Living the Nomad Life on Koh Chang
Close your eyes. Picture a ‘digital nomad’. What do you see? Most likely you’ll have the image of someone chilling on the beach or lazing in hammock with a coconut in one hand and Macbook Pro in the other.
Which, unfortunately, is nonsense. If you try that you find that either a) you’ll get sand and/or coconut milk in your $2,000 machine or b) go blind from squinting at the screen in bright sunlight. Plus typing with a combination of sweat and sun tan lotion on your hands is going to ruin your keyboard.
So, for the purposes of this guide to nomading on Koh Chang, I’ll stick to reality and not fantasy. First of all some basics . . .
Why is Koh Chang Suitable for Digital Nomads?
There’s no doubt that Chiang Mai is the mecca for digital nomads in Thailand. And that’s unlikely to change any time soon. But surely it must be nice to be able to take a break from seeing the same faces in the same coffeeshops and get away from mass market nomadism.
Why not try somewhere else for a month or two? Especially during the ‘burning season‘ from February to April, when Chiang Mai is both super hot and extremely polluted due to the hillsides up north being set ablaze by farmers and landowners.
As for Koh Chang. It’s easy to get to. Just a 5 hour, 250 Baht bus ride from Bangkok. So no need to spend days travelling or take a flight to get here. A simple bus – ferry – songtaew ( pick up truck taxi ) is all that’s required.
Leave Bangkok after breakfast and you’ll be enjoying an afternoon swim in the sea a few hours later. You can also fly on Bangkok Airways to Trat or take a private transfer if you aren’t on a tight budget and want to cut down on travelling time.
And when it comes time to do a border bounce or visa run, the Cambodian border at Hat Lek is just a 140 Baht, one hour minibus ride from Trat town. Or you can buy tickets for a shared minibus form your hotel on Koh Chang to the border ( and back ) at any tour agent.
And once you’re here you will find that the 5G internet coverage is as good as you’ll get anywhere else ( even out at sea – you’ll get 4G on a snorkelling trip to remote islands ). Plus virtually all small coffeeshops, bars and restaurants have free wifi. Likewise it’s hard to find accommodation that doesn’t have a good wifi signal now. Although if it’s a single connection being shared by many people download speeds may be slower than your phone.
The majority of properties on the west coast are now hooked up via fiber optic internet connections. Which means no more outages when it rains. This is especially important for anyone needing a reliable connection. For example, if you’re teaching English online; regularly uploading large files or need to make VOIP calls at specific times.
How fast is the internet on Koh Chang? It should be quick enough for the vast majority of digital nomads. Internet access is cheap enough that any small business can easily afford to offer high speed internet access to their patrons. At our guesthouse we use a 600 Baht / month connection via the AIS Fiber optic service. (I’m sure many places spend more and have faster connections.) I have a 4G on my phone with the True mobile provider.
I did the speed tests below whilst writing this. (Speed is faster now, this post was written in mid 2020)
|My home wifi – AIS to host in London||My phone – True 4G to a host in London|
The Cost of Living on Koh Chang
Chiang Mai will be cheaper. Any town or city in the north of Thailand will be cheaper than living on an island. That should be obvious. Therefore, if you’ve already got your sights set on making a series of Youtube videos about living as frugally as possible on $200 / month, then forget Koh Chang. It’s not the location for you.
You’ll be able to find a partially furnished bungalow for around 5,000 Baht / month and up. This won’t include utilities. And won’t have it’s own internet connection. So many people end up doing a deal at one of the many small bungalow resorts for monthly rental. You aren’t going to get a bargain by the beach, unless you’re happy with a basic fan hut. But outside peak season many, usually western owned, resorts a few minutes walk from the sea will offer monthly rates. Figure on around 15,000 Baht/month and up.
If you’re visiting during the long low season, then you’ll have a large choice of bungalows for half this amount. Plus there are modern hostels with aircon dorm beds, good facilities and communal areas which are ideal to meet people. For example, Pajamas Hostel, Klong Prao or Beach Jungle in Lonely beach. There’s plenty of information on the different beaches on Koh Chang on this site. There’s not one that
You’ll probably want to rent a scooter. 200 – 250 Baht / day. Or from about 3,000 Baht monthly. Be sure to check the tyres and brakes as some of the roads here are extremely steep and there are numerous accidents daily. A bicycle is OK, but not ideal if you are staying south of Kai Bae beach. The road from Kai Bae to Bangbao is narrow, winding and hilly. Add reckless pick up truck drivers to the mix and it’s just not an enjoyable way to get around. Renting a car is also a possibility, figure on around 800 – 1,200 Baht/ day. But there’s probably no need to rent one long term.
