Living and working in Asia isn’t quite the same as traveling in Asia. The differences between living somewhere, working there part time, or having a holiday include the good and the bad, and we thought they would make an interesting topic. Over the years, Scott and Trevor have drawn comparisons between living in Southeast Asia and what it must be like living in Europe. Both are made of a number of relatively geographically smaller countries that share some similarities but are otherwise very different in terms of language, food, and cultural customs, to name a few. While they often make this comparison in regards to travel, as it’s very easy, especially from Bangkok, which is geographically central to Southeast Asia, to travel to one of a half dozen different countries on a flight of no more than one hour, they have never discussed the differences between living in some of these countries. On this episode they’ll do just that: talk about expat life and how the experience differs between some of the countries they’ve personally lived.  

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Scott leading by example: having a good time at EXO AGM in China.

Scott and Trevor begin the show discussing when they moved to Asia, where, and why.

They share their first jobs, explain how they’ve changed, and discuss the point that they ‘turned pro’ and made Asia their full time home. From 2001-2018, Bangkok was Trevor’s home base, but he temporarily relocated a few times and threw going away parties almost every time. Trevor spent time away from Bangkok: three summers in Korea to teach, two extended stays in Cambodia to write travel guides, two times in Bali (once for a travel guide and once to launch Beervana Bali), and then part time in Vietnam for 4-5 years while doing his MBA. At one point he was working in Thailand, writing a book about Cambodia (and running all around Cambodia doing research), and attending classes in Vietnam. Trevor thinks that Southeast Asia is great like that, and Bangkok was the best home-base for those years of his life. Otherwise, Bangkok was love-hate for Trevor, and getting away helped with the hate, but then living elsewhere made him miss Bangkok. Those other countries have some advantages over Thailand (as far as expat living goes) and living in each were amazing experiences, but very different ones too…

Expat life: Scott & Trevor’s experiences living and working in Asia

The following are notes of Scott & Trevor’s conversation: Listen to the episode to hear the entire conversation

Living and Working in Bangkok, Thailand

Trevor on Housing: I always found good housing in the city center and never paid too much.

Scott: I lived in the real burbs – Ramkhamhaeng – for 13-years and paid about $400 USD for many of those years: loved it. Then three years in the core around Asok, and now two-and-a-half years on Sathorn Soi 1. But in the core is as expensive as most major cities – it’s not as inexpensive as it was a decade ago.

Eating and finding food in Thailand:

Trevor: THE BEST – even lunches.

Scott: Yes, out in Ramkhamhaeng those first 13-years – the burbs are the best for food – tastiest and least expensive. You can find some gems in the core but not as easy, nor generally as tasty and more expensive.

Getting around Bangkok:

Trevor: lots of options – though the commute can be A COMMUTE.

Scott: This is one of the best aspects of Bangkok for me. Car traffic sucks – yes – but other options abound.

Researching an article about craft gin in Southeast Asia for 2 Magazine @ AR Sutton & Co. Bangkok, Thailand

Work culture: 

Trevor: pretty serious, rules wise. Dress codes, fingerprint scanners for clocking in and out….

Scott: Yes, if with a Thai company – a bit stiff. Wonder how COVID will change this?

Culturally, customs and behaviors:

Trevor: can be tricky – face for one…

Scott: Read ‘Working with the Thais’ and some others. Don’t touch people, don’t be overly affectionate, say what you need to, keep it even-keeled. Thais will never tell you if you piss them off and it’s confusing. I have done it and still not known how I upset someone. And people will be happy one day and then not come to work ever again the next.

Trevor: Chatting (messenger) is a good way to avoid conflict (rather than walking into the room three meters away).

A good work story: 

Scott: Scott about meeting room at last job and the guy losing face.

Visas, taxes, etc:

Trevor: I found some visa loopholes in the old days. More strict now. Taxes are interesting.

