Thursday, 31 March 2011

Penang Street (Hawker) Food - iPhone Application

I have recently come across the "Penang Hawker Food" blog (which I have added to "Useful Links") and which provides an interesting read in readiness for my impending trip. It is updated quite often and provides detail of a wide range of food and even specific stalls and their locations.

From reading the blog, and in a moment of extravagance, I decided to buy the iPhone Ap which is referred to in the blog, "Penang Street Food". It looks quite good and it will be useful to carry the info around, at least until I become more familiar. It can be purchased through iTunes at a cost of £1.19. They do a free version and also a "Halal friendly" version. I opted for the paid version as it shows a great deal more information about the types of food. The Ap provides details of the top fifteen hawker foods to try and details of 160 stalls, their hours and also turn by turn guides on how to get to them, utilising the iPhone GPS (for 3GS and after).

For anyone who really wants to be up to the minute with any comments from the publisher of the Ap you can follow PSF on Twitter.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Property Ponderings (3)

I have previously mentioned the issue of the somewhat alarming recent prices rises for property in Penang and there is a useful thread on the MM2H Forum (Penang Condos) where this issue is being discussed. Some of the potential explanations for the price rises are offered together with a slightly cynical (though I suspect not far from accurate) theory as to the marketing strategy of the developers in shifting their properties. Right or wrong, property prices continue to rise!!! Have a look through the various sub-boards on that site (e.g. "Where to Live" & "Property Matters") and you will find several discussions about properties in Penang (and elsewhere) with references to upward price trends.

In short, it seems that many of the properties in Penang have gone up by as much as 10-15% in the last 3 months alone and by an even more alarming amount in the last 6-12 months. Question is why? While it is hard to be sure it doesn't seem that there would be enough buyers there to snap these properties up and continue to drive up prices, especially in terms of MM2H applicants, so on face value it seems to be similar what went on in Dubai with property speculators buying blocks of property off-plan hoping to 'flip' them (sell them on prior to completion at a very healthy profit). Many individuals, often in syndicates, also got caught up in this "Can't Fail" investment opportunity and handed over money in bucket loads. It was fine at first (many investors seeing a 50% profit on their investments within 6 months), then of course, it failed. World economy, no buyers, high and dry investors. Many of the properties in Dubai remain unfinished and those that got completed, investors are having a hard time in dropping them for 30% of what they paid for them. I'm also aware of similar issues in Florida with properties that were going for $350K two years ago no going for $160K!!

Question is will the same happen in Penang and if so when? Is the current upwards trend sustainable? No-one wants to buy when property is at its peak, even if it's with a view to living in the place rather than selling as an investment because at some stage, you are likely going to have to move on (as the word 'Second' in the title of the MM2H visa implies). Few would wish to sell at a 50% loss. Problem of course is how long do you wait, if you wait at all? Next year they could be 50% higher again. It's a tough call.

To get the most bang for the buck I am seriously considering off-plan purchase, subject of course to being able to find the right one in the right place and built by the right developer. Again, as has been mentioned before, it's a bit more of a gamble as you cannot see what you are getting and walk away as you can with an existing build. From what I gather, developers are being given a bit of an incentive to build properties at or under the RM 350K mark so time will tell if that generates more builds in that area instead of the "super-condos" that seem to be springing up. A useful site to check out availability of property for sale (existing and new projects) which I was pointed towards is The site also caters for rentals. I have added this site to the 'Useful Links' also.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

International Driving Permit

As I am going to Malaysia for essentially a holiday I did ponder whether I needed an International Driving Permit (IDP) or not. Clearly if you're not planning to hire a car (or motor cycle) or drive out their you don't but I will likely hire car, if only for a short time. The permits have to be used in conjunction with, not instead of, your UK driving licence and the guide books suggest that it's not essential but likely a good idea to get one for Malaysia. In the UK these permits are issued by the Automobile Association (AA) and their IDP site also indicates 'Recommended' for Malaysia. There are two types the AA issues, those issued in accordance with requirements from the year 1926 and those issued in accordance with 1949 requirements. Malaysia requires the latter. I believe the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) also issues (or did issue) these as well but information on their site is more sparse. The IDP is valid for 12 months and may be applied for up to three months before you intend to travel.

Application is quite a simple process. Either in person at a participating Post Office (listed on the AA site under the 'Apply at specified Post Office, at a designated AA Port Travel Shop (certain Eurotunnel or Ferry) or by post direct to the AA. If applying in person you will need your passport (certain other documents are also listed as options), your driving licence (the photo-card and paper counterpart) and a passport photograph (the online form from the AA sets out the criteria the photo must comply with) which you must sign on the back. You will also need to complete a form which the Post Office provides. The fee at the time of writing is £5.50 in person or £8.00 by post.

