Penang, Malaysia  –  A New Hub For Digital Nomads

Penang, the second largest city in Malaysia, is known amongst travellers and tourists primarily for its vast range of delicious street food and picturesque architecture. However, Penang is slowly also becoming a hub for digital nomads and remote workers.

I have spent the last three months living and working in George Town, Penang and have been able to witness first hand how the local tech start-up community is developing, how more and more digital nomads are visiting the city and how the local co-working space, ACAT, is playing a pivotal role in both the beforementioned developments.

Co-working

ACAT, the Accelerator for Creative, Analytics and Technology, is the only co-working space currently open in Penang. It is fully subsidized by the local government with the aim to boost the local start-up community. Not only does ACAT provide a huge (I mean really huge!) co-working space with excellent Internet, but it also offers regular guest speakers, seminars and workshops, which are great for networking and meeting local entrepreneurs.

The monthly membership is currently only 96MYR, which is around £16 ($23). The facilities include large meeting rooms, a pantry with free tea & coffee, two giant shared co-working rooms and an event space.

Given the size of the co-working area and the limited amount of members to distract you, I was able to get a massive amount of work done in the three months I was there. ACAT has so far been the best co-working space I have been to, in terms of personal productivity, as distractions are limited.

There are also several very nice cafes you could work from in George Town. However, in most cafes, if there are more than three people using the Internet, it pretty much becomes unusable for any type of data-heavy work. Hence, I conducted almost all my work at ACAT during my stay in Penang. The only café occasionally worked from which I found had good wifi was Chulia Lane 20 Café, but only if there weren’t too many others surfing also. It was my Sunday work spot, on most weekends.

Local start-up scene

The local entrepreneurs I came across at talks, events and in the co-working space were primarily active in ecommerce, web development, app development & graphic design. It was made up of a lot of young and hungry entrepreneurs and freelancers who are supporting each other. At ACAT you can also find the Penang chapter of Founders Institute, which is giving the local start-up seen and new entrepreneurs a massive boost.

If you are working remotely and are looking for developers or graphic designers you should be able to find what you are looking for just by talking to people in the co-working space. Everyone was very approachable and everyone speaks English.

Health & Fitness

As martial arts has become an integral part of my exercise routine I was looking for a local martial arts gym for mytime in Penang. I was fortunate to meet someone who told me to check out K-1 Martial Arts Academy in George Town. K-1 is a MMA gym located near Times Square Mall and offers muay thai, muay boran, strength & conditioning, BJJ and several other classes. I had an awesome time training there and met a lot of talented fighters and passionate trainers. I highly recommend it as a place to train, even if you just want to go for the strength & conditioning classes to get in shape.

There are also yoga classes on offer in Little India and you can get massages in Prangin Mall for 35MYR for 30mins or go to nicer Spas and pay around 60–100MYR for a full body massage.

Nightlife

There are two main nightlife areas in George Town. The main one is in Chulia Street and Love Lane and is tailored towards backpackers. Those two streets are full of little bars and hipster cafes with live music. The second is on Upper Penang Road and is more commercial and a bit on the seedier side. It has bars and clubs with loud music and reminds me of the nightlife in Thailand. Drinks are definitely cheaper than in Kuala Lumpur, but are still quite expensive compared to Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia. Even though Penang is a very liberal Malaysian city, it is nonetheless in a Muslim country. Hence, alcohol is comparatively expensive.

Costs

I kept a detailed budget using spreadsheets for each month I was in Penang. One month in Penang will cost you about £700 ($1000) if you want to live nicely, but within reason. You can also do it for £600 ($850), if you budget tightly and stay in a hostel.

My expenses breakdown (per month on average):

Hotel (nice boutique hotel): £215

MMA Gym: £40

Co-working space fee: £16 (yes, that’s right!)

Local sim card (with credit): £8

Football match tickets: £5

Food, Drink, Etc (~ £10/d): £300

Transport (uber, taxis, flights): £100

Other expenses: £50

This equates to around £700/m and includes trips to local temples, a kung fu show and purchasing new trainers. If you budget tighter, you can definitely spend less. In the month of March I actually only spent £620 ($850).

Meeting locals

I found meeting locals in Penang so much easier than in other countries I have visited, as basically everyone speaks English fluently and most young people are very westernised. I made friends at my hotel, at the co-working space and at my gym.

Conclusion

I had a great time in Penang and highly recommend it if you want to get work done and enjoy great cuisine. The co-working space offers an excellent work atmosphere (for a very low price) and George Town provides you with all sorts of amazing culinary experiences. The ethnic mix of Chinese, Indians and Malays also add to a lovely cultural experience while staying in Penang. The beaches, however, are not worth visiting.

If you want to contact me to ask me any questions about Penang please feel free to email me at alex@smartmoneysmartliving.com.

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Alex founded SmartMoneySmartLiving.com in 2015 to empower millennials to take control of their financial future and guide them along their journey towards financial freedom.