Work, Play, and Surf: 5 Beach Getaways for Digital Nomads from Okinawa to Koh Lanta

Work, Play, and Surf: 5 Beach Getaways for Digital Nomads from Okinawa to Koh Lanta

Over the past year, Raph and I worked remotely from Digital Nomad places in Asia and Europe.

Sometimes illusionary in a corporate environment, work-life balance can also be tricky on the move. We tested different coworking spaces, but sometimes adapted a work-from-home style when options were limited.

Time off while travelling can be incredibly rewarding. We wanted to bring out unique activities each place offers to make your choice easier if you have no family obligations, are in a flexible job like Tech or Digital Marketing and are keen to embark on a new adventure. 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • We selected destinations on four islands – Koh Lanta (Thailand), Naha (Okinawa, Japan), Madeira (Portugal), Catania (Sicily, Italy) and one coastal city – Da nang (Vietnam)
  • Most of our destinations are great in Spring and Autumn. Madeira has spring-like weather all year round.
  • Accommodation prices per day, for two people, range from $18 in Koh Lanta, $50 in Okinawa, to $100 in Catania, where coworking offices were limited.
  • They all have delicious food, stunning landscapes, great internet access, and vibrant communities.
  • But your lifestyle choice will make some of them preferable to others. Koh Lanta and Okinawa are a paradise for Scuba Divers. Da nang is known for its beaches and Cafés. If you’re a hiker, Madeira is the top spot and for cultural discoveries, head to Sicily.  
  • Don’t skip the links in our descriptions to some of our recommended spots and accommodations before booking. 
Here is the full analysis

#1 Koh Lanta, Thailand

Stunning NATURE

Best time to go

We stayed throughout January and February but the season extends from November to April. Temperatures range from 25 to 33°C. While other periods are possible, the National Marine Park will be closed for diving and the weather more humid.

Cost

We stayed in a charming family-run bungalow 50 m from a heavenly beach. It comprised tropical hang-out areas and a shared kitchen. Our alarm clock was an orchestra of chickens, birds and cicadas. A bungalow costs $18 per night. At c. $400, the diving course was our most significant one-day expense. Top-notch coworking costs $200 per month.

Lifestyle

  • Cultural Openness – South of Thailand is an interesting mix of lovely people with Thai and Muslim cultures.
  • Self-selecting Community – Remote by Thai standards, Koh Lanta is not easily reachable for classic tourists. The best places to meet the community are co-working events, beach volley or the area around a Western Bakery, where the nightlife starts after some of the best sunsets we’ve seen. 
  • Unbeatable Coworking Space – Kohub is one of the most modern coworking spaces we’ve been to. It includes a tropical garden and an on-site restaurant serving Thai and Western food. 
  • World-class Diving – We completed the SSI Open Ocean Diving Course in one of the best spots in Thailand, the nearby Koh Haa Lagoon. It’s close to some Dicaprio diving spots from the Beach film.
  • Beach Sports and Mindfulness – Relaxed days include Yoga and Beach Volley. Roads are much more cycling-friendly than in Vietnam, with dedicated motorbike lanes.

Nearby Destinations

We took a small boat to Koh Jum, an island with more monkeys than inhabitants. We stayed in a cheap and modern bungalow in the middle of the jungle with a private beach. Langkawi Island in nearby Malaysia can serve as a spot for a visa run if your stay exceeds 45 days.

Biggest issue? No easy access to western-type pharmacies, hospitals or foods like cheese ! 

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#2 Da Nang, Vietnam

VIETNAMESE traditioNS in Hoi An

Best time to go

This one is tricky. Officially, the rainy season ends in December, but we were there between December and January, and it was pretty wet. A better bet is going between February and May. From June, it can get quite hot.

Cost

We rented a modern studio, with a kitchen and balcony, including breakfast, weekly cleaning, and laundry service, located in My An. It is one of the two areas where the majority of the expat live and is close to magnificent beaches. We spent $20 USD per night for accommodation, which was on the high side as it was during Christmas and Chinese New Year period.  One month of coworking costs $100 USD. Food is as cheap as $1.5 for lunch set with Chicken, Rice and a local Soup.

Lifestyle

  • Experiencing Emerging Asia – Da nang is a middle-sized city in a country that today is like China on Steroids. The Song Han River divides the city into a quasi-peninsula with chilled lifestyle near beaches and the city centre with nightclubs.
  • Growing Expat & Digital Nomad Communities – Present year-round, except December and January. Expats usually live in My An and Son Tran areas that are quieter and have a great number of Vietnamese renowned Cafés. 
  • Cheap and Exotic Coworking – We tested Coffee Beans. The price includes a drink served directly to your desk.  
  • Scuba Diving & Surf – With great spots to learn how to surf. Winter can be and if you go when the sun is shining again, you can swim and scuba diving in the small islands in front (otherwise there are dangerous currents and swimming maybe forbidden).
  • Hiking – There are a few hiking opportunities reachable within a short taxi ride. Monkey’s mountain, if you like our little ancestors, would be a great starting point. Strongly recommended are also the Marble Mountains, with a beautiful city view and ancient Vietnamese heritage. The Temple inside the main cave is a must-see. 

And at the end of your day, it is easy to relax with a cheap and professional massage. Far better than the ones in Thailand!

