Thailand’s crypto islands: Working in paradise, Part 1 – Cointelegraph Magazine


Walking into Remote and Digital’s La Casa co-working space on the tropical island of Koh Pha-ngan, you wonder how anybody gets any work done. I sip a cocktail and wait for my burrito as James Brown plays in the background.

There’s a real palm tree growing at the edge of the cafe, and behind it sits shallow crystal blue water stretching off for miles, with Koh Samui’s jungle-covered mountains jutting up in the distance. Adding to the ambiance, kite surfers are getting massive air off small waves, before gently floating back to earth.

30-year-old Belgian blockchain developer Jérôme Van Vlierbergen is one of the regulars at this Ban Tai co-working space and runs his Equinox Launchpad here. He explains Koh Pha-ngan (or Koh Phangan) has a thriving crypto scene, mostly populated by digital nomads like himself.

“There are a bunch of people here that own crypto or they’re doing something with crypto — because when you have money, you like to be somewhere where it’s a nice place to live.”

Ironically, of course, you need very little money to live here. You can rent a desk at La Casa for less than $3 a day, rent a scooter to get around for under $4 a day, and rent a whole house for $500 a month. With beautiful food, postcard-style views and half a dozen other coworking spaces with gigabit internet, it’s no wonder Koh Pha-ngan has become something of a mecca for crypto digital nomads.

 

 

Working in paradise
It’s remarkably easy to join the crypto community in Thailand.

 

 

“There’s this crypto island vibe — you can find a lot of workshops, a lot of people that work with crypto, and most of them are in the market,” says Van Vlierbergen. Crypto social media groups based on the island suggest hundreds of residents are deep into the scene.

Crypto island

Known for its legendary Full Moon Party, Koh Pha-ngan’s 12,000-strong population doubles or triples at times with American, European and Russian backpackers drawn by the endless parties, yoga scene and general chilled out vibe. It’s probably one of the last bohemian island hideouts left in Asia, with package tourists seemingly unwilling to take the ferry ride over from neighboring Koh Samui.

“There’s no airport here,” says Edwin de Lepper, who runs the crypto-friendly Buddha Cafe. “So, it is a journey to get here with the boat, which makes it kind of exciting…”

Jerome Van Vlierbergen
Belgian blockchain developer Jérôme Van Vlierbergen at the office.

Since the end of the pandemic, he’s noticed an uptick in crypto digital nomads mostly concentrated around the co-working spaces of Tropicana, Sunset Hill Resort, Signature Restaurant and High Life Resort.

De Lepper explains recent visitors include big influencers such as MMCrypto (948,000 Twitter followers) and James Crypto Guru (74,000 YouTube subscribers).

“There is a tremendous amount of people that come here, and they talk to me and they say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m building a new DEX, or I’m building a new crypto project,’” he says.

“I would say there are crypto whales here. The people that are here that I might suspect that they have a lot of money, they don’t talk about it. You don’t want to scream it from the rooftops I guess.”

Koh Pha-ngan isn’t the only place in the region attracting crypto digital nomads, with a growing scene in the Thai island of Phuket, another in Chiang Mai in the north of the country, as well as other locales in Southeast Asia, including Bali.

Guy Allison, founder of Blockchain Careers, says that many in the crypto scene flit between Koh Pha-ngan and Chiang Mai.

“A lot of people do six months in Koh Pha-ngan and six months in Chiang Mai because the weather can get quite rainy here in October–November, then they go back to Chiang Mai. And then they come back here in February March for the smoky season.”

That’s when farmers burn their fields and biowaste during the dry season to prepare the land for the next year’s crops, which helps create a thick fog of air pollution around Chiang Mai for months.

 

 

Edwin De Lepper
Buddha Cafe owner Edwin de Lepper

 

 

Work from home, but move home

Paid Network and Master Ventures founder Kyle Chasse called the island home for some time, though he can now be found in the more upscale villas of Phuket. He says people realized during the pandemic that if you could do your job from home, you could pretty much work from anywhere.

“Hello, you’re working from your house, you have the freedom,” he says, pointing out that Thailand is also super cheap compared to the United States.

“You have amazing infrastructure; your cost of living is gonna go down — your transportation, your food, your utilities, your cell phone — everything’s cheaper.”

