Maverick Traveler

Location Independence, Geo Arbitrage, Individual Freedom

Why I Fell Out Of Love With Eastern Europe And Bought A One-Way Ticket To Indonesia And Thailand

I have a confession to make: I’m sick and tired of Eastern Europe. Several years of traveling around Eastern Europe, followed by several years of living in Lithuania and then about a half a year of living in Ukraine wore me down. I got tired of the Soviet architecture. The non-ending snowy winters. The permanently sad and depressed people.

I got tired of countless emails from guys asking me for advice on picking up Ukrainian women—guys that have no interest in learning about the country or its culture. I got tired of guys emailing me and telling how “vindictive” and “manipulative” Russian or Ukrainian women can be. I was even more tired of guys emailing me their sob stories about how their “dream Ukrainian girl” left them for another guy after they got married and her rich “sponsor” brought her to his rich Western country. I don’t mind giving advice to fellow men, but I can’t help someone if they’re approaching me with such negative and defeatist attitude. I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. (Though, I will stress that dating in Ukraine and Russia is not for rookies.)

Most of all, I was tired of Ukraine and Eastern Europe in general. I was tired of seeing its people being deceived and manipulated by corrupt politicians with three citizenships and villas in Spain, Italy and Switzerland. I was tired of having countless discussions about how the “the bright future is just around the corner.” I was tired of the “beggar mentality” where people, instead of solving their own problems, are begging EU or America for money. (When did EU or America ever “help” anyone? When did capitalists ever give away their capital without seeking a higher return down the road while holding the country’s future as collateral?)

So, I did what I always do when I’m tired of a particular place and need a new perspective: I bought a one-way ticket to the most random place in the world: Bali, Indonesia.

It was a freezing and snowy morning as I got into a taxi enroute to Kiev’s Boryspil international airport. After arriving, I promptly checked in for my flight to Indonesia. Twenty one hours and two stopovers later—one in Istanbul, Turkey and another in Jakarta, Indonesia—I landed on the beautiful island of Bali.

It was midnight when I landed, and although I couldn’t see the surroundings yet, I immediately knew I had landed somewhere special. The following morning I woke up and saw the paradise in all of its glory. This was heaven. The people were some of the most friendliest I’ve ever met; I haven’t seen people smile as much anywhere else and certainly not in Eastern Europe.

After spending a month there, I headed to the southern part of the island to be closer to the beacher. After two months of living on this paradise, I was ready for another change, so I booked a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Thailand exceeded all my expectations

I’ve learned early on that the greatest rewards exist for those who don’t follow the herd, but sometimes you have to go where the action is. One such place in Southeast Asia is Thailand’s fifth largest city, Chiang Mai. It’s currently being ambitiously called “The Digital Nomad Capital of The World.”

For a city with such a braggadocious tagline, I naturally approached the once sleepy town with skepticism. However, after spending here just a few days, I knew right away that this place is special.

This isn’t my first trip to Thailand; Thailand was the first Asian country that I visited back in 2004. Back then it was a relatively sleepy little town overcrowded by backpackers with dreadlocks looking for banana pancakes. Man, how times have changed.

There are huge malls everywhere. Lots of affluent young people sporting iPhones 6 and 6 Plus. Fantastic coffee shops that rival even the most hipster-filled American cities. Lightning fast Internet (the coffee shop that I’m sitting at now has 20Mb pipe; the co-working space I was hustling in yesterday had a 50Mb pipe).

And those backpackers looking for banana pancakes? They’re making $5,000/month running their SaaS company (or a similar business) while working at cheap coffee shops or co-working places.

Life was never this easy

Chiang Mai is world’s apart from the bustling capital, Bangkok, but it has absolutely everything one might need. It’s the perfect city for living or for bootstrapping your own business. All that’s missing is the beach, but that can actually be a blessing in disguise.

Then there’s the amazing food, the night markets, the electronic gadgets. I seriously don’t know why I avoided exploring Asia for so long. My heart maybe still in Latin America, but Asia feels fucking amazing right now. Not sure when I’m going back to Eastern Europe.