I chose to apply in person as I live relatively close to a 'specified' Post Office and there is less messing around with providing photocopies of your passport and both sides of your card and paper counterpart licence that is required with a postal application. Took about 10 minutes.

May well be overkill and not needed but, IMO, better safe than sorry.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Property Ponderings (2)

Some further information coming to light from residents and forum members:

Balik Pulau: Mentioned this district before and as I suspected it is quite a way from anywhere to such an extent it probably would become a drag to live there. No point having a nice landed property with nothing to do nearby requiring a drive, and sometimes a long one, to get to malls, entertainment and activities. The nearest mall so I am told is at Bayan Lepas which means a drive back past the airport and likely encountering traffic from the industrial zones. No thanks. Likely off the list now.

Batu Ferringhi: A bonus with BF is that it's near a beach. Downside, as alluded to before, is that it's some way out and at the end of quite a winding road. Many of the properties are built on the hills surrounding the beach. Once further consideration is that at the end of Tanjung Tokong and the beginning of BF, there is a floating mosque which can get busy on Fridays. I lived in Abu Dhabi for nearly 3 years in a newly re-furbed apartment that was behind a mosque. To my amazement the apartment was single glazed. Double glazing features on my property checklists now!!! That or a local noise check!!

Tanjung Tokong: As has been mentioned, Gurney Drive is very well placed for amenities with most in walking distance. Tanjung Tokong is not far from Gurney (being the next developed area out and before Tanjung Bungah) and is close to Island Plaza, Gurney Plaza, Straits Quay and hospitals etc etc. It is an up and coming area by all accounts and, it is suggested, likely to be a good place to live and invest.

For obvious reasons Tanjong Tokong and Gurney are pretty much at the top of my places to check list at the moment, fortunate considering I will be staying nearby.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Property Ponderings

Ultimately, should Malaysia tick all my boxes, the biggest question for me will be what type of property to go for. At the moment Penang is at the top of my list so much of the information I detail here relates to that area. The information has been distilled from a variety of posts, messages, mails and research I have been able to do and is clearly biased towards the nuggets that particularly affect me and my needs.

General Considerations

There are 5 key questions for me:
  • Rent or buy?
  • Condo or landed property (e.g. bungalow/house)?
  • Old or new (and in that regard new/completed or off-plan)?
  • City or suburbs?
  • Leasehold or Freehold?
I have to say I have always been adverse to renting. I just view rental as dead money. There are some benefits though, particularly as a new resident. For me these mainly centre around checking out a place to live to make sure you are making the right decision (area or indeed country), the ease with which you can pack up leave from a rental should the need arise (liquidating an owned property will take time) and of course providing you with a roof over your head if you decide to go the new build/off-plan route. Once sure about the country/area however, ownership becomes a no-brainer for me. In Penang there are many properties around the RM 500K mark and you can get a reasonable rental there for around the RM 1,500 per month. Clearly the more you pay the more you'll get but this figure seems a good enough benchmark. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out that over, say, 5 years at RM 1,500 per month you would pay RM 90K in rental and on a RM 500K purchased property you could afford to sell it for just RM 410K (should the market decline) and still be no worse off. Over 10 years of course price you could sell at, if you had to, would be just RM 380K.

On the condo or landed property front I'm still undecided. One thing I don't want is a life of maintenance and chore tasks such as cutting lawns, treating wood, cutting hedges etc etc etc. There are however attractions to landed properties including having your own space, potentially fewer neighbour issues and the ability to design your own place. Condos also have some attractions however, in particular for me, the ability to "lock it and leave it" whenever the fancy to travel takes you (security less of a concern albeit there have been some reports of "inside job" break-ins with security guards suspected of letting the villains know of vacant properties), many of the condos seem better placed in terms of proximity to nightlife etc. and fewer maintenance issues (though this can depend greatly on the management company). A further consideration is whether condos appreciate as much as landed properties with suggestions that they may not. I will have to ponder this longer and visit several properties to form a view I think.

