It’s a cringe-worthy term, digital nomad. It conjures up images of nerdy white dudes with adventure sandals and Timbuk2 bags packed with all their techie gear, schlepping around the cafes in town one-by-one while they Skype about their latest business projects. I would much rather call it “Living The Dream”, because we don’t wear adventure sandals and prefer to work from bed or from bars with good happy hour deals.
The past six months of Living The Dream hasn’t been all beers in bed, however. We’ve consistently battled with slow internet connections, internet censorship, and scrambling to find any wifi at all in order to meet deadlines. Here, in sunny and well-connected Southeast Asia, we decided to slow down and take one week off of travelling to Get Shit Done.
Thailand was our next destination after Cambodia, and both Bangkok and Chiang Mai are highly rated as locations for digital nomads, so we had a choice of where to settle down. In the end we chose Bangkok because we both love its mega city vibe, its endless conveniences, and because we wanted to finish off our week with a night of banging partying—something we probably couldn’t find in Chiang Mai. So we got a little Airbnb place in the north of Bangkok with a kitchen and a pool, and stayed in one place for a whole week.
Once we were settled in, it was time to work. For a couple years in both Tokyo and London I lived The Dream, working freelance from dozens of cafes in both cities. Spoilt for choice, after a while I got picky. Some Englishmen are particular about the pubs they drink in—it has to feel right. That is exactly how I feel about cafes; I don’t want to spend hours working away in a cafe unless it feels right. The decor, the noise levels, the atmosphere, and the gaze of the baristas after I’ve finished my drink but continue to sit in their cafe needs to be chill. The wifi has to be good (and no stupid time-limited access codes!), and there has to be outlets to plug into when the battery runs down.
With that in mind, I set out to work in one different cafe every day for five working days to pretend to be a real digital nomad in Bangkok. This is the result.
Day 1: Porcupine Cafe
Our apartment was located near Ratchadapisek station, about 10km from the centre of Bangkok, but a short 30-minute cycle ride away from the trendy Ari neighbourhood. Over the past year or so, Ari has blown up with all the hipster necessities: cool cafes, food trucks, burger restaurants, bars and funky clothing shops. Because it’s outside of the main fray, there’s refreshingly few tourists here. The go-to cafe in Ari is Casa Lapin, but its reputed to be pretentious and over-crowded.
A few blocks down is a great alternative called Porcupine Cafe. It’s a decently sized cafe with some seating outdoors, and two huge workbenches along with smaller tables indoors. The door sounds like a trumpet or an elephant when it opens and closes, which is slightly distracting but awesome at the same time. There was a fairly large, fashionably-dressed MacBook crowd, but the dude next to me who picked his nose repeatedly kept it real.
Music: Minimalistic indie, some folk
Hours spent: 3.5
Drink: Cappuccino for 88 baht
Wifi: Fast enough
Power supply: Ample
Day 2: Coffee Alley in the Garden
Sukhumvit is like the Roppongi of Bangkok. It’s sleazy and crowded with foreigners, but there’s also lots of shopping, okay dining, and plentiful watering holes around. Surprisingly, there’s no shortage of cafes to work from either.
I can’t decide if the name Coffee Alley in the Garden is stupid or just confusing. Regardless, it made a pretty good place to work for the afternoon. There’s lots of outdoor seating in the “garden” if you can deal with the sound of traffic, and also a couple tables inside, where the sterile vibe is surprisingly good for working. The crowd is mostly male and foreign, along with a few Thai businessmen escaping the office.
Music: Unobtrusive world folk
Hours spent: 4
Drinks: Iced latte for 80 baht, awful double espresso con panna for 80 baht
Power supply: Some outlets here and there
Day 3: The Hive
Working from cafes is cool, but Mook needed a fast internet connection so we decided to give one of Bangkok’s coworking spaces a go. There are quite a few to choose from, but we decided to give The Hive a try because it looked cool in the pictures and it was near Thong Lor station, where we were to meet a uni friend later for drinks.
For a flat daily rate of 300 baht, we would get access to high-speed internet and free coffee and tea—or so the website said. When we arrived we were disappointed to learn there was no free tea or free coffee, only an expensive cafe on the top floor. The place looked cool but it was a bit sterile and as silent as a library. Having worked at friendly, social coworking spaces in other cities, we were disappointed. Until we found the rooftop:
Not a bad place to work from for the day, and even on the roof the wifi was fast. Still, with the cost of daily membership and having to buy coffee from the bar, this turned out to be the most expensive day of our digital nomadism.
Hours spent: 6.5
Drinks: Various coffees consumed for between 75-110 baht
Power supply: Ample
Pressure: None (except to be quiet downstairs)
Day 4: 2B Cafe in TCDC
Looking around online I’d found more than a couple mentions of the Thailand Creative & Design Center being a chill place to work remotely from. We were surprised to find that it’s on the top floor of Emporium, one of Bangkok’s many luxury shopping malls, and it felt kind of weird hauling our laptops past the Louis Vuitton and Gucci shops to get there.
TCDC itself is quite slick looking, but the only place we could find to work was 2B Cafe. While it felt kind of like a kind of afterthought placed next to the TCDC library, the views of the Bangkok skyline were amazing and they played a subtitled documentary about Japanese hip-hop on a giant projector, so you could say the atmosphere was pretty cool. There were lots of other people hammering away on their laptops throughout the afternoon, so we felt right at home. Our only complaint was that the wifi dropped out on numerous occasions.
Hours spent: 4
Drinks: Cappuccino for 80 baht, matcha latte for 85 baht
Day 5: Too Fast To Sleep
On our last day of “work”, we’d had to move from our comfy apartment to a hostel in the Silom area. I took the opportunity to try out a place I’d read a lot about that has the most amazing name for a cafe in the entire world: TOO FAST TO SLEEP.
This place is interesting. It’s located next to a motorway in between two MRT stops, nestled between a construction site and what looked to be an abandoned building. It’s open 24 hours, it’s huge, and it’s packed with university students alternately sleeping and working on school projects while hopped up on what might be the worst coffee I’ve ever had. Downstairs on the ground floor are a bunch of street food vendors pumping out things like burgers and pad thai, and the place had a vibe I can only describe as similar to one night four years ago when I visited the Nakameguro Don Quijote at 10pm. Specific, I know. Anyway, this is one of those places that gives you wifi access with a one-time code, which I hate, but I’d still come here again.
Hours spent: 3
Drinks: The worst americano ever for 80 baht
Power supply: Shitloads
Pressure: Less than none
Is there a cafe in Thailand that gives a fark how long you spend there on only one drink? From a European perspective, the consistent lack of passive-aggressive hounding by baristas was amazing. Bangkok coffee is expensive, but if you can relax and work for a while on one or two cups, it’s far more pleasurable and more economical than expensive co-working spaces. And while we’ve been lucky enough to discover pretty good co-working spaces in other major cities, the offerings we’ve seen in Bangkok are a little sub-par for those who are not long-term residents.