The 11 best countries in Asia for escaping the West, ranked

I’ve lived in Asia for most of my adult life. I’ve visited a lot of countries and met people who’ve lived in others. That said, this is just my opinion.

I have not spent a lot of time in all these countries, as reflected in the ‘epistemic status’ star rating. If you know more, please contribute in the comments. Or keep it secret if you’d prefer not to be swamped by desperate readers of the People’s Blog.

You might find that a lower-ranked country actually suits you best. For example, Japan is my personal preference but I’ve downgraded it here for cost of living.

I’m thinking, for the average Westerner wanting to flee at short notice, what’s the cheapest, easiest, nicest and least challenging option? If expense, difficulty and challenge are cool with you, your ranking will differ.

I’ve left out Myanmar, Laos and Brunei because I know next to nothing about them. My impression is there’s not a lot there – perfect if you like that. North Korea is also excluded.

11. China
https://s1.ibtimes.com/sites/www.ibtimes.com/files/styles/full/public/2014/02/22/biejing-smog.jpg
Beijing

Epistemic Status:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Cost of Living:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Friendliness to Westerners:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Safety/Rule of Law

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve only visited China a couple of times, but know many people who have lived there long term. Those who lived there 10+ years ago have positive things to say, those there more recently not so much.

In addition to growing more expensive and very polluted, China is becoming anti-foreigner in all sorts of petty ways. It’s now hard just to buy a train ticket, for example. During the Corona scare, foreigners were not being allowed into supermarkets.

This is a phase China goes through every so often and it will pass. In the meantime, avoid unless you’ve got some really good reason to go.

It’s extremely difficult to get long-term residency in China even if you are married with Chinese kids, own property and never once make a Pooh Bear joke.

Low-level English teachers will probably fly under the radar but if you’re a prominent businessman or similar, you may fall victim to hostage diplomacy or get arrested by someone trying to pinch your business. Anyone might be at risk if your country is put on China’s shit list.

Note to thick-headed Australians: DO NOT MOVE TO CHINA.

10. Indonesia
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/-MZzeIcxieY/maxresdefault.jpg

Epistemic Status:

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

Cost of Living:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Never been there. My impression is that it’s like the Philippines but a bit Muslim. Can I get some help here? No doubt it would get bumped up the ratings if I knew more about it.

9. Malaysia
https://i0.wp.com/static.asiawebdirect.com/m/kl/portals/malaysia-maps-com/homepage/kl/klcc-map/pagePropertiesImage/klcc.jpg.jpg
Kuala Lumpur

Epistemic Status:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Cost of Living:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have visited twice. It was a bit rough around the edges the first time, many years ago, and the Malays in particular did not go out of their way to be friendly. Malevolent glares and all that. Chinese Malaysians tend to treat Australians like their retarded cousins, which I guess we are.

The second time, KL was far more developed and there was a peaceful vibe both between the local groups and towards foreigners.

Be aware that Malaysia is not perfectly safe. There are muggings in the suburbs.

Overall, you could probably find a niche here if you’re looking for a more developed home.

Note: Sabah (northern Borneo) is stunning and pretty friendly, not so Muslim as the peninsula.

8. Cambodia
https://sovietmen.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/afd9e-angkor11.jpg
Angkor Wat

Epistemic Status:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Cost of Living:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Friendliness to Westerners:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Safety/Rule of Law:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Expats in the Philippines tend to see Cambodia as the Wild West, and expats in Cambo see the Philippines the same way. Both are right but the expats in the Philippines are righter.

Cambodia is more civilized than it once was but do be careful. Don’t wander around drunk on your own late at night. Don’t get into an argument with a local. In fact, take care around the expats, too.

If you want a cheap lifestyle but don’t want to be constrained by Duterte’s strictures, Cambodia might be for you.

My main concern is rising Chinese domination. Some nice towns have already been destroyed and others are going the same way.

For now the visa situation is fairly liberal but that is likely to change as the country develops. Foreign men aged over 50 are not allowed to marry local women.

If you’re too scared to live there, make sure you at least visit Angkor Wat. It truly is a wonder of the world.

7. Vietnam
https://www.bakermckenzie.com/-/media/images/locations/vietnam1.jpg

Epistemic Status:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Friendliness towards Westerners:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Cost of living:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

In general Vietnamese are not wildly fond of Westerners (for some reason) and you can find yourself in a heated disagreement quite easily, but lately they’re becoming pro-American because of encroaching Chinese power.

Girls are friendly but guys seeing you with a girl who looks Vietnamese are not friendly.

I could do with some help on this one.

6. Singapore
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/business/2017/12/20/Singapore-Ors-Jakab-xlarge_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqNJjoeBT78QIaYdkJdEY4CnGTJFJS74MYhNY6w3GNbO8.jpg

Epistemic Status:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Cost of Living:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Friendliness to Westerners:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Safety/Rule of Law:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What can I say? If you want to live in a modern, safe, convenient international city-state, this is it. You’ll need a pretty good income to get by. Achieving permanent residency is tough these days.