Old or new, again one I need to ponder more. Newer builds will obviously be more modern and, if you chose your builder/development carefully, can be of a good quality. This is important to me in terms of the electrics, water pipes etc, bathroom/sanitary fittings and state of the overall buildings. You need to be careful with a new build to ensure the builder does not intend to use asbestos based ceiling tiles in bathrooms and kitchens as it is still a commonly used material. This is clearly an important consideration for older builds to, rental or purchase. Some of the older buildings are well established and some, such as Miami Green, have a good reputation because of their management, security and design (MG is built in an apart-hotel style with good facilities) and are popular with expats. I need to check out whether I think these benefits are worth the premium some of these properties command. It's all a personal choice again. Clearly the off-plan option is under this heading too and the main benefit to this to my mind is the significant savings with properties being bought, for example, off-plan a year or two ago at RM 350K and now going for RM 550K. Even taking into account rental for 1-2 years this represents a significant saving!! Indeed, something that is somewhat alarming is the rate at which property prices seem to be escalating in Penang with many properties having gone up by 10-15% since January 2011 alone! The question is, is it sustainable? Finally, while considering this option, it is important not to forget renovations. Possibly worth considering in an older building and either DIY or using an renovator. An issue of course will be how good the infrastructure and fabric of the building is, water pipes, electrics, walls and water-proofing. In Abu Dhabi complete blocks used to be shut down by developers and renovated allowing a 'deeper' refurb to be done (sometimes!!!!). Not sure yet if this happens in Penang.

Finally, city or suburbs? And, again one I need to ponder more. The major cities such as Kuala Lumpur or Georgetown have their attractions being well placed for all amenities. The downsides include the levels of noise in some cases, traffic congestion (and the resultant pollution) and the feeling of claustrophobia that busy city living can bring. There are of course also suburbs and suburbs. For me, in Penang the choice will likely come from one of the major contenders (e.g. Gurney Drive, Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong). All have their benefits and the main purpose of my first trip will be to see what ticks most of my boxes, there will inevitably be compromises to be made. Another thing I need to check out, though maybe not this time around, is some of the property in other parts of Penang and even elsewhere in Malaysia where prices can be substantially less. I do however need to be careful that the cheaper property cost does not come with a heavy impact in terms of quality of life and at the expense of things to do. This could lead to a miserable existence and would be false economy.

Lease or freehold is also a no brainer for me, but something to check for. I always favour freehold over lease as it is just so much easier to sell on IMHO.

Some Specifics

Mainly so I have the details in one place for when I get there, some suggestions from current and prospective MM2Hers in terms of property and guide prices (as at March 2011). Property comparison is often quoted in price per square foot (ppsf/psf) and, where relevant, I have included them and will update this to show some complete unit prices when I get them. On the condo front Im Malaysia, as with many countries, as the floor level goes up (often providing better views) the price goes up also, sometimes at an alarming rate:

  • Seaview Gardens: An older property (1995) with some of very questionable quality with prices between RM 520 - 680K being asked for!!! 'Sea Range' and 'Reef' are similar older condo buildings.
  • Ferringhi Mutiara Apartments (Batu Ferringhi): Going at RM160k each
  • Miami Green (Batu Ferringhi): Popular but at a price. An older property at approx RM 500 psf. G block is the newest. The views to the rear are none to attractive so I believe and the higher level apartments with better views command very high prices. At the time of writing asking prices for the units there were between RM 488K - 600K (likely for the higher floor levels).
  • Fettes Residences: 415 psf. New.
  • Brezza (Tanjung Tokong): 500 psf. New again and near the E&O Straits complex and Tesco!! Prices off-plan were RM 350K, now RM 490K!!! Problem here is that unless the developer has converted, these properties were leasehold
Further options include Georgetown (above Times Square) and south of the bridge where there is a lot of new development.

At the moment the Tanjung Tokong area appeals to me and potentially an off-plan or new build. The trip I am sure will reveal a lot more but I am indebted to the mails, posts and comments from various forum members and contacts for providing this very useful information.

So, that's it for now. I'll update this if I come across more useful nuggets before my trip and of course there will be more updates, with pics, once I am there.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

KLIA and Duty Free

One thing I did check is that like some other countries (UAE and Singapore etc) you can stop at the DF at KLIA when you land (inbound) prior to clearing customs.  I do however understand it is a bit of hike from the DF store to the Arrivals hall so perhaps need to be mindful of the distance your are prepared to hike with any goodies.

One reason for checking the DF situation out is that in Abu Dhabi (surprisingly I thought) the DF allowance on spirits (the drinking rather malevolent 'stalker' kind) is 4 litres.  When flying there I always used to buy at Abu Dhabi airport rather than Heathrow as I found it easier than lugging the allowance in bottles onto the plane.  I always find Heathrow quite expensive for DF also.  For Malaysia the allowance is 1 litre though so, given the hike, I may well buy at Heathrow this time, purely for medicinal reasons of course.  At the time of writing the main DF allowances are (you should always check specifics before travelling in case allowances change):

  • 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 225g of tobacco.
  • 1L of spirits or wine or malt liquor.
  • Cosmetics, perfume, soaps and toothpaste up to the value of RM200.
  • Gifts and souvenirs not exceeding a total value of RM200 (except goods from Langkawi and Labuan, up to a value of RM500).
  • 100 matches.
  • A total of RM75 for dutiable food preparations.
  • A maximum three pieces of new wearing apparel, plus one pair of new footwear.
  • One unit of each portable electrical or battery-operated appliance for personal care and hygiene.