If there’s a word I can describe my life here it would be easy. Everything is super easy. The apartment I rented is huge and spacious and has everything I need. There’s a laundry downstairs. High speed Internet. All for only $250/mo. I’ve been getting around town on speedy 125cc motorbike (an upgrade from the 110c) around town that I fill up once a week for just $2.50.

I don’t remember the last time my life felt so easy. It wasn’t this easy in Latin America. It wasn’t this easy in Europe. And it definitely wasn’t like this in America. Easy. Everything works.

Where else in the world can you get so much value for so little? This is the question I keep asking myself pretty much every waking moment.

But what I like best about Asia isn’t the fact that my life is super easy. It’s also not the night markets or the delicious food. It’s not the 20Mb-30Mb Internet that’s available in almost every coffee shop or restaurant. All of that stuff is great, but that’s not even close to the best part.

Asia’s Winning Mentality

What I like best about Asia is the mentality. There’s none of that “beggar mindset” that I’ve experienced in Eastern Europe—from Lithuania and Latvia to Moldova and Ukraine. None of that “bailout” or “financial assistance” bullshit that you read everyday in the newspapers. None of that melancholy, hopelessness and despair. No one here is trying to immigrate to some richer country like America, UK or Denmark. No one is asking me “if living in Europe is better than living in Ukraine” or “how many years does it take to get a US citizenship.” I can’t tell you how sick and tired I was of all that.

Eastern Europe is dying; Asia is flourishing. Asians are building their own future. They’re innovating. They’re growing. They’re creating endless value. I can give up traveling and live in Chiang Mai for a year without missing anything useful.

Why didn’t I take seriously Asia before? Why wasn’t it on my list? I really have no idea. There’s so much value here in Asia that doesn’t exist in America or other rich countries.

If there’s one thing I learned from spending so many years in Eastern Europe is that something just ain’t right with the whole region. Something is rotten. For a region that’s gifted with so many intelligent people (at least the ones who didn’t immigrate to Israel or USA), it should be doing better than it is. After all, Communism collapsed more than 25 years ago, so saying that it needs time to get its shit together doesn’t make much sense. It has had enough time. How much more time does it need? Another 25 years? 35 years? A European country? 

Don’t get me wrong. I love Ukraine. I love its people.  I love its survival mentality. After all, I’m Eastern European by both birth and spirit (so please don’t bother emailing me and telling me that “I don’t get Ukraine, blah blah”).

But something just ain’t right when I visit a “developing” Asian country like Thailand and can have a higher quality of life than in “developed” country like America; where my hard-earned dollar goes further than pretty much anywhere else in the world. Ukraine, on the other hand, is stuck between a difficult past and an uncertain future: Asia is moving full speed ahead.

And in this stage of my life, Asia’s mentality and value is exactly what I need.


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56 Comments

  1. Bam!

    Balkan guy here, its big in my heart, but i’m not keen to return.

    I wonder if Vietnam is close behind the Thais?

    • Curious about that as well. Might have to check it out at some point.

    • Vietnam is always an odd one in SEA, while most countries in SEA can found similarity in their neigbours, Vietnamese are much more similar in look and culture to China and Korea. In recent year, it took great efforts to align itself with South Korea and Japan while dipping in and out of Asean and other U.S leaned groups. Economic wise the coutry is growing with massive capitalist expansion and large scale investment. Environment is a serious issues and for whatever reason it is the country seem to invest heavily in heavy industry. Some thing the 80s era government should have learned by now would not work for this country. My guess is it’s gearing up for war in the future, just a bit undecided whose will they be on.

  2. ASIAN’s MINDSET IS ALWAYS HUSTLE.

    They in just 3 years dominated my city in food market selling pasty and small savory snacks with cheap juice.

  3. Enjoy it. I love it as well, but the big cities tend to grate on you after a while. I’m back in Europe now after a long time in SEA and loving it.

