While a lot has been written about living, working, and traveling in Vietnam, surprisingly little has been written about air pollution in Vietnam. While using the snazzy AQI website can give you some quantifiable data on the air pollution situation in Vietnam, here’s a more subjective take on what one’s experience may be like with the air pollution here.
Of course, this shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Disclaimer aside, here’s what I’ve noticed about the air pollution in Vietnam after having lived here for the last 2.5 years.
What to Expect
First of all, the air pollution here isn’t nearly as horrendous as it is in certain parts of China. While the air doesn’t feel “fresh” in Ho Chi Minh City, or Hanoi, you’re probably not going to be coughing black gunk from going for a run on your weeklong vacation here.
In fact, I’d say that the air pollution would be a negligible concern for most of you that are traveling to Vietnam. Unless you’re traveling with a baby, an elderly family member, or someone that already has moderate to severe breathing problems, you’re probably going to be just fine on your holiday.
Even living here short-term the air pollution is only a moderate concern. You’ll have to learn to wear a mask, and cover your face when you’re behind a bus. You’d also be wise to try to avoid exercising outdoors during rush hours or during times the pollution is “particularly” bad (get it?). Generally speaking, however, you’ll probably be fine apart from the occasional cough, congestion, or sore throat.
Living here long-term, however, is likely to take more of a toll on your health. Unless absolutely necessary, I wouldn’t recommend you live in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi more than a couple years MAX. You simply can’t optimize your health to the fullest extent while living in these cities.
There’s a very realistic chance you’ll develop a smoker’s cough, or some type of breathing problem living here long-term. That’s not a fun reality, but it’s the truth. Even wearing masks outside and using an air filter indoors can’t completely protect you from the negative effects of air pollution in Vietnam.
So what’s one to do if they fall in love with Vietnam? Here’s the easiest solution I’ve thought about in the past and would recommend you consider as well.
Move Outside of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi
While we talked about air pollution as a problem in Vietnam, that’s a bit of an overgeneralization. In fact, the air quality in Vietnam quickly improves once you get outside of Vietnam’s two biggest cities. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to trudge on over to a remote rice paddy village just to get a breath of fresh air.
Vietnam has several livable cities outside of the big two of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. If you’re looking for a modern city by the beach I’d recommend you consider living in Da Nang. Da Nang has a population of about 1-2 million (depending who you ask). It offers affordable living, beach life, and much fresher air than HCMC or Hanoi.
The downside to Da Nang? There’s currently lots of construction going on there. That means lots of dust and other materials flying around in the air that probably aren’t great for your lungs. You also have to consider that Da Nang is growing quickly, and that in another 10-20 years will likely have many of the same overcrowded traffic and air pollution problems Hanoi and HCMC face today. You also have to consider that there aren’t many local work opportunities for foreigners in Da Nang.
While there are some jobs teaching English, Da Nang doesn’t have the turnover problem HCMC or Hanoi have. People generally appreciate the laid back lifestyle in Da Nang. For that reason, when somebody manages to grab a gig in Da Nang, they tend to hold onto it. Even with this being the case, Da Nang is still a good bet if you’d like to enjoy better air quality.
Other livable cities for expats or digital nomads include:
Hoi An — A beach city and tourist town a 40 minute motorbike ride from Da Nang.
Da Lat — A mountain town home to the famous Vietnamese Bahn Trang snack. This city also has a nice night market. You can read more details and some of my advice for traveling to Da Lat here.
Vung Tau — A beach town of about 500,000 people. This town has the benefit of being just a couple hours away from Ho Chi Minh City by bus. This makes it easy to pop into the big city for a weekend of fun or to catch an international flight.
Nha Trang — A beach town of around 420,000 people. It’s famous for having nicer beaches than Vung Tau. In fact, many Vietnamese argue Nha Trang has the best beaches in the country. This city is also extremely affordable. I’ve seen lots of apartments near the beach going for $200/month. This city has few job opportunities though and is overrun by Russian tourists.
Can Tho — A fairly small city located in the Mekong Delta area. Can Tho is about 4 hours or so from Ho Chi Minh City by bus. Can Tho has clean air, however, and doesn’t feel nearly as polluted as its bigger brother. This city has famous floating markets on the river that you can visit if you’re willing to wake up extremely early.
Dealing with the air pollution in Vietnam isn’t fun. It gets old having to hold your breath when you get stuck behind a bus in traffic. Sometimes the air pollution can even make you feel sick or at least lower your mood.