I'll likely check out the DF on arrival anyway for a couple of price comparisons and to see if there are any real incentives (range, prices etc) to hit the DF when inbound prior to heading for 'Arrivals'.

Friday, 25 March 2011

KLIA, Taxis and Trains (travel to and from airport)

Again on the forewarned is forearmed front, asked a question on the MM2H site about the options for travel to and from KLIA.  The responses have given me a pretty clear picture and answered another question in my mind as to which of the travel options was best.

Essentially there are two popular options.  An express train at a return ticket cost on RM 70 or a taxi at about RM 100. On the cost front alone it only really becomes better value to use a taxi if there are three or more people given that a single fare on the train seems to equate to RM 35 each.  For some, just being able to hop into a taxi may prove too much of an incentive but I understand the express train is easily accessible.  There is also the other issue to consider - time.  The express train will take 30 minutes to Kuala Lumpur City City Centre (KLCC) whereas a taxi will take about 50 minutes if there are no traffic problems and longer and if the traffic is bad, sometimes a LOT longer.

Something else which was pointed out, that is certainly interesting is that both at the airport, and around Kuala Lumpur you can buy pre-paid taxi vouchers which by all accounts were introduced so people were less worried about getting ripped off.  Once in KLCC for instance you can buy an RM 10 voucher that will get you to any KL hotel.  How it works and whether there are any problems getting drivers to accept these etc I'll report on when I'm there.  I certainly may look to keep a few of these vouchers in my pocket.

It does seem that in KL at least there are 2 types of taxi.  Blue cars where the 'flag fall' (the fare that the clock starts off at) is RM 6 versus the RM 3 of the other taxis that sound a little more  be of the 'take your life in your hands" variety.  At the airport the attendants will tend to push tourists towards the pricier taxis.  I may be wrong here but it seems you can get one of these taxi vouchers at the aiport too for about RM 100 which would presumably alleviate the problem and will get you to anywhere in KL.  Again I'll report when there and/or amend this post if it becomes clearer.  All taxis are also fitted with meters but getting the drivers to use them can sometimes be a challenge as they seem to prefer to give you a price.  Once you find a decent taxi driver it can be useful (I did this in the UAE a lot) to take their mobile number and use that/those driver(s) on an 'on call' basis whenever you need a taxi.

Thanks to Phil for pointing out (see comments) you could also take a regular bus from KLIA to KL Sentral (and no it's not a typo) Station for a fare of RM 10.

Once you are in the region you want to be there are of course buses which I gather are good, frequent and cheap at RM 2-5.  I will likely use the bus a lot (101 if I have it right) between Bathu Ferringhi, Gurney and Georgetown.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Tourist / PAYG SIM Card

One of the things that is extremely useful I find is to have mobile phone connectivity in any country, preferably activated the day you arrive or shortly thereafter, especially if you use your phone regularly for data such as e-mail and internet. In my case, I carry my iPhone for day to day use and use a spare phone to put the UK SIM in just in case of emergency (or the inevitable "Your credit card has been blocked" message because AGAIN the bank fails to take notice of the "I'm going to X" message you so painstakingly sent them!!). As I use an iPhone my interest will be for a SIM that has a data bolt-on to allow internet connectivity for retrieval of emails and blogging if nothing else (I find surfing on them a bit tiresome).

For Malaysia there are numerous options in terms of these pre-paid or "Pay as you go" SIMs but the ones which seem most popular are:
From what I can gather they are all much of a muchness but for where I am going to be based (West coast / Penang) I understand that Digi may have the edge on coverage so that is what I will be going for. Again, I understand that there are desks at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) where you can get these SIMs (you will likely need your passport as proof of identity regardless of where you buy) and at the time of writing the SIM costs RM 8.50 which includes RM 5.00 of calls/SMS. The call/SMS charges are very low and IMHO not worth bothering about so I won't go into the detail. For those that are bothered the details are available through the site links above.