  4. Balkan guy here as well, Sheridan. I wonder where exactly you’re from.

    I had to stop reading for a moment. Considered e-mailing you but then I’d sound more like those depressed guys that already messaged you, so I gave that a second thought and realized I am only seeking validation. I know it all, I just need to put in the work. I recommend that to anyone reading this comment.

    Even James can agree on this, that it is much comforting to hear whatever he has to say, but believe in your guts. You already know what to do so just do it. If you want to go to Thailand, just go. If you want to quit your job, then do it. Like James did it. Like doers do it.

    Hope this helps, at least it helped me to clear my mind.
    Keep it up James!

  5. Very interesting comparison between E. Europe and Asia. You here so many guys on the manosphere talk about the Slavic countries like it’s this nirvana that every Western man should try to move to. You’ve already heard the mantras, “the women are so hot”, “you can be masculine”, “it’s not PC”. That stuff might be true I suppose, but you’re showing that the grass is always greener on the other side.

    I’ve only been to Thailand and no other Asian countries and hadn’t been to Chang Mai. I would love to see what the hype is that I’ve been hearing about. Asia does seems like it has a bright future. That only thing that keeps my interest in Asia low is the women. I’m just not into the look of Asian women, even though they are very feminine.

  6. Maybe Thailand is more of a free market?

    America is full of hand outs and subsidies. Just look at a super liberal state like New York or California. The price of everything is through the roof.

    Now if you take a red state like Texas, with major cities, your dollar will go a lot farther.

    • Keep in mind though, Thailand is cheap from the perspective of a Western getting paid in dollars or euros. A typical Thai might only make $300 a month. So to them Bangkok is as expensive as NYC or London is to us. The $250 a Westerner might pay for a comfortable 1st world standard apartment in Thailand is a steal to us. But to a Thai that might be his entire month’s income.

      The high cost of NY and California has nothing to do with handouts and subsidies, it has to do with high demand to live there. Rich and fashionable people want to live in California and NY, not Texas, thus they bid the price of housing up. Simple as that.

      • The second paragraph is a variation of the “You should live in New York because the world wants to live here” argument. This “argument” probably drives me even crazier than all those red pill fundamentalists.

        I don’t understand the argument in the first paragraph. A Brazilian makes $500/mo. A Thai makes $300/mo. And a secretary is making $3,000/mo in New York. But then my expenses are like 10x higher in NYC than in Thailand.

        The point is to take your hard-earned money and go where you’ll get the most value and not be a dud who’s slaving in America in order to afford his mortgaged lifestyle.

        • I didn’t say you *should* live in NYC, I’m saying that the reason NY and CA are more expensive than Texas isn’t due to handouts and subsidies and liberalism as the guy I was responding to was implying. It’s because there’s a high demand to live there. Maybe YOU don’t want to live there, but there’s enough people that do to keep rents sky high.

          My second paragraph was also a response to the other guy implying that perhaps Thailand is cheaper because it is more of a free market. To which I’m saying Thailand is not cheap if you are an average Thai. It’s cheap to Western foreigners that make way more money than Thais and get paid in Western currency. But it doesn’t mean a freer market(if it even has one) is why Thailand is cheap to Westerners.

      • Here is why the rent is so high in NYC.

        http://www.businessinsider.com/the-8-reasons-why-new-york-rents-are-so-ridiculously-high-2013-7

        If you take the time to read it you will see that rent control plays a big factor and so do the unions.

        The free market just simply is not at play in NYC.

        • Even without rent control, there’s simply no way NYC would ever be cheap. Incomes are high, often VERY high if you work in finance, thus rents are high.

          • Sure, the law of supply and demand plays a big part.

            But NYC rents are way higher than those in LA, and the income levels are about the same. Back in the day you could have a shit job and have a decent place to rent.

            I think a pack of cigarettes in NYC now costs 15 dollars, because of the stupid health laws.

            Maybe a lack free market doesn’t explain all the problems, but the state gov’t is definitely inflating prices.

          • Pay is definitely higher in NYC than LA. I grew up in LA. LA is actually the most unaffordable city in America if you rank cities by the ratio of average pay to cost of living.

    • I think this is a lot more complex than just “free market.” Part of it is productivity, another part of it is related to global economics.

