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Tue Jan 31 2017: Digital Nomad Undercover

We've been craving a place to settle down for a while now. But that Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) has kept us moving until we just got completely sick of traveling.

If you had talked to Neda about travel anytime during these last couple of months, she'd get this glassy look in her eyes and then she'd stare off into the distance somewhere past your left shoulder. I knew exactly what she was staring at: Chiang Mai. If you listened closely, you'd be able to hear her murmur under her breath: "Just gotta get to Chiang Mai", "Everything will be better once we reach Chiang Mai". It might as well have been called Shangri-La.

I didn't feel as strongly, but I did want to stop and take a long rest and Shangri-La was not a bad place to do it.

Shangri-La. Or Su-Thep. Close enough.

While visiting Chiang Mai, everyone goes to the golden temples at the top of the Su-Thep hill overlooking the city. Apart from the annual lantern festival, Doi Su-Thep is probably the top tourist attraction in the area. To get there, most visitors take a 10km long, twisty, stomach-churning, vomit-inducing ride in the back of a songthaew.

What is lesser known is that there is a smaller, more secluded temple closer to the bottom of the hill. It's called Wat Pha Lat, and there's a steep, but scenic, hiking path called the Monk's Trail to get there.

You just have to mention the word "hike" and Neda is all over it like a fit kid on a quinoa salad.

There were only two problems. The first is obvious: I hate hiking.

The second is that Neda's ankle is *still* sore from that trip-up at the Tomb Raider temple in Cambodia. She went to the doctor here in CM and discovered that it's quite a serious sprain. They've got her going to physiotherapy to fix it. Thankfully, healthcare is very cheap in Thailand!

Let's see now... Who do we know that likes hiking...?

If Yaw is my "Are We There Yet?" Anti-Hiking Brother from another Mother, then Hélène is Neda's Active-Lifestyle Sister from another Mister.

Soy-slinging Health Nut? Check. "We should *totally* do another hike... RIGHT NOW!" attitude? Check.

It's so perfect that they're in the city the same time that we are!

As you can tell from the pictures, Neda never lets anything trivial
like a sprained ankle stop her from doing a steep hike

Others (not naming any names), can come up with any number of reasons not to go hiking. "Can't hike today. Still bummed that the Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup in a while".

I don't know anything about football. Did I say that right?

Scratching the elephant belly at Wat Pha Lat

Ham it up, ladies!

Although it's quite hot in Chiang Mai, it's nothing compared to the scorching temperatures of April.

Speaking of which, we've managed to extend our tourist visa an extra month in Thailand, which lets us stay till the end of March. Perfect timing to leave Chiang Mai! Not just because of the scorching temperatures, but also because that's when burning season starts as well.

However we have no idea where we are going after that. If you ask us right now, because we're so sick of traveling, the feeling is that we're done. We'll wrap up this little motorcycle trip of ours. Because we have no idea where we want to end up, the default is probably back to Toronto for the summer and then figure it out from there. Then relocate the BMWs to wherever we decide to settle.

But we really don't know. It's still too early to make any decisions or even talk about the future. We're just enjoying being in Chiang Mai.

So what are we going to do here for the next three months?

Welcome to my office

The blog has been severely neglected.

People e-mail me all the time: "The last update was from months ago! Where are you? Are you okay!?!"

It does get updated. Just slowly. Like the way we travel...

Now that we've got some free time, I try to catch up on the picture editing and the writing. But I just can't get the motivation. Sitting in our comfortable apartment is just not conducive to blogging.

I like this quote. Except replace "painting" with "riding". "I dream of riding and then I ride my dream"
No, that makes no sense at all. Nevermind.

So I get this idea: Yaw and Hélène are digital nomads. So while they get to travel all over the world, they are still working at the same time, just that all their work is online.

Like many digital nomads, they don't work in their apartments. They check into "co-working spaces". The internet is faster there. It's air-conditioned. But more importantly, there's no TV or other distractions and everyone else around you is also working. It's a very conducive environment to get work done.

Or to get blogging done.

One day, Neda joins me and the digital nomads at our usual spot, the co-working space on the top floor of Maya Mall

I've got quite the daily routine going on, which is quite unlike me. Honestly, I've never had a 9-to-5 office job even before we left on our trip. I was always on an airplane or rushing to and from a different city or country for my previous jobs.

But now, every day I wake up early so I can walk to Maya Mall, which is about a km away. You have to get there early otherwise it gets too hot to be outside for too long. Also, all the good seats are taken up by 10AM. The mall doesn't even open till 11AM, so you have to take the service elevator to get to the co-working space.

For every dollar you spend at the coffee bar/restaurant, you get a coupon for two hours of Internet time. The stacks of Internet coupons pile up between the three of us faster than we can use them.

