Digital Nomad in Malaysia: Underrated Country!

I ended up with an impromptu last minute flight to Kuala Lumpur and quickly fell in love with the city. I can’t believe that more people are not talking about this place.  It’s the only other place I’ve been in Asia that is comparable with Chiang Mai.

I haven’t been here long, and currently don’t know whether I will be able to go back to Chiang Mai or will end up staying here – I will tell that story in a moment – so time will tell, but first few days impression are very good.

How did I end up in Malaysia?

I was trying to renew my Thai visa and stay in Chiang Mai. The original 180 day double entry visa had expired and I had extended for 1 additional month, so I had to get out of Thailand in order to get a new one. I had a (mostly self-inflicted) nightmare which I will talk about in another post, but it came down to this;

I’d already overstayed in Thailand by a day and needed to get out ASAP so furiously researching flights and locations at 9pm Friday night, I end up on a flight to Kuala Lumpur at 8am Saturday morning. Good times.

I chose KL because the flight was cheapish (£90) and it was somewhere I hadn’t been, the only cheaper options were Laos and Cambodia; I’ve done both of those countries and wanted to go somewhere better equipped for working, plus the fact I don’t need a visa for Malaysia offset the extra cost of the flight, so KL here I come!

Kuala Lumpur first impressions

I actually didn’t know that much about Kuala Lumpur or Malaysia before I came. I assumed it was going to be fairly expensive and more like a western city. I was wrong on the first count but right on the second, which is precisely why I am surprised more people aren’t talking about it online.

I love the buzz of the city, it has that raw productive energy of a big city. Everywhere else I have been in Asia is and feels much more laid back and provides a lazy way of life. I don’t mind that, it vibes well with my personality, but being in and around a buzz that I haven’t seen since I left London has been a welcome change.

Bangkok doesn’t have the same energy. It has a heck of a lot of energy, but it feels like misdirected chaos rather than productivity. Kuala Lumpur functions like a city in the west would. I loved being around this energy.

Kuala Lumpur to Live and Work

I was only in town for a week, so I don’t know full details about living their. I know that, being British, I get a 3 month visa exemption, obviously that will differ for most nationalities, but as I was in Malaysia due to visa issues in Thailand, a long period of not having to worry about it is certainly appealing.

Housing is very cheap from what I gather. I saw a couple of local girl’s places and they were both very nice, in the 2 nicest areas of KL and extremely cheap – actually cheaper than living in Chiang Mai for the same quality. For perspective, a similar quality place in London would be at least 10 times as expensive.

Food is excellent and also very cheap. The local Malaysian and Indian food runs about the same price as food in Thailand £1-2 per meal, but you get about 50% more food and twice as much meat. Plus it is absolutely delicious. I would rank it above Thai food. Especially if you like meat and you’re training, you don’t have to eat double meals in Malaysia!

I didn’t meet many nomads living in KL, so the cafe/working scene was just what I happened to bump in to in the areas I was, which was very good. The coffee is very tasty, cheap enough and there is a cool cafe scene with a lot of interesting, unique spots and Starbucks has free wifi (unlike Thailand) which is always nice as a reliable and familiar option.

While I didn’t meet any remote workers, there are A LOT of expats. Apparently only 60% of the city are Malaysian. It’s a very diverse city with people from all over Asia and the west living and working there.

Malaysia is a Muslim country, which may be responsible for it not being talked about much, I can’t comment myself but it may not have such appeal for women to live there. However in KL there is so much diversity it doesn’t really negatively effect being able to live the typical western lifestyle, at least on the surface.

The nightlife is a bit crappy, possibly because it is orientated purely toward tourists and expats. It was expensive and tacky. I went out down the main bar street twice and didn’t especially enjoy the scene. I also saw 3 fights in about 2 hours which is reminiscent of my home town rather than anywhere I’ve ever lived by choice. I wasn’t in a rush to go out again.

Moving on to Penang

KL has a lot going for it, both as a travel destination and as a practical location for the remote worker. I was there for about 1 week and really enjoyed my time. I will be going back soon.

When I left Kuala Lumpur I went to Penang for a few days. I was there predominantly to get my new Thai visa and again didn’t really know anything about the place before arriving. Turns out it is a really interesting city, the old colonial area of George Town features windy little streets, is artsy, with even better (and cheaper!) food than KL and is full of backpackers.

I really liked the quiet little streets and the massive amounts of coffee shops around. It’s also super cheap to stay there. As I was only in town for a couple of days I didn’t really explore or do much – I just set up in a coffee shop, slammed some modafinil and worked all day. Again, I plan to go back at a later date, when I actually want to travel. To explore the city and the rest of the country.

Impressions of Malaysia

I like it and will be going back. The food is excellent and very cheap, the cost of living is very low and outside of the city its an exceptionally beautiful, completely green country. Kuala Lumpur has an awesome buzz and a bit of the big city life that I will admit to missing.

I want to explore more and see what the country has to offer. I would recommend checking it out if you’re a digital nomad. Especially if you are British – they even have proper three pronged plugs as well as a 3 month visa exemption. Pretty much everything you could possibly ask for as a Brit abroad.

See you again, Malaysia.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Getting started on your journey as a digital nomad? 

Download The Ultimate Digital Nomad Starter Guide: a handy checklist detailing everything you need to take, not take, set up, remember to do before you leave, and get organised so you hit the ground running smoothly in your new life. 

Like it? Share the love
  • Where did u stay when you were in KL?
    I am working in Mid Valley. Yes indeed Malaysia has lots to eat.
    I am Michael from Malaysia. A food lover. Let me know when you drop by KL again. Cheers.

    • Hey Michael,

      I stayed all over the place, moving around a lot. Was just visiting for a month. I like the city, it’s cool.
      Thanks for commenting.

  • Bran

    I think KL, and Malaysia in general, blows Thailand out of the water. KL is a much more manageable and livable city than Bangkok and much more reasonably priced than Singapore.

    I’ve heared KL referred to as the “poor man’s Singapore” but any luxury that could be had in Singapore can be had in KL.

    The visa situation is also much more reasonable than Thailand’s which seems to be wanting to get rid of visa-running farang.

  • Hey there – where were the cheap areas in KL that you spoke about? Thanks

    • Accommodation is cheap everywhere in Malaysia