Chiang Mai was a haven for digital nomads, but how is life over in Malaysia? And what is the cost of living in Penang?
Chiang Mai has become famous with digital nomads and remote workers for providing a high quality of living at a very low price. Venturing into an area less explored by remote workers was going to take a little bit of a financial risk. Especially as I couldn’t find any evidence of short (1-2 month) rentals on condos being a done thing, meaning we may be spending our time on nightly rates.
In my preliminary online research, I couldn’t find any evidence of short (1-2 month) rentals on condos, meaning we needed to be prepared to be spending our entire time living on nightly rates.
Four weeks in Penang has left us pleasantly surprised – and eagerly booking in another month worth of accommodation here. The price of being here is comparable to Thailand, however, the quality of food, nature, and life, in my opinion, is much higher.
Much like Chiang Mai, Penang can be as cheap, or as expensive, as you want it to be. The difference lies in how you choose to live. We live in a cabin at a
We live in a cabin at a Buddhist sanctuary and eat local meals of curries, dhals, roti and fresh tropical fruit, this style of living suits us well and we can live for $150(NZD) or 450 MYR a week each quite easily.
If you wanted to up the budget, you could easily live in a beach-front condo and eat high-quality western food too, this island is flexible and really does cater for everybody and every budget.
Here is a run down of the cost of living in Penang
Cost of Living in Penang: Food
Penang is famous for food – and for good reason. For very little money you can eat a feast of varied and delicious foods. We eat mostly Indian meals, however, there is a great variety to be found.
The most common culinary styles are Malay, Indian and Chinese, however, there is plenty of Korean, Thai, Western, Italian.. pretty much anything you can think of.
Your meal is served on a banana leaf, literally. You will get a big scoop of rice, and 3 or so different vegetable curries. Accompaniments include variations of dals, sauces, poppadoms and pickles, depending on where you go. Some places will just serve you the one round, others will continuously top you up with rice and vegetables until you can’t eat anymore.
Banana leaf for one person usually costs between 5-6 ringgit, Add-on around 6-10 ringgit to include a bowl of chicken, fish or meat curry and around 1-2 ringgit per naan bread, roti, etc.
Roti Canai & Dhal:
One of the cheapest ways to eat in Penang, Roti Canai is a simple dish. Comprising a roti bread & one or sometimes two small dishes of Dhal for dipping. A single serving will cost around 1 ringgit.
Our typical breakfast usually consists of 2x roti canal, 2x teh tarik and a plate of mixed, chopped tropical fruits – costing us around 11 ringgit total for both of us, that’s a delicious, fuilling and nutritious breakfast for two ringing in at around 5.50 ringgit each.
The famous Penang dish. Fish gravy with coriander, mint and other flavourings. A bowl at a food court will usually only set you back around 4 Ringgit.
Wantan Mee – A Chinese style noodle dish with dark sauce, wontons and sliced pork. around 2-4 ringgit
Satay – Skewered meats cooked over charcoal – from 5-9 ringgit for 10 with dipping sauce
Drinks vary from place to place, in my experience, the average prices are: coconut to drink around 3.50 ringgit, Teh tarik – 1-2 ringgit, Lassi varies from 3 – 8 ringgit depending where you go.
Overall Price Round-Up:
A budget of 30 ringgit, per person, per day is what we run on. It feeds us 3 good meals full of fruits, vegetables, and delicious curries.
Total: 30 ringgit a day per person ( $8.32USD/$10.99NZD per person, per day)
Cost of Living in Penang: Accomodation
Penang is not as flexible as Chiang Mai with the monthly condo rentals, we did manage to have one offered to us on a short-term lease, but we decided on the charming and lush Bodhi Heart Buddhist sanctuary instead.
We pay 40 ringgit a night for a small cottage with a queen bed, air-conditioning and private bathroom. The rates are higher, but the price is dropped for our longer term commitment to staying here.
Hotels & Hostels we stayed at varied from 60-80 ringgit a night, and it’s totally achievable to find a nice room for under 100, in any part of the island. It’s also important to note that we arrived right before Chinese New Year and Thaipusam Festivals, so I expect a lot of places were sold out or had the prices hiked up at the time. You can expect to find even better deals in the low seasons and away from important festivals.
From the research I did, it appears that between 900-1200 ringgit a month will secure an average-nice condo in a good area, but difficult to find on monthly rental. If you are happy to sign up for 12 months, you should have no problems getting something even as cheap at 700 a month.
It’s worth noting that Penang has a somewhat bizarre system of building all the condos entirely out of 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartments. That’st just how things roll here, even a single person would most likely live in a 3 bedroom place.
Overall Price Round Up:
We pay 40 ringgit a night, split between two to stay in our cabin at the Buddhist sanctuary
Total: 20 ringgit a day per person ( $5.55 USD/$7.33 NZD per person, per day)
Cost of Living in Penang: Getting Around
Taxis vary. It is very unusual to find a taxi driver who will use the meter, it is normally a pre-negotiated rate. Usually, a taxi ride will cost you at least 15 ringgit, often even more. Penang traffic is notorious and at the wrong time of day, it could take you hours just to get from one part of the island to another.
The bus system is excellent, but try to catch it mid-morning (the best time for low traffic!) The journeys cost between 1-4 ringgit per person depending on the bus route/distance, but the bus drivers don’t give any change, so make sure you come prepared with change, or be prepared to sacrifice the difference.
Overall Price Round-Up:
We mostly walk to where we need to go, but on the odd occasion that we catch the bus (maybe once a week) it costs us around 3 ringgit each.
Total: approx 3 ringgit a week per person ( $0.83 USD/$1.1 NZD per person, per week)
Cost of Living in Penang Overall
Our basic costs for food, accommodation and transport come to around $582.75 each per month – which I think is pretty good. And definitelly comparable to Chiang Mai.
$14.70USD/$19.43NZD per person, per day
$102.90USD/$136.10NZD per person, per week
$441USD/$582.76NZD per person, per month (That’s 1748 MYR for those of you already accustomed to the ringgit!)
For a couple, our cost of living in Penang for an entire months is just $882USD or $1,165.51NZD.
These, of course, are our basic costs of living. They keep us alive & fed. They don’t account for special dinners out, buying new clothes/things/electronics and such. However, it is fantastic to know that we can get by on less than $1000 a month for the both of us, living in a nice spot and eating 3 good meals a day. Easily comparable to the price of living in Thailand.
We have found the cost of living in Penang to be similar to the parts of Thailand we spent time in, but with a higher quality of food and living. I consider Penang to be a great place for somebody traveling & working on a budget!