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Digital Nomad in Penang Malaysia – with costs for short and monthly living

Digital Nomad in Penang Malaysia – with costs for short and monthly living
May 7, 2016 ghung

Digital Nomad in Penang Malaysia – with costs for short and monthly living

Digital Nomad Penang

Update Jan 2017

This is my 3rd visit to Penang in a year so it’s safe to say I enjoy Penang and know the place better than a new tourist. Is it possible to live in Penang as a Digital Nomad? That is one of the questions I came to answer during this trip. I also came to get another 60 day Thai tourist visa in Penang. Getting the Thai visa was straightforward. It’s about a 10 minute drive out of Georgetown and it took one day to process. Check out my video for some tips.

Co-working and Community

I was fortunate the apartment I rented with my parents was very comfortable to work and had great Internet. I tried the local Starbucks downstairs, but the Internet was a hassle to register for and was slow. I didn’t really explore the cafe scenes. I’ve even had a chance to check out the @Cat co-work space in George town, which only opened it’s doors in 2015. I was impressed with the space, price location and can see this space as being a central space for Penang Digital Nomads to meet. Check out the video for more tips. The food is excellent and diverse, and Malaysia offers no hassle 3 month visas. The only thing I can see holding people from living here from a month or longer is the cost and hassle of finding good accommodation. If this situation was resolved I’m sure the community would begin to grow organically.

I find that Penang often attracts digital nomads that have already traveled and lived in Thailand and are getting tired of visa runs. However, the nomads I met from at @Cat co-work space on this trip were are just starting out their Digital nomad journey. I didn’t actively search for digital nomads here and I think there isn’t much long term ommunity here at the moment. You may encounter nomads that are here for a short visit. It’s hard to recreate the organic community that currently exists in Chiang Mai Nimman area and from what I hear in Bali. Maybe this will change in the future.


This is the downside of Penang. Good comfortable accommodation is expensive and landlords expect long term leases of 6 months to a year. You’ll often have to make appointments with real estate agents. These agents will begin to interview you before you even get to see an apartment. For instance, they want to know your purpose for staying here, what do you do for a living, and where you are from and so on. It’s a lot of work to even view an apartment room. This is not Thai style where you can just roll up and ask to see a room, so this made me appreciate the more laid back approach of Chiang Mai.

The cost is generally higher as well. There are monthly options, but they don’t come cheap. Georgetown is the tourist Unesco heritage area. Great for sightseeing, but not a lot of good accommodation options. I learned over time that Gurney is the desirable area for it’s close location to Georgetown, and the 2 modern malls Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon. To find a good modern apartment in the Gurney area (desirable area) you are looking at 3500 ringet a month or more ($782 US).

Airbnb is the workaround for skipping these agents and having the flexibility to stay in Penang in a modern condo for short-term. Compare this to Chiang Mai at $250 Us (9000 baht) and I’m sure this may be the deal breaker for digital nomads. I have a friend that found lower cost options after a long hard search. She was staying at the Coastal Towers in Tanjing Bungah for about 1200 ringet a month. This area is about 20 mins or more from Georgetown.

A quick side track. I’ve even looked into Malaysia’s Second home program which allows foreigners to purchase a home for minimum 1 million ringet to get a 10 years multiple entry visa. This is not cheap and is almost on par with Canadian prices.

Let’s see if the accommodation situation changes in the near future. If it doesn’t Penang is still good location for a food trip, Thai visa run, and good base to travel to Bali, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur is a great travel base to India, South Korea, and many locations in Asia. For now check out our 1 bedroom airbnb I rented in Georgetown Penang near the Gurney Plaza.

From what I read and heard Penang, Malaysia was a food paradise not too far away from Chiang Mai. There’s even a dish I’ve seen on menus called Penang curry rice. As part of the location independent videographer lifestyle I chose Penang as my first Visa run destination this year. I had a family friend living there as a digital nomad and had heard positive things. She gave me some ideas for accommodation. One of which was the 80’s guesthouse. I didn’t end up booking there as I wanted a room with a larger bed and found them to be rude on the phone when I tried to change. I booked my flight from to Penang via Kuala Lumpur via air Asia. Even though it isn’t relatively far away with the accumulation of the total journey time made it feel like a long day. I basically left Chiang Mai in the morning 645amish and arrived in Penang before sunset. I decided to capture some stock footage using my SLR and drone. I have to be grateful I have an opportunity to travel and film footage and still earn money while I’m traveling or sleeping through my on-line passive income streams.

