Tequila tricks and racism – one week of freelance life abroad

It’s been exactly one week of officially being a “digital nomad” (also, I wish there was a less tech bro term I could use for the new life. e-Hobo maybe?). It was sad to leave the great job and fun team, but I was so so so happy to leave the desk.

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Goodbye desk – I hated you with great disproportion, sorry for being weird! 

After my last day at the magazine, I made my way to Chiang Mai via overnight bus and woke up in the north. I think because I know I’m parting ways with Bangkok, I was much quicker to miss it even though I had only been gone less than 24 hours. Possible red flag that I’m leaving the city too soon?

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Haley and I headed to Chiang Dao where we just could not get over how beautiful and green the area was. We just kept shouting “WOW” and laughing in disbelief. We stayed in a very natural and honeymoon-y place, complete with goats used to keep the grass in check and hammocks.

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We spent one of the afternoons literally crawling around the Chiang Dao caves with an old Thai woman and a lantern. The caves are a must visit unless you hate bats and are claustrophobic. Fortunately, Haley and I were a-ok with nocturnal vermin and small spaces, so the tour was a win. 

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The Chiang Dao weekend was also spent exploring temples, soaking up incredible views, and hitting up a local karaoke bar thanks to a kind invitation from a Thai bar owner. She was nice enough to bring us farangs along with her for the night, not just Haley and me but three Canadians as well.

Unfortunately despite the woman’s generosity, two of the Canadians turned out to be total d-bags who slurred misogynistic obscenities, made racist jokes, and had terrible taste in music. Note to self: never trust a Canadian. Just kidding, but it was a bummer.

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On Wednesday, I hopped on a plane to Cambodia. The place is so ridiculously close to Thailand, but I hadn’t been yet and needed to check it out while it was still easy. Most people don’t recommend staying more than a day or two in Phnom Penh, but I decided to stay four days in Cambodia’s capital.

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Working from a cafe in Phnom Penh looked a lot like working from any other coffee shop in the world, except that my view was of carriage-like Khmer tuk tuks weaving through traffic. Like in Thailand, it was insanely hot in Cambodia and it was overall very unpleasant to walk around. Dripping in sweat, I strolled around the Grand Palace slowly and explored the chaotic streets of the city. In the scorching haze, I tried to make sense of Phnom Penh, its many donut shops and napping taxi drivers. 

My second night in the city, I got straight HUSTLED. It was such a classic scam that it’s actually super embarassing to even talk about. I was waiting to meet up with a friend and decided to pass the time at a bar called Howie’s.

I liked the bar immediately. It was divey, playing Grouplove one minute and the Beatles the next. The bar staff was very friendly and we played games like Connect Four and a Thai dice game, and it was fun! So fun that I didn’t get the vibe that I was being taken for a damn FOOL.

I should have noticed something was off when the girls kept wanting to take shots and asking me if it was ok. Of course it’s ok! You’re an adult, drink away! I didn’t get the hint that this meant I was the financial backer of these shots. I took a few myself, but encouraged them to keep going on without me. When my friend showed up, I asked for the bill.

My dinners in Phnom Penh had been no more than $5, taxis cost $2, beers are about $2, I was staying in a place for $6 a night. So when I saw that my merriment came with a price tag of $51, you could say I was shocked. IDIOT!!!!!! Perhaps the best part of the whole thing was that I tweeted “A friendly staff is dangerous. Howie’s #PhnomPenh #Cambodia thinking that I would drink too much because of their kindness. Poetic.

As though I wasn’t taken advantage of enough, one of the bar girls pulled me aside after I paid my bill and said “let me go ask my boss if I can come with you!” As a fan of making new friends, I saw nothing wrong with having the girl come along. She linked arms with me after her boss gave her the go ahead, and we walk outside with another girl who wanted to come too.

My friend Ethan and his coworker looked at me in horror/confusion. What is going on? They asked. They want to come with us, I said. As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized how ridiculous the situation was – me standing there with two girls in bar uniforms hanging on me. They informed me that these girls were expecting me to pay for them to drink, that they were still on the clock, and that I was going to have to tell them to go back to Howie’s.

As a person who avoids conflict at all costs, I just couldn’t tell the girls to leave. One ducked out of the scenario before we got to our destination, but the other stayed with us and drank one beer that I bought her. It was weird, and I learned my lesson.

Now I’m spending my last full day in Phnom Penh reeling from the tequila and working from yet another cafe – and by working I mean writing this blog post in an act of procrastination. I’m trying to tell myself that the macrobiotic rice bowl will help my hangover. I had intended to go to the Killing Fields today, but slept in until 12 and will just have to go get my dose of depressing history tomorrow before I fly back to Bangkok.

In just a few days, I’ll be officially homeless and hopefully happy in Bali, living with the decision to leave Thailand. Only time will tell.

Goodbye, Bangkok!

TL:DR – I quit my job and am leaving Bangkok to be a nomadic freelance writer around Southeast Asia. 