      • Thailand was invested to be a tourists attraction area, the more active countries in SEA have been, since always work to keeps their currency value low for export and lure in tourists. The main concern of the area should be environment and service and Thailand have the best service in the area.

  7. Great man, I was waiting for you to explore new parts of the world.
    Greetings from Colombia

  8. Good commentary. I can see why you don’t like EE as much (I lived three too), but I didn’t quite understand your reasons for choosing Asia over America other than cost.

    If you made 10x the money you do now, would you choose the US instead, or are there other reasons to avoid it?

    Thailand sounds cool (I’ve been there also), but is it innovative? Are there any major new inventions or technologies that were invented there in the last 10 years?

    • Jim,

      “If you made 10x the money you do now, would you choose the US instead, or are there other reasons to avoid it?”

      I would not be living in the West.

      “But is it innovative? Are there any major new inventions or technologies that were invented there in the last 10 years?”

      How’s this even remotely related to having a higher quality of life?

      • Ok, I suppose I inferred it from statements like this:
        “where the action is”, “perfect city for living or for bootstrapping your own business”, “Asians are building their own future. They’re innovating. They’re growing. They’re creating endless value.”.

        To me, that makes me think this place is a tech paradise, with plenty of startups and innovation. I suppose you didn’t state it outright, so maybe it isn’t. I haven’t been to Chiang Mai, but from your description so far, I’d definitely like to visit.

        The reason I asked about innovation is _some_ Asian countries I’ve been to with the culture/lifestyle you describe can mean that the easy-going people and nice weather = not hard workers.

  9. Awesome.

    With rent being $250, what is your cost of living including everything else food nightlife etc…?

  10. Hey James, thanks for a great post! The last few weeks I’ve been planning a move up to Thailand and plan to do it within the next couple of months. Actually I was partly inspired by your posts on Silicon Valley. This post couldn’t have come at a better time, thanks mate.

  11. Hi James! Excellent article. Your posts were a big influence in my decision making.

    I recently moved to Bulgaria. It is amazing to be in a place where life is cheap for, women are not toying around and men are not pussified like at home.

    Simultaneously I realise, that It doesn’t look so pretty here, people are more depressed, and smiles are an expensive good. I am sure the place eventually will wear me down because of these reasons you mention. I think as guys, it is key not to focus on this and enjoy the ride and move forward when your guts tell you to.

    Your mindset is the perfect guide in decision making when that day comes. Great stuff! Thanks.

  12. Chiang Mai is cool, especially in Winter – perfect weather, not to hot, not to cold. I was there 2 years ago and I think to back for the next winter.

    Have you tried co-working here? Can you recommend something? I used only Punspace – nice place, close to center.

    If you can, visit Laos (for example to have a new visa to Thailand 🙂 ). It’s close and it’s most relaxed place I’ve ever been!

    • Yeah, it’s really hot here right now. The good part is that it’s dry heat which is easier to deal with than really humid heat.

      I think punspace is one of the most expensive coworking places here. Lots of other cheaper coworking spaces here that cost only 20 baht/hour or 100 baht/day.

      Really great city.

  13. Are white guys welcomed? Is pussy to be had?

  14. Mav,

    I don’t blame you bro. I prefer warm sunny beach climates myself! If you like Thailand, visit the Dominican Republic! It is cheap, great weather and lovely women too.

  15. Gosh, I would never go to those dodgy countries..Thailand is sauna in terms of climate, and Indonesia??? for God’s sake, the poor country where human rights are abused?? Enough to make a cat laugh

  16. Hey James…loved the article.

    I’m actually planning on going down to Bali soon with a friend and head over to Chiang Mai after a month or two as well.

    Curious about your opinion of Bali compared to Chiang Mai in terms of the people, productivity, overall experience?

  17. Hey James,

    Great to have you in South East Asia. Gone the time of raining and cold winters, welcome to the lasting summer.

    P.S In Thailand the professional blogger work from massage shop. hAVE FUN!

