It’s been a little over two years now since we bought one way tickets to Sri Lanka and ever since 2014 we’ve called Asia home sweet home, making good friends, studying, working remotely and volunteering.
It’s now 2016 and that two year journey is coming to an end. To celebrate this adventure of life, we would like to share with you the best of the best we came across during our time in Asia, from the best cities to work remotely to the best projects to volunteer in.
– LOCAL FUTURES (Leh, North India)
Local Futures’ projects started in Ladakh, a magnificent region that shares many similarities with neighboring Tibet
In June 2015, we met the Local Futures team that works at promoting locally based alternatives to the global consumer culture. We were happy to join the film projections in their center based in Leh so travelers like us can be more aware of the impact globalization has had in this northern part of India. The fruitful discussions after the film also provide an opportunity to reflect on social and environmental issues we face in the West. If you want to know more about this organization and Ladakh, click here.
– THABARWA CENTER (outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar)
Giving a helping hand to these ladies with restricted mobility at Thabarwa
Thabarwa is a non-profit humanitarian organization that has been created by a buddhist monk to fulfill the most crucial needs of the unprivileged. A lot of people with disabilities and diseases live there, including aged, blind, deaf, disabled, mentally challenged, orphans, homeless and helpless people. Thanks to the hard work monks and nuns do collecting donations, food and lodging are provided free of charge. Volunteers can donate their skills, time and energy to look after the welfare of the residents of the center. Learn more about Thabarwa through this website.
– LAYOG COUNTRY FARM (Kayan West, the Philippines)
Thomas with Flor de Lina and our amazing volunteer coordinator Noel
The Layog Country farm is run by Flor de Lina and her family in a small town in the Philippine cordilleras. Their work primarily focuses on reviving sustainable farming in a country where most farmers are led to believe that chemicals are the way to go to ensure productivity. Their most recent victory was to become certified as a training ground for young and long-time farmers on the subject of sustainable farming systems and technologies. We worked with a welcoming group of locals from the Igorot minority in a peaceful environment with spectacular views of the surrounding valley. To know more about LCF and volunteering opportunities, click here.
TOP CITIES FOR DIGITAL NOMADS
– CHIANG MAI in Thailand
Chiang Mai, the Ping river and mount Doi Pui
Thailand’s Northern capital has it all: it’s got good internet, good people, it’s very affordable and offers plenty of nice small streets for afternoon and evening strolls with countless cozy coffee shops and juice bars on almost every corner. We have been blessed to make friends with many locals and find a pretty, calm and very clean guesthouse in the heart of the city that we call home in Thailand. Chiang Mai has been our favorite place in Asia to recharge our batteries and get work done online. What is more, Chiang Mai is a great gateway to several volunteering projects located in Northern Thailand where a promising movement toward organic food is spreading in the region (we were happy to attend the city’s first farmer market in December 2014).
– HOI AN in Vietnam
The Chua Cau bridge in Hoi An
Hoi An is a medium-sized city full of old architecture and small streets (the historic center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site). Most of the guesthouses are nice and clean although a bit more expensive than in other cities of Southeast Asia (at least $10 for a night). Either way, Hoi An scores many points as internet worked consistently well. In the historical center, you’ll find a lot of small family owned restaurant and bars (a glass of local beer is only $0.20). And another big plus is that the beach and countryside are only ten minutes far by bike (rented for free in our guesthouse), so taking a break off the computer to go see the rice paddies and see locals work wearing their “non la” (traditional vietnamese cone shaped hat) will make your day.
– POKHARA in Nepal
View of Pokhara from the Peace Pagoda
Located around a beautiful lake with the Annapurna range in the background, Pokhara offers great value for money. You’ll find reasonable guesthouses for as little as $5 a night (for two people) and the popular local dish Dal Bhat (rice with lentils and vegetables) for less than two bucks at local eateries. The city has plenty of cafés selling organic local coffee (soy and almond lattes anyone?!) and offers a great variety of international food. The Internet worked decently for us — and we can attest to the fact that finding a good connection in South Asia is challenging beyond words. The city isn’t chaotic at all, especially if you compare it to other cities in the region (Kathmandu, or worst, Delhi) and cherry on the cake, Nepalese have been one of the most welcoming people we’ve met in Asia.
> Honorable mentions:
- Singapore with its super-fast internet and its great community of expats.
- Vibrant Bangkok where you are most likely to find a neighborhood that suits your tastes.
- Sapa in Northern Vietnam, a cool weather region where the Hmong minority leaves, surrounded by beautiful mountains.
- Pai in Northern Thailand. Although we were not fond of the pseudo hippie vibe in town, the surrounding nature is gorgeous and you can easily access it by bicycle or scooter. Be sure to not miss the nightly food scene downtown.
- Ubud in Bali, a touristy town with several really nice organic cafes, restaurant and shops. Rice paddies and nature around are sublime. Internet wasn’t fast but worked well enough to get our things done (and our 3G connection was more than decent).
- Luang Prabang is a charming Laotian city. Internet works but can be a little slow at times. You can use the connection at the library for free, a lovely place along the peaceful Nam Khan river where young monks and locals gather together to practice English or engage in a chess match.
