Global Arbitrage Smackdown – Thai Islands vs. Bali, Indonesia

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