That being said, Vietnam is still a pretty cool place to be. I don’t regret the time I’ve spent here, but I’m also trying to think about my long-term health. That’s why I don’t recommend you live in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi long-term.
The air pollution is a bit too severe. Instead, consider checking out all of Vietnam’s other great cities. You’ll probably meet me beachside in one of the smaller cities soon enough. Or, when the air pollution gets you down, consider moving to another country with better air quality.
I’ve considered heading down to Malaysia as that country does a pretty good job managing its air pollution. Maybe you’d enjoy Malaysia too. I know lots of nomads like Phil Hawksworth have moved to Kuala Lumpur, or Penang recently.
Regardless, while air pollution can be a problem in Southeast Asia, don’t let it deter you from checking this region of the world out. There’s so many new experiences to be had here. Grab a mask, jump on a plane, and come join the party over on this side of the world!
As is the tradition when I move apartments, it’s time to publish a post dishing out the details on my old apartment. The apartment in this post was located in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. District 1 is usually thought of as the center of the city. It’s definitely the financial center, and it has many of Saigon’s top tourist attractions as well.
After spending a month in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I needed to rent a new place in Saigon. Someone else had rented my old apartment while I was away, and now I needed to find a room fast. For that reason, I looked at available rooms through City House. City House apartments are usually nice, but a bit pricy (by Vietnamese standards).
Typically I recommend newcomers to Ho Chi Minh City walk around the various alleys around 18 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1. Known as the expat alleys, 18A, 18B, and 18BIS have dozens of rooms ranging from $200-$500. They come fully furnished, and often provide free laundry/room cleaning services.
After living in those alleys for the past two years, however, I wanted to try living in a new area. Thus, a new apartment was necessary.
(Some identifying information blurred out for privacy reasons)
As you can see, the bedroom itself was fairly small. This was nice because it made it efficient to cool the room with air conditioning. The bed was comfortable. It was also spacious enough to easily accomodate one or two people. Unfortunately, there was no view whatsoever from the window.
There was a desk though. That could be useful if you intended to work at home. I try to keep some separation between my sleeping area and my workstation, however, so I’d usually head out to the cafe to work.
Maybe you’re a homebody though. In that case, you could also leave the bedroom and head to the living room…
(It’s quite messy… These photos were taken on move-in day)
The great thing about this apartment was that it was pretty spacious by Saigon standards. Although it wasn’t the best budget apartment, it was a solid place if you’re no longer in survival mode scraping to get by financially.
This apartment was also nice in that it had a couch. This could make it easy to comfortably host a friend overnight. It’d be a bit uncomfortable for a Western guy to sleep on the couch, but possible to crash for a couple hours. On the other hand, shorter females could comfortably get by for several nights.
The couch was also nice to sit on while enjoying a home cooked meal or delivery. I also spent a little bit of time studying and working on the couch.
If you’re staying with a partner, the big perk of a 1 bedroom apartment I’ve found is that it enables one of you to wake up and turn the lights on to get ready for the day without disturbing the other. It’s also possible if necessary for one person to easily work late into the night while the other sleeps.
In studio apartments, I’ve found this much more difficult to pull off.
The kitchen area was solid. I’m a complete noob when it comes to cooking, but it had what I believe you would call an electric stove (the thing next to the tennis ball can). It also had a microwave, coffee maker, fridge, cutting board, and plenty of utensils located in the top cabinet.
I didn’t take advantage of the kitchen much. From having spent the last 2.5 years based out of Saigon and Chiang Mai, I’ve just become accustomed to eating out. Plus, the one time I tried cooking the room got unbearably hot. Safe to say, I only took advantage of the kitchen once.
The bathroom at this apartment may have been the nicest I’ve had in Asia thus far. It had nice lighting (dim/mood light as shown above or bright pictured below). The bathroom also had a full mirror.
The mirror also opened to reveal a cabinet. This allowed you to keep your toiletries in the bathroom without having to worry about them getting wet. The mirror/cabinet combo was super convenient.
There was also an attractive Western shower. Although Asian bathrooms have become normal to me at this point, I thought I’d mention this in case it’s something you’d appreciate.
This apartment was located in the center of D1 near the backpacker area. This location could be considered good or bad depending on why you’re choosing to stay in Saigon.
If you’re working in D1, D3, D4, or D5, the location is excellent. The location could also be good if being near all the bars and Western restaurants is a must for you.
