Rock, Paper, Scissors: Mainland SE Asia, The Philippines, or Hong Kong
Just last week a friend asked me where his first destination should be in Asia.
Initially I thought I would have a simple answer, but after thinking about my past travel experience I realized that his 3 needs were hard to meet. There was no country I had visited that was a perfect fit for everything he was looking for.
It appeared to be a three way tie based on the criteria important to him...
Fast Wifi - He works online
Inexpensive Living - He runs a business but isn't blowing millions... yet! 😉
No Headaches - Easy Visa Regulations
Based on these common concerns, here are the pros and cons of the three regions most people consider visiting when flying to SE Asia.
Mainland SE Asia
I was pleasantly surprised when I arrives in Bangkok, and later my apartment in Chiang Mai. The internet speed was really, really fast! Before I arrived, I had been worried that YouTube videos wouldn't load and that Skype calls may be impossible. I was wrong on both accounts.
Throughout my travels in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, the Wifi almost always had more bandwidth than I needed.
2. Living Costs
South East Asia is affordable no matter where you go. Whether it's $2 meals (delicious), $5 vegetarian buffets, $5 hostels for the night, or $8/day motorcycle rentals, your money goes a long way here.
Bus rides between countries cost about $20, and even flights from Bangkok to Ha Noi can be as low as $60. If you're looking to save money, this is a great stop for you.
While the legal process for getting visas isn't terrible, it is annoying. In Thailand I forgot to extend my visa and got a nice $400 fine for doing so. 🙁
Even if you don't make a silly mistake like I did, you'll find yourself running to the local consulate (sometimes the closest one is 3 towns away!) every time you're preparing to enter a new country. Visas aren't free, and you'll need to plan a second date to pick up your passport.
The Wifi in the Philippines is terrible. When I spent a few days in the capital, Manila, I could hardly talk on Skype or watch videos. In desperation I ran to a Starbucks (they always have good Wifi there!) but the internet was so slow I couldn't even load the 'Log Into Our Wifi' page.
When I arrived at my new home in Puerto Galera, the internet was quite slow for most of the day. As one of my main tasks there was YouTube marketing, this was a challenge. I found the best time to work was between midnight and 3AM, when nobody else in town was using the connection.
2. Living Costs
Life in the Philippines costs about the same as the rest of South East Asia. $1 meals, $5 hostels, etc. etc. If you're looking for a budget location or want to live in a hut on the beach for $100 per month, this is the spot for you.
When I lived in Puerto Galera, I rented a sailboat for $10 per day and got to maneuver it all along the beautiful coastline. You can shoot assault rifles, drive go-karts, play paintball, and much more for about the same price.
The Philippines gives most visitors 21 days for free without requiring a visa. You just show up, get stamped, and hit the beach! If you're staying for longer than this, you need to visit a local tourism office (they're everywhere) to get a 2 month extension. After that you register for a card that allows you to continue getting extensions for 2 years!
The Philippines loves foreign travelers because we spend money in their country! I'm not sure why the rest of South East Asia hasn't picked up on this... I don't mind paying $60 every 2 months, just don't make me fill out all the paperwork again!
The Wifi in Hong Kong is fast, fast, fast! As a business center in Asia, it's got to be. Arriving from the Philippines, the change brought a sigh of relief. I didn't need to stay up until 2AM to watch a YouTube video!
2. Living Costs
Living in Hong Kong costs as much or more than living in North America or Europe. A tiny 180 square foot apartment costs $1,300 per month! The bed takes up about 50% of the floorspace.
Meals at restaurants cost about $10-$15 each, drinks will cost the same at nice venues, and I can't rent a motorcycle without a license so I have no idea how much that would set me back!
Don't come to Hong Kong if you're on a tight budget and are looking to escape Western prices. Visit Thailand, Vietnam, or the Philippines first!
Most visitors get an immediate 3 month stamp when they arrive in Hong Kong. No visa purchasing involved!
As someone who's always got one visa or another running out, this was a blessing. If you want to stay longer than three months you just need to take a ferry to Macau and then come back. It's a 3 hour journey (if you don't hit the casinos) and you'll get another 3 months without any questions.
Where Do You Want To Go?
What's most important to you? Do you need to keep costs down? Do you need fast internet to run your business?
Different parts of SE Asia offer different benefits but they have their drawbacks as well. I hope this blog post will help you make a more informed decision about the location that's right for you!