Whilst there are various nomad friendly coffeeshops, there aren’t any dedicated co-working spaces on the island.
Food and Drink
Simple Thai food from 40 – 50 Baht / dish in most areas. Plenty of fruit available from stalls. all around the island. Plus there are Makro, Tesco and Big C supermarkets on the island. So you can eat cheaply. Avoid eating at beach restaurants, you’ll find much better, and cheaper food by the roadside.
Cocktails from around 100 Baht and up. Small beer on the beach is 60 or 70 Baht. Smashed avocado and smoked salmon on multigrain bread, around 200 Baht. Ethically sourced coffee to wash it down with 60 – 100 Baht.
About 40 Baht / kilo. Less if you use a self service machine.
Where to Work From? Co-Working Spaces & Coffee Shops
If you want to get out of your bungalow then you will find a multitude of small coffeeshops and restaurants to work from. Virtually all have good wifi and so it’s more a matter of finding a spot you like. You’ll find pretty much everywhere is digital nomad friendly. As the island doesn’t attract the type of people who carry their own LCD screens into coffeeshops, set up on a table designed for six people and then nurse a coffee for eight hours.
So here’s a few ideas to get you started . . . .
For ice cold aircon and good wifi the ‘Marin’ coffeeshops are a good option. Coffee is Bangkok prices but they’re usually pretty quiet and are spacious and nicely furnished. They have branches on White Sand beach, Klong Prao beach and Kai Bae beach. Also in Kai Bae, Fig Cafe, is the ideal spot if you want peace and quiet, laid back Thai owners, veggie food, cold pressed juices and northern Thai coffee. As the demographic for nomads tends towards 20 – 30 somethings, it’s not surprising that Lonely beach, the backpacker’s beach, is where you’ll find many staying. Check out Sleepy Owl cafe where there are usually a few people with their laptops out.
Finally, one thing Koh Chang lacks is co-working spaces. Until 2019 there wasn’t one on the island. However, in mid 2019 the Dutch owner of Oasis Bungalows (who’s also a web developer) , designed and built one. But, due to covid, this was closed in 2021 and converted into a studio apartment for rent. But who knows what will happen in the future? Perhaps the Oasis Coworking space will re-open. In the meantime Oasis remains a very ‘nomad friendly’ place to stay or work with fast internet, a great location, good value accommodation, and laid back restaurant.
How’s the Work / Life Balance?
You can’t go to movie theatre or shopping mall when you want to relax. But you can take a walk on the beach, swim in the ocean, do some yoga with a sunset sea view or laze in a hammock if you need to wind down.
You won’t find many organised activities or events here, unlike Chiang Mai, but you will discover small groups of people doing their own thing. So if you want to volunteer and some free time looking after stray dogs, for example, contact Tina at Happy Dogs.
The Koh Chang chapter of Trash Hero meet every Wednesday to help clear garbage from beaches and roadside. This is an excellent way to meet new faces both western and local.
Or there’s even a group building a jungle museum and ecovillage in Kai Bae, DU DD Project. They’ll be pleased to hear from you if you have any skills relating to eco-friendly construction and tourism.
Whilst the majority of locals now derive their income from tourism, Koh Chang is nowhere near as ‘touristy’ as islands in the south of Thailand. Koh Chang only started to attract visitors in large numbers 20 years ago. Plus over 70% of the island is jungle clad mountains which are protected from development as they lie within the National Park. This limits the amount of land that can be developed. So, it is also still easy to find local life on the island. For example, anyone staying on White Sand beach, the island’s busiest beach, is only 5 minutes by scooter from Klong Son village. Where’s there’s still a thriving fishing community and a valley full of fruit and rubber plantations.
Heath and Fitness
Starting with the most basic health care . . . each village on Koh Chang has a local clinic. This is staffed by a nurse or two and is a good place to go if you need bandaging up after an accident or to have wounds cleaned. The type of thing where no Thai language skills are required to explain the ailment.
Pharmacies are also a good option for basic healthcare. The pharmacist usually speaks good English and they can advise on drugs for most common illnesses.
There’s also a public hospital on the east coast of the island. If you have a more serious accident or sickness but don’t have health insurance – head here. In addition there are a couple of private clinics in Klong Prao, run by English speaking medical professionals. These are a good choice if you want to avoid the extortionate prices at the international clinic on White Sand Beach. This is part of the Bangkok hospital group. Head here if your insurance is paying and you don’t care about the cost.