You can easily walk to Bui Vien, the walking street with countless bars in 5-10 minutes.The location would also be good for meeting tourists, picking up backpacker girls, or meeting foreigner hunting girls around Bui Vien.
(Although I’m not into the bars. I loved living near all the Western style restaurants and cafes.)
My biggest restaurant recommendations to check out while living in this area would be Taco Leo and Spice India.
Taco Leo has excellent Mexican food at great prices. Tacos start at about $1.25 each, while extra-large burritos will set you back $3. They also have quesadillas, chalupas, and a bunch of other Mexican favorites.
Also nearby is Spice India. Although other people argue Baba’s Kitchen is the best Indian food in the city, I’d disagree. For excellent curries, nan, and general Indian goodness, Spice India is the best Indian restaurant in Saigon.
(A solid meal for two is about $8 total)
The only bad thing about the location of this apartment is that you’ll be just outside the biggest tourist trap of the city… Bui Vien.
This means you’ll likely pay a bit more for food, even at local restaurants. You’ll also pay a lot more for food if you want Western food. Both of these are even more true if you head to Bui Vien or the streets surrounding it.
Being near the biggest trap means more than just paying inflated prices, however. It also means you’ll deal with tourist touts — motorbike guys harrasing you to offer rides, shoe shiners, sunglasses sellers, beggars, sketchy Marijuana dealers, pimps, and more.
Being a 5-10 minute walk away from Bui Vien you’ll only be on the periphery of things when you leave your apartment. Still, being offered these things even if only a couple times a day gets old after a while.
Life was easy while living at City House Tran Hung Dao 184. The apartment would deliver 20L of drinking water each week. They also advertised 6x a week room cleaning and 2x a week laundry services.
In practice, I found that they didn’t actually clean the room 6x/week. Yet, they were coming everyday for a while which was actually more annoying than helpful.
Having daily cleaning sounds cool, but having to let someone in every morning at 9:00 or 10:00 was a small annoyance. As you can imagine, not much dirt or dust accumulates overnight. Plus, for whatever reason they’d never thought to make a clean/do not disturb sign to hang on the door.
I was quite happy when the 2nd half of my stay they’d only clean 2-3 times/week. They did deliver on laundry, however.
Just as advertised, twice a week (either Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday, I forgot), they’d pick up the clothes from a basket in your room and deliver them dried and folded 24 hours later.
The apartment also had free wifi, tap water (in addition to the limited drinking water mentioned earlier), parking, linen changing, and TV.
You had to pay 4,000VND, or about $0.18/kilowatt hour. Total I ended up paying about $25 for electricity for the month, while using the air conditioning pretty sparingly.
(Part of the apartment contract detailing rent + utilities)
The apartment we’ve discussed in this post is advertised here for $550/month. That’s a complete rip-off. City House is trying to swindle newcomers to the city who want “peace of mind” at having an apartment booked before coming to the city.
But, if you book a hotel your first 1-2 nights and then get an apartment on the ground you can save a ton of money. In person, they’ll offer you this apartment for $450 for 1 month or $400/month if commit to staying there three months. The same applies for any of City House’s other dozens of apartments. You may be able to get an even cheaper price by negotiating too.
Regardless, don’t book your apartment online. Use their website’s chat feature to talk to an agent, and then someone who speaks good English will take you around the city to check out some places. There’s always several apartments available throughout the city, and you’ll almost certainly get a discount versus the prices posted online.
In total, I paid $450 for rent plus about $25 in electricity for a total of $475 to stay at City House Tran Hung Dao 184 for a month.
Why I Moved Out
I’d originally intended to stay at this apartment for 3 months. Unfortunately, within two nights of moving in, I had to file complaints to City House. First, apparently, I’d wrongly assumed I’d get a key to get into the apartment at night.
Nope. Located on the ground floor of the building is a chocolate shop. Residents seemingly can’t be trusted to let themselves in at night. For that reason, after about 10 or 11pm you’re forced to ring a bell for security to let you in.
This process usually took 30-120 seconds. The door was also extremely slow to open. This starts out as a minor annoyance but it begins to gnaw at you the longer you stay. Sometimes the security guard would fall asleep and you’d have to ring the doorbell multiple times to get in. Then, he’d have the guts to scold you for ringing the bell too many times.
The security guard would also sleep at the foot of the stairs. This forced you to step over his stretched legs to climb up the stairs. If you planned to go with a girl, talk about a mood killer. Heck, even if you were alone it was awkward.