If you’re a digital nomad, you may like to find good cities to live and work remotely on the page: nomadlist.com
TOP VEGETARIAN/VEGAN FOOD
The popular Pad Thai
With the abundance of rice noodles, veggies, tofu and coconut based curries, you will not starve in this country. Quite the opposite, almost every Thai dish can be adapted to suit and delight the taste buds of vegetarians and vegans. As a matter of fact many restaurants (organic in some cases) particularly in Chiang Mai and Pai cater specifically to those who choose to go cruelty free: vegan pastries, coconut and soy yogurt, vegan curries, fruit smoothies and the famous (vegan) Pad Thai are commonly available. Oftentimes even the local street food scene has something vegetarian/vegan to offer!
– SOUTH INDIA
A typical South Indian breakfast
How do fluffy rice balls with some creamy coconut or tamarind sauce sound to you to start the day? Or how about a thin rice crepe stuffed with vegetables or potatoes? That suited us just fine while we were in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. South Indian food, which uses a lot of coconut milk, coconut oil and spices in its cuisine, boasts some of the most delicious dishes we have tried in India, and they are almost certainly guaranteed to be vegetarian. Vegans will have to watch out for the use of ghee (clarified butter) though, just ask and everything will be fine. Fruit always abounds.
– SRI LANKA
Sri Lankan coconut sambal served with rice
Much like South Indian food, Sri Lankan cuisine is spicy and tasty. Our bellies were grateful for many Lankan dishes but particularly the raw vegan coconut sambal (shredded coconut with finely chopped tomatoes and onions, lime juice, salt, chili powder and chili flakes) that is often served with rice and delicious vegan curries.
– AJATANANDA ASHRAM (Rishikesh, India)
The beautiful meditation space at Ajatananda
The Ajatananda Ashram is an interreligious center dedicated to the study of the self and higher consciousness. The ashram offers a daily one-hour and a half discussion with the brilliantly knowledgeable Swami Atmananda. In the mornings, there is a calm 2-hour hatha yoga class that encompasses more than just doing postures (breathing techniques, meditation, chanting and a short discourse on yoga philosophy). Beautiful, clean, green, friendly and welcoming, this center offers some respite from the chaos and constant sale of spirituality in Rishikesh. Ajatananda ashram is exclusively run on conscious donations, which strengthens the sense of trust between the spiritual seekers and the nice team who runs this place.
– MINDFUL FARM (near Chiang Mai, Thailand)
Pinan, Noriko and their adorable girl Nobara
We spent about two weeks in this beautiful farm located in Northern Thailand, run by the former buddhist monk Pinan and his wife Noriko. In addition to working the land with care and love, we were taught the path of mindfulness, also called “active meditation”. It was a great opportunity to learn more about Buddhism, partake in living a simple life, deepen our meditation practices and enjoy group yoga in a beautiful and quiet setting. We highly recommend this place if you’re in Northern Thailand, Mindful Farm is an excellent center to learn, reawaken and meet like-minded travelers.
– DHAMMA JOTI VIPASSANA CENTER (Yangon, Myanmar)
Picture with the Vipassana survivors upon completion of the meditation course
We went to Yangon in January 2016 to dip our toes into Goenka’s 10 day silent Vipassana course, a powerful meditation technique to purify the mind. This particular method taught by S.N. Goenka is the same everywhere you go on Earth, but what makes it different in Myanmar is that the technique has been preserved intact from generations to generations there, while it had been lost for centuries in other countries. The center was pleasant and the participants we met there even more. We wrote an article about this (incredible) experience here.
– THE ANNAPURNAS in Nepal
Buddhist flags in the Annapurna mountain range
In April 2016, we spent two weeks walking in the Himalayas following the Annapurna Circuit. This trek blew us away: summits culminating at more than 8,000 meters, enchanting pine forests, small authentic villages (some abandoned), welcoming locals still wearing traditional garments, warm guesthouses where villagers gathered at night around the chimney, blue sheep, majestic eagles, immense barren valleys… It has been an experience of a lifetime and we definitely hope to have the opportunity to do another hike like this very soon.
– WILD ELEPHANTS in South India and Sri Lanka
Wild elephants in Sri Lanka
On our second day in Sri Lanka, we were riding the public bus when on a vast open green field we saw two wild elephants, a mother and her baby walking peacefully. What a majestic snapshot! A few days later, while watching the sunset, we saw this time not two, but about fifty elephants play in a faraway field. In Tamil Nadu, South India, at the project we were volunteering in one night we were woken up to a racket. In turns out that we had a family of five meter tall wild elephants right outside our hut searching for food and water; they drained the pool, destroyed our water tank (they were thirsty we suppose), knocked down a jackfruit tree and trampled the coffee plantations. The director was not happy, but we were excited as hell!
– MARINE LIFE in Koh Tao (Thailand), Bali (Indonesia) and Pulau Kapas (Malaysia)
Crystal clear water in Koh Tao
Koh Tao, Amed on Bali island and Pulau Kapas are gorgeous places where we spent time exploring the coral reefs. All we needed was snorkeling gear and a sense of adventure for the most secluded spots and off we went! From tropical fish to incredibly colorful corals, we spent hours underwater; spots were numerous and we were easily able to move from one beach to another (well, in most cases), where the seabeds were always better than the last.
We’re now heading back to Europe where we’ll spend summer polishing the new version of our book before starting a community center based on the principle of “exploring inside, engaging outside”. We have in mind to settle in Nicaragua where we’ll be offering yoga and meditation courses and retreats, a place for entrepreneur-minded people to get inspired, workshops on social and environmental issues and volunteering missions for those who want to engage in meaningful causes. We’ll send more information of this in the following weeks. Stay tuned.
Ruth & Thomas