Nearby Destinations

We often visited Hội Anone of the best-preserved historic cities in Vietnam. It is about half an hour by taxi from Hoi An. The drive costs $10. It offers fantastic beaches, and cycling paths in the city and nearby and is a starting point for diving in the local Cham Cham islandsYou can also take a train to the old capital city of Hue. The train has outstanding views.

Biggest issue? Traffic, no easy to walk around without scooter.

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#3 Catania, Italy

After-work Dolce VIta

Best time to go

Spring or Autumn are the best periods to visit, temperatures are not excessively hot, and the days are long. We were brave, and we stayed in summer. With good air conditioning, you can survive!

Cost

We paid 100 EUR per day for a 2-floor house with a fully equipped modern kitchen. It was high season, and outside summer, prices were lower.

Lifestyle

  • Limited co-working – Catania does not have a very organised international community. Still, it is perfect for experiencing the real southern Italian lifestyle, coupled with the best example of Sicilian baroque architecture. Coworking options are limited, that’s why I chose a larger and more expensive house.
  • Culinary delights – We enjoyed walking in the morning to the Fera o lumi market, buying fresh veggies, fruits and meat. In Italian, of course! Or, and having aqua with seltzYou must try street food, including granita (Gelsi and Almond flavour are the best) or Cudduruni. And, of course, the evergreen Arancini.
  • Dolce Vita – During the lunch break, we walked to the nearby beach for a quick swim. You can also rent two beds and an umbrella for 20 EUR in Aci Trezza.
  • Fashion / Shopping – plenty of opportunities to shop around in smaller Italian boutiques or raking a bus to a famous Sicilian Outlet.
Biggest issue? No international community and coworkings.

Nearby Destinations

It is Sicily, so there are plenty of opportunities to explore, especially by car. Our favourite destinations are Taormina, Caltagirone, with its never-ending stairs and Etna, where you may see a small eruption from time to time.

#4 Okinawa, Japan

Brushing up Japanese on Exotic Islands

Best time to go

February to May is the best period. Starting from June, the temperatures are warmer and typhoon season.

Cost

A small flat in Naha costs around 50 EUR per day in April. Food is a bit more expensive than in other destinations, but there are ways to reduce costs

Lifestyle

  • Cultural Gem – Okinawa has an interesting culture that mixes traditional Japanese elements with Chinese dragon statues, UNESCO heritage from the Ryukyu Kingdom, way before the Chinese and Japanese came here, and a Western touch brought by the people living in the American Military (Spam ham!).
  • Cheap and solid co-working – Coworking is similar to European cities. We tested the modern Mangrove space that costs $10 per day but is limited to 9-6 work. 
  • Scuba Diving and Surf – Diving, snorkelling and surfing are main water sports. Humpback whale watching is popular in winter.
  • Bike & Relax – Cycling includes a stunning natural park in the North of the main Island. Before heading out to smaller Islands, stop at the best Sento in Naha to experience five different baths, honey, tea salt Hammam therapy and a Sauna for $10.
  • Local Food –  Try local purple sweet potatoes that are unique to the archipelago. They are eaten boiled, but other delicious variations are ice cream and the doughnuts available in Kombinis, See Grapes, bitter Goya or Peanut Tofu. Local meat is excellent, including the famous Anu pork, not to mention sashimis from local fish at some local Izakayas.
With such a lifestyle, no wonder Okinawan live the longest of all people on our planet.

Nearby Destinations

Kerama islands are a great option and connected through a short ferry ride and with plenty of activities. However, book in advance because the accommodation is limited. We were not able to get one! Instead, we went instead to Miyakojima, 45 minutes by plane. We stayed at Pine Hill Hotel, for $80 a night, in an extremely nice flat. The island is small, so a bike is all you will need. Book a car in advance if you need it for scuba diving with a local school.

Biggest issue? No digital nomad community (which is good sometimes!)

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#5 Madeira, Portugal

Year-Round Hiker's Paradise

Best time to go

Madeira is all year round destination, but it is better to avoid the winter months from December to February that are quite wet.

Cost

We stayed in Funchal for 30 EUR per night in modern accommodation. Outside Funchal, accommodation gets cheaper.

Lifestyle

  • Prime Digital Nomad Destination – Madeira has implemented the unique concept in Europe of Digital Nomad Village located in Ponta Do Sol. However, Funchal is a better bet if you want to experience more than just the activities organised in the village. If what you are looking for is nature and quiet space, go to Machico, there is a small but very united community. The coworking space there is free! 
  • Adventure Hiking – Our favourite activity was hiking, we have done it across the island and the landscapes are stunning. One of the easiest is PR8 (suitable for children) and with amazing view over the coast. It’s also one of the few that can be reached with public transportation. For a proper mountain experience, you can try Porto da Cruz – Penha de Águia – Penha de Água  but a car may be needed to reach the trail.
  • Excellent Food Scenery – We recommend Lume Pizza, Hoyo Hoyo for Mozambique cuisine or Rei da Poncha  for un Bolo de Caco and Una Poncha.
  • Yoga – Weekly Yoga class is organised in the Savoy hotel with a great view on the city.
  • Cycling, sailing, padel – and whale and dolphin watching (summer)are other activities to experience.
Biggest issue? Lack of effective public transportation.

Nearby Destinations

The only option is Porto Santo, which is part of the same archipelago. It is perfect if you are looking for long sand beaches as Madeira’s ones have black sand due to the Volcanic nature of the island.