The Monthly Costs

1 month estimate comfortable Value style (in Ringet)
Accommodation 1 bed in Gurney: 3500
Food 1200 (40 ringet daily budget)
Transport 240  (20 Uber round trips from Gurney to Georgetown)Cell Phone 7.5GB data plan 45 (Digi 7.5 data plan)
Cowork space @ Cat 200 (24/7 monthly plan. There are cheaper plans)
Daily Americano 300 (10 americano @Starbucks)
Booze 40 (10 ringet a beer)

TOTAL PENANG MONTHLY BUDGET: 5210 Ringet a month (1163 US, 41,601baht)


Chiang Mai Monthly Budget $817 US

This is a comfortable living budget where I would stay in modern condo in a good area. Everyone lives a different lifestyle so you can use this as a baseline and get creative on making your own budget. You can eat at Hawker places or get a motobike instead of a Uber. Assume the accommodation costs include your hidden costs like electricity and wifi. For my lifestyle I would spend 346 US more to stay in Penang versus Chiang mai per month. I think its also important to factor in the cost of Visa runs if comparing your costs to living in Thailand. For me my Penang Visa run trip cost $ obo 500 US every 3 months the cost of extending my 60 day in Thailand and getting the tourist Visa at a Thai Embassy in another country (obo $100). I calculate this works out to $600 US in hidden costs for going on these visa runs when living of of Thailand not including the time and hassles associated with it. From Penang I would still need to do Visa runs every 3 months, but some time and money from doing extensions within Thailand and getting an actual visa. For me I consider Penang to be more developed than Chiang mai and can actually walk on the side walk and go to my favorite food options. The locals speak better English and most speak Mandarin Chinese. You have to figure what’s important to you.


Most Post from my 3 day short visit in 2015


CNX to KL $118 US 4 hour trip
Round trip KL to PEN $90 US

Total flight cost 260 US

I exchanged 4500 Thai Baht for about 500 RM (Ringet) in spending cash. While there I got another 100 RM. I spent about 550RM in cash during my trip and didn’t use the ATM or credit card

Total cash spent $137 US

Total cost of 3 day trip

Hotel $101 US
Flights $260 US
Cash spent $137


Visa runs and extensions are one of the headaches and hidden costs of living as a location independent in Thailand. Assuming you do 4 visa runs and your visa runs have a similar cost ($500 * 4)and 4 extensions during the year($567 * 4= $228) a rough estimate of the annual cost is $2228 Us or $2876 Canadian. One should also factor in the cost of the actual 6 month multiple entry Thai Visa ($154 US or 200 cdn). I think its important you factor this and your total rental cost including electricity into your budget. In fact I met some location independents in Penang. They chose Penang over Chiang Mai because of the visa issues.


Visa run travel filming and packing setup #travelphotography

A photo posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on

Packing for aerial travel videography is an important part of getting footage.  There are special considerations when packing your regular video gear plus packing the drone. I talk about this more in my course. Using Chiang Mai as my base means I don’t have to pack as much as a long journey between Canada and Asia.  This was a mini 3 day trip. My airline air asia baggage policy basically states that you were only allowed one laptop bag (7 kg). I took the drone bag, my camera sling bag, and a big laptop backpack with a rollout handle. I booked 15 kg check in I luggage throughout the trip as my insurance. I checked in one bag, but had enough weigh allowance left over if they made an issue about my carry on luggage.  In my laptop bag I packed my clothes, toiletries, and tripod. In my camera bag I kept my SLR camera. I wasn’t sure how Air Asia would accept this setup. Luckily it was no problem throughout the trip. This set up is still more luggage than I would like. Ideally I would like a bag that could fit the drone and my SLR camera. I decided to leave the laptop and focus on creating footage and catching up on some reading with my ipad. I also brought a 32gb SD card for the drone and another 32 gb card for the SLR. This ended up being enough, but my 32gb SD card got stuck in non write mode when taking it out for an airport shot. I went to the nearest photo shop at the KL airport and got a quote for 500 RM for a class 10 32G SD card. I had no internet, but used XE currency to convert 500 RM is $125 US. Your standard Class SD card on B and H photo’s website goes for $22.50 US. I didn’t know the market price off the top of my head, but I knew this was way off. I was disgusted and he kept marking down the price as I started walking out the store. Be careful in KL.


