Looking for another place than Thailand, Vietnam or Bali? Then you should consider Penang for sure. This island got everything you need (And more) as a digital nomad. Let me give you a short introduction to this potential “Digital Nomad hotspot”.
Note: Prices in this blogpost are in MYR (Malaysian Ringgit) the rate at this moment (May 2018) is:
EURO: 4.7 MYR
USD: 3.9 MYR
British Pound: 5.3 MYR
Why Penang in Malaysia for Digital Nomads?
There are many reasons to settle down in Penang for a while, I will highlight the main reasons:
- 90 days free visa on arrival for many countries
- The #1 food spot in south east Asia (more tasty details further in this guide)
- Many coworking spaces & places to work from
- Everybody speaks English (and the locals are very friendly)
- It’s really affordable (meals starting from less than 1 usd)
- Rich of culture and history (Mix of Asian and European influence)
- Perfect homebase to discover the rest of Malaysia (and other places in Asia)
- Not so dirty / crowded as Kuala Lumpur and other big Asian cities
- Penang is not too touristic (You don’t have to bargain for everything, just straight and fair prices)
- Really a lot of (free) things to do (You won’t be bored for a moment)
- Enjoy the island life!
Who should NOT go to Penang?
Ofcourse there are also some cons for some people you should be aware of.
- It is not as easy as for example Chiang Mai to find cheap accommodation for a short term.
- It’s always around 30 degree celcius (for some people too hot)
- Party animals (Penang is not a #1 party destination with not too many bars and clubs compared with other popular destinations)
Digital Nomad working places in Penang
If you do some research about working in Penang as a digital nomad, you can find many disappointing posts about the internet connection around Georgetown. This is true, if you don’t know where to go. Many (old) cafés only have an internet speed up to 5 MB/PS, especially when it is a bit busy the internet will be too slow to work from.
So ofcourse if you go to the wrong places, you will have a bad experience. Besides the cafés with slow internet, Penang got a lot of options to offer which will work for you for sure.
Coworking space Penang
Looking for a place to meet other digital nomads and to work undisturbed on your projects? Penang got many options for you…
In the coworking spaces of Penang you don’t have to worry about a slow internet connection. All the coworking spaces have a multiple choice of desks, design & membership packages. If you sign up for one of these, you never have to worry about internet speed. I will summarize the options you have if you prefer to work from a coworking.
“Unlike coworking spaces in Thailand, Indonesia etc. you will find many local people working from the coworking spaces, the start up scene is big in Malaysia”
Cafés to work from in Penang
Are you more a type of person who likes to work from cafés? Penang got a huge offer in cafés to work from around Georgetown and Tanjung Tokong. Most of the café owners don’t mind if you open your laptop to do some work. Like we mentioned before, on the internet you can find some negative posts about the internet speed in cafés, so we made a list for you with cafés where you can work properly from:
|Name||Location||Internetspeed||Places to sit||Menu|
|Brown Pocket Cafe||Tanjung Tokong, Gurney Paragon Mall||Good (If not too busy)||Very Good||Coffee & Snacks|
|Starbucks||Tanjung Tokong, Gurney Drive||Good (If not too busy)||Very Good||Coffee & Snacks|
|Meraki Coffee Penang||Tanjung Tokong, Island plaza||Average (if not too busy)||Good||Coffee & Snacks|
|BeAngels Specialty coffee||Tanjung Tokong, Island plaza||Average (if not too busy)||Very good||Coffee & Snacks|
Working from your accommodation
Sometimes you don’t feel like going out and just want to get some work done at “home”. If you book a place by Airbnb, you have a good chance to have access to high speed internet. In Georgetown and Tanjung Tokong most of the houses have Time fiber internet which is at least 100 MB/PS. Always check with your host to be sure about this.
Cost of living in Penang for Digital nomads
Just like in any other digital nomad destination you can have a good life for less than 700 USD, but can also spend double. The cost of living in Penang for a digital nomad is always a tricky question, because it is based on a personal taste. To give you an idea of the cost of living, we summarized some prices:
|What||Price in MYR||Price in Euro||Price in USD|
|Budget hotel room per month|
|Room in shared apartment per month|
|Private apartment per month|
|Private studio per month|
|Local meal (street food)||5 MYR|
|Lunch / Dinner in Café & Restaurant||20 MYR|
|Cup of coffee||10 MYR|
|Scooter rental (month)|
Because the salary of local people in Malaysia is much higher than Thailand, Indonesia & Vietnam some services are a bit more expensive than the other SEA countries. Overall you can end up spending the same or even less than these countries.
