This is Part 5 of our Digital Nomad Guide to Southeast Asia. If you aren't caught up, checked out our past posts:
Digital Nomad Guide to Southeast Asia: Discovering Canggu
Digital Nomad Guide to Southeast Asia: Discovering Ubud
Digital Nomad Guide to Southeast Asia: Discovering Ho Chi Minh
Digital Nomad Guide to Southeast Asia: Discovering Koh Lanta
You can follow our guide for Penang in this post or check out the full e-book linked at the end of this article.
Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures. There are three main ethnic groups you see in Malaysia, which are the Malay, Indians and Chinese. Having such a diverse ethnic settings means you get to experience different cultural traditions and meals in one place.
You can eat great authentic Indian food in little India, which is in the heart of the capital of Penang, Georgetown. Then, you can walk 2 blocks over and find yourself in a Chinese neighborhood where you can sit on the side of the street and have a bowl of noodles from a vendor.
There are also beautiful mosques, temples and churches in Georgetown that I really enjoyed checking out. Like I said, Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures. Which is great if that’s the only thing you’re looking for. However, I found that the amenities in the city did not provide for a sustainable Digital Nomad life.
Penang does not have many co-working spaces to choose from. I did have a chance to check out @CAT, which is located in the world heritage zone in Georgetown. This is an awesome co-working space that offers a very affordable 24/7 membership. Thanks to the Penang government, which sponsors the space, you can work there for about $50.
Internet speed at the office averages around 40Mbps for both download and upload. The managers told me they have plans to bump up the speed even more in the near future. I took a couple Skype calls from their Skype and meeting rooms and had no problems at all.
Although there are plenty of backpacker hostels that are useful if you are on a budget, and some nicer guesthouses that will run you about $30 a night, there is no sustainable month- to-month solution in Penang.
Given that Georgetown is UNESCO world heritage site, it is full of old buildings that are not fit to be turned into housing solutions. What does that mean for you as a Digital Nomad? It means you will have to go about 10-15 minutes away by car from Georgetown to find longer term accommodation.
The fact that Penang is not a common Digital Nomad destination means finding monthly rentals is actually difficult. There are mostly either daily for the tourists or yearly for the locals. There’s really no in betweens!
COST OF LIVING
Here I will list some prices of things I purchased myself while there. Please keep in mind that I was only there for about a week and I was not hunting for bargains, which means I am sure Penang can be cheaper than what I experienced.
Iced Coffee at a western coffee shop: $1.84 Bagel with salmon and cream cheese $2.94
Fresh Juice at a nice western coffee shop: $4.90
Chicken Tikka Masala from an Indian restaurant: $4.90
Indian Mimosa from a local Indian cart: $.15 (my best bargain) Scooter rental for a day: $7.35
200cc motorcycle for a day: $19.16
Average 10 minute Uber ride: $1.23
Average 10 minute Taxi ride: $3.68
Private taxi tour for 4 hours: $36.77
As you can tell from this list Penang is not a very expensive place. However when compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia leans towards the more expensive side.
DIGITAL NOMAD COMMUNITY
Penang is still in the very early stages in the Digital Nomad culture. With very little housing that allows for short/medium term stay it is hard for Digital Nomads to call Penang home. So,
if you intend to be surrounded by a community of fellow nomads, you are better off living somewhere else.
OUTDOORS AND THINGS TO DO
What I liked about Penang is the fact that it is a very accessible island. It is right off the coast of mainland Malaysia, with a bridge connecting the two. Plus, the airport is very easy to get to from Kuala Lumpur.
In regards to nature, Penang is a tropical island so expect to see a lot of green. However, apart from a couple okay beaches most of the island’s nature is not very accessible. If you’re not surrounded by jungles with zero foot-paths and trails, you’re at a beach that is empty with dirty water.
Overall, Penang’s outdoor scene is not meant for exploring and admiring. I did not see any coordinated outdoor trips while I was there. Having said that, I was not actively looking for them. But they generally pop up regardless.
In my opinion, Penang doesn’t offer the infrastructure, resources, or excitement that a Digital Nomad needs. However, if you think that this city is right for you, definitely head up Penang Hill. You can take a train from the base of the hill all the way to the top and see some of the best views of that city.