Global Arbitrage Smackdown – Thai Islands vs. Bali, Indonesia

Global Arbitrage Smackdown – Thai Islands vs. Bali, Indonesia post image

Unless you want to live in Bangkok, which is an outstanding city, I believe Bali is the superior location for your beachy lifestyle design world domination headquarters.


Many of you reading this have much more informed opinions on this issue. That’s part of the reason I’m writing it. I’m interested to hear your thoughts. The stakes are relatively high for me: I’m looking for places in Asia (close proximity to the Philippines) to set up shop and ramp up activities here at the Tropical MBA.

I know next to nothing about these two countries. Take this all in the spirit in which its intended– these are first impressions. They will change over time and mature with your erudite comments and feedback :) I’ve also lumped “Thai islands” into one giant category. It happens.

In the past year I’ve spent 4 weeks in Thailand and 10 days in Bali. I also spent a few weeks in Thailand back in 2001 (Bangkok has shaped up!). I’m digging Bali big time. Here’s why:

Cost – Bali is an incredible value where it counts– premier expat enclaves. It’s very common in Thailand to say “if you want western style stuff you’ll pay western style prices.”  What’s remarkable about Bali is that you won’t pay western prices for high quality western goods, hotels, restaurants, or bars. There are some hard hitting exceptions, like a bottle of wine, but in general the prices are more reasonable than my experience in the popular islands in Thailand. Homes that would cost $5,000+ a month to rent in San Diego– complete with gardens, views, a pool, incredible design, indoor-outdoor format, complete western amenities– rent for less than $1,000 a month.

Motorbike Culture – Riding motorbikes is dangerous. Fair enough. I learned to love “motorbike culture” in Vietnam. I eat out three times a day, spend a lot of time in cafes, in bars, in public places, and popping off for weekend retreats. There is something so incredibly accessible about a place where you can just jump on your bike and roll to the next location. It’s got a great feel to it. I’m not sure I can quite get it out on paper, I just know I love it. Bali is the only place I’ve been where there is a comprehensive bike culture besides Vietnam. Bikes outnumber cars in significant numbers and the whole infrastructure is based on the assumption that patrons, guests, and locals will be rolling up on scooters. Thailand has bits and pieces of this, but its not as good and in places like Phuket its too dangerous even for crazy old me.

Visa – Visa run and visa politics are ALWAYS on the tip of the tongue of every expat you meet in Thailand. It’s a pain in the ass for most expats living and doing business there. I didn’t dig the vibe that the situation gives off. I suppose it doesn’t puzzle me why Thailand hasn’t been more proactive about promoting itself as a location for web start-ups, but they are really sitting on a goldmine. TONS of entrepreneurs would love to set up shop on the affordable and beautiful beaches of Thailand and start great internet businesses. The visa situation in Bali is much more friendly. You’ll need to engage a visa consultant and renew every 6 months.

The California effect: I’m a country boy who loves what cities have to offer– great people, incredible food, a wide range of products and services. The wonderful thing about Bali is that it manages to provide a wide range of those things in a town-like atmosphere. (This is also the reason I love San Diego). Bali offers up a broad range of world class services all against the immediate backdrop of deep green rice terraces, volcanoes, temples, incredible architecture, and world class beaches. Bali also has a huge range of landscapes within that are accessible within a day trip. In Thailand you are looking at a lot of planes, trains, or business to jump from SCUBA paradise to idyllic mountain retreat. Not so in Bali. Hop on your bike and you are in a whole new world.