5. South Korea
https://i2.wp.com/cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/25/750x445/783804.jpg

Epistemic Status:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Cost of living:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Friendliness to Westerners:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Safety/Rule of Law

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you’re desperate to get out and do whatever, South Korea currently offers the best saving potential for fly-by-night English teachers in terms of salary vs cost of living. Jobs vary from appalling to pretty good – check the reviews. Be aware that working for Koreans is a special experience.

Older Koreans are friendlier to Westerners than the young. That said, it’s unlikely anyone will bother you unless you run into a belligerent drunk, and everyone’s fine once they get to know you.

If you’re into cold winters and hearty Korean food, this is the place for you.

4. Japan
https://lonelyplanetimages.imgix.net/mastheads/65179079.jpg?sharp=10&vib=20&w=1200

Epistemic Status:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Cost of Living:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Friendliness to Westerners:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Safety/Rule of Law:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you’re prepared to cough up the cash, this is by far the most economically and culturally developed part of Asia. Having said that, deflation means that it is not so expensive as it once was. You can get by on an unqualified English teacher’s salary but not save as much as in Korea.

Again, older people are friendlier than younger people and country people are friendlier than city people. No one will be rude. They are not an open people – it takes time to get used to and some foreigners never gel.

Unless you’re happy to stay in a gaijin bubble, you’ll need to learn some Japanese and figure out their cultural habits. English will not get you far.

It is possible to gain permanent residence after ten years but it is harder than in the past. They seem to be trying to limit the numbers by any pretext due to the recent influx of workers from Korea and the Philippines who they don’t want hanging around.

3. Thailand

Epistemic Status:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Cost of Living:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Friendliness to Westerners:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thailand is more developed compared to its cost-of-living peers and has an excellent health-care system.

You might be wondering why Thailand only gets 3 stars for friendliness and got pipped by the less-developed Philippines.

Thais are very friendly and smile a lot, but that is good manners for them. They tend not to be frank and forthright.

Also, the visa situation is getting trickier in Thailand and rules frequently change.

If you can sort out your visa, understand the culture and pay a slight premium, life is probably easier in Thailand than the Philippines. It depends on you.

2. The Philippines
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/M0bH1gk1kac/maxresdefault.jpg

Epistemic status

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Cost of Living:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Friendliness to Westerners:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Safety/Rule of Law:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Outside of the giant cities, the Philippines offers a pleasant life at low cost. Beaches, mountains, rivers and bucolic villages.

It’s not for everyone. If you can’t stand barking dogs, crowing roosters (raised en masse for cock fighting), karaoke, three adjacent groups on the beach each playing their own music and litter/dog poo/spitting etc., this might not be the place for you.

Filipinos are very friendly to foreigners so long as you don’t spend all your time complaining about the matters above. Pay extra for Western-oriented lodgings or learn to live with Filipinos being Filipinos in their own country.

The Philippines is not Western, but it is a Christian and straightforward culture that Westerners can adapt to fairly easily.

Ensure you have a secure place to live (if you have stuff) and never get into an argument with a native or make him lose face. Don’t go to western Mindanao.

You can get by with English plus a smattering of the vernacular.

1. Taiwan
https://www.azamara.com/sites/default/files/heros/hualien-taiwan.jpg
Taroko Gorge

Epistemic status:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Cost of Living:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Friendliness to Westerners:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Safety/Rule of Law:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Taiwan is usually not on anyone’s radar in Asia. It’s tucked away there, small and forgotten.

In fact, Taiwan is a great place to live. Friendly, developed, but surprisingly inexpensive, it enjoys a level of public safety equivalent to Japan and rugged, remote wilderness areas to explore.

The cost of living can be very low if you have a scooter rather than a car, eat local food, party in moderation and avoid hotels. Camping trips are almost free.

Taiwanese are very welcoming to foreigners so long as you do not make a nuisance of yourself.

The one massive advantage of living in Taiwan compared to other Asian nations is that it is not too difficult to become a citizen.

I didn’t love Taiwan at first, but once I got my scooter license, found the local trails and farmers’ markets and knew some restaurants and how to order, it was pretty idyllic. Air pollution can be intense in eastern seaboard cities but.

The one big problem with Taiwan is that, like Westerners, many inhabitants are keeping an eye out for an alternative home should the shit sibling next door ruin everything. It’s unlikely that an invasion will happen soon, but who knows.

As I said, your two bob is welcome.

For more corporeal information about these locations and others, see Naughty Nomad.

Please let me know if you’d like to write a guest post about another region. Eastern Europe? Latin America? The Caribbean? The Subcontinent? Scratch that last one. Anyway, be in touch.


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Also available on many other platforms.

16 comments

  1. luisman · October 29

    Reblogged this on Nicht-Linke Blogs.