I can’t imagine I was the first to complain about this. Yet, to their credit, City House had the guard sleep behind the cash register rather than at the foot of the stairs after my complaint.
The City House/Chocolate Shop security guards (I’m not sure who they are employed by) were also unfriendly at times.
They made the girl I was dating cry by saying she couldn’t park at the Chocolate Shop/City House building, and that he would let the police give her a parking ticket… despite the fact that I lived there and had free parking in my contract.
Of course, Vietnamese people always need to save “face” and thus he couldn’t admit he was wrong nor say sorry after we called management to explain to him the situation. *Sigh*
Hmm… other problems… The room had water damage. If you touched the walls they were clearly moist. That wasn’t a big deal though, and light water leaking is relatively common in HCMC apartments during rainy season.
The air conditioning was quite expensive and I got shot down at my request for a fan. There was also never anything done about getting the security guards to open the door more quickly at night. I was forced to pay an extra $50 to end the lease early too.
The fact that City House didn’t mention I wouldn’t have a key felt a little bit dishonest to me. Sure, you can blame it on me as well for not asking the question, but I suppose I just assumed paying more than the average local’s monthly income on rent alone guarantees an easy entry process to one’s apartment.
Safe to say, I’ve been kind of turned off City House apartments. I don’t think they’re huge slimeballs. You could definitely do worse. City House probably won’t steal your deposit, or your computer while you’re out of the room.
You probably won’t have your privacy invaded in any way while living at one of their apartments. Their agents speak good English, and while a bit pushy to get the sale, they try to make reasonable accommodations and help you communicate with any Vietnamese staff you’re having problems with.
While pricy, the rooms are also nice. Maybe City House just wasn’t for me. Or, maybe I’d have had a different experience at one of their other locations.
For you, City House could be a decent option if you’re new to the city. Even better for most, however, would be to simply walk around 18A,B,BIS Nguyen Thi Minh Khai.
Nowadays, I’m back to renting from independent Vietnamese landlords. That gets you cheaper prices, and a lot better value.
I’m currently renting a huge studio (not the small one posted earlier this year) for $350/month. It doesn’t have the nice Western bathroom my old apartment had or the free drinking water, but it is significantly cheaper.
I also save money on electricity because this room includes free electricity. That is a $75/month difference between the two if you were to rent them both long-term.
More important than any of that, however, this new room is away from the tourist traps, has friendly security, easy parking, and god bless them… A magical device to enter the apartment without having to ring a doorbell and wait for someone to open the door for you — a key.
Getting drinking water is extremely easy in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Here in Saigon (where I’m staying now), I have to go to Circle K, Family Mart, or some other convenience store everytime I want to buy more water. In Chiang Mai, however, they have water dispensers scattered across the entire city.
These water dispensers give you about two liters of drinking water for only 1 baht ($0.03). The water in these machines is purified through reverse osmosis and is considered to be generally safe.
The one thing you may have to worry about is the machines’ filters not getting replaced often enough. I, nor any of the people I know using these machines have gotten sick from the water. You’re unlikely to have problems in the short or medium-term.
If you intend to live in Chiang Mai long-term, however, you’d probably be wise to invest in a personal water filtration system and replace the filters yourself every now and then. That would be the smartest solution for ideal health.
Generally speaking, however, the drinking water from these machines is convenient, cheap, and safe enough to not be overly concerned unless you’ve already optimized your diet in every other way (priorities!).
Perhaps the most famous of all accomodation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I recently stayed at Smith Residence for a month. My room ended up being $291 for the month plus another $25 or so for bills. I’d imagine there’s some better deals on accomodation than Smith Residence (considering it’s pretty heavily advertised).
Yet, only being in Chiang Mai for a month on my first trip, I was content to pay a small premium on accomodation for the ease of finding Smith Residence and the peace of mind staying somewhere well known. No use sweating over paying an extra $20-30 when you know you’re going to get your deposit back, and it saves you from having to look at a bunch of other places.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the room. This was the view though — pretty nice. If you watch the video at the top of this post, however, you’ll get a nice view of the room. It was a fairly spacious studio with a comfortable bed, small balcony, air conditioner, and modern Western-style bathroom.
The prices for the superior and deluxe rooms ranged from about 7,700THB to 10,500THB per month, depending on the room you chose and the length of your stay.
I stayed in one of the deluxe rooms, which at the currency exchange rate during my May/June 2017 stay worked out for my rent to be $291. My bill for a month of elextricity and water ended up being about $25. That was for typical water usage for two people, and using the air conditioner around 5 hours/day.
