I am hobbling slowly from chaotic Chinatown to the glittering Bukit Bintang area after twisting my ankle on some uneven paving. As I pick my way through the bodies of the sleeping homeless people, I consider how close we are to the year 2020, a year in which the Malaysian Government declared that the country would be a First World one. Well I honestly think they have their work cut out.
It's been a couple of years since I've been in KL, initial impressions where very good, as I strolled through the new KLIA 2 airport, with 90 days at my disposal. Last time I left KL was from the old LCCT terminal, well it was n't even that old, but boy was it a grim, even the locals said that! Having been in KL for a few days I am somewhat relieved that I'd never intended to stay here too long. I can't help but feel the city is looking more down at heel compared to the days when the shiny tower blocks and cavernous shopping malls were shinynew. It all looks a little grayand uncared for. As seems to be the case in Asia, there is no interest in maintaining the facade of a building, they'd sooner pull it down and build new. KL is resembling a building site again, as always in fact.
AVERAGE - facing increasing competition from other hubs
The airports are way too big for the numbers of arrivals and if you struggle with walking long distances you won't want to land at KLIA 2. KUL is still a regional hub of sorts, more so for low cost airlines, such as Air Asia. In fact if it wasn't for Air Asia I'd be marking KL as poor. Bangkok and Singapore reign supreme for long haul and both at least match KL's short haul offerings.
Cities such as HCMC are catching up fast too and will be adding more air hub competition in the region.
EXCELLENT - Best in the region!
Straight off the bat, 90 day visa on arrival and no requirement for an onward ticket. Depending on your nationality this can be extended easily. Sorry but maybe with the exception of Cambodia, this is the best immigration deal in South East Asia hands down. Better still it's free!
Mobile Data - GOOD / Free wifi - AVERAGE
Malaysia is one of the best countries for 3G or 4G. I'd recommend Celcom, Digi or Maxis. Out of those three I'd go withMaxis if you are mainly staying in KL.Wifi in hotels is generally good but in cafes such as Starbucks its hit and miss as so many people connecting to the free wifi.
GOOD - apart from the taxi mafia
Would have marked KL excellent but the greedy taxi drivers let the city down for their refusal to put their meters on for tourists. This is a Third World mentality. A local was saying to me that they may have the flashy light rail and metro systems but the people of Malaysia will take a couple of generations to get to Singaporean standards of developed world mentality.
One taxi driver's argument for the high prices for foreigners was that if we are happy to spend lots on beer (which is super expensive in KL) then so should we on taxis! Crazy attitude to have, childish even.
Taxis aside it's very easy to get around KL if you don't want to walk or hobble.
AVERAGE - poor value if currency strengthens
There is certainly a good choice in KL when it comes to resting your head but it's not cheap. Having said that it's not as bad as before due to the local currency depreciating against most others so hence I am awarding it average not poor. If the currency reverses again it will be poor compared to other SE Asian capitals, except Singapore of course!
EXCELLENT - a foodie paradise
Cannot fault KL when it comes too eating. Again for value it would have need marked good before the currency crash. Now with over 4 RMB to the US Dollar it's excellent. Huge broad range of food from all over the world, from the very expensive to the dirt cheap. Lots of shopping malls with excellent food courts. Eating is a hobby here.
POOR - not enough choice
There seems to no digital nomad culture in KL and that's probably due to the lack of cafe culture. Yes there are Starbucks everywhere but that's about the limit. Having searched around the only coffee shops tend to be the 'Kopi' Indian ones, that while do decent food, are not good for working from, unless you want to end up all sweaty and smelling of tandori..
The issue with the Starbucks is that they are like freezers inside and everyone smokes outside, so the environment is usually not good. There are a couple in KLCC shopping mall that are ok, if you can get a seat!
Some may disagree but KL nightlife sucks in my opinion. What no one can disagree with is that compared to Jakarta, Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Saigon, KL night life totally sucks.
The main reason? In fact the only reason. Tax on alcohol totally kills the nightlife scene stone dead. It's way too expensive for your average digital nomad or traveller. The night life in KL is clearly targeted to rich locals and expats.
Local language / English
GOOD - much easier language than Thai, Vietnamese, Laos etc
The local language, Bahasa Malaysia, is based on western alphabet and is very easy to learn. It is very similar to Bahasa Indonesia, in fact pretty much identical for the tourist. A lot of the minority groups will speak their own language though so you'll hear a lot of Hokkien and Tamil.
An English of sorts is widely spoken and compares well to Thailand and other countries nearby Still a long way off Singapore though. It is an official language in the city state to be fair.
POOR - go else where, come here for a break perhaps
Malaysia as a country has a lot of issues, they may not have the rampant corruption of neighbouring Indonesia, but can they really call themselves a democracy when only the Malay people can hold political power? The Chinese, Indians and other minorities get a bad deal and some visitors might not feel good about that. Any government employee will almost certainly be Malay. You'll never see an Indian immigration official or a chinese policeman. What I don't understand is the minority groups seem to accept their place in society here.
In terms of the people, they seem friendly enough, perhaps a little 'stand offish' and certainly not as open as the Vietnamese, for example. There are a lot less visitors to Malaysia than say Thailand, despite repeated huge efforts by the government to promote Malaysia. I suppose many Western visitors come on holiday and like to be able to enjoy a drink, but the country is majority muslim, so it's little wonder the drinking here is not that popular.
As somewhere to work it's ok for a few days but it doesn't take long to run out of options in terms of cafes.
KL is pretty good for shopping, probably on a par with Bangkok price wise and of course way cheaper than Singapore.
I feel kind of bad giving KL such a bad rap. I've spent quite a bit of time here over the years, on and off and have always enjoyed the amazing food and ease of getting around. I suppose the real issue is that there are so many awesome digital nomad destinations within a two hour flight. You have places like Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, HCMC, Bangkok, Ubud. These places are some of the highly rated digital nomad destinations in the world.
So why would anyone pick KL over Chiang Mai? The numbers tell the story.
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