Food – I suspect Thailand might have the edge here when it comes to local cuisine, but all the local dishes I’ve had have been tasty and cheap. I’m looking forward to doing a lot more culinary exploring here. For international faire, Bali is pretty incredible and offers great prices. I just finished an incredible marinated flank steak salad with homemade dressing, feta cheese, and home baked french bread. Washed it down with a very well done Americano. Total invoice? 6USD. (And they had WIFI) :)

Tourism – In Thailand I saw two main types of tourists. I encountered them both in droves: 1) Middle to late aged, middle class package tourists from Europe, and 2) Backpackers. Something about the average Bali tourist seems a bit more urbane. @AnythingIan put it an interesting way– while we were having lunch in an awesome little beach town called Seminyak, he noted that “if you didn’t tell me these people were toursits, I’d think they all lived here.” Perhaps many of them do.  Many of the package tours to Bali focus on the high-high end. I get the sense that people who have been coming here year after year. Plus, and I try to keep my stuff real positive, but I could probably be prodded into a little ranty ranty about backpackers :)

Expats – So far I’ve met tons of interesting expats in both spots. Thailand seems to be blowing up lately with internet marketing folks, so that is certainly great, but Bali has always been a getaway for artists, intellectuals, and professionals. I’ve met a lot of great people here in my short time and my guess is that the profile of this place is going to go up for people in our industry.


I’m charmed by the place. What about you? Got some thoughts on this? Why shouldn’t Bali be the next great spot to set-up shop and build your internet business?



PS, Big thanks to Tommy Schultz who has KILLER Bali Photography all over his site. Tom showed us a lot of great spots here in Bali. The guy is amazing. My favorites are his photos from the Philippines.

Tommy has SKILLZ

Published on 09.10.10
  • Before you commit, please let me show you around Isaan. I think you’ll really dig the area, more than the Thai Islands (I’ve never, ever considered living there apart from my short stint at the beginning of my journey 5 years ago) and although very different, has a more relaxed way of life than Bali.

    After thinking about this a lot recently (for the last year or so), I don’t think there is a perfect place to base yourself in Asia. Cost of living, expat scene, internet speeds (Bali has some of the worst in Asia!), food, accommodation options, transport connections, entertainment, visas, work permits…. the list could go on and on. Some are better suited than others.

    With cost of living in South East Asia so cheap, Air Asia providing cheap flights across the region and the nature of our businesses, I’ve sort of just accepted that it’s best just to move around. While I’ve not got any huge commitments (i.e kids), this for me, will do for now. Years down the road when we got kids, this will be a whole new ball game we’ll no doubt be discussing in years to come :)

    Anyway; as long as you’ve got good friends around you and are happy, the rest is pretty irrelevant when you weigh things up on the grander scale of things. Just enjoy life :)

  • Nice write-up, Dan.

    Awesome stuff.

    Glad you’re enjoying things… Keep safe,


  • SOLD ! Never actually been to Bali but have so nearly been a few times. That write up has just given me the push to defiantly check it out.
    I’ve been doing the Thailand thing for a long time and the Visa stuff is the one that grinds me.
    And bring on the little ranty ranty about backpackers

  • Great article. I’m thinking of heading to South East Asia in January.

    One difference I’ve noticed between Thailand and Bali is the availability of information on rentals. Bangkok obviously has a lot of information and serviced apartments posted online. I mainly have used Craig’s List over the years for this purpose.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to find an apartment or villa in Bali like the one you describe?

    Thanks for a killer article.

  • Pieter

    I was in Bali for about 6 weeks starting May this year and I loved it! Next year I will be back in May after a big trip around Asia! I can’t compare it to Thailand but I’ll get back to you in February after I have been there!

    What I heard from other people is that Thailand is nice but much more expensive. Bali also has its expensive places, especially hotels. I read somewhere that Bali has the highest concentration of $500 dollar rooms!

    While I was in Kuta I rented a nice AC room with breakfast for about 9usd a day which was great! If you are a surfer you will love Bali! All the tourists are very sporty in my opinion, I love sporty girls!

    I met a couple of expats there and its a pain to start a business there, you can’t do it in your name and the visa runs are not every six months as I recall. Its 30 days, plus a 30 day extension, and then you have to do a little trip and get back in. You can also pay someone to arranje that for you for a small fee. The visa is 30us for a month.

    I loved it there and that is why I will go and live there next year. A lot of party, surfing and all around fun. Clubs are packed and the locals are pretty cool!