As of August 2017, the Thai Baht has gotten a bit stronger which makes the prices in Chiang Mai a few percent more expensive.
Also note, you could get a discount of about $10/month if you committed to staying at least three months. For me not a good deal, but it may be for you if you love the place and want to stay in Chiang Mai long-term.
Smith Residence had suites too, but those were about 20,000THB/month ($600) — not worth it for a nomad on a fairly modest budget.
While all accomodation in Chiang Mai is cheap, I still felt Smith Residence was a good deal relatively speaking. You’ll probably spend a fair bit more for a similar place near Nimman though.
(The pricing options they gave me during my stay in May/June 2017. Check their website for more recent prices.)
The Smith Residence Restaurant was solid. It had both Western and Thai food. Most of the offerings were around 70-80THB ($2-$2.50). The food at this restaurant was marginally more than typical Thai restaurants in the area. We’re talking $.10-$.75 more, however, depending on the dish.
The convenience factor and quality definitely made up for that though. You had the option of either eating in the restaurant downstairs by the lobby, or having the food delivered to your room. We took advantage of having the food delivered many times on lazy mornings or during downpours. The restaurant was open from 7:00a.m. to 8:00p.m.
Other amenities included mostly solid wi-fi, a rooftop pool, ok gym, and weekly room cleaning. More on the pool and gym later.
(Google Maps view of Smith Residence to Nimman commute. Being far from Nimman was the only downside to Smith Residence’s location in my opinion.)
Smith Residence is located just outside the Old City, which from my understanding is basically that area just above Smith Residence that looks like a square. This area is great for different Western food options and it’s also near Loi Kroh Road if you’re into nightlife, massages, or bar girls.
More than anything else, however, I enjoyed having an apartment near so many markets. The famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar (supposedly the biggest nightmarket in Southeast Asia) was just 10-15 minutes away on foot. There was also a large Saturday market everyday a 3 minute walk from the apartment.
My favorite was this market that was open every night. I discovered it with the girl I was seeing at the time. It was crazy cheap, and as a food lover she came to give it the nickname “Heaven”.
(Some coconut dessert)
(Night market “Heaven” 2-3 minutes from Smith Residence — open every night.)
(Pad Thai — 35 Baht or $1-$1.1USD)
Smith Residence is a great apartment for someone that’s new to Southeast Asia. The apartment is clean, and on a fairly quiet side street just outside the Old City. Smith Residence offers room service, friendly staff, a huge expat community (mostly older folks though), modern amenities, a solid location, and an awesome view.
The only negatives I marked down for Smith Residence was that the rooms had no fans (air conditoning only), a pretty weak gym, and that supposedly no guests are allowed to visit the pool or gym.
Guests to your room seem to be allowed, but it’d be a pretty big letdown not to be able to bring girls or your family to swim in the pool. However, I’m not sure how strongly the no guests thing is enforced.
Beyond that, a lot of digital nomads would dock Smith Residence points for not being near the trendy Nimmanhaemin Road — digital nomad central of Chiang Mai.
I didn’t mind much not living in the “cool neighborhood”. Maybe there’s more networking opportunities there. That’s the only potential downside I see to not living near Nimman. Nimman is more expensive than the rest of Chiang Mai as well — both rent and food.
The area around Smith Residence had lots of great markets and food options. As someone that was lying low and focusing on improving my programming skills for a month, that was enough to make me happy.
Would I stay at Smith Residence again? Maybe, but I’d like to explore other parts of Chiang Mai too first before making that decision. Should you stay at Smith Residence? Sure.
It’s neither the cheapest nor the most luxurious accomodation in Chiang Mai, but it’s solid value. It’s also a “safe” choice.
My overall recommendation to you is this: Stay at Smith Residence for a month (easily doable without penalties or losing your deposit), explore the rest of the city (especially Nimman), and then settle down in your favorite place.
It’s easy enough — once you’ve got a decent income stream or savings to live off of. Just don’t be one of the fools that comes to Chiang Mai with a plan to sell an ebook about how to make money selling ebooks to other nomads coming to Chiang Mai 😉
Switching the blog’s focus from self-development to travel/nomad content. The same applies for my Youtube channel! Stay tuned, and enjoy!
Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a month was an amazing experience. Chiang Mai is the digital nomad capital of the world for good reason — It’s among the cheapest and most convenient cities in the world. Breakfast in bed for $2, a central apartment with pool and gym for $300, decent English skills.