Keeping fit on Koh Chang doesn’t cost the earth either. There are public gyms on all the main beaches. In Klong Prao take a look at Koh Chang Gym and Dolphin Fitness. The latter being probably the best equipped gym on the island. Blue Lagoon Klong Prao also offer daily yoga classes. On Lonely beach, BB Gym also has a good selection of freeweights and machines plus daily yoga classes.
Bureaucracy and Visas
Red tape hasn’t kept pace with technology, let alone the way people work has changed. So most nations still have the same laws in place for visitors nowadays as they did 30 years ago.
Therefore, they don’t take into account the fact that many people don’t actually want to live in the same place and do the same job all year round. Let alone that it’s now possible for you to work for someone in one country whilst being paid into a bank in a different country, whilst you’re actually living in a third country.
Digital Nomad Visas
Can digital nomads work in Thailand without a Work Permit? Officially no. The law is quite clear about that. If you want to work legally then you need to have a Work Permit and pay taxes. There are some grey areas about ‘What is work?’ – when it involves someone hammering away on a keyboard. But in reality, you would never win an argument with an Immigration official. As you won’t be able to deny that you are using your own energy, knowledge or effort to produce something. So there’s no point seeing things through rose tinted glasses.
No Work Permit = You’re working illegally in the eyes of the law.
Despite what some clickbait articles say, Thailand doesn’t have a digital nomad visa. You’ll see a ‘Smart visa‘ being mentioned. But this is aimed at highly skilled professionals, investors, executives and startup entrepreneurs who want to relocate to Thailand.
So, if you’re dropshipping pet supplies from Aliexpress or running a travel blog, this isn’t for you. No matter how many followers you have on Instagram.
The good news is that as Thailand is a very pleasant and relatively inexpensive country to live in. Therefore, there are thousands of digital nomads here and virtually no-one has the correct paperwork. Everyone is in the same situation.
And more good news is that no-one really cares about what you are typing on your laptop in the privacy of your home or in a coffeeshop or even a co-working hub. Just remember that you don’t have to tell everyone you meet your life story and what you spending hours each day doing.
Longterm or Tourist Visas
The ease of staying in a city longterm is one factor that has helped Chiang Mai become a mecca for digital nomads. It’s much easier to get a longterm visa in a city than on a quiet island. This is because many nomads use Education Visas in order to stay in Thailand for 12 months or more. Language schools and Muay Thai training camps will provide their students with the correct documentation they require in order to apply for this type of visa.
But here on Koh Chang there aren’t any language schools and are only a couple of small Muay Thai camps which don’t sponsor documents. So that option isn’t possible. This narrows down your choice to one possibility – a Tourist Visa.
Ideally you want to get a METV (Multiple Entry Tourist Visa) which allows you to two entries to the kingdom within in a size month period. But this can only be obtained from your home country. Each entry has a maximum stay of 60 days. However each entry can also be extended easily at an immigration office for a further 30 days for just 1,900 Baht plus a few photocopies. After you first 60+30 day stay you leave the country and return again and will get a second 60 day stamp which can also be extended 30 days. So, in effect around 6 months stay if you max it out.
If you aren’t able to obtain the METV, then a single entry Tourist Visa (SETV) gives you 60 days stay. Which can be extended for a further 30 days. These are obtainable from Thai embassies and consulates in SE Asia.
And citizens of most western countries automatically get a 30 day visa exemption stamp in their passport when they enter the country overland or by plane. Likewise, this can also be extended for a further 30 days at any immigration office. Giving a 60 day stay.
But note that the authorities are clamping down on people who abuse the system and use visa exemptions or tourist visas to stay long term in Thailand. It’s a solution for a few months a year but not if you want to stay 12 months or more. There’s a good chance that one day you’ll return from a visa run and will be refused entry into Thailand. As the immigration officer won’t believe you are a genuine tourist.
Koh Chang has a small Immigration office but this isn’t of any use if you want to extend a visa. For that you will need to go to the mainland immigration office at Laem Ngop, not far from the ferry piers for boats to Koh Chang. It’s a very relaxed small office with (usually) helpful staff and virtually no queues.
Tips on finding long stay accommodation : https://iamkohchang.com/accommodation/tips/renting-house-bungalow-longterm.html
Also check out the Koh Chang Talk Facebook group. This is a good place to ask for practical advice from expats. You’ll also find resort and business owners here so it’s useful for finding deals on accommodation, scooter hire etc
Nomadist’s Koh Chang page: Overall the site is a good resource but the usefulness falls dramatically where there isn’t a lot of data to be analysed. This is evident on the Koh Chang page.
General visa information: https://thaiembdc.org/visas/ – this is the Thai embassy in the US. Gives you a good overall view of the types of visa available and how to apply for them.