Most of these pre-paid SIMs you get are designed for calls/SMS but you can use data connection as well, typically for a charge of RM 5-10 per day flat rate. Each of the companies does either a data bolt-on or a specifically branded pre-paid call/SMS/data SIM. In the case of Celcom this is called Xpax and for Maxis it is Hotlink (unfortunately at the time of writing several of the Maxis links for Hotlink were down). As I plan to go with Digi (at least at first) I will likely buy the data bundle they offer which for RM 15 a week gives you unlimited (well it is actually limited but you'd have to be using a lot to burn it up I think - save the You Tube and streaming video for wifi!!!!) data for as many weeks as you pay the fee. That is a good rate to me - RM 70 a week at the daily rate or RM 15 for the week. Digi also offer the ability to sign up to internet for a day (up to 24 hours) at a cost of RM 3. Be aware however that the cut off time of your subscription is midnight (so if you 'sign up' at 23:00 for one day, you will get 1 hour, not 24 hours until 23:00 next day) AND the daily subscription will auto-renew until you cancel.

The other thing you can do with Digi is opt to pay a one off fee of RM 30 for what they call 'Super Long Life'. This validates your line and any credit you have for 12 months so you don't need worry about any credit you buy expiring, very useful for those making periodic trips or who have chosen to stick with pre-paid and leave the country for protracted periods. One thing I do like about Digi is that the information about their plans is very well laid out and easily accessible. Their links all work too!!!

All these SIMs can be topped up with vouchers that can be purchased from a variety of outlets such as Tesco, Cold Storage, Giant and 7-Eleven etc. In the case of Digi (and I imagine others) the value of the voucher affects the length of time the credit will stay valid for, ranging from an RM 10 (10 days) to RM 100 (120 days). Others available are RM 20, 30 and 50. As I will be using the data package bolt on for nearly 3 weeks I imagine I'll go for the RM 100 option.

Mobile phone and SIM availability is just one of those things I like to have explored before I get there so I know exactly what I want and can get connected from day one, or at least as quickly as is possible.

NB: Please bear in mind one thing. In certain countries mobile phones may well be sold/provided locked to a network provider if bought with a plan. Not so in others and not so for many phones bought on PAYG. For instance, an iPhone sourced in France, the UAE or Belgium will be network unlocked. If your phone is locked you will not be able to insert a local SIM into the phone and get it to work. In most cases your mobile service network provider will be able to provide you with a SIM unlock code if you explain that you are travelling overseas and need to use a local SIM. In many cases you have the right to demand that code, especially if your phone is 'out of contract'. An easy way to check if your phone is SIM locked before you arrive is to just pick up one of the countless PAYG SIMs that many countries and insert it in the phone. If it works, you are already unlocked. Bottom line, if you plan to use a local SIM in your mobile when you arrive, check it is unlocked before you come, and do it early as some providers take up to two weeks to provide the SIM unlock code.

(See also subsequent post dated 6 June re Digi 'Super Long Life').

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Blog 'Labels' and technical stuff

Over time, and particularly when I am in Malaysia (visiting and permanent), the blog I suspect will grow, sometimes rapidly, with a focus on discoveries with regard to things that appeal to me (cycling, gyms, beaches, tai chi and other activities, food, restaurants and the nightlife etc.) and also snippets of news or other information that I think may be of interest to others.

To be really useful, in my humble opinion, once a blog gets very long it needs a good index for people to be able to find information.  Blogger is good in that it does provide a blog search tool so that people can look for specifics thus cutting out the need for bloggers to create massive lists of 'Labels' (index) listing every comment made, and to some extent rendering it useless.

The approach I have decided to use will be to only index posts by the generic topics they cover, mostly.  As such, the post below on 'Jabs' will be under 'Medical', not 'Medical' and 'Jabs'.  Anyone looking for general medical issues will thus turn it up, anyone looking for jabs will be able search.  The potential for the term vaccinations is covered also by inclusion in the post.  Another thing I will do is check the contents of each group over time.  If after 3 - 6 months a 'Label' has just one entry it is probably superfluous, unless of course it's something like 'Asteroid' relating to the massive entity hurtling towards Earth that will most certainly destroy the planet in 2 years time (that is an example by the way, tin hats are not needed at this stage).

I have pondered some of the 'Label' possibilities and changed my mind a few times.  As an example, 'Flights' and 'Travel'.  At the moment I have just categorised these under 'Travel' as a search for flights will bring them up readily and the 'Travel' label will bring up all travel related issues.  I am trying not to 'over categorise' either.  As an example, implicit in getting the MM2H visa is travel, but a post about MM2H will not be labelled as 'Travel'.  Finally on the labels front, took a while deciding over Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown as labels and contemplated just leaving these under districts.  Bearing in mind the likelihood of me frequenting these places regularly though I figured it would be useful to be able to quickly looks up all things, Penang, Gerorgetown and KL related.  Georgetown will of course be labelled 'Penang' as well so a search for Penang will bring up all posts with Georgetown, but not vice versa.