Chasse moved to Koh Pha-ngan in 2018 after hearing of a budding Bitcoin community on the island. “I went and checked it out and fell in love with it,” he says, adding it’s so safe due to the influence of Buddhism that there have been numerous times he’s left his phone or wallet behind only to have someone return it to him.

“One of the things I love the most is the people. And of course, it’s truly like paradise,” he says.

 

 

Full Moon Party
Koh Phan-ngan’s legendary Full Moon Party. Source: fullmoonparty-thailand.com

 

 

The safety of Thailand was a big plus for Vlierbergen, who started off his digital nomad days traveling through the decidedly less friendly Central America and Mexico four years ago while working as a web designer. Having taught himself Solidity, he then graduated to the much better-paid blockchain industry. Good pay thanks to the deficit of qualified devs and a decentralized workforce make crypto the perfect industry for travelers.

 

 

 

 

When the pandemic struck in March 2020, he was already in Asia and headed to Koh Pha-ngan to ride out the storm. But despite enthusing about island life, he admits there’s a darker side that social media influencers don’t want to show.

“Most of the time, it is fake. They want to show the best side of it,” he says about digital nomad influencers.

“I don’t really want to party anymore or take drugs or drink alcohol, you know? And when you travel mostly what they want to do is to get fucked up. So, I think one of the many negative sides of it it’s how you can feel like, sometimes lonely and hard to connect with people.”

Three days later

If you do enjoy partying of course, then being on a tropical island surrounded by beautiful people with a new party to go to every day means it’s not always easy to find the motivation to get any work done.

Allison laughs about that one.

“It’s quite a party place. It’s difficult to concentrate solely just on work. And I might see someone in the street on a bike who was going to a party, and next thing you know, three days have passed. So, that’s the issue,” he laughs.

 

 

 

 

Allison explains there are three “scenes” in Koh Pha-ngan: the party scene (drugs), the bar scene in Thong Sala (booze) and the yoga scene (spirituality). Yoga retreats are a big appeal for some — the sorts of places people go on juice cleansing diets for two weeks. In a sad coincidence while I’m on the island, Australian cricketing legend Shane Warne dies of a heart attack after a two-week juice diet fast a few kilometers away on neighboring Koh Samui.

“All of them [the different scenes] seem to be quite focused on, you know, not doing that much work,” he says.

 

 

Thong Sala
It’s hard to take a bad picture on Koh Pha-ngan.

 

 

Van Vlierbergen watched one of his digital nomad friends have a complete breakdown after partying too hard for too long.

“He was partying, doing a lot of drugs hardcore and microdosing as well [at work during the day] and then he had this, how you call it when your brain just switches off…”

“So, this guy went crazy. We had to help him, had to get him to go to a hospital before he got deported back to the U.S.”

How practical is it?

Living and working in Thailand requires a visa, of course, and there are a variety of options — from hard-to-get special tourist visas that allow you to stay nine months a year through to elite visas that cost 600,000 Thai baht ($17,300) but enable you to stay for five years.

You can also get an education visa as long as you spend a few days a week learning Muay Thai kickboxing or studying the language. Most new digital nomads simply get a 30-day tourist visa, extend it for another 30, then take a quick weekend trip to a neighboring country to start the process all over again. Technically, you’re not supposed to actually work on any of these visas, but as long as you’re not taking work away from locals, the government reportedly doesn’t seem too fussed.

The holy grail though is the forthcoming digital nomad visa costing just 10,000 baht ($290), which the Thai government has announced… but hasn’t yet been implemented.

 

 

Sean Stella
Hardforking founder Sean Stella, left. Source: Facebook

 

 

Blockchain media company HardForking founder Sean Stella says it’s been on the cards for a while.

“Things don’t typically happen quickly in Thailand,” he explains. “But every country is wrestling with how to attract people to their countries and make it easy, so I would hope a digital nomad visa to visit Thailand becomes a reality in the near future.”

Stella has been a digital nomad since long before the term even existed. “It’s a lifestyle choice,” he says. “For me, I’ve been doing it for 20 years. I can’t envisage any other way of living.”

“Crypto is an enabler. The phenomenon of being a digital nomad has been around before crypto. But crypto is facilitating the ability for anybody to make a lifestyle choice to go and live wherever the hell they want.”

Koh Pha-ngan’s crypto scene in 2016

Originally from New Zealand, Stella moved to Asia in 2005 and has spent most of his time between…



Read More: Thailand’s crypto islands: Working in paradise, Part 1 – Cointelegraph Magazine

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