    Like

  2. luisman · October 29

    Around 20+ years ago I had a flight booked to Indonesia, return flight 4 weeks later. Spent a few days in Jakarta, then took the train to Yogyakarta to visit Borobodur, which was worth it. Then shipped over to Bali, where I met more Aussies in a day than in my whole life before 😉 But the constant high humidity killed me, made me sick, my clothes wouldn’t dry for 3 days, etc. So I bought a ticket to the Philippines to spend the last 10 days of my vacation in my favourite spot.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kentucky Headhunter · October 29

    I saw today that the Malaysian Prime Minister said that muslims had a perfect right to behead French Christians in France because reasons.

    Just from internet pics its looks like Thai girls are prettier than girls in the Philippines.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · October 30

      I don’t think they’ll chop your head off in Malaysia. I know a Malay girl who gets around town without consequence. Mahathir is a bit like Duterte, no filter on anything he says. He is Asia crazy old uncle.

      Like

      • Wolf · October 30

        I spent a few months in Malaysia. Exclusively hung out with Chinese and Indians. The Malays don’t take their Islam as seriously as people in the mideast but enough for it to be somewhat of a barrier.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. dickycone · October 30

    I’ll probably never go to SEA, but this was still very interesting.

    About Filipinos and noise, would you say that the cultural rule is “anyone can make as much noise as they want at any time for any reason”? That’s how it is everywhere I’ve been in Central America, except maybe Costa Rica. Loud parties on work nights that go to 3:00am, fireworks all hours of the day and night, evangelical churches getting up at 5:00am to loudly pray in the street with a loudspeaker, advertising trucks that drive slowly through your colonia blaring ads at Metallica concert volumes, etc. It’s maddening and one of the main reasons I’d like to not have millions more Latinos in the US, but like you say, when it’s them being themselves in their own countries, you really can’t complain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · October 30

      There are noise laws but they are not always enforced. I’ve heard people bust out the karaoke machine at 6am and in the airport everyone listens to YouTube without earphones.
      I think the philosophy is tolerance and conflict avoidance – people don’t like to pass judgement on others whether it’s blaring church services all day, unmarried girls getting pregnant or gay couples staying in a hotel.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wolf · October 30

      Filipinos are the noisiest people I’ve met. For example, they’ll yell loudly to call someone in another room rather than walk a few meters. They really are more Latin-like than Asian.

      Indonesia is more organized and cleaner than the Philippines. The Philippines has fallen behind every country in Southeast Asia. Probably cause they’ve exported 10% of their most capable population. And the other talented fraction focused on BPOs which bring in cash but doesn’t do much for the dev of the country. Or it maybe it’s related to their worship of American culture.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Nikolai Vladivostok · October 30

        They were developing for a while there until the lockdowns. Now the economy’s back in the shitter.
        Having lived here, I can see the impediments to growth and know how hard it is to change. Even that land title system is a mess. It is very sad.
        Little known fact: the Philippines once gave aid to South Korea.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Tim H · October 30

    I lived/worked in China for 7 years. It was a lot better before Xi Xinping but I would still rate it higher than you have, I was easily able to save half my salary and still live well. The safest place I have ever been. Cities such as Chongqing and Chengdu are my favorites as the mountains are high and the Emporer is far away. They seem to run themselves. Kunming and Yunnan province are excellent. I found Chinese women to be much more honest than women in the Philippines, the only other country I spent significant time in. I thought the Phils should be the poster child for urban blight and endless shakedowns for money. An impoverished third world armpit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dickycone · October 30

      When I was working in the former USSR, I worked with an American guy who spent years in China. He said that you get a lot of hostility from the locals if you have a Chinese girlfriend. Does that sound accurate? Interestingly, the Russians and Ukrainians are the exact opposite. They almost get offended if you don’t have a local girlfriend.

      Other than that, he said that in the entire time he was in China there were maybe one or two times he felt unsafe in the sense that he might be physically assaulted by a local, whereas in the FSU it was more like one or two times a week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tim H · October 30

        I was constantly being fixed up with women by my Chinese colleagues, usually not my type but it was very kind of them. I don’t think that is usually the case as every foreigner I knew had a girlfriend or wife. China’s a big place and I lived in big cities. Likely true in rural areas, as lots of them have never seen a foreigner before. I once had a woman stand on a bus trip for 2 hours because she was afraid to sit in the open seat next to me; looked at me in terrror. US Embassy states that China has a sharp urban rural divide which is quite an understatement.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · October 30

      I think it comes down to aesthetics. I find China gaudy and tasteless but appreciate the cheerfulness and easy-going nature of the Philippines provinces. Others will be the opposite.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dickycone · October 30

        I get what you mean. I liked the “wild west” nature of Ukraine and the poorer Central American countries I’ve lived in, although the Central American countries were a little too dangerous for comfort. The Philippines sounds like it might have a better balance between pleasant chaos and actual danger.

        On the other hand, although I loved Costa Rica the times I’ve visited, but I’ve heard American expats say the relative order and development there make the country less interesting because it doesn’t have as much character as the wilder, less-developed parts of Central America. I haven’t spent enough time there to say, myself. I did spend several months in Switzerland when I was much younger and that’s a great example of a country that’s beautiful but far too orderly and quiet to be much fun.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Where NOT to expatriate | SovietMen

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