My 4 month Journey in Southeast Asia as a Digital Nomad: Malaysia
The home of a well-connected society where cultures fuse into one.
Before I wrote a post about why I ditched the office to work remotely.
It was because I hated where I was in life. And I felt sick of everything. I just wanted to go someplace else to work and do the things I want to do.
So I stepped out. And within 24 hours, I found myself feeling mesmerized by the bustling roads, glorious night markets, and the utopian scene of Southeast Asia. Very different from the flat, organized lifestyle of the US. Because every day felt like a breath of fresh air — one where I felt more relaxed, more focused, and more motivated (than ever) to learn about the world that goes way beyond our screens.
This is my journey. And what I’m about to share with you are my struggles, my thoughts and the lessons I’ve learned as I immerse myself into a new world.
Let’s start with my 1st destination: Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur)
Malaysia, the “Asian” melting pot
Malaysia is like the Asian “twin” of the US. I say this, because you literally bump roads with people from all ethnicities — the 3 most dominant being Malay (>50% of the population), Chinese (>25% of the population), and Indian (>10% of the population).
Even though I LOVE being in a diversified crowd and would probably feel homesick if I didn’t, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy when I took my 1st step into Malaysia’s airport.
80% of the crowd were guys, which actually didn’t scare me. What did was their long, awkward stare. And I thought maybe I had something on my face or there was an obvious splotch on my top. But as it turns out, more than 60% of the Malaysia population are Muslim — meaning most women wore a hijab (head scarf) and an abaya (a long robe-like dress).
As for me, I’d be wearing something short like this.
No wonder I got so many stares…
Anyways, I just shrugged it off and decided to use this “welcome” feeling to keep myself on “high alert.” Because if you haven’t heard, pickpocketing is quite common in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — especially with foreign tourists. And to be extremely honest, I thought I’d be a prime target. For one, I’m a girl. And two, I’m by myself. Which is why I’d always turn my head around, every 10 seconds or so, to see if anyone was close to my backpack.
Luckily, I never became a victim. :)
I gotta give it to my well-thought-out plans (which I do the night before) to help me visualize where I wanted to go and how to get there. Typically, that’d be open door cafes or cute, modern coffeeshops. Like what you see here:
Pie shops too! 😛
I’d use these spaces as my “temporary” office for the day.
It’s super nice, because they’re remarkably cheaper than renting a desk for $7+/day or $120+/month at co-working spaces. And I’m talking about those fancy, spacious ones. Not the tiny cramped up offices with metal-wired chairs or no windows.
Well…I did initially plan on working at a co-working space, but something felt nice about flocking from coffeeshop to coffeeshop. I could grab a bite to eat, order a drink, work for the next 3–4 hours, and then spend the rest of my day exploring the city. It’s super convenient, especially if you’re looking for a cheap place to work, because you’ll literally find dozens of cafes/coffeeshops on every corner. And almost all of them provide free wifi — usually ranging from 10–30 mbps.
Surprisingly, a lot of restaurants give free wifi too.
But in spite of all the amazing perks I just mentioned about working at cafes/coffeeshops, one thing frustrated me. And that was:
Medium is BANNED from Malaysia.
Wait. What?! How did that happen?
As it turns out, a London-based site called “Sarawak Report” wrote a post that revealed what the Malaysia government was up to. And when the government ordered Medium to take down the post, Medium refused, for clarification reasons. The very next day, Malaysia permanently banned Medium.
SOOOOO I had to deal with this:
Thank god for VPN servers (I used Express VPN to get access to Medium). Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to write and see your comments. :(
It’s actually one of the things I look most forward to after publishing.
But don’t worry, I didn’t exhaust my brain by writing all day. I promised myself, when I arrived in Southeast Asia, that I’d give a generous portion of my time to explore the most-talked-about tourist spots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
I remember asking my Malaysian friend, “what’s the coolest thing to see here in Malaysia?” The first (and most upfront) answer I ever got: Batu Caves.
Batu Caves is like the sacred place for Hindu’s in Malaysia. It’s symbolized by the giant golden statue of Lord Murugan (as you can see in the photo), which is ridiculously tall and expensive. From what I read, it costed 24 million Rupees to make — that’s $366,944 USD!
You’ll need to take 272 steps before you can see the inside of the cave, which is beautifully encrusted by 400 million year layers of limestone. Really cool if you’re into rocks or science.
By the way, if you have (or had) heart problems or are extremely afraid of heights, I don’t advise you to go up. But for those who are physically and mentally able to, be prepared to sweat. It’s a pretty intense workout!
Once you get to the top though, the rewards are unforgettable! You get a souvenir shop, a few Hindu shrines, and the chance to see a bunch of monkeys, birds, and bats. 🙂 I don’t advise messing with the monkeys, they might bite!
My favorite part was reaching the end of the cave, because you get to glance up at a clear sky through the “lens” of the cave. It was absolutely breathtaking.