I booked a 3 night stay at a Georgetown hotel called Link. It had excellent reviews for $131 Canadian. The hotel had friendly staff, water machines, and a nice clean room. The room was a bit small and a small window with natural light. On the positive side it did the job as it had working AC, flat panel tv, a clean room, comfortable bed, working toilet, and hot shower. Yes these are the basics we take for granted, but not in Asia. The free breakfast was very basic and I would just go there for the juice, an average coffee, and some toast. The food just minutes away at the hawker area kicked ass. It served as a good base at a reasonable budget although making trips to the heritage town started to add up as we took taxis at 20 ringets a shot. In general I was surprised that the hotels were a bit on the pricey side. To find a well located hotel in Georgetown it seemed you have to spend at least $27US a night and up.


#film and #eating in #penang

#Malaysianbreakfast fancy chicken rice

A video posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on

A photo posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on

My hotel was located a minute away from Macalister road where I had nearby and late night access to good and cheap chinese and indian food. It was nice to see dim sum, wonton noodle soup,congee and indian dishes (roti,briyani, butter chicken) that have been a bit hard to find in Chiang Mai. I chose to just walk around a pick out some dishes. In general dishes ranged around the 6RM mark, which is $1.49US , $2 Cdn or 52 baht. This is cheap. If you wanted to spend more I spotted a Chicken claypot restaurant priced at $12 US. Not bad for western standards, but a bit of a treat for locals I think. For me this is the highlight of the trip as there really isn’t a lot of attractions.

#penang #malaysia #visarun #trip

A photo posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on

#penang #malaysia #visarun #trip

A photo posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on

I wanted to relax a bit so didn’t do a lot of research on trip advisor or Lonely planet. I wanted to go with the flow. I visited the UNESCO heritage area and we rented a bike to get around. I visited during May it was scorching hot so had to find indoor shelter every 15 minutes.

Chicken briyani set 7 ringet #penang #georgetown

A photo posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on

We returned here to try some Indian food at Kapitan. The service was crap, but the food was amazing. I ordered Cheese naan and chicken briyaani. Later we walked down a street to have a couple of drinks at a small bar. Everyone is very friendly and I struck up a conversation with a couple from Vancouver.

Good indian food in little india #penang #kapitan

A photo posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on


I did a quick google search for “drone malaysia” before I left. I recall not finding any official sites, but I gathered it was ok from the sites that I read. Make sure you do your due diligence before you trip as I’m not liable. After checking in I wanted to get a drone flight it before the sunset. I spoke with the Damion, the helpful hotel clerk and he advised me to fly behind the Time square mall at the advice of the hotel clerk. I flew a simple crane reveal and got some decent shots. I also felt the mosqitoes around my feet. I haven’t learned my lesson to carry mosqitoe repellent with me, but perhaps you can learn from my lesson. I also had a middle aged local lady where she could buy the drone. This surprised me and thought that I should set up a site and have a card with my site ready to give to people while out flying. This happens quite often so perhaps I could get an affiliate fee if they decide to purchase from someone they met and saw flying. I realize that because I’ve been pretty deep into this world and I have technical friends that are too I sometimes forget that the average person doesn’t know that much about drones.

#Penang #Malaysia #aerialphotography reminds me of singapore

A photo posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on

Later on night 1 I put the tripod and SLR to use taking it to the food streets. I focused on capturing some footage of the street food scene and close-ups of food. From experience I know footage of food and night street scenes sell my plan was to do it in the food paradise. I also sat night at a chinese restaurant with nice lighting, friendly service, and fans. I ordered a noodle soup dish and mango sagoo. Of course I filmed it with my tripod. It’s a little bit more to film on the streets where it’s darker and there are foot and motobike traffic.

The next day I took some handheld shots in the Heritage area. I brought my tripod , but it just wasn’t practical to us it while I was riding the bike. I’m thinking more about getting something like the DJI Osmo where I can film footage with stabilization on a stick. I felt guilty about not using my tripod and on my last night I captured some tripod shots of signage and one of the building landmarks called the Komtar.

I did a second aerial flight at the park 2 streets away from me before sunset. When I arrived at the park there were some local boys playing soccer. I took off in front of the park for a crane reveal of the Komtar. Next thing you knew I had mosqitoes around my feet and 11 local boys crammed around me looking at my ipad. I had to focus on getting my shots and keeping a consistent vertical and horizontal speed. After I landed it was fun to see how happy to see this flying camera in the air. They were so happy to see this thing fly so so. Hopefully I’ve inspired them to fly when they are older.

On my last evening I decided to rent a motorbike for 40 ringet conveniently dropped off at my hotel. There is also a street in little India area you can rent them, but then its a bit more work to get there and drop it off. It was the easiest way to get around and give me the freedom and time to fly the drone. I wanted to make the most of the time as the owner want the bike back at midnight. At the advice of the hotel I took a ride to Padang Kota Lama park. This was in a great location in George town giving me a proximity and a view of the Heritage town and by the ocean. There weren’t too many people and I had a large park area so I did a manual flight with a forward sweep and some course lock pans over the ocean in the afternoon.

#penang #malaysia #unesco #heritage #georgetown #aerialphotography #drone

A photo posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on

Penang Malaysia – Stock footage visa run

Getting mobbed by kids on my drone flight

A photo posted by Greg Hung (@ghung604) on

I still had a bit of time so I took a 45 minute ride to batu feringghi, which I read was an upscale area further up north along the coast. It was a long ride, but an exciting experience to ride around in a new country. It’s a little safer to ride in Penang than I Chiang Mai in my opinion. I found a road with beach access and took off. I got some decent shots of the hotels and landscape with a simple forward sweep going as far as 400 m. There were some parachutes ahead of me so I was careful to get enough height clearance. When I landed I use the sling bag as the launch and landing platform because it was soft beach sand around. I did not land cleanly and I crash landed the drone upside down. Next time I’ll just create a sand platform instead. Be careful when landing as it requires slight adjustments which is tricky  for a small landing surface. I also got some sand stuck in the motor. I even saw this message on the app. I freaked out for a bit. I manged to blow some of the sand out. After I got the sand out I restarted the drone and after accepting the message it disappeared. I spun the motors several times without the props and it sounded smooth.

Penang Malaysia Stock footage

Batu Feringghi

I decided to ride back to the Padang Kota Lama park area for a possible evening shot or just a meal at the pavillion. I hesitated on whether to just open up the drone and clean it in Chiang mai. I thought I was already here so I would just do a low hover and see how it fly. To my surprise there were no issues so I went higher and got some good crane reveals.


Overall I had a nice visit to Penang. Generally is feels like it’s a bit more developed and expensive than Chiang Mai and other South East Asian countries. The people are bit more diverse than Thailand with many East indians and not as many foreign tourists. It definitely feels safe, reasonably clean and with a 3 month visa this food could a future destination to stay longer. I can’t say the same for KL and would just transfer through here. My friends have since told me there are direct flights to Penang so perhaps I’ll look for these in future. There isn’t much of a co-work space scene so I have to decide whether that is important to me. I could also rent a place and secure a fast connection. The locals on average spoke more english and it would be an alternative to Taiwan to practice my Mandarin and work on my business. There are also more airplane route and flights to India from Kuala Lumpur so Penang could serve as a good base to travel deeper into India.

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