Scott: If regular Thai taxes, they can be expensive – up to 35%, scaled depending on income, if a BOI company then 14% I believe, but you don’t get much as an expat for that. You still pay more at National Parks!

Days off:

Trevor: Amazing, of course! Oh, and I had one company that bought me a return ticket anywhere in Thailand once per year!

Scott: I’ve been pretty lucky and generally had it good but Thai companies can start at six days!

Living and Working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

What people are like:

Trevor: Very chill. Friendly, etc.

Scott: I found them more vocal than Thais – halfway to the Vietnamese


Trevor: Less options than Bangkok. Can be cheaper, but not quite the value I had in Bangkok. Ovens are nice. Installing your own bum-gun is funny. Not as many new high-rise apartments. 

Scott: Was expensive for something ‘western’ – wife renting there

Trevor’s office away from the office, from time to time. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Eating and finding food:

Trevor: Eat more western food here. Longer lunches though. 

Scott: Yep – can’t really eat street food and a single dish is more expensive

Getting around:

Trevor: more bike friendly: less traffic. But less options. Still, much smaller city. 

Scott: Fun, but can get pricey if you don’t have a travel app

Work culture: 

Trevor: Way more casual. Fun. 

Scott: I found them to be inquisitive, straight forward and very hard working.

Culturally, customs and behaviors:

Scott: Didn’t seem as hung up on certain things as other countries, but still not touchy, don’t yell, give people space and don’t cause people to lose face.

A good work story: Beers on first day lunch!

Visas, taxes, etc:

Trevor: Visa still super easy. Just found out that if I want to get vaccinated sooner I need to go get a work permit. Just go get one apparently. Self-employed and done.

Scott: Much easier than other countries. Never understood why make it hard? You can’t draw on the social systems and spend money while in the country.

Days off:

Trevor: Some good day trip stuff, but generally less to do. Less shopping malls than Bangkok is a good thing. 

Scott celebrating his birthday with EXO staff in HCMC Vietnam – 2019

Living and Working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Trevor: note that I lived there 10 years ago and the city has changed immensely. There was far less nightlife in HCMC ten years ago than there was in Phnom Penh. There were no visas for foreigners to study or work there. It was a bit tricky compared to Thailand and Cambodia.

Scott: Shares experiences leading training here and there in HCMC, Hoi An and Hanoi.

What people are like:

Trevor: Not as laid back as Thai and Khmer (or Lao). Friendly, but also more aggressive too. Fist fights over fender benders.

Scott: Super to the point, will ask the hard questions, they get shit done. Half way to being western in that sense. They are not shy about asking the tough questions and putting you on the spot but losing face still applies.


Trevor: Got my place on Craigs list. Otherwise, I lived in a hotel, bc so cheap. I had a great hotel for a while. My room with Tai was pretty good though. 

Eating and finding food:

Trevor: Good. Better than Cambodia but sometimes challenging. Lunches with classmates was amazing. Such a diversity. But more challenging sometimes. Not the one-dish lunch meals that Thailand has. 

Scott: I ate a bit of street food, and you can, but never got to know the dishes well enough but it’s abundant and there are tons of little mom and pop shops and you can eat a great meal for a couple bucks and beer is cheap!

Getting around:

Trevor: Crazy.

Scott: Grab and other apps have made this so much better.

Work culture: 

Trevor: I went to school actually. But that was cool. Very collaborative for an MBA program.

Scott: Hard working, trying to get to the top, very self motivated. Ask lots of questions.

Culturally, customs and behaviors

Trevor: very different

Scott: I don’t really know or understand them. But I’m respectful, don’t touch, don’t mention the west or neighbors too much. This is a good rule of thumb – don’t compare the country you’re in to others in the region too much – people don’t’ find it interesting or appreciate it. 

Visas, taxes, etc:

Back then, no visa’s except tourist visas, no way to open a bank account. I dont even think i rented a motorbike. I lived just north of District 1 and went to school in that area so it’s a pretty walkable city around those parts. 