Highly recommend Batu Caves for first timers!
Half-day tours are $11.
68100 Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia
Petronas Twin Towers
This is Malaysia’s crown jewel, ranked as the world’s tallest building from 1998 to 2004 (until Taipei 101 was created). Petronas Twin Towers was designed solely to mirror the country’s high tech ambition to enter the global economy and to reflect Malaysia’s cultural heritage.
What I found fascinating about this 88th story building was that it accommodates: a huge shopping mall, a showroom for performances, an aquarium, and a discovery center. I mean, gee, what can be cooler than that? :)
Unless you’re there to shop!
Or want to get a great view from the Skybridge and Observation Deck (86th floor) for $21.25 USD (85 MYR/adult) and $8.75 USD (35 MYR/child).
Closed on Mondays & Fridays (between 1–2:30pm)
Shopping mall is open daily, 10am-10pm
Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50088 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Petaling Street (Chinatown)
I love haggling, especially when things are already cheap. That’s why I had to take a trip to Petaling Street, the original Chinatown of Malaysia, which is pretty much scattered with street vendors, food stalls, restaurants, and eager shoppers.
One trick I learned when shopping here is not to show any enthusiasm for the item you want. Just mindlessly ask the vendor how much this cost, what that cost, then set a price. Whatever offer the vendor returns, you can haggle it down 30–40% of the original price. If they’re stubborn about it, just walk away — there’s a chance they might call you back to sell the item you want at your price.
So if you’re looking for cheap clothes, jewelry, sunglasses, watches, belts, DVDs, toys, little souvenirs, fake brand bags, Petaling Street has them all!
Cost: Depends on how much cash is in your wallet.
Jalan Petaling, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Alor Street Food Night Market
Alor Street Food Night Market is probably my favorite night market! It’s a bustling outdoor food court that has some of the most amazing grilled stingray, cereal prawns, skewers, durian, and cheese cakes. I definitely recommend this place to those who always crave for seafood or local Chinese food.
Just be sure to bring plenty of money (AND don’t keep it all in one pocket for pickpocketing reasons). Because you will buy more than your stomach requests. ;)
Cost: Depends on how much your stomach can handle.
Daily, 24 hours (peak hours from 8–11pm)
Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Last but not least…
I want to end this post raving about the exquisite taste of Malaysian food!
Now, it’s hard to say what Malaysian food really is, since it’s a little bit of Indian, a bit of Thai, a hint of Indonesian, partially Chinese and for the most part, Singaporean. Basically every Southeast Asian cuisine you can think of, infused together.
Quick note: If you don’t know already, I spend hours everyday just browsing on Yelp and food blogs to find THE BEST foods in town. And these are foods Malaysians eat that I truly think is worth a try.
Nasi Lemak is the comfort food for Malaysians, similar to how burgers and fries are for Americans. It’s a fragrant rice dish served with sambal (chili-based sauce made from fried anchovies or prawns), sliced cucumbers, half of a hard-boiled egg, peanuts, and dried anchovies. You can pick any variation of meat: beef, chicken, prawn, curry, or fried chicken (like what I ordered here) if you want the whole shebang. It’s extremely delicious, not to mention, very nutritious.
Best Nasi Lemak:
Village Park Restaurant
5, Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
If you like to know more about the origins of Nasi Lemak, my Malaysian friend shared this cool 3-min video!
Boat noodles are actually a Thai-style noodle dish that’s becoming more popular in Malaysia. I got to try these three-gulps-and-its-gone bowls from Boat Noodle, Thailand’s most famous noodle soup restaurant for about $0.50 each.
Woo! What a deal, right?!
Considering how cheap these boat noodle bowls are, it’s not too surprising to see people stacking 4–8 of these bowls on top of each other and waving at the server to order more. Luckily, I got to share 7 bowls with my friend (what, you think I could eat all that myself?!). And I just love sipping the broth, because they richly simmer it with pork or beef, dark soy sauce, pickled bean curd, and a bunch of spices.
Best boat noodles:
Boat Noodle (there’re many chain stores)
02–49–10 & 02–49–11, 2nd Floor, Berjaya Times Square 1, Jalan Imbi, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Okay, this isn’t food but it’s worth mentioning on this list. This is Teh Tarik, Malaysian’s most famous tea drink or what I’d describe it as the “offspring” of coffee and milk tea. It was created by Indian-Muslim immigrants who set up drink stalls on the Malay Peninsula to serve to WWII workers. And now these drinks are available in almost every cafe or restaurant, particularly the 24-hour Indian-Muslim eateries, where you enjoy it with roti prata (a round Indian crepe).
Extremely addicting! Drink at your own risk!
Best Teh Tarik:
To be honest, the best ones come from the 24-hour Indian-Muslim eateries. But if you do know any better ones, let me know in the comments. :)
Looks like a fish. Feels like a fish. Tastes like a fish.
