.

Decent accommodation in Saigon’s District 1 starts at around $300 but you can find cheaper if you want to compromise on quality.

Number 10 – Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

There was a time Siem Reap would have topped this list, but quality accommodation becomes harder to find each year in the city and that means paying for it.

This is a shame because it’s one of our favorite places in the region, though you must find somewhere with a generator if you have to be online at certain times.

You’re looking at $350+ a month for decent accommodation in Siem Reap.

Conclusion

 

Southeast Asia remains one of the most budget-friendly areas of the world and there are plenty of great value places to live. Our Top 10 cheapest cities in Southeast Asia for digital nomads are selected not just on price but also on their viability for the digital nomad life.

Nicholas Barang

Nicholas Barang is a veteran digital nomad. In fact, he was probably "digital nomading" before it was called that. He believes that anyone can make a free and independent life if they want to. He wants to help those who commit to finding their own path. And to cut through the nonsense told about this "lifestyle" by those in search of a quick buck. If you want to reach him you can send him an e-mail at nicholasbarang@gmail.com or to nick at nomadtalk.net.

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