One good work story: 

Trevor: School story. Cheating and business ethics course. 

Days off:

Trevor: HCMC was pretty boring back then. Not much to do at all. Just do tourist things. Some day trip options but not much too close by. Mui Ne. Chu Chi. That kinda thing. 

Even with a view of the ocean, Trevor get’s work done at another remote location. Soneva Kiri, Koh Kud, Thailand.

Living and Working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Scott: Was here for almost two years and worked for about a year-and-a-half.

What people are like:

Scott: A real mix: the Indian, Chinese and Malay are really different from one another, but great English, quite educated and very western in their outlook and working style.


Scott: Great expat accommodation for about 30-40% less than Thailand. Great value for money.

Eating and finding food:

Scott: Yes – great different foods, but not the street food culture everywhere, no cut fruits, must go to food courts.

Getting around

Scott: The shits. The metro is limited, taxis old/dirty, no motorbike taxis.

Work culture: 

Scott: Pretty western, but breaks for religious holidays, prayer times, etc.

Culturally, customs and behaviors:

Scott: You need to be prepared for three!

Visas, taxes, etc:

Scott: Pretty moderate, you are supposed to be able to claim back your ‘savings’ upon exit but I was not successful.

One good work story: 

Scott: Could only go to a food court serving pork when the Malay wasn’t in and during Ramadan output/GDP falls dramatically.

Living and Working in Bali, Indonesia

What people are like:

Trevor: Balinese are amazingly friendly. Example when I bought my beach cruiser.

Scott: I found them to be very much like people from Myanmar. Great English skills, switched on, hard working, but also soft in certain respectful ways.


Trevor: Awesome – open-air houses with outdoor showers. It’s all villa style. There aren’t any apartments that I ever saw.

Eating and finding food:

Trevor: Amazing. Surprisingly spicy. Great street eats. But then in touristy Seminyak, Ubud, Canggu, amazing hippie food and fancy restaurants for tourists. 

Getting around

Trevor: gotta DIY, which can be challenging/dangerous: Crazy drivers. Me first.

Work culture: 

Trevor: not sure, but visas are tough and visa runs are harder. Gotta renew your visa like 6 months before it expires. 

One good work story: 

Trevor: Doing nightlife in Kuta research.  

Days off:

Trevor: Surf.

Scott conducting a training Myanmar

Living and Working in Seoul, Korea

Trevor: All around the most challenging. Korea was a tricky one. I lived there over three summers, teaching for Kaplan test prep. We were lucky to work for such a good company. That made the biggest difference I think. 

What people are like:

Trevor: Difficult to meet people and make friends. Big language barrier, everyone busy, including me. 


Trevor: The problem living in Korea is that you need to pay 2 YEARS deposit on an apartment. So much summer teachers get crammed into crappy little dorm rooms, but our company managed to hook us up with pretty nice apartments every summer. Three to a room. I probably had to share a room at least one of the years too. But we lived and worked in Gangnam so we had it pretty good.

Eating and finding food:

Trevor: All about the lunch sets. Very business oriented. Busy but efficient restaurants. After work, another story. Go out as a group, eat, drink, pass out, repeat.

Work Culture:

Trevor: Six-day weeks was tough but the pay was good. Quite strict. No late, dress well, quick lunch, do your paperwork correctly.

Culturally, customs and behaviors:

Trevor: Very structured but I’m a foreigner. 

Visas, taxes, etc:

Trevor: Great pay. Teachers don’t pay tax. 3% maybe

Days off:

Trevor: Get drunk in Itewon on sat night and hit the Casino on Sunday.

Impressions of other cities/countries: Japan, China, Myanmar, Singapore.

Laos: I did some writing in Laos. Used to spend a lot of time in LP too. Almost moved there. Had to marry a Lao woman as a prerequisite I was told. Was to be introduced to my friend’s wife’s sisters and friends…

Scott and Trevor enjoy an evening off together. Box Office, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Learn more about Scott & Trevor

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