On some other technicalities of the blog, Blogger provides the ability to follow this blog, should you wish, by e-mail or RSS (News) Feed.  You can also send me an email from the blog and in time, especially when I am in Malaysia, I will log on to Yahoo Messenger and readers will be able to 'Chat' through that if they so wish (it will be clearly marked 'Online' when I am).  The links for all this stuff are on the right of the blog, towards the bottom.  I will also be putting up a related 'Facebook' page at some stage when I can figure out the technicalities of Facebook 'Page' use and the benefits (if any).  There is also include a list of abbreviations so they can be checked from within the blog.  I am not great lover of text speak (e.g. m8 for mate) but some in common use (AFAIK: As far as I know) can save time etc.  Others will relate to more general issues and some will be Malaysia/Penang specific.

So, that's it for now, at least until my accommodation is all arranged (a minor update) and, most importantly, my first trip starts.  Any feedback or comments on the blog (especially on the indexing approach and/or anything you think would be useful to include) are very welcome either through the 'Comments' section at the foot of each post, the email facility on this blog or through the forums I use for those that 'know' me from there.

I hpe you enjoy the blog and thanks for reading.

Travel Plans and Accommodation

My first trip to Malaysia starts with a flight out there from Heathrow on Malaysia Airlines on 19 April. I return on 11 May. In terms of plans, I intend to stay in Kuala Lumpur (KL) for 2 nights when I arrive (to get over the inevitable travel fatigue), then do Penang for 17 nights and then a final 2 nights in KL before flying back to the UK. A primary consideration of course is where to stay and in attempt to cut down on as much work as possible while I am there, especially for the first time, arranging accommodation has been a priority.

Hitting KL will both allow me to get over the flight and also to check out the city for a couple of days at least. A key consideration for me is location with cost a secondary consideration. Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) / Golden Triangle seems to be the best area from which to make a base. While I haven't booked yet I plan to stay at either the Melia Hotel or possibly the Grand Millenium. The Melia has been recommended by some MM2H forum users, as has the Millenium. Both are well placed on the Bukit Bintang while it seems that the Millenium is set back somewhat, so is perhaps more quiet. I have experience of the Millenium chain from UAE and find them OK. The Melia is a Sol hotel of which I have no experience.

The two sites I mentioned earlier (see links on right of blog), Agoda and Asia Travel, are both very good in my opinion as they cover a good range of hotels, operate a reward system (where you can used the earned value to contribute to the cost of future bookings) and, importantly, have a fairly comprehensive review facility. Prices I find tend to be very competitive and I found that these sites will often even offer better prices than some of the rates you may get if you ask the hotel direct. If you have the time and inclination it has been suggested that a good rate can be got at the hotel by playing somewhat "hard to get" (e.g. ask to see a room, ask for the best price, walk away, check the internet, return and negotiate more). I am sure this would work well but for the first nights in country at least, it's nice to arrive knowing you have a bed. At the time of writing Agoda had rooms at the Melia at 233 MYR per night and the Millenium at 318 MYR. There are of course countless hotels at all manner of price ranges and it has to be said that the two guide books listed on the right of the blog do not mention these hotels. I will give one of them a try I think, decision time tomorrow.

After 2 nights in KL I will go to Penang for the main bulk of my stay, seeing as Penang seems to be the place that appeals most. As per my previous post I plan to avoid south of Georgetown as a living option purely because of the extent on industrialisation. I've also already touched on where does appeal in Penang and, while I will certainly visit Georgetown (probably often), at the moment it doesn't feature highly on my list of likely places to live. Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong and Tanjung Bungah are the main areas of interest at the moment with Battu Ferringhi high on the list also. As a result of what I've seen I particularly want to check out the Miami Green apartments there.

Again, Agoda and Asia Travel turn up several hotels some of which I list below with the current prices:

Tanjung Bungah:
  • Flamingo Hotel 4*: 197
  • Copthorne Orchid (TB) 4*: 135

Bathu Ferringhi:
  • Shangri La 5*: 770
  • Golden Sands 4*: 450
  • Lone Pine 5*: 426
  • Park Royal 5*: 358
  • Hilton 4*: 260
  • Bayview Beach 4*: 249

  • Evergreen Laurel 4*: 260

I had planned to check into the Evergreen or G Hotel (both on Gurney) for a couple of nights then maybe look for either a short term rental or serviced apartments. I looked at the Golden View apartments in Tanjung Tokong but I believe this is a bit more out the way and perhaps not so much nearby. They seem OK and were available at 250 MYR per night (off peak). While I was looking on the net I was fortunate enough to be contacted by someone who has an apartment in Miami Green that he was happy to rent out to me for the 17 nights.