There’s a reason Chiang Mai gets a lot of love from nomads. While I think much of Chiang Mai’s love is cultlike, it is a solid nomad base. While I’m happy to be back in Saigon now, I do miss Chiang Mai sometimes.
I don’t just miss the prices and laid back vibe though. Chiang Mai is an underrated city for entertainment options. From ziplining, to elephany cantuaries, to cooking classes, Chiang Mai has lots of activities to fill you leisure time.
One of the most popular places to chill out, however, is Maya Mall. Maya is the city’s most popular mall located just off the famous Nimmanahaeminda Road. If you’re looking for a place to relax with friends or cool down during Chiang Mai’s sweaty afternoons, Maya is as good a place as any other for you to check out.
I may not be a big shopper, but I had a good time checking out the mall nonetheless. Exploring Maya’s many floors is a great way to pass an afternoon or night out during your stay in Chiang Mai. Plus, there’s an awesome food court!
I hope you enjoy the video. It should give you a good idea of the types of shops and excitement waiting for you at Maya. Most importantly, I hope you have the opportunity to visit Maya Mall for yourself someday!
I’ve already done a post on whether KL is a good destination for digital nomads. The short answer — KL isn’t super exciting, but it’s an inexpensive city and a great place to focus on getting work done (click here for the longer answer).
That post was one of my most popular posts the last several months. You seemed to have gotten a lot of value out of it. For that reason, I thought you might enjoy me dishing out a bit more information to you on KL. While KL may not be the best destination for many nomads, it’s a great place for border runs or a weekend getaway. Here’s why.
#1 Cost of Living
Kuala Lumpur is very inexpensive. Budget hotel rooms can be found for just $10-$20/night. Food is cheap as well. The Malaysian and Indian food in KL is among the cheapest I’ve seen in Asia. Presumably the Chinese food in KL is cheap as well. I can’t comment with as much authority on that, however, as I’m not into Chinese food much.
Regardless, a couple dollars will easily satiate your hunger regardless of which culture’s food you like best. You could easily live a decent lifestyle in KL under $1000/month. It’s a bit more expensive than Saigon or Chiang Mai, but not much. While you’ll spend a bit more each day here on a short trip because of increased accommodation costs, this $1000/month figure should give you a good idea of how affordable KL is.
KL is an awesome hub for flights. Kuala Lumpur is well connected to lots of the other top cities in Asia. Whether you’d like to go to Bangkok, Saigon, or Bali, you’ll find KL often has some of the most competitive prices on international flights. I’ve also found it’s typically cheaper to fly to the US from Kuala Lumpur than Saigon or Bangkok.
These cheap flights, however, make KL an awesome border run destination because they get you the stamps you need for your passport at a surprisingly affordable cost.
#3 Few Awesome Tourist Attractions
Kuala Lumpur has some really cool tourist attractions. The Petronas Towers, and Batu Caves for example, are two of the coolest sights Southeast Asia has to offer. Beyond that, however, my experience of KL suggests that it’s a fairly uneventful place to live. Perhaps that would change if you really established roots there.
From what I’ve seen, however, you’ll likely get bored staying in KL for a few months. Instead of trying to make Kuala Lumpur your base city, I’d recommend using it as a place to visit for border runs or a short vacation.
#4 Ease of Entry/No Visa Fee
The final reason Kuala Lumpur is great for border runs or weekend getaways is that visiting Malaysia is easy. US citizens, along with most other nationalities don’t need visas to enter the country. There’s also no fee for visitor cards on entrance, or departure fees either. Getting through immigration shouldn’t cost you any money in most circumstances.
Many nationalities also receive permission to stay in Malaysia for 90 days upon entry. This offers you a lot of flexibility in how long you stay. You could plan to visit for the weekend, fall in love with KL, and extend your stay extremely easily.
There’s a lot to love about visiting KL on a border run. KL makes border runs inexpensive, convenient, flexible, and interesting. I can’t think of many other cities in Asia you can say the same for. If you’re planning to base yourself long-term out of Thailand, Vietnam, or any country in SEA really, do make a plan to visit KL for one of your border runs at some point.
Hey guys, today’s videos is one of my favorites I’ve ever recorded. The video doesn’t dive deep into incredible mental frameworks. It doesn’t offer any crazy facts you’d never heard of before. This video is quite comical, however. Let me explain.
