(a.k.a. the one where everyone opted out)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KL) was different than I’d expected. Honestly, I expected to love it more than I did.
I didn’t know much about KL before arriving, but I knew it was home to the beautiful Petronas Towers, and I knew it was a pretty big city. I’d also heard Malaysia had a large Indian population and their culture was very influenced by India, so I was looking forward to eating some delicious, authentic Indian food.
One thing that surprised me about KL was the construction and how many massive malls they have. I wondered how the less than 2 million people living here could support it all.
The city can also be very…smelly. It reminded me a bit of Hanoi with all of the restaurant seating spilling into the streets, and the array of smells as you wander around.
While I loved the proximity to other destinations in Asia (Singapore and Bali were two places we pretty much all went this month), I’m not sure I’d choose to spend much time in KL in the future.
KL feels like a big city, albeit a very spread out big city. To me, living in KL felt like having all of the downsides of living in a big city, with few of the benefits. The traffic was crazy, nearly all the time. The airport was an hour from the city. And while I heard they have public transportation, it didn’t seem very prominent or accessible to me (plus, it rained so much that I just wanted to get door to door without getting wet).
A lot of people really love the food in Malaysia, but I didn’t. I’m not sure I had a really great meal the whole month. The place I liked the most (and ate at several times) was a mamak restaurant where we’d order fresh fruit smoothies and dish after dish after dish, and the bill would come to around $5 USD per person. It was cheap, and the food was decent (though nothing to write home about).
I, like many of my fellow remotes, didn’t get out into the city as much this month as we have in other cities. And that was even with KL being a 5 week month for us! Part of that was due to the weather – it was rainy season and it down poured every day at 4pm like clockwork.
It was also tough to get around – Grab (a local competitor of Uber) implemented new regulations while we were there, which meant less drivers on the road. The normal increase in people using car services during rain or rush hour was only magnified by the overall lack of drivers on the app to begin with.
I went grocery shopping (across town, because there wasn’t much in our neighborhood) once, and got stuck there for nearly an hour waiting for a car to pick me up, only to spend another 30 minutes in traffic. Often it just felt like more hassle than it was worth.
KL also didn’t seem to have a ton of “must see” places – of course you have to get pics with the Petronas towers, and you should see the Batu Caves and the mosque. But beyond that, there wasn’t a ton of pressure to see and do everything. After eight months on the road, and an especially crazy few months in Asia, I think a lot of us embraced the relaxed vibe of KL.
I do want to take a moment and shout out the Remote Year city team in KL. Risa was a one person team this month, and like our other city team of one (Trang in Hanoi), she was an absolute ladyboss and made it look it easy. Risa was phenomenal and leaving her is what I’ll miss most about KL!
Thoughts on living in a Muslim country for a month
I never knew how much pork I ate until I went to Muslim countries. If you’d have asked me, I’d tell you I don’t really care for pork and rarely eat it. And then I get to a Muslim country and start missing real bacon, breakfast sausage, and pepperoni! Many restaurants and even grocery stores do not sell pork products at all. That was the case when I was in the UAE last year and I was reminded of it this month in Malaysia.
The other thing you’ll notice is that you’ll hear the call to prayer broadcast throughout the city on loudspeakers five times a day. It’s loud enough that you’ll hear it, but not so loud it’ll wake you up or disturb your calls. I enjoyed hearing it – it always sounded peaceful.
Malaysia also has a “sin” tax – this meant that bottles of wine that would be $5-7 USD in the states would be $18-$20 USD in Malaysia. As a wine lover, Malaysia was tough!
Beyond that, living in Malaysia didn’t feel that different than anywhere else. I say that, knowing full well that I speak from a position of privilege in many ways – so I’m not saying that will be your experience, only that it was my experience.
Overall thoughts on living in Asia
As far as Remote year goes, Malaysia marked the end of our time in Asia. Four months of hot, humid, rainy weather. Four months of working in the middle of the night and sleeping during the day. Four months of being further outside of my comfort zone than I’ve ever been. I can’t say I loved it, or at least not all of it, but I didn’t hate it nearly as much as I’d expected to. In fact, two of my favorite RY cities – Chiang Mai and Kyoto – were in Asia.
Working nights was tough, but not as tough as I’d imagined. I actually came to really enjoy the freedom that gave me during the day to see the sites, go to the doctor, get my nails done, get a massage, whatever.
Finding wine in Asia was tough, but not impossible if you were willing to spend some money.
Finding Western food in Asia was fairly easy, actually. Again though, it typically cost 2-3 times what local food would have cost.
Finding chiropractors and hair salons – that was certainly tough, but not impossible. And no one fried my hair (though Thailand certainly tried), so I did alright.
The humidity – well, that sucked, but other than Hanoi, it was honestly not as bad as I’d imagined. After spending eight months in humidity, I’ve acclimated a teeny bit. Hanoi was next level though. I’ve never been more miserable in my life.
Asia brought me some of my toughest moments – I lost a phone, had meltdowns because of the humidity, bawled my eyes out, yawned my way through nightshift, and nearly missed a flight. But it also brought me some of my favorite moments – watching the sunrise over the river in Kyoto, seeing the beauty of the Hokkaido region in Japan, visiting an elephant sanctuary, attending a full moon party, staying in a ryokan, staying in an epic villa in Bali, and adding 11 new countries to my passport.
As tough as it is to see time marching on (and therefore nearing closer to the end of Remote Year), I’m so excited for Europe. I’m so excited for beautiful, old architecture, for wine that’s cheaper than water, for cooler weather, for meat and potatoes, cheese, and pastries galore.
See you on the other side of the world.
- Restaurant Histana Maju – my favorite mamak. We ate here a number of times, and the food is good and cheap. It’s definitely a hole in the wall type place – nothing fancy but popular as nearly everyone could find something they liked.
- Din Tai Fung – not exactly local to Malaysia (as it’s world famous), but definitely worth eating at while you’re here if you don’t normally live near a DTF location.
- W Hotel – They have a great rooftop lounge, with amazing views of the Petronas Towers. Go here for for a nice cocktail and an Instagram photo op.
- Bar Trigona – located inside the Four Seasons hotel, this is a great spot if you’re feeling bougie and want a nice cocktail with a view.
- Toast Box – we ate here quite often. I loved the puffs, which came in chicken curry and potato favors.
- Batu Caves – one of the major tourist spots in the area, definitely go check it out, but go early!
- Side Trip – most of us used KL as a jumping off point for other areas. Both Singapore and Bali are quick, easy, cheap flights from KL. If you make it to this part of the world, definitely visit those as well.