So, subject to a couple of final clarifications that is what I suspect I will be going for. It will provide a good comfortable base and will have the added benefit of allowing me to experience the Miami Green apartments, a development that I am particularly interested in. Bulk of the planning out of the way it, will give me time to do some much needed reading prior to the trip when posts will most likely be at least daily. Until then , subject to changes in accommodation plans or me uncovering any snippets worthy of not, the blog may go quiet for a while.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


Just back from the surgery (where I must have hit the "Assign miserable nurse" button on the way in) and found that I only need one jab as I was already up to date with others.  In all I was advised that I would need:
  • Diptheria
  • Tetanus
  • Polio
  • Hep B
  • Hep A
  • Typhoid
I had already had a Hep A / Typhoid (combi) in 2007 so it was just a booster for those today.  I was just advised to be careful on the Malaria front and that the safest way is to avoid getting bitten.  I have made a mental note to explain that, and the reasons, to the mosquito population when I arrive.  I trust they will not be offended.  I may also take the old fisherman's preventative of Brewer's Yeast tablets which I used to take when I was fly-fishing regularly.  It seemed to work (or they just didn't like my blood).  If I recall correctly you take about 3 a day for a month then one a day for the duration of the season thereafter.

Rabies is apparently low risk and I am naturally immune to TB.  Dengue Fever also sounds like one to avoid, again spread by the ever so helpful 'mozi' but I'm not sure if there is a vaccine. It seems not as I wasn't given it.  Dengue was apparently 17% up in October 2010 with 37,419 cases in Malaysia. 

Clearly anyone seeking to travel to Malaysia should seek their own medical advice with regard to vaccinations but I'm quite thankful I just needed the one and all my vaccinations are now up to date.

What precisely am I looking for?

No, not some philosophical ponderings of life to be contemplated over a suitable U2 track while drinking Bushmills Black Bush, rather some thoughts on what exactly I am looking for in Malaysia/Penang so I can see how much it measures up when I'm there.

I mentioned before that there were certain things about living in the UAE that I missed since being back in the UK.  I've explained it to myself and others on the basis that in the UAE, I had little of what I would call my life around me as home was still in the UK.  Thus all the trappings and paraphernalia that went with that were mostly in the UK.  As such, there were a lot of times in the UAE where outside of work it could feel a little empty.  This was then contrasted by the odd highlight when maybe I'd go out for a nice meal under palm trees on the beach front, have a pleasant afternoon chatting with friends or colleagues over a beer or ten, even visits to the beach and gym.  And of course, the visits to places such as Syria and Jordan with their rich culture and heritage (terms which most certainly do NOT apply to the UAE) and ancient historical sites.  So in the UAE I seemed to have the occasional 'highlights' but not so much in terms of day-to-day life.

In the UK, I found it to be the other way round.  All of what interests me in terms of day-to-day life was there and kept me occupied fully, especially during the day.  But what of the highlights?  For me there were few, or is that none?  Living in a remote rural village in South West Wales maybe didn't help but even when I visited London and other major centres it all felt a bit flat.  That I returned to the UK just in time for the onset of a particularly grim winter didn't help but I found little that appealed to me about being there once I had finished doing what I was doing for the day.  Nothing to do (or at least that appealed) in my 'down time' or 'social time'.  Beaches are not too far away but it's not quite the same on a UK beach I find, some nice views and fresh air (sometimes too bleedin' fresh), but overall I find them a bit, well, utiliterian, as if they are not quite 'there'.  The outdoor life is less viable in the UK, an issue I struggled to come to terms with even after holidays in France, Spain and elsewhere.  Towns and villages are geared towards indoor living and now seem to be accompanied by the aroma of MacDonalds or your fast food outlet of choice.  Sure there are quaint exceptions, but the norm?  Well equipped gyms were few and far between, shopping centres are full of chain stores (such that you could really be anywhere regardless of which town you visited) and, being a committed 'foodie' (do they have 'beerie' I wonder), the lack of easily accessible, different and reasonably priced restaurants and food outlets was really depressing.  Add to that the weather, spiralling cost of living and taxes, declining public services and the very 'chavvy' nature of a lot of UK towns these days I decided it was not for me any more.  So in the UK I found I had plenty of 'life' but very few (read 'no') highlights.

