Thailand recently passed the Work from Home Bill, offering protection rights to remote workers for the first time, effective since Apr 18.
An online HR solutions provider, Remote, recently reported a list of  “The Best Destinations for Remote Work” and ranked the top 100 cities for remote workers. Toronto, Canada ranked No.1 and Bangkok at No.65. Only two other cities in Southeast Asia made the list, which were Taipei (No.22) and Kuala Lumpur (No.84). For Thailand’s remote workers, it might come as a surprise to see the likes of Chiang Mai or Koh Phangan left off the list.
While Covid was a global tragedy, the world learned that to work remotely and many Bangkokians have chosen to move out of Bangkok for a quieter, more peaceful life.
Chiang Mai has always been known as a hub for digital nomads, but since Covid, more and more are choosing Koh Phangan or other island destinations over Chiang Mai. But is this hippie-yoga-retreat-full-moon-party of an island ready to be the next tech hub of Thailand?

Bangkok Vs Chiang Mai Vs Koh Phangan

32-year-old Bangkok native Pinyaphat “Mook” Kittihiranpas used to work in digital marketing for a company in Bangkok, but about four years ago, she decided she had enough of Bangkok, quit her job, and moved to Chiang Mai. She now works as an online marketing consultant while moonlighting as a feng shui expert and augur.
Mook still lives in Chiang Mai but also works out of Koh Phangan sometimes.
“There’s potential for Koh Phangan to replace Chiang Mai, but not in the next five years, for sure,” says Mook, who was in Koh Phangan at the time. For her, Chiang Mai still has the best of both worlds—from luxury to the quiet life. The northern city has more to offer with its cafe culture and blossoming cocktail scene.
Koh Phangan is ideal if you want to leave everything behind, while Chiang Mai is more advanced, she says.“[Koh Phangan] is more hippie and down to earth, and it’s also an island. Even on this trip now, sometimes the electricity goes on and off, sometimes the water stops running.”
Umporn “Ump” Jiaranai, a 32-year-old single mom, decided to move her son from Bangkok to Koh Phangan two years ago for a better quality of life, moving away from the bad air quality and going to an alternative school where he gets to play outside in the nature rather than being stuck in a classroom.
Ump finds Koh Phangan to be a small, supportive community where everyone knows and helps each other—a massive lifestyle change after having lived in Asoke and Thonglor for 10 years. Now, she enjoys the no-traffic-better-air life working on the laptop while watching the sunset from the beach.
Ump is a senior graphic designer for Grove, a brand studio sister company of BK Magazine owned by Coconuts. She also owns an art school for children where she spends 10% of her income on teaching art to underprivileged kids on the island.
“While Koh Phangan might not be as convenient as other big islands like Koh Samui, the people help make it work,” says Ump. “For example, I buy art suppliers and share, or we can make a big order together at once. There might not be as many co-working spaces like Chiang Mai, but restaurants welcome more people to sit and work now and not just to eat.”
She also feels that on Koh Phangan, the “not having everything” makes her get work done without getting distracted. She doesn’t feel, however, that it’s inconvenient at all to live, work, and raise her six-year-old son. “I don’t feel that anything is missing or that I must have shopping malls or cafes.”
Ump says two more international hospitals opened on the island in the last year, and the existing Bangkok Hospital expanded, giving her and her son a sense of safety.

Never again, Bangkok

Even though Koh Phangan and Chiang Mai have completely different characteristics, both Ump and Mook say they are not moving back to Bangkok.
For Mook, she wants to live this lifestyle forever, where she gets to travel around and not settle down permanently, but Bangkok stresses her out now and when she visits, staying for only a few days at a time.
As for Ump, she doesn’t have any plans to move out of Koh Phangan because she feels stable and settled and has a few ideas on how she can do more volunteering work to support the local community. This island is her home now.