Remote Update: Notes from Chiang Mai

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I'm sitting in the Seattle-Tacoma airport, laptop on my thighs. My flight for Victoria BC is just about to leave. But a big BOOK NOW on my screen is absorbing all of my attention.

"This is the final boarding call for flight 2364. All remaining passengers for this flight please report to gate 16A."

I stop biting my nails, stop tapping my foot. I push out a short sigh, and click on the damn button.

"Congratulations, your flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand has been booked!"


That was last September, when I finally decided to spend a few remote working months in Southeast Asia. I had been talking about it for a while, so I'm glad I worked up the guts to put my money where my mouth was.

On November 9th, I stuffed my computer, summer clothes and a few dreams in a bag, and left.

Reality check

I've been in Chiang Mai for over a month now. And I can tell you for a fact: that cute intro story you just read? Hundreds of other "digital nomads" here have lived a very similar version of it.

Now I can't speak for them. But I can damn sure speak for myself. So I'm not going to bullshit you: my first days here were rough. They reminded me I'm far from a seasoned traveler yet, despite having seen my fair share of countries. There was lots of adaptation: circumventing the language barrier with some locals, understanding traffic flow, getting used to the heat/food, locating key places, dealing with +12 hours time zone difference for work, and being alone.

When I got a solid fever, stranded in my room for 24 hours, the latter hit me hard. Harder than I would've thought. It made me understand I wasn't used to be alone. In a way, it showed me how much positive energy I draw from social interactions back home—even though I like to pretend the opposite.

In between trying not to get killed on my bicycle, allergic reactions, digestion problems, and bouts of unhealthy doubt, I also came to realize anxiety still had a firm hold on me. Had myself a couple "what the fuck am I doing here?" moments.

But learning to deal with all of this has been a good thing. It forced me to get busy doing productive things on my own. I started exercising more. I focused on my work. Went for meetups, activities, and, slowly but surely, engaged more with new people.

Being alone and outbalanced in a foreign country forces you to see the world doesn't revolve around you. In a "social" era of non-stop ego gratification, this has to be worth something.

New experiences

Now let's put the not-so-rosy episodes aside.

I feel it's a good idea to list some of the new experiences I've had. To remind myself of what I'm getting out of this trip and share bits of it.

SO, since I got here I:

→ Rented a bicycle, and learned to cruise around the city streets and traffic. Not safer than a motorbike after all.

remote-update1-cm-bicycle My big-baller-shot-caller ride.

→ Cycled my way up Wat Phrat That, Doi Suthep, through 11 km of painfully steep mountain slopes.

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remote-update1-cm-doi-suthep Fantastic views of Chiang Mai along the way.

→ Took a day trip to Chiang Rai; saw the White Temple, the Black House, and the Golden Triangle. Roundtrip: 7 h of bus, 3 h of scooter, 500+ km.

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remote-update1-cm-scooter Mayur has driving experience in Mumbai; I crashed my motorbike in the Philippines last year. Picking the driver was easy.

remote-update1-cm-golden-triangle Myanmar, Laos & Thailand in one picture.

→ Sweated my spiritual ass off in yoga classes. One "hardcore namasté" session left my pal and I barely able to speak English. Traded words for hearty laughs that night.

→ Partied with fine fellas from England, Ireland, Finland, Australia, the USA, and India.

→ Had dinner with smarter and more experienced guys than I. Learned stuff.

→ Experienced the Thai healthcare system in a nearby hospital. Blazing fast & cheap.

→ Collected a new tattoo from a talented local artist.

→ Got photobombed by a playful Buddhist monk.

Thoughts

Just so we're clear: I don't go around snapping selfies with Buddhist monks and exploring temples all day. I work 40 hours a week on my computer. I barely have a tan.

I often reflect on the technological context allowing me and countless others to live this lifestyle. The Internet's potential is nothing short of fascinating to me. Coming to Chiang Mai as an online startup worker, I actually felt for the first time how much software is reorganizing the world. I quickly discovered a gigantic amount of resources helping (or sometimes selling to) people with location independence aspirations. Slack channels. Forums. Meetups. Blog posts. Videos. Podcasts. Guides. E-books. Custom Maps. Automation apps. Transition & legal services. Dedicated insurances. Coworking & co-living spaces.

And these nomadic tools will keep multiplying. Thanks to a mix of modern ennui, increased mobility, and widespread Internet access, digital nomadism is becoming an industry of its own—for better or worse.

While these factors contribute to the movement's popularity, I can't help but think about their opposites. The forces that incite you to stay home, to settle down. I believe those "sedentary pressure points" can be both good (family, friendships, long-term relationships, community) and bad (bureaucracy, fear, complacency, habits). Different lifestyles for different people?

Personally, I wouldn't dare put one over the other yet. These first weeks have left me with more questions than answers. But it's all right. I'll take comfort in assuming the role of a student, learning about both our world and my confused self.

A few weeks ago, a friend replied "Living the dream!" when I sent him a picture of me in a marvellous Buddhist temple. Now I guess I have to figure out if that dream is really mine. Until then, I'll stay grateful to be stepping out of my comfort zone, and thankful for the people I meet, the places I see, and the lessons I learn.

To friends and family back home: I will miss the hell out of y'all these Holidays. I wish you an early Merry Christmas + Happy New Year.

Next up on the agenda: meeting Snipcart colleagues & friends in Hanoi, Vietnam, for New Year's Eve.

After that? I have no freaking clue.


I hope you found this remote update valuable and entertaining. If you did, take a second to share it on Twitter or somewhere! Questions or suggestions for the next posts? Comments are all yours.