  • Dan

    Good extra information, sounds like the visa thing has changed a bit here in Bali based on the folks I’ve talked to– I’ve noticed the same there are tons of insane high end stuff, perhaps more than in Thailand– rockstart stuff, then some of the budget hotels are really reasonable. Ian and I are paying 18 bucks a night for a nice place with WIFI and pool.

  • Dan

    Hey Jon thanks a lot. The web isn’t great for the apartment market here as far as I can tell– I’d negociate a monthly rental on a hotel room and spend your spare time walking through neighborhoods you like (asia style!). One other thing worth noting– seems like most of the rental terms here in Bali are yearly to be paid in cash upfront. Worth considering!

  • Dan

    hehe see you here :D

    Who said anything about smelly backpackers?

  • Dan


  • Dan

    you comment about always moving on really struck a chord with me– I’ve said myself we might be committed to continuing to move on, I still haven’t found anything in Asia nearly as complete as places in the US– I’m sure a big part of this is just a cultural component as well. Having a family will flip the script, not something I want to think about too much now! And a tour is Isaan– I’m in! I’m wondering: do you still find you have that “balance” you were able to achieve in Bali by going down to the ocean everyday? AND is there a critical mass of cool/interesting expats in Isaan and how does this impact your experience there? I’d love to see further posts about your town, I loved the first one.

  • Wherever I am I try to find the right balance between being social, work and getting fit (normally running or swimming). I think this is really important. I’m currently in China and have yet to do any real exercise apart from walking, and can already feel my love handles getting bigger :)

    I’m very social, so working in a hotel room on my own for 14 hours per day is not the best situation for me. Therefor, I tend to go out a lot, normally during the evenings (I dine out every night without fail) as most people work during the days. This has it’s draw backs, as most social activities during the evenings involve drink.

    As for Isaan, the expat scene there is near non-existent – although it’s the locals that make Isaan so special. I once read that less than 2% of tourists (millions per year), venture out to the north east of Thailand. I guess this is a blessing really, as that’s the appeal, although I feel so many are missing out.

    You’ve inspired me to write a post on this subject and I will write it on the plane I’m just about to catch.

  • Dan

    For some reason I’m really fascinated by this topic (and packing strategies). I’m looking forward to reading as much as you are willing to publish, and its probably inevitable that a meet-up is in the works for 2011….

  • Good $hit as usual! Although I would argue you can find a lot of the stuff you’re looking for (motorbike culture, incredibly cheap, modern homes on the beach, etc.) here in Koh Phangan for example.

    Bali had some stunning landscapes (I actually loved the rice fields most of all) but I was not as impressed as I thought I’d be by the beaches at Kuta, Seminyak, Lovina, etc., and there are those damn touts everywhere. God bless them for hustlin’ but there are too few tourists, and it sucks to be the only couple on the beach! Also prices we found weren’t that great…

    I suppose you just need to spend a good amount of time to become familiar with the local culture and find the deals & the steals, wherever you choose…

    Good stuff my man, keep it coming! ;)

  • Dan

    I forgot to mention that Bali is currently suffering from the no-mckibbs effect. One point to Thailand. I was really impressed by the video of your place in Koh Phangan, readers can check it out here:

    You could def pull down more square footage in Seminyak but I’m not sure you can match those views. I really feel you on getting re-charged by the beautiful surroundings, when I was living in Manila I would literally BOLT out of the city on Thursday afternoons to get to the tropically re-charge zone.

    Am interested to explore Koh Phangan more thoroughly, one thing I assumed about the place is that it doesn’t have the broad range of high end stuff like bistros, clubs, blah blah, is that still true? (its been 10 years for me!)

  • Ah killer thanks for the link brother. Koh Phangan lacks a few things that Bangkok has like nightclubs and schools for folks who want to teach English, and it has a distinctly yoga/hippie feel to everything, which is cool but doesn’t always fit me.