What all this confirmed is that the hobbies and interests I have I can actually do anywhere but it needs to be somewhere that ticks the highlight boxes as well so that when I have that 'social time' or 'down time' I feel like I am living and enjoying it, rather than just existing.  So what am I looking for in Malaysia?  Well, in summary (and I may miss a few things out that I'll come back and edit):

  • Nicer climate
  • Quality of life
  • The 'buzz' that is often associated with Asian cities and centres of population
  • Good food, a mix of restaurant and outlet types, all easily accessible and reasonably priced 
  • Good cultural mix
  • Good beaches, different 'countryside' and a variety of places to visit
  • Access to reasonable sports facilities and places to run/cycle
  • Reasonable cost of living
  • Living more outdoors
  • Variety of places for retail therapy, from malls to back-street vendors
  • Somewhere to practice Tai Chi!
  • Being well placed for travel to other countries of interest
So, there we have it, not an exhaustive list by any means and I'm sure it will get added to as I remember things or even discover things when I visit.  Clearly, as with any move there will be some things I will miss about the UK and I'll likely get more specific about those once I'm there.  Luckily I am one of those people who can live without Marmite however!  On balance though the advantages of leaving the shores of Blighty outweigh the disadvantages so it's full steam ahead!!!

Districts - Malaysia / Penang

While the blog is still in its early stages I thought that a few words on what I have looked at in terms of areas/districts to consider living in.  Much of this information was gleaned from the very useful sites I have already made reference to and the recently arrived "Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei" and the "Lonely Planet: Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Penang".  It is worth pointing out that a new version of the latter book is due in June 2011 so it may be worth waiting unless you need it now, which is the position I was in. Another book I have been recommended is the Explorer "Kuala Lumpur Complete Resident's Guide".  I had one of these for Abu Dhabi and it was very good.  It was published in 2008 so I thought I'd contact Explorer (based in Dubai) to see if there was likely to be an update in the near future.  They replied very promptly and at the moment there are no plans to do an update, probably worth getting regardless as they do touch on things that tourists may not be concerned with.

This is not in any way proposed as any kind of cutting edge analysis, merely some scribblings of what I've looked at on the basis of what appeals to me and some of the VERY early opinions I have formed.  It is also not meant to be an advisory on where others should live as our circumstances and needs will all be different.

General Districts
  • Kuala Lumpur: Always an option but I do tend to find big and blustering capitals are places I like to visit, not live.  It clearly suits a great many people but I am not sure it will have the character of some other areas and I'm just not sure I fancy somewhere THAT busy.
  • Langkawi: Absolute paradise from what I can gather and a wonderful place to visit so I'm told.  I really don't think there would be enough to keep me occupied there though from speaking to several people I know who have been there.  If peace and tranquility are your thing - maybe.  Prices for food etc I believe are higher than on the mainland.
  • Penang: Obviously the one that appeals to me more than others at the moment.  It seems to be well placed, popular with expats, has a pleasant enough 'old world' charm (especially in Georgetown), has a heavy Chinese influence, enough going on to keep me occupied and some nice beaches.  Like KL though it can suffer with traffic problems from what I can gather, esp in Georgetown.
  • Melaka: A potential contender still.  Less developed with high-rise from what I gather with 'landed property' a real option, very good property prices and quieter than Penang/KL.  It is a place I do plan to check out before settling for good, but maybe not my April 2011 trip.  Traffic can be a problem here too it seems.
  • Butterworth: An area I have come across on posts and somewhere I may also check out but I have a feeling it will be too quiet for me.  It is perhaps more accessible for mainland Malaysia (being on the West coast, level with central Penang) and prices seem to be cheaper again, for property and about everything else.  Part of me does crave somewhere with a bit of a buzz though and I'm not sure Butterworth, or indeed Melaka, will have it for me.  We are all different afterall.  In any event, yet to check them out.
  • Kota Kinablu: Picturesque and popular with the sailing fraternity I believe.  Again, a place worthy of checking but in my case I think, just for a holiday.
  • Sri Manjung/Sitiawan: Again, worth a look.  Good choice of landed property, very good for shopping and again, quieter than places like Penang etc.
So, having come to e VERY premature decision that Penang will likely fit the bill, a word or two what I have been able to glean about the districts within Penang itself:

Penang Districts:
  • Georgetown: Clearly an option and well placed in terms of being central.  I think the traffic problems might grate after a while and while I fancy somewhere with a bit of a buzz i think this may be pushing it too far.  It will likely be a place I like to visit, but not live.  A bit like London in that respect I think.
  • Gurney Drive:  Now this seems like it might fit the bill.  Far enough out of the hussle and bustle of Georgetown but with enough going on to keep me occupied and contented. This area will be the focus of my trip in April so more to come!!!!
  • Tanjung Tokong: Slightly further out than Gurney (towards Batu Ferringhi) but again a real contender.  Some nice developments here and plenty going on.
  • Tanjung Bungah: Further still but not too far.  I need to