Notes from a Digital Nomad – Month One: Kuala Lumpur

This article is the first in our ‘Digital Nomad‘ series produced by Senior Associate, Heather Lane. Heather is working remotely for GJE from 12 different cities around the world, one month each, with Remote Year

It’s hard to believe, but the first month of Remote Year has sped past already, and here I am on a ferry in the middle of the Bay of Thailand chugging our way to our next destination!  That said, we’ve packed so much into the last five weeks that in some ways arrival day in Kuala Lumpur seems like a lifetime ago.  Then, 75 or so total strangers found themselves thrown together in a new city and with a whole new lifestyle to figure out, and now – while I’ll be the first to admit there’s still plenty to refine – I’m confident the fledgling community that steps off this ferry won’t be quite as fresh off the boat.

In many ways, Kuala Lumpur has been a soft landing into our new lives – once you’ve got your bearings and got used to all the traffic, it’s not that dissimilar to London.  OK, except for the food vendors on every corner.  And the fact that virtually nothing opens before 10am.  And the humidity. Oh, and the intermittent aroma of durian fruit that frequently catches you unawares – not in a good way (it’s even banned from entry into our apartment block).  But in place of the tube, there’s the ubiquitous KL monorail; in place of Big Ben, there’s the KL Tower; the plug sockets are the same as those back home; and there’s even a similarly plentiful number of Starbucks.

So our month in KL didn’t involve quite the culture shock I was expecting.  The greater challenge has proved to be fitting in everything I want (and need!) to do – from work, to exploring the country and getting to know my fellow “remotes”.  Since everyone does such different jobs (we include software coders, website designers, digital marketeers, property brokers, two “recovering neuroscientists”, an online matchmaker and just the one patent attorney, to name a few) we also work to very different hours – for instance there are several remotes who work nights to match the time zones of their home offices.  As a result there are opportunities all the time to visit places, learn new skills like yoga or Spanish or just try out new food, and so it’s important to find your own routine and prioritise.  It has never felt more like there aren’t enough hours in the day, or days in the month.  But I’ll admit it’s not a bad problem to have!

For me, the highlights of the month involved getting out of Kuala Lumpur to see some more of Malaysia. Flying north to the island of Penang for a weekend, we inadvertently found ourselves staying in a breathtakingly beautiful Chinese mansion in the historic city of Georgetown, which I could certainly get used to!  As I could with the food – we were conveniently situated right next door to the aptly-named “Food Paradise”, a bustling night market filled with stalls selling just about every type of food you can imagine.  Needless to say, it is almost impossible to avoid menu envy here.

The following weekend, three of us decided to escape the Remote Year bubble, and the sticky heat of KL, by taking our lives in our own hands, hiring a car and driving up into the Cameron Highlands.  Up here in the mountains, the climate is perfect for growing fruit and vegetables, and extensive tea plantations cover many of the rolling hillsides.  This was also the spot preferred by well-off UK expats living in KL or Ipoh “back in the day” for their weekend retreats.  As a result many of the hotels look like they might have been teleported from a Cotswold village – complete with timber beams, flowery carpets, horse brasses on the wall and even an open fire, right in the middle of Malaysia.  It was nothing if not surreal. We spent the next day exploring the plantations, rainforests, rose gardens and strawberry farms with a lovely local guide, Muthi, who even invited us into his home for tea!  In fact by and large everyone I met in Malaysia was incredibly warm and welcoming to us, which is one of the abiding memories of the country I will take with me.

For now, we are settling into our new, beach-side home in Thailand and planning once again how to fit as much in as possible, so I’m excited to find out what this month has in store for us…

Next month: Koh Phangan, Thailand

Heather is working remotely for GJE from 12 different cities around the world, one month each, with Remote Year.  You can follow her adventures on her blog at expatandtea.wordpress.comand on Instagram via @expat.and.tea.