    But there’s a LOT of unique nice stuff to be found I’ve only been here one month and I’m certain I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg, but there are upscale restaurants for a romantic dinner out, fancy (and cheap) crafty-style internet cafes (like in a huge bamboo treehouse), cool beachy jungly DJ dance parties that are a little more subdued than the full moon party, and weird, beautiful hidden landscapes that can only be described like Myst (if you’re an old school video game nerd like me)… and an incredible burger joint & bar with the best sangria I’ve ever had just at the bottom of our hill! :)

  • If it’s still this reasonable when I’m travelling, I’ll definitely be checking out Bali. Just too much good stuff written about it now to ignore.

    BTW, the French is “je ne sais pas.” FYI. :-)

    Glad you’re enjoying the new location!

  • Dan

    Hey Haidn, perhaps that’s a sign I need to get back to Europe? Perhaps next summer…… thanks for dropping by, Bali is a no-brainer :)

  • Bali would be incredibly hard to resist (of course I could/will say this about any place besides Central Illinois) – but how do you find the internet? Is it frustratingly slow – in terms of say, updating inventory on a ecommerce platform and/or blogging? Also, is it expensive comparable to most South-east Asian countries? I know that Bahasa Indonesia is the main language throughout the chain (and doesn’t seem to be too hard to learn compared to other languages – Chinese, French, Russian) but is English throughout the island prevalent?

    Glad to hear you’re having a blast there! Hopefully I’ll be joining (and possibly meeting up) with some of you in your expat life in the near future. I plan on quiting my job and moving overseas around summer 2011. The thing that has motivated me the most? Reading blogs such as yours (and Chris’ and Cody’s and many, many more) for the past year. You guys have really kept me motivated, focused and inspired throughout the whole process. Just wanted to say thanks : )

  • Dan

    Thanks for that Richard. I’m getting your comment on a long layover in Malaysia, sifting through 5 currencies in my laptop bag and facing 50+ more hours of traveling (for all the traveling I do I totally suck and planning it out). It’s not all gravy but it sure as hell is fun.

    In Bali from what I can tell internet service is about 80 bucks a month for 1 meg download. Good enough for a video chat. I’ve been in SE Asia for a long time now so my whole relative barometer is off. Here, mid day, its very common to have to start and pause youtube videos if we want to view them :) I’m not frustrated by it hardly ever. I’ve heard things are a little dicier in the center of the island but I can’t confirm. I haven’t met anybody whos needed to make a country decision based on the connection speed, its all decent enough to get some work done.

    Bali is an incredible value– it can be the same living price as anywhere in SE Asia, but you need to manage the “blowout” factor– that is, there are tons of awesome places to spend your money here, but if you had the discipline to live on local dishes and in a sensible local neighborhood its as cheap as it comes.

    I’ve also heard that the local language here is relatively easy to learn. English is prevalent. Looking forward to meeting up!

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  • Hi Dan,
    It’s a long time since I was in Bali, Jan/Feb 98. I was there when the currency collapsed, it took a while for all the prices to catch up; it was dirt cheap. Used to go out for a three course meal, then drink all night long at the Sari club and the bounty, cost a couple of quid if that. Not to sure if they rebuilt the Sari after the bombs, or if the bounty still exists.

    I do remember at that time there was a lot of heavy rain and flooding; and lots of blackouts. I use to go to the internet cafe, I think the connection was 14K. From what I have heard the internet cuts out a lot out there, and power cuts are still common inland. Guess the big hotels will have generators, but it may affect you if you are renting a villa.

  • Mike

    I have been in Bali for over a year now and I love it and have decided to try and make it my home here. Internet speed is not great as people have suggested and it’s expensive, but it is getting better all of the time.

  • Dan

    Deano… rained a lot when I was there as well but didn’t see any generator action. I’ll be pulling together on some more Bali information for the readers as I really do believe this is an excellent location, I’m trying to get some more detailed info from a broad range of sources on their experience with the internet there.

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  • Jackie

    I love both places for different reasons. I speak both Thai and Bahasa Indonesian. I prefer the tanginess of Thai food. I feel Balinese are less “savvy” and their innocence means less “con men/women” around. The biggest thing for me (as a 50 yr old) is access to good medical facilities. This is where Thailand may have a slight edge.