Last month I stayed in a hotel in central KL for only $14/night… including breakfast. While this sounded cheap, these prices aren’t unheard of by any means for a well traveled nomad in Southeast Asia. I’ve stayed in solid places in Vietnam for under $10/night.
Unfortunately, Hotel Pudu 88, the hotel I stayed at in May was far from solid. If you’ve slept in budget accommodation before you know what to expect: A small room, poor view, older facilities, that kind of stuff.
Hotel Pudu 88 was legendary in my books, however, for being so ridiculously bad. In addition to the typical cheap room stuff I mentioned above, Hotel Pudu 88 had many other surprises waiting for me as well.
For two nights I enjoyed the luxury of mold on the ceiling, a sticky door handle, feeling itchy in bed (who knows why), flat pillows, mirrors that had toothpaste on them from the last guest, and the list goes on and on. The staff even refused to let me borrow one of their power adapters to charge my phone (I was forced to purchase the adapter from them).
Let’s continue. I got two more juicy details you’re going to love. The free breakfast we were promised? Bread. To their credit, however, a toaster, peanut butter, and sugary jam were available to go with that bread.
The whole breakfast area was depressing. The other people wouldn’t make eye contact with you. It was as if everyone was in a state of disbelief all their hopes and dreams had amounted to residing in this bottom of the barrel accommodation. Despite laughing as I write this post, I’m only exaggerating this story slightly.
My favorite part of the whole ordeal, however, was when I asked to get some toilet paper from reception. Now, when we got to the hotel they left us half a roll of toilet paper in our room.
This may be sufficient for one person staying overnight, but we’re a couple staying two nights. I was staying with my girlfriend and I just can’t see how two people needing one more roll of toilet paper during that stay is in any way unreasonable.
I ask the front desk guy if we can have a roll of toilet paper and he says and I quote, “Take one.” And there was some preeeety heavy emphasis on the one. Man, I thought I was frugal.
Anyway, is there much of a point to this story? I don’t know. This place was even dirtier than the $6/night hotel I stayed in that asked not so jokingly if I wanted a lady with my room. I guess the biggest thing would be to see just how bad budget accommodation can be in Southeast Asia.
I get that many of you are newer digital nomads that simply can’t afford to drop $50-$100 a night on a baller place to stay in during your travels. I get it, me too. However, understand that sometimes there can be a big difference between $6/night and $12/night or $120/month for an apartment and $200/month.
For an extra few dollars per night, you can get a lot more comfort that’ll allow you to easily focus on doing the most important thing — generating income. If $5/night extra is a significant hit to your budget… it’s time to focus on making more money. Don’t live like an animal.
Don’t get stuck in the phase where you’re bragging about how cheap everything is abroad forever. Appreciating the lower prices in foreign countries is just the first level of expat and digital nomad living.
Enjoy it, but then get grinding. A better ideal, is to be making enough money that you’re far more proud to talk about the income you’re bringing in than the cheap street food and rock bottom accommodation you’re staying in.
If you ask most digital nomads where they recommend living in South East Asia they’ll probably answer your question with one of the “Big 3” nomad hubs. They’ll suggest you live in Saigon, Chiang Mai, or Bali. Yet, while these digital nomad hubs are popular for a reason, it’s important to recognize that many other options exist as well.
One of those options is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is a solid choice for digital nomads for several reasons. For one the cost of living is very low. Airbnb apartments are extremely affordable as are the hotels. We’re talking $350-$450/month for a solid place on Airbnb.
Stay longer or find a place on the ground and you’ve got a good shot at finding an even better deal. Food is cheap as well. Budget meals at restaurants can be found for $1-3/each. Yet, cost of living isn’t the only reason to live in Kuala Lumpur.
KL also has several coworking spaces. In fact, a quick search on coworker.com will give you 30+ possible places to work from. While you can’t expect to find the same number of digital nomads at these spaces as the ones in Chiang Mai or Saigon, there are nomads here. Plus, they’ll be more excited to connect with you as finding others living the location independent lifestyle is more of a rarity in Kuala Lumpur.
A really nice bonus of being a digital nomad in Kuala Lumpur is that it’s extremely cheap to get flights into and out of KL. Getting to a place like Bali or Koh Lanta can be expensive for someone that’s bootstrapping with an extremely limited budget.
Even with all of these benefits, however, KL isn’t an ideal digital nomad base in my eyes. It has some nice tourist attractions like the Petronas Towers or Batu Caves, but overall KL feels a bit boring to me. Does that mean I was hanging out in the wrong places or not meeting the right people? Perhaps.