In something of a manic act of spontaneity, I decided to drop the nice little life I’ve built up here in Thailand. In June, I’ll officially swap stability for the great unknown. First stops in this new life as a roving freelancer: North Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, then India.

“Wait, what about your luxury perk-filled job?” “Wait, what about Thai food?” “Wait, what about your friends?”  “Wait, what about money?” “Wait, what the actual F are you doing?”

These may be some of the valid questions you have. This is the second time that I’ve made a snap decision to completely change my life in every way, throwing caution to the wind in one impulsive swoop.

Smart? Maybe not.

Big ol’ Bangkok

This step comes some 8 months after I moved to Bangkok, another relocation that required leaving behind a good thing I had going in San Francisco. The way I’ve been operating these past few years makes me feel like a crazy person. I go through quite a bit to get to a certain point in a career, then have an immediate change of heart. I set a bomb to detonate. I wipe the slate clean. I choose to fall to the bottom of the totem pole, to pass go and not collect $200.

There’s something sickly riveting to me about being dropped back at square one. I have always loved the challenge of finding a job, of overcoming the obstacles of starting fresh. With freelance writing, I get to do just that over and over again. There’s always someplace new to pitch, always a new goal to accomplish. I have to constantly impress editors to make sure they keep paying me to write.

With freelancing, I also don’t have to be a total asshole and quit a job when I get that extreme desire to bounce.

So the latest decision. Here’s what happened:

We (my mom and I) arrived in Bali on a Friday morning after I had just a few hours of sleep (thanks to staying up late freelancing and an early flight time). Even through my grogginess, I could tell that we had landed somewhere special.

LUSH BALI! 

I had been to plenty of Thai beach towns, but something about Bali just mesmerized me. I loved every part of it, even the part when it started to pour rain during a bike ride through Ubud. The island was so green and enchanting, so much more relaxing than the Bangkok grit. The food was great. The beach was great. The jungle was great. The people were great. The climate was great. The music was great. You get the idea.

The thought of leaving was unsettling.

Indonesian goodness

I decided that I needed to come back, and not for a weekend trip. Since vacation time in the real world is so limited, I realized that I’d need to leave my job to spend any real time in Bali. Over the next few days, I slowly made the choice to return to Bangkok, quit my job the following day, and fly back to the Indonesian island a month later.

The move means abandoning a truly fantastic job that I just started (a very f-ed up act on my part, and for doing that to my generous employer I feel horrible), but the idea of not moving feels worse.

Leaving the sweltering chaos of Bangkok a few weeks ago made me realize how exhausted I was. For nearly five months, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. I’d head to my day job (first at HotelQuickly, then Prestige Magazine), work all day, then go home to do freelance work most nights. On the weekends, I’d chase down stories, edit photos, and write more. Obviously there were many fun nights and weekends that weren’t straight work, but I was getting burnt out.

Nighttime in Bangkok 

Thanks to those months of hustling, I have a nice little chunk of change saved up to afford such a risky move (for a short amount of time at least). So that’s it. I’m taking that risk and saying goodbye to my safe life of routine. I’m pretty confident that I can support myself on my freelance salary (again, at least for a while).

To be honest, a huge motivator for the move is the idea of breaking free from a desk job. I know I must sound like a spoiled Millennial, but I cannot stand being at a desk all day. I feel like a dog on a leash, but more importantly I feel incredibly unhealthy. Rotting away at a desk stresses me out, my body gets rigid and I leave at the end of the day feeling like I need to cry or sprint down the street – and I would too, if it wasn’t so damn hot outside.

Typical Bangkok commute

The thought of leaving a desk job is so exciting to me that I can hardly contain myself. I keep picturing myself jogging down the beach in the morning, going surfing after, posting up at a cafe to write in the afternoon. It sounds like a dream, and one that isn’t too farfetched to make happen.

See also: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Even though the decision feels good and right, it’s also totally f-ing scary. It’s very possible that things won’t pan out, that I won’t be able to sustain the life financially, that it will be too exhausting to not have a permanent home base. I could fail and have to go crawling back to the United States. I could have my laptop stolen. I could come down with dengue fever. Who knows! The great unknown is terrifying.

Despite the fear, I’m taking the leap and doing it. I’m sad to leave Bangkok, a place that has been so good to me for so long. I can’t really call it the end of an era because it’s only been 8 months. That hardly counts as an era.

On May 29, I’ll finish up my last day of work and make my way north for what may be one last Haley-filled hurrah in Thailand. We’re going to go explore Mae Hong Son where I can hopefully find something to write about and kick off this freelance career I’m betting all of my chips on.

After that, it’s down to Cambodia to finally see Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap. A quick trip back to Bangkok and I’ll make my final preparations to leave the Kingdom. I need to figure out a way to make my life mobile like a backpacker without actually looking like one. If anyone has any advice on being a professional-appearing nomad, please send those tips my way.

To everyone who has made my time in Bangkok so special, thank you.