Where to stay & accommodation
“Expect prices for accommodation in Penang to be 20 to 40% higher than in other common SEA Digital Nomad destinations”
Penang can be divided in Penang Island and Penang mainland or better known as Penang Butterworth. On Penang mainland you will only find the local life. The top destinations are on Penang island. The most popular places to stay are:
- George Town
- Tanjung Tokong
- Batu Ferringhi
We will give a short introduction to each of the areas.
The (colonial) centre of Penang is Georgetown and the #1 tourist spot on the island. The city centre got many buildings from English colonial time mixed with Chinese, Malay & Indian buildings. Inside Georgetown you can find many restaurants, bars, cafés and hotels. This is where “everything” is happening. The top places to be in Georgetown are:
- China Town
- Beach street
- Lebuh China
- Little India
Basically you can expect from Georgetown the same as many other top Digital Nomad expectations. What makes Georgetown unique from other places is the rich history and culture. The combination of the colonial English influence mixed with Chinese, Indian and of course the Malay makes the city unique. So you can expect great food, many museums and experience the cultures.
If you are looking for a more quiet place from all the touristic stuff and just want a place to settle down, relax and to get work done then Tanjung Tokong is your place. Tanjung Tokong is an area next to Georgetown which is popular among the expats, Digital Nomads & locals. If you are just for a few days in Penang you would probably prefer Georgetown. If you decide to stay a bit longer, Tanjung Tokong is the perfect location.
The two of the three biggest shoppingmalls are located in this area and you will find many cafés, restaurants and local places to eat in the area. It is also still very easily to go to Georgetown from this place, Grab will cost you only a few ringgits.
Batu Ferringhi is the “Beachtown” of Penang and is located about 30 minutes away from Georgetown. If you enter Batu Ferringhi you see a lot of resorts and restaurants. Basically Batu Ferringhi is one long main street besides the beach.
Every evening there is a night market where you can find cheap clothes, snacks & souvenirs. The beaches in Batu Ferringhi are quiet nice, but are full with watersport activities. You can take a ride on the banana boat or go in a parachute behind the boat.
For a digital nomad, Batu Ferringhi is not recommended. But it is a nice location for a weekend trip or just a day trip. From Batu Ferringhi you are just within a few minutes in the mountains where it is very quiet which can be nice after a while in the busy Georgetown area’s.
Top Things to do in Batu Ferringhi
- Hard Rock Hotel & Hard Rock Café
- Stay in a nice resort like Hilton Tree Top
- Enjoy the good food
- Night market
- Watersport activities
- Explore the rest of Penang island
AirBnb in Penang
As a Digital Nomad, we don’t need to introduce you to Airbnb… But what are the options for Airbnb in Penang and what are the average prices?
For the last year the offer of airbnb options raised enormously. That means that you have many places too choose. You will find a private room in a condominium in Georgetown or Tanjung Tokong for about 100 to 180 MYR. If you stay for 1 week or even 1 month, you might get a better price.
If you want a place completely for yourself like a studio or small apartments prices will start from 160 MYR in Georgetown & Tanjung Tokong.
Enough about the prices, the places you can find on Airbnb in Penang are very nice. We would say that Malaysia got the most impressive condominiums in South East Asia. So maybe you pay a bit more, but you will get much more for it. Also most of the Airbnb hosts are very friendly and helpful. They will try their best to give you a good time in Penang. If you are planning to stay in Penang, we would recommend to use Airbnb to find your accommodation.
Hotels , Budget hotels & Hostels
If you stay just for a few days in Penang and want a central location, than a hotel might be your favorite option. You will find many options on Booking.com or Agoda in Georgetown and Penang. You can find budget hostels starting from 25 MYR up to the most luxury hotels. If you choose for a hostel you might end up between the partying backpackers coming from Thailand. If you higher your budget a bit you can find nice private hotel rooms starting from 150 MYR. Have a look at Booking.com to see what your options are.
Short term rental
Unfortunately it is hard to find a short term rental stay in Penang. Unlike Chiang Mai or Bali you don’t really have studio’s & apartments here where you can move in directly for just 1 month. The least you might find is a 3 month contract with a high deposit. So Airbnb like mentioned before will remain to be the best choice.
What to eat?
Take a taxi and your driver will start talking about food. Tell people you are going to Penang and they will start suggesting what to eat. It doesn’t take long to realize that Penang is all about food. Not a surprise if you look at the diversity of people living in Penang. You can find Chinese, Indian, Malay, Arab, Western and a big variety of Asian cuisines in Penang. The local food is all Chinese, Indian & Malay of course with all dishes from different regions of the countries. So what are the absolute must eats when in Penang?
