Hello best life seekers!
Looking to escape the cold of winter if you live in northern climates but want an affordable adventure? Are you a digital nomad seeking a great but inexpensive place to set up shop for a few months? Head to Southeast Asia where you can enjoy beautiful beaches, subtropical warmth and low-cost living. Top picks include Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore for a varied mix of beaches, culture, landscapes, and food. During the months of January, February and March, these places feel like summer so pack your sunscreen, swimsuits, and summer clothes!
Where to Go
Back in 2016 when I started my digital nomad life, I landed in Thailand for 2 months and spent another month in Malaysia and Singapore. And it was fabulous. I’m talking kitted out apartments for $400 a month, bus and train faires under $20, 4-star hotel stayes for less than $40 a night and stellar meals for less than $10. The fun and beauty? Endless. You won’t be disappointed with these destinations.
Thailand. Fantastic Thailand boasts beaches, ancient temples and ruins, eco-trekking, and amazing food. The tourist infrastructure is pretty good so if you like tours and excursions, Thailand has perfected the art of providing more menu than you could possibly hope to sample in a lifetime. It is a tourist mecca. For that reason, be aware that it’s also overrun with Western expats. Of the three countries on this must see list though it is the least expensive.
For great accommodation deals, check out Airbnb.com or Roomarama.com. That’s how I got my $400 a month apartment in Chiang Mai.
Malaysia. For those hoping to avoid the crowds of Western expats and tourist-weary Thais, Malaysia is an often overlooked gem. Having better roads and infrastructure than Thailand, getting around is easy, cheap and clean for do it yourself types who prefer to book their own trains and buses. The landscape is beautiful and with cities like Penang and Kuala Lumpur, you can enjoy the Malaysian mix of English, Malay and Chinese cultures alongside Islamic influences.
Have hotel reward points that won’t get you much in North America or Europe? This is the place to cash them. They go way farther here. For a mixture of points and cash, I spent 6 nights at the DoubleTree Hotel with an executive suite upgrade for a total cost of $96.
Singapore. This city-state is the diamond of Southeast Asia. More modern-looking and cleaner than New York City, this vibrant city is expensive when it comes to accommodation but you can eat and sight-see cheaply. Its Gardens on the Bay is not to be missed and you can stroll through the downtown and waterfront areas and never get bored of this visual feast. Like shopping? This city has it in spades.
When to Go
January and February are prime high season for all these places but you can get fantastic deals nonetheless. And if you want to experience Chinese New Year, all these countries will be celebrating it so check for festivals happening in February. March, being the shoulder season, is even cheaper and less crowded with tourists but temperatures and humidity start creeping up and by mid-March, you might start yearning for cooler climes.
In all these countries, buses, trains and planes are cheap and plentiful, with frequent departures between cities.
Buses and trains. Whether you are in Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore, getting around is easy between cities. Bus and train networks connect major destinations. A train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai will cost Around $20 and include meals and basic drinks. A bus from Phuket, Thailand to Penang, Malaysia can cost just as little, and you can take luxury buses from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore very cheaply and still watch movies and have meals included.
Planes. If you don’t want to bus or train the sometimes 5-12 hour journeys between major cities, flying is an option. Flights are quick and using AirAsia or other regional airlines will save you money and net you flights for around and usually under $200 (a lot less if you book far enough in advance).
Because Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are one connected landmass running north-south, you can easily see all three. If that’s your plan, it’s easiest to land in Singapore or Thailand and go north or south from there.
Why not start in Singapore?
This lively international city has tons of flights into and out of it. If you start here, you can head north as the heat increases and end in the comparatively cooler mountains of Chiang Mai if you’re doing a long-term trip. You’ll also go from highly developed to less developed, ending in a beautiful city whose only mode of transportation is either taxis or the quaint, cheap and unfathomable krewes (think covered pickup trucks).
How about starting in Chiang Mai or Bangkok?
If you like adventure and a party of the senses, head to Thailand first to expend all your energy. You can have a blast in Malaysia and Singapore but the exuberance of Thailand belongs only to that country. You can wind down as you tour Malaysia and enjoy its food and culture and take in some fine dining and shopping in Singapore, an enchanting city that blends ethnicities in this truly modern Asian city.
Beat the Winter Blues
If winter makes you melancholic, head to cheerful and sunny Southeast Asia where summer doesn’t know when to quit. While your colleagues and friends are digging out from beneath snow, you can be sipping a Singapore Sling by your hotel pool or lounging on one of Thailand’s beautiful beaches. Or maybe you fancy some eco-trekking with elephants through the jungle?
Whether it’s shopping in Kuala Lumpur or visiting remote temples in Thailand, you’ll have a fantastic time in Southeast Asia. Nearby Sri Lanki, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are cheap travel extenders if you want to stay awhile or see a lot. Whatever your destination, it will be an unforgettable trip.
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