Over the last year Tanya and I have travelled through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Taiwan. Right now we're back in Australia with our families enjoying the Australian summer and looking forward to a baking hot Christmas. We're also in the process of planning for next year.
Think About The Future
While its been great living out of our backpacks and being able to carry everything we own on our backs we're rapidly approaching the day when we'll want something resembling an actual home. The novelty of being an international hobo has begun to wear thin and by the second half of 2013 I suspect we will have had our fill. This doesn't mean an end to travelling. What is means is the establishment of a base for future exploration.
Here's how we think it will work. We spend some time, let's say one to three months, hanging out in our base resting up. We head somewhere else for a few months, let's say Poland. Back to base for a while. Then we go somewhere else, say Vietnam. Then we pop back to Australia to see the family. Then back to base.
Our base would be somewhere we could hang out for a few weeks to a few months at a time. It would also be a forward starting point for international travel as Australia is a long way from most places. It could be either a room or an apartment that we would potentially rent all year even though we would be away half the time. Alternatively it could be a place we come back to and rent a room short term over and over. In that case we wouldn't be able to store anything there but at least it would be somewhere familiar and comfortable.
Right now, the front runner is Kuala Lumpur (KL). It's funny really. When we first went there neither of us particularly liked KL but it has definitely grown on us. Kuala Lumpur has these things going for it:
- Reasonable cost of living. Rent and food are all significantly less than Australia. There are cheaper places to live in the world but Malaysia is very reasonable.
- Good food. There's great Malay, Chinese and Indian food to be had in Malaysia. Roti Canai and Nasi Lemak are two of my favourite foods and both are available for cheap all over KL. Kuala Lumpur is also a fairly international city so western food is available when we want it.
- Good public transport. The trains and buses around KL and the rest of Malaysia are really good in our experience.
- Kuala Lumpur is a major airline hub. This is a big one. Flights from many locations in the region, including Australia, involve first taking a flight to KL then catching a separate onward flight. By starting in KL we can save ourselves a lot of time and money. Air Asia has it's head quarters in KL.
- English is commonly spoken and learning the national language, Bahasa Malaysia, is relatively straight forward when compared to something like Mandarin.
- Malaysia's visa situation is remarkably sane. Citizens of many countries, including Australia, get 3 months. None of that two weeks to thirty days “you need an onward ticket” “your time is up, stop spending money and get out” shenanigans that you may find in some other places. 3 months. Come back as often as you like.
- Close proximity and direct flights to Western Australia. Being able to dart home with minimal hassle and at minimal expense is sure to come in handy. It also means there's no excuse for people not coming to visit us…
A quick note about some other places that we like.
Penang is also in Malaysia and has many of the same benefits at KL. Penang is not a major hub so we would have to get to and from KL each time we wanted to fly anywhere. The trains are nice but its an extra step that we probably wouldn't appreciate when our 12 hour flight lands in KL at 2am. Secondly, it seems that apartments are a little more expensive in Penang than they are in KL. I had assumed that the big city would be more expensive but it seems not.
We both love Bangkok. The food, the contrast of modern and traditional, the the gritty dynamic energy of the place. However, until we hit 50 years of age and qualify for retiree visas, Thailand's visa situation is a pain. If you talk to people living there the visa system and ways around it are a popular topic of conversation. Frankly, who needs the hassle? Also, again, getting to many places will require you to first get to KL.
Chiang Mai is also in Thailand and thus has many of the same complications as Bangkok. While Chiang Mai is in many ways perfect, visa issues aside, we lived there for most of 2009 and there are new places to experience.
What Are We Looking For?
The property itself doesn't have to be anything flashy. A small apartment, clean and secure, somewhere near public transport, either with a good net connection or able to get one. It doesn't have to be central. We're not looking for a high rise apartment in Bukit Bintang. Being a ways out of the city is fine provided we can access a train into town when necessary. There does have to be some decent street food within walking distance. A nearby mamak would be awesome. (mamak = food, mostly Indian, often with outdoor seating and often open 24 hours a day)
In terms of budget, less is preferable (of course). It would be nice if we could get a roof over our heads for the equivalent of $200-300 US per month. I know that's not a lot. That's assuming we'll be paying for it regardless of whether we're there or not. If we're only going to pay for a room while we're in town we would consider paying a fair bit more but it would be nice to have somewhere to store extra clothes etc while we're off adventuring.
While we're willing to just rent a room when we're in town but would also consider signing a long term lease with full knowledge that the place will be empty half the time. If we're renting something long term then furnished would be handy otherwise we'll just do a run to Ikea.
So, calling out to anyone living in Malaysia and fellow digital nomads everywhere. Do you have any recommendations? What areas do you like? Are there any particular real estate websites you recommend? As a foreigner are there any quirks of the Malaysian real estate market that I should be aware of? Any tips or tricks? Are there any cities we've outright overlooked and should consider? (note: cities not in a radically different time zone to Western Australia are preferable, sorry Buenos Aires)