Yaw and Hélène are so hard-working and diligent. Sitting beside them every day for 6-8 hours a day really provided me with the motivation to get cracking on the blog. But really it's because I would have felt so guilty watching cat videos on YouTube while they were hard at work.

Thanks to them, I'm pumping out entries almost every day. The blog is quickly catching up to real-time!

It is very disorienting to spend a few hours sorting through pictures and writing about Eastern Europe (yes, that's how far behind I am), then at the end of the day, look up from the laptop and ask the people around you, "Where am I? What country are we in right now?"

While I am playing Digital Nomad, Neda has her own daily routine. Yoga classes three times a week

Also physiotherapy for her ankle a couple of times a week, and she also started volunteering at a dog shelter - also three times a week. This is Shangri-La for Neda. This is the reason why she was so eager to get back here. Well, everything but the physiotherapy part...

It's like we've got some kind of semblance of a normal, sedentary life again!

It's not bad. I kind of like it.

Motorcycle travel is *THE FURTHEST* thing from our minds these days. Because everything is walking distance from our apartment, the CRFs have stayed parked since we arrived.

My domestic bliss is rudely interrupted though:

Neda is like a drill sargeant! :)

Somehow, the women convinced/blackmailed Yaw and I into going on the Su Thep hike with them.

I guess they felt bad for having so much fun that they wanted to inject just a little griping, moaning, grumbling and complaining into their hikes.

Which is where Yaw and I come into the picture...

Proof that I did indeed do the hike as well

The drill sargeant congratulates us for reaching the top. "Now drop and give me 20!"

I was a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. Although I hate hiking, it was nice hanging out with friends outside of a mall or coffee shop.

I was like, 50% Namaste, 50% F*ck Outta Here.

So back to the coffee shop...

We digital-nomad (it's a verb now) at different places around the city, trying out swanky diners, funky coffee shops. Still, the co-working space at Maya is the most conducive to work. And the cheapest option too. This one place above had really good cakes though...

Another hippy cafe we tried. They had hammocks and mats on the floor for you to lie down on. I don't think we got much work done at this place...

The digital nomad subculture is fascinating. The idea is that since your customers and work are all on-line, you gain the benefits of a western income, but keep your expenses low by living in a low cost-of-living country. The more complicated version of this is called "Three Flag Theory", where you plant different flags in different parts of the world based on three criteria: 1. Where you pay taxes, 2. Where your business pays taxes and 3. Where you actually live.

If you renounce your residency, you don't have to pay income tax (unless you're an American citizen). If you incorporate your business in a tax haven country, you don't have to pay corporate taxes. And if you live on tourist visas and never establish a new residency, you get a sales tax refund on everything you purchased every time you leave the country for the next place.

It makes sense if your business is location-independent and you're adventurous and your travel ambitions extend past visiting the Eiffel Tower and sitting in cafes in Paris.

Flag Theory is slightly controversial, because if everyone ducked taxes, how would a country be able to run? However, it's such a small subculture that I don't think western countries are in any danger of running out of people and companies to tax.

Just as a disclaimer, Yaw and Hélène are actually still based out of the US and pay US corporate and personal taxes...

Yaw and Hélène introduced us to their Chiang Mai social circle: other digital nomads and assorted ex-pats

The digital nomad lifestyle is not all milk and honey though.

It makes sound economic sense, and there are lots of people rushing to Thailand (specifically Chiang Mai because it's so cheap) trying to set up a business here and reap the rewards of a luxurious, low-cost lifestyle. However, you also have to possess a skill that's marketable that you can perform on-line... programmers are able to do it. I've also met accountants, translators, writers, illustrators and graphic artists succeeding at the digital nomad thing.

But the Facebook DN groups are abuzz with horror stories and cautionary tales of Digital-Nomad-wannabes who arrive in Chiang Mai with no marketable, location-independent skills. And because their tourist visa prevents them from getting a legitimate job, they end up working in hostels and bars for under-the-table pay, barely able to even afford the Thai low cost-of-living.

Unable to return to their home country because they can't afford a plane ticket, they dodge immigration officials because their tourist visas have run out. These people are also prey to pyramid schemes. A popular one is the "How to become a Digital Nomad" course you can purchase online. It advertises that after taking the course, with very little technical skill, you too can become a successful Internet marketer.

In reality, the course merely teaches you how to create your own "How to become a Digital Nomad" video and curriculum and how to sell it to the next Greater Fool willing to part with their money... :( Keywords: "Crushing it!" Visuals: Hire women in bikinis to pose next to you to prove that you are indeed, "Crushing it". Sell the lifestyle. Sell the course.

We've traveled the world to experience different cultures. Sometimes there are some interesting ones that lurk just beneath the surface of geography.

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