  18. I respect your knowledge of Eastern Europe. Why do you think Eastern Europe has not gotten their act together in 35 years? Has Russia gotten their act together or are they still in the same state as the rest of Eastern Europe?

  19. Hi James, I’m also reaching the same dilemma, as a Latino living in Prague, I thought one thing: Beautiful single women.

    Problem is, I had never in my life had I been so unsuccessful with women even though I’m good looking, financially solid, and charming.

    I left Mexico because IMO there is only a small % of attractive women and they are all taken, social circles are tight and all of my friends got married so my social life went downhill.

    Here in Prague is full of beautiful women but I’ve faced a huge barrier:

    In every country in the world I’ve seen, the local people prefer to stick to the locals and stay a bit away from foreigners in some degree, here in Czech Republic this is almost the rule. Czechs are known to be narrow minded, not liking foreigners, and cold. When I think of German people I think “Cold”, now when I think about Czechs my perception of them is that they are”Indifferent”, not as cold as Germans but more indifferent.

    Anyways, in almost 2 years living here, I haven’t had sex, that’s a new record, especially in a country full of single beautiful women. I’ve met about 50 Czech women on meetups, bars and online (about 40 of them online) and when it comes to setting up a date that’s when everything goes to hell: When I suggest going out they simply stop messaging, I’ve never seen something like that in my life.

    In contrast, due to the aforementioned situation I explained about Mexico, In a year maybe I would meet 4 women, 3 out of those 4 would go out with me and I would end up having sex with 1 and having a gf+sex with another one of them.
    But here in Prague, like I said, the numbers are 0 anything/50.

    I thought women would go crazy for a charming Latino but I’ve come to realize there’s actually mental/cultural incompatibility. My theory is that a Czech woman looking for the Latino charm would actually move to Spain. Here I see lots and lots of couples on the street but they are all Czech. It is like a special club you can only belong to if you’re from these latitudes as it seem Russians, Polish, Slovaks, etc. have no problems dating here.

    I have a Brazilian friend who gets more women action because he speaks Czech, I was also studying Czech and I’m skilled with languages but after realizing that people here have a different mentality I just didn’t want to spend 2 years of my life perfectioning a language from a culture I would probably not be able to get accepted into.
    My only friends here are Spanish, American, French and Italian. I have 0 Czech Friends.

    And like you said: 6 months of winter and depressed, deadbeat mentality people. BUT unlike Ukraine, beautiful architecture and parks.

    So now I’m thinking on moving to Barcelona, IMO women are not as pretty there but they have pretty much the Same culture and language as me so I would definitely not continue with the 0/50 record.

    What do you think of Barcelona?
    Hope to hear your opinion. Thanks.

    • “I thought women would go crazy for a charming Latino but I’ve come to realize there’s actually mental/cultural incompatibility. ”

      Wise words, hermano.

      I think as we get older, more and more people will realize this and go back to their roots/culture.

      Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world. I’ve spent lots of time there.

      • Thanks James. I think the real issue that we have never talked about is the degree of cultural compatibility/incompatibility when becoming a Maverick. For instance, I see you actually had adaptability traits to Eastern Europe for having Eastern European roots yourself.

        I would say many places in Central, Northern and Eastern Europe can not only be cold but Introvert. These are just words but the reality is much much bigger.

        I feel for instance that I don’t feel stimulated by Czechs in anyway. I play football where 35% of the players are Czech. I can’t remember their names, I don’t see anything interesting on them, however, the Irish, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian that play with me, are another story.
        And sadly this translates to the women, beautiful yes, stimulating not. It’s like your experience in Lithuania.

  20. Never underestimate the power of (certain) East European passports!

    I am for a naked eye your mirror image. Same mother tongue, mostly the same ethnic and national origin.

    I worked for Apple, Quantum, you-name-it Silly Conman Valley company.

    For some rather obscure reason I have / had rights to a second / third passport from an unpretending, minor East European country which has an obscure language.

    At one point of my life I grabbed that passport.

    That, like my American citizenship proved to be a crucial point for my life.