    Some months ago, an American friend who retired to Bali fell off his horse on the beach + broke his thigh bone (with the bone sticking out *yucky*). We had to fly him to Singapore where he needed a month in hospital. He had lost so much blood that doctors said we’d made it “just in time”.

  • Dan

    Rockin Mike perhaps we’ll meet up!

  • Dan

    Yoy! I flinched reading this…. good point on the medical stuff Thailand is world renowned for their services. I feel very little “rip-off” impulse in Bali as well.

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  • Hi Coby

    I’m more than happy with any of the island on your side of thailand.

    I’d argue that Koh Samui has the wide range of facilities our Host is looking for. Including Island wide WiFi (not free but excellent).

    Do you have solid Internet there on Koh Phangan?

    How cheaply can you live on the island for? I’ve stayed in Samui many times and it not that cheap. To many tourists :-)


  • I’m now living in the Dominican Republic for a few months and the also have quite a moterbike culture here. If you want to go somewhere and need a taxi, you have to climb on the back of a motoconcho (motor taxi)

    For living in the Domincan Republic I recommend Cabarete, a small town, with lots of expats and quite cheap apartments. I love it right here!

  • Dan

    Lots of great things I’ve heard about that place I’d love to start exploring south america as well. Please let me know if you put up blog posts about your lifestyle.

  • I keep a travel videoblog up at, it’s all in dutch, but please check out the video at and let me know what you think!

  • Shaun

    I guess I missed this because on the 10th September I was in Santiago preparing to fly to Auckland at 1am the next morning. Since then I’ve spent a little bit of time in both Bali and Thailand. For me, the main advantage to Bangkok was the internet speeds and even then while download speeds were fine the ping times to EU/US servers was unimpressive.

    Bali was a spectacular place and would easily be my choice to relocate if I hadn’t been entirely blown away by so much of South America. We spent a little over 2 months in Peru and I think that’s where I’d want to go out of the 10+ countries I’ve visited this year (excluding New Zealand because is it’s too expensive!). As far as tourist meccas go Cusco appealed to me a lot more than Bangkok. Coincidentally on my first night there we shared a table in a busy restaurant with another web guy and his girlfriend who had been living there working on travel sites for local businesses.

    Geographically SA is better for internet connectivity — had a superb hook up in Buenos Aires — and it’s better for working with folks in US / UK timezones. I found it easy to get online everywhere except Bolivia (but even then La Paz was totally acceptable and amazingly cheap).

    When I left I suspected I’d want to stay in Asia. As it turned out I’m confused as to why there aren’t more people raving about the alternatives.

  • Dan

    Very interesting Shaun, I’ve always worried about SA a little because it seems a little more difficult to travel and what I perceive as a little more aggressive attitudes… like SA seems a little rougher to me. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the people, like who do you like to hang out with more etc? Cusco is totally not on my radar I’m going to do some looking in to that today.

  • Sweet article dude! 
    Thailand is definitely the winner for me, better food is one of the key reasons although I do love Masakan Padang – surprised that you thought Phuket was too crazy to motorbike around….Bali for me seemed 5x crazier than Thailand, seems like the Bali people don’t have any spatial awareness when they’re driving around whereas the thai people seemed to be much better drivers and a bit more aware of what other people on the road were doing.

  • Dan

    thanks :D yeah Bali is getting crazier :D

  • Chris im right there with you (lol 1 year ago post) I really dont like the idea of working on my on 14 hours per day. being around people allows me to feel human lol

  • Akhalife

    I lived in Thailand many years working on a project. While I enjoyed the food and the light feeling of the place, I found that the visa hassles zero’d out the rest of it, the visa policies are really really hostile to anyone living there.  

  • Dan

    Ya know I’ve heard less of this in the last year, it seems a lot of the Thai guys especially in the north have found some friendly and efficient foreign consulates, but yeah, in general around the world they are prickly. Visa is more expensive in Indo but more reliable and not as many questions. 

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