I’d venture you’d probably grow bored of the city too if you stayed a week or more though. There’s just not the chaos of Saigon or the awesome leisure activities Bali or Chiang Mai have.
Kuala Lumpur is worth a visit as a tourist. It can also be great for visa runs (we’ll discuss this in a future post). KL has cheap food and booking accomodation for 1-3 months on airbnb isn’t difficult or overly expensive. The city is a bit boring, however.
My recommendation for other digital nomads? Don’t base yourself in KL for too long. Unless of course, you want to stay in a boring city for a while to limit distractions and make it easier to focus on work.
Hey guys, here’s a video I recorded last month in Kuala Lumpur. It mainly focused on some of the foods you’ll find in Malaysia, but you’ll see some shots from a Chinese Market in KL as well.
The food in KL really is excellent. In addition to being cheap $1-3/meal (watch the video for some meals we ate and the prices), the food scene in KL is also diverse. There’s lots of great Indian, Chinese, and Malay food to be found. Plus, these different ethnicities often blend their styles of food together.
This makes for many interesting dishes. Of course, there’s lots more to KL than just the food. The Petronas Towers are an amazing landmark and something you absolutely have to see while you’re in KL. There’s also some solid live music playing in the markets and around the city.
If you’re not into Malaysia’s food or culture fear not, however. Next week I’ll be posting some videos on the hilariously bad nightmare hotel we stayed at in KL (think mold on the wall, sticky doorknob bad), plus whether KL is a good destination for digital nomads.
Western style accommodation in Saigon only costs $250-$350 for a small room. $1000/month will easily get you 2 bedrooms in many of the most luxurious high-rise apartments in the city if you’re running with a higher budget.
Food is also cheap. Buying food on the street in local restaurants will run you $1-2 for a meal at most places. Nicer western restaurants may cost a few dollars more. My favorite Indian food, Chicken Saagwala for example is $4. A pizza for two may cost $7-10.
There have been many months I lived on just $500/month. These days, however, I probably spend closer to $700-$800/month alone or $1,000/month with my girlfriend living with me. $1,000/month is probably a comfortable budget for single people under 40 who’d like to live in a nice apartment with a pool or hit the bars and clubs a couple times a week. You may need to budget more if you’d like to do both.
#2 Menial Tasks Outsourced
Outsourcing your menial tasks in Saigon is extremely affordable. You can hire people very cheaply to do your laundry, clean your room, cook for you , etc. While the lazy side of you will love having someone clean your room, the biggest advantage of this outsourcing is that it frees up time and energy for you to focus on more meaningful tasks.
Whether that’s generating more leads for your business, learning a new skill, or building a better dating life, having someone do your menial tasks will free up a lot of space in your mind and schedule to focus on more important things.
#3 Food Paradise
Aside from being cheap, the food here is also delicious. There’s lots of great choices for both local and international food. Local food is very healthy compared to the cuisine in other countries. The health movement has also picked up in the last few years.
The people in Vietnam are opening up more health shops selling supplements, organic foods, green smoothies and more. Although it’s usually more expensive to eat at the healthy restaurants, we’re not talking about anything too ridiculous. A decent sized green smoothie will set you back $2 while a buffet brunch/lunch at the Vietnamese equivalent of Whole Foods costs just under $10.
Hahaha you know this one had to make it in the list. The women in Vietnam tend to be more feminine than their western counterparts. They’re also thinner. Whether you want to find a sweet loyal girl to marry or party it up as a young single guy, Vietnam is a good choice for you.
The female foreigners living here almost exclusively date other foreigners, however. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a western girl holding a Vietnamese guy’s hand. This is for many reasons, which I’m sure you could easily figure out for yourself.
Again I won’t comment for women, but as even an average socially adjusted man you’ll love your dating life in Vietnam.
#5 Close Proximity to Other Countries
Vietnam is just a hop away from several other interesting countries. With neighbors like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, and the Philippines all 3.5 hours or less away by plane, you’ve got a lot of great options for a long weekend getaway.
Cambodia in particular is very easy to reach by bus. 6 hours. That’s all it takes to go from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Well, that’s what they say at least…
As you can see there’s a lot of great things about living in Saigon. That’s one of the reasons I’m likely to stay there. I’d recommend you give it a shot too. It doesn’t get as much love as Chiang Mai, but after having lived in both, I’d say it’s just as lovable. Even more lovable to some.