    That particular East European country is not a country known for Khrushchov-apartment buildings (tough we have a share of these). The economy is not very good, but at least I have a largish free house with fast internet where I always can stay.

    This East European country is now a full member of EU, Schengen included. I do speak fluently German, with some accent. So it’s not bad.

    But of course who wants to live in Germany? Not me.

    What happened with our life in America? It came to end because of three factors.

    #1: I live all my adult life with my high-school buddy. We are very close friends to say the least. At one point of our life she wanted children. Not one, but three.
    Let’s face it: almost every woman will come to that point.

    Having three children growing up in that Silly Conman Valley is a financial disaster. We realized, we need to fork out about one million for their tuition. There wasn’t any million in the bank.

    #2: We were unable to buy a house I desired. Looking at the choices and the “quality” of a typical American house I vomited. In addition the prices soared and at one point it wasn’t feasible to buy any.

    #3: I slowly realized, I am ready to become unemployable. The root problem is the typical interview system of these Silly Conman Valley companies. I am talking about the “coding interview”. During that interview the merits of your prior work do not count. You are interviewed BY YOUR POTENTIAL PEERS (not merely by the supervisor). The peers may have hidden issues, afraid of competition – or even ask incompetent questions.

    I recall, that I solved properly a certain problem of interacting with certain hardware a MAJOR company of the Valley did not solve and is still struggling. My product was sold in tens of thousands. Their piece of software is a piece of crap.

    I was interviewed by the very same department which could not solve the problem.
    I wasn’t hired – they asked idiotic, unrelated questions. They did not show any respect to my work.

    With all this it was time to move back to Europe. It was THAT minor EU country at first. We are still there (more-less). Now after all our student loan debt is in $10K – $20K range (find such parents of three kids in the States) we moved (part-time) to a wonderful West European country, to a region where German is widely spoken (but it is not Germany).

    Taxes are very low. That country is consistently the #1 in the world’s health care ranking. Looking at the name of the country no one realizes, how inexpensive it is.
    Of course, you have to live in the German-speaking part of it, next to the German border.

    Renting a house is probably 600 Euro / month.
    Gas is cheaper than in Germany
    That country LOVES Russians!!!
    I just bought a kilogram of turkey hearts, that set me back 1.80 Euro.
    (True: this price is from a Russian grocery store called Mix Market on the other side of the Rhine river)
    And so on and so on.

    I am working for an American company based in the States, remotely. My work is not 9-to-5. I am by far the cheapest employee of that company. Their benefit policies are to pay 80% of the worker’s health care plan. Typically the employee co-pays something in $500 – $600 range. So the typical salary is inflated by at least $2500 / month the company has to pay for the health insurance.

    In my case they do not have to pay anything the first year, that about $250 / month instead of $2500.

    My healthcare benefits are first-class.

    The kids went to the university to different EU countries, including our home country. It was not free – instead of paying for tuition in the States WE WERE PAID BY THE GOVERNMENT(S). That perk is provided if the kid reaches certain scores.

    The older kid was able to save enough money what he got from the government to finance the start of his carrier!

    Yep, all of us used to be an average fresh American citizen Silicon Valley family.

    Today? Forget about it.

    At one point we may move further to SE Asia. My wife loves to be a teacher (English, Math, German) – that may limit (or extend) our choices.

    I am a software engineer with a twist: I love to interact with the hardware (think device drivers). Chang Mai is Okay for us… but I may need an extra month or two to get all hardware together. It is far cheaper than one would imagine at first and the hardware in question is not as complicated as you would expect.

    I already did that in our second home, all I need to take my laptop from one place to the other.

    One thing I can’t do if I continue to do what I love: to move between Brazil, Lithuania, Russia, Barcelona or Chiang Mai at will without planing because I am hardware-bound.

    I need somewhat extended space and more, than merely a laptop. It takes time.

    The second thing is that neither of us is in mid-30s, so we need to think more about healthcare. It’s just planing.

  21. Really don’t know why you didn’t take Asia seriously? Racism. Just like rest of the loser Eastern European losers, you are a racist who don’t know his place.

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