But it shocked me when I heard my friend say it was a stingray. If you guys never had this exotic seafood before, think of a meaty, buttery seabass. Sounds scrumptious, right? And something you can only find in hawker centers or the night markets of Malaysia — notably Jalan Alor. Best of all, it only cost $8 USD (so cheap!).
Best Grilled Stingray:
Restoran Meng Kee Grill Fish
39, Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Close your eyes and imagine a rich, fragrant soup simmered in a creamy coconut milk broth. As you dig your chopsticks, you uncover long, chewy white noodles, fish balls, fried tofu puffs, beansprouts, thinly sliced cucumbers, cilantro, sambal and mini kaffir limes.
Yup, that’s laksa for you. Just one version among the many combinations you can try in Malaysia. And just know that this is Malaysians’ favorite noodle dish. You don’t want to miss this one out.
Best laksa noodles:
From mom & pop stalls on the streets.
The one I got here is from “Limapulo: Baba Can Cook”, details are listed below.
Mon-Sat, 12–3pm and 6–10pm
50, Jalan Doraisamy, Chow Kit, 50300 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Even though Hainan chicken is the national dish of Singapore, it’s an appetizing comfort food amongst many Malaysians. The chicken is super moist and juicy, and usually served with some cucumbers, soy sauce, chili sauce and complimentary soup. If you ever get Hainan chicken, MAKE sure you get the chicken rice (it’s what makes this dish 10x better!).
Here in Malaysia, you can order the roast chicken alternative of this Hainan chicken dish (which I personally like more). :)
Best Hainan Chicken:
Loke Yun Chicken Rice Restaurant
Daily, 10:30am-3pm and 5:30pm-8:30pm
158 Jalan Besar Ampang, Pekan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, 68000
Bak Kut Teh
Bak kut teh (literal translation: meat bone soup) is a pork rib dish that’s simmered in a complex of herbs and spices for hours. With that said, it’s swimming with flavor and normally eaten in the morning as a “light” breakfast (or so my Malaysian friend says) with a plate of rice and you tiao (strips of fried dough). I can’t tell you how much of a balloon I felt after walking out of the restaurant.
Best Bak Kut Teh:
Teluk Pulai Pottery Bak Kut Teh
32, Jalan Batai Laut 5, Taman Intan, 41300 Klang, Selangor, Malaysia
I didn’t realize how much I loved crab until I had a bite of this Singaporean (but prevalent in Malaysia) dish: chili crab. It’s not just the succulent crab that got me hooked, but this incredible tangy, sweet tomato-chili sauce that I was literally throwing over my rice, fried buns, dipping my vegetables in, that did.
The entire crab for the price of 84 RM ($21 USD). 😳
How are people so skinny here?!
Best Chili Crab:
Mei Keng Fatt Seafood Restaurant
Daily, 11:30am-2:30pm and 4pm-2:30am
No. 1, Lorong Awan 6, Kuala Ampang, 68000 Ampang, Selangor, Malaysia
Sorry, this isn’t Malaysian at all. BUT I HAVE TO MENTION IT somewhere!
This is Baked, the holy grail of cheese tarts made in Hokkaido, Japan. If you’re a huge fan of cheesecakes or mini-pies like I am, this cheese tart is going to blow your freaking mind. I’m not kidding! I wasn’t satisfied after eating one, or two. I actually ordered half a dozen to keep myself happy for the next 12 hours. That’s how addicting they are!
Best Baked Cheese Tarts:
Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart (there’re more chain stores)
LK01C LG floor, Jalan SS 16/1, Ss 16, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Of course, one month isn’t enough for me to explore every single delicacy or activity Malaysia has to offer. But if you’re dying to know more about what to do or eat in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, check out Mark Wien's (my new favorite vblogger!). He has some great recommendations:
My last thoughts about Malaysia
Malaysia is definitely the first place I’d recommend for solo travelers and digital nomads. Work or visit.
- Everyone speaks English there (at least in Kuala Lumpur).
- You can live comfortably for less than $650/month, including a room, utility bills, food, transportation, and misc activities.
- There’s plenty of coffeeshops and cafes with decent wifi.
- It’s pretty damn convenient to get around to places — with Uber, the bus, and the Skytrain.
You won’t ever be bored in Malaysia. Because there’s plenty of shopping malls, night markets, and people to watch (I discovered this is something locals like to do) to keep you entertained. But if you feel stressed or burnt out, try a massage. Chaang Thai Massage gave me the best one I’ve ever felt in my entire lifetime (the Sports Therapy massage).
Oh and make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen. Malaysia is scorching HOT, like 90–95C degrees the whole day.
I learned my lesson after getting 4 shades darker. :(
But besides that, Malaysia is truly the perfect place to revitalize your energy and fire up the adventurous you.
So how about it?
My rating on Malaysia
Accessible and fast wifi — 8/10
Food — 9.2/10
Convenience (getting around) — 7.7/10
Fun — 8.3/10
Cost of living — $650/month