We will summarize some of the most famous dishes of Penang & Malaysia. After that we will introduce you to some of the best restaurants, cafés & hawkers (streetfood places) in Penang.
Where to eat?
Transport in Penang
How to get from A to B on the island? For most of the people it would be too hot during the day to walk a far distance. But don’t be upset, there are still a lot of convenient options left to get around:
- Public Transport (Just a few ringgit)
- Grab / Taxi / Uber (Most popular
- The Linkbike
On Penang island the only public transport you can find are the busses. For only a few ringgit you can go to almost everywhere. The busses can be quiet full sometimes especially during the jam hours. You can plan your trip by bus easily with Google Maps, all the times are available.
One of the most popular and convenient ways to get around in Penang is by the grab taxi. Download Grab, register and order a taxi. In most of the places you will always find a taxi within 5 minutes. Most of the grab drivers are very friendly and helpful. They all speak English and are happy to introduce you to Penang culture, most of the advise they will give you will be about Penang food.
The Grab taxi is also very cheap and they have many times promotions to make it even cheaper. For a 15 minute drive you will pay around 5 ringgit.
A popular way to get around among tourist in Georgetown is the linkbike system. This is a public bicycle rental service. In and around Georgetown the Malaysian government have installed pick up / return stations for bicycles. You can register easily with your smartphone in front of one of the systems. Connect your creditcard and buy a day, week or month pass.
After your purchase you can scan a bicycle and it will come available for you. The first 30 minutes of usage is not extra charged. So if you return the bicycle within 30 minutes to any of the stations, you only pay for the day pass. After 30 minutes you only pay 1 ringgit per hour.
The prices for the Link bike packages are:
1 day: 2 MYR
2 day2: 3 MYR
3 days: 4 MYR
7 days: 10 MYR
30 days: 20 MYR
Scooter & car rental
The best way to explore the island and get around with complete freedom is ofcourse your own verhicle. If you have a international driver license, you are able to drive car or a motorbike in Malaysia. If you don’t have this, you can get your driver license translated to Bahasa Melayu or English by an official translator. If you did this, you are also able to drive legally.
If you compare Penang to Vietnam, Thailand or Bali then the traffic is much less crazy here. Important to know is that the people drive on the left side of the road. Signs are all clear and if you drive according the rules, the police won’t bother you.
Scooters or motorbikes can be rented in Georgetown, for a day you will be charged 20 MYR up to 35 MYR. For the cheapest price, you need to make sure that you bargain as much as possible. You won’t get the best price to start with. If you rent for a longer term (1 week or 1 month) you are also able to get a better price.
Make sure to put some sun protection on before you leave, it can be pretty hot if you are waiting in front of the traffic lights.
Another option is to rent a car if you prefer this.The great thing about having a car is that you can use the AC. Cars are like in other places much more expensive to rent. Prices will start from 200 MYR per day. Like renting a motorbike, it is also recommended to bargain for your price and get a discount if you rent the car a bit longer.
Top things to do in Penang
You don’t have to be worried about getting bored in Penang. If you are into culture, nature & food, then you are on the right island. Even one month would not be enough to do all the touristic and less touristic activities. In the table below we put all the things to do in Penang. Below the table we will give some more information about the top things to do in Penang.
Where to go from Penang…
Penang is the perfect “homebase” to discover the rest of Malaysia. You can plan many weekend trips to other places. We summarized the most common places to go in Malaysia in the table below.
|Penang||Kuala lumpur||Duration: 4 hours|
Price: 79 MYR
|Duration: 6 hours|
|Duration: 1 hour|
How to go to Penang from…
Are you in another place in Malaysia (or abroad) and you want to go to Penang? These are your options.
Malaysia Visa requirements
As a Digital Nomad who travels for a long term, Visa’s are an huge pain in the ***. Luckily in Malaysia the rules are very positive for most of the countries. Most of the Western countries can just get a visa on arrival for free which allows you to stay up to 90 days in the country. You don’t have to apply for this and it is completely free. If you want to stay longer, you have to do a visa run. Malaysia is in the middle of South- East Asia which make it not a punishment if you have to go for a visa run. Within 1 hour you can be in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand or Vietnam.
For a full list of visa requirements per country check this website of the Malaysian government.
Ultimate Penang FAQ
Besides all the information above, there is still a lot to tell and ask about Penang in Malaysia. Below you find a list with the most frequent asked questions on DigitalNomadPenang.com. Is you question not included? Feel free to leave a comment and we will try to answer your question asap 🙂