Why I Chose To Base Myself In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
It's perhaps a little ironic that I find myself writing an article on KL whilst sitting at my favourite beach cafe in Sanur, Bali sipping a latte. Its a glorious dry season day here with a gentle offshore breeze cooling my face and the water is glittering
in the sunlight. The lovely young Balinese waitress is friendly and smiling and I exchange greetings with a few familiar faces, both local and expat. But then again I think it is precisely because I chose to base myself in KL that I am enjoying
myself so much here. Let me explain.
I am a 55-year old Australian man with 4 adult children. My wife passed away 10 years ago and I sold up everything in Australia about 7 years ago to try my hand at the expat lifestyle in South-East Asia. I derive most of my income from fixed term deposits in Australian banks and have a smaller cash reserve for emergencies, medium to high risk investments such as small cap mining stocks and precious metals. I like a bet on the horses which is mainly for fun, but I do like to win sometimes! I initially travelled around South-East Asia for a couple of years before settling on a routine. The majority of my time being spent equally in Bali and Thailand, 2 weeks each year in Oz for business, family etc and a couple of weeks in Malaysia whilst passing through on the way between Bali and Thailand. I always enjoyed my visits to Malaysia, finding it a well developed country with excellent infrastructure relative to the cost of living there, and most importantly, along with Singapore the best cuisine in South-East Asia. Despite this, the charms of Thailand and Bali beckoned more strongly with their cheap beer and lovely ladies. In any case the food of Indonesia and Thailand wasn't too far behind that of Malaysia anyway. However 2 events in my life which happened about 9 months ago, caused me to review my lifestyle.
Firstly I stopped drinking due to health issues. I would have described myself as a moderate to heavy drinker, a practice I had largely maintained since I started drinking at 18 years of age. Apart from 1 week's enforced stay in hospital and the odd day or two recovering from a hangover I had drunk continuously throughout my life. But with increasing age the adverse health impacts of my drinking began to take their toll. I originally only intended stopping drinking for 2 months to see how things would go, however my health improved so dramatically in those 2 months and I was so enjoying the other benefits of not drinking I decided to try and make it a permanent fixture in my life. That was 9 months ago and I haven't had a drink since then. And when you're an expat over in Bali and Thailand and stop drinking things take on a completely new perspective. I found myself focusing more clearly on the things around me and the small annoyances that I largely overlooked took on new significance for me. The litter, dogs, broken footpaths, choking traffic and people spitting began to annoy me. I began to resent them. Not that I had any problem going to the bars and sipping a Diet Coke, but I began to frequent them less often, preferring to read a book at home before an early night in bed. I was really starting to enjoy sleeping again, believe it or not! And when I did visit the bars on weekends to watch the footy with the guys I tired quickly after they got pissed and began repeating themselves and dribbling nonsense. All of which is great fun of course if you're pissed as well, but very tedious when you're not. I soon realised I had very few friends I was comfortable enough with outside the bars to visit at their homes for a coffee. I found my expectations were changing and I needed more mental stimulation in my life.
I also broke up with my Thai girlfriend at about the same time as I had stopped drinking. We had been seeing each other on and off for 2 years or so and whilst she reluctantly tolerated my travels to Bali (which she visited with me on 1 occasion, but didn't like it), the demands for more commitment and certainty in her life were becoming louder and more insistent. She was a beautiful, intelligent women, an absolute tigress in the bedroom and had 2 gorgeous young daughters and ran 3 businesses. Probably for many people this situation would be as near perfect as it gets. If I had still been drinking I think I would have succumbed and agreed to her demands for marriage. However with my newfound mental clarity I carefully balanced the negatives and positives of my situation and in what may seem a selfish decision to some, my individual freedom won out. As I was now spending more time at home with her 2 daughters I realised I had forgotten how demanding they were and what a great responsibility I would have been taking on. I had already raised 4 children and really, lovely as they were, I would have preferred to have been grandfather to the girls and give them back to mum when I tired of them. I was looking forward to my exits to Bali and beyond just to have a little more freedom. So we parted, and now Thailand began to hold less charm for me.
So where to now? My budget, which allowed me to live comfortably in Thailand and Bali had received a significant boost now I was not drinking. No way I was returning to Oz which was overpriced and quite frankly boring after having spent the last 7 years in Asia. I considered Singapore, which is great for a day trip (especially to see the horse racing!), but accommodation there in particular is quite expensive. Suddenly Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur was looking an attractive proposition. I particularly liked the golden triangle/ampang area. It had a good big city feel, clean and sophisticated with the Asian buzz which really appealed to me. So I explored this option more carefully and found KL's other advantages which helped in my decision -:
Quality of Infrastructure V Price: Contrary to widely held belief KL (apart from alcohol costs, which isn't an issue for me) is not that much more expensive than many of the heavily touristed parts of Bali and Thailand, but with a much better infrastructure. Public transport is quite adequate for me, the roads are good and the medical care is excellent. Eating out is cheap and fantastic, and I find the serves for the same amount of money are bigger than I get in Thailand. Whilst it isn't quite up to say Sydney, Melbourne or Singapore standards, it's not too far behind and at about one third the cost.
Traffic: Much more orderly and far less motorcycles on the road, especially compared to Bali, a sign of increasing wealth. I don't hear any complaints of police stopping motorists for bribes in KL.
Visas: For western passport holders 3 months entry upon arrival, easily renewed by a quick trip out of the country. Suits me with my travelling schedule and far more convenient than having to apply for 2 month tourist visas every time I went to Thailand and Bali.
Central Location: KL is just one plane trip away from most destinations in Asia, Europe and Australia. It is ideal for me for a dirty weekend in Bangkok or Bali, a trip to Hong Kong or Singapore for the races or just to explore somewhere new in SEA. I can book ahead for quite cheap airfares with Air Asia or catch a train to Singapore or Bangkok.
Different Expat Crowd: Whilst I'm not really big into the expat scene, here it is quite refreshing to meet expats who work here and whose lives don't revolve around drinking in bars. We actually have stimulating discussions about topics unrelated to bargirls and having a whinge about the host country.
No Dogs!: Being a Muslim country you rarely see any dogs. Well, actually there are dogs of course, but largely cared for and under control, unlike those mangy, growling mutts that roam the streets of Bali and Thailand fighting and shitting everywhere.
Horse-racing: This was the clincher for me, as one of the things I really did miss from Australia was a day at the races. The cowboy outfit they run in Thailand just doesn't compare. Turf racecourses and conducted with relative transparency by the stewards, which allows one to at least undertake proper form analysis. And Kranji racecourse a short hop away in Singapore, a punter's dream!
So here I am in KL, enjoying life, though I'm sure the negative aspects of living here will make themselves apparent in time. I currently play beginners bridge, mah jong and do a bit of volunteer work. But don't get me wrong, I still enjoy Bali and Thailand and intend to travel there regularly, just in small doses. That way I can enjoy the positives of both places without getting jaded. Which is why I'm sitting here in this cafe in Sanur writing this article.
Very interesting I have always felt Malaysia was a real option. The food is great and I prefer it over Thai food, the country is certainly cleaner, has better infrastructure, better English is spoken, there's less corruption etc. It does of course lack the joie de vivre which is a big draw to many of Thailand. If you're not drinking and the nightlife is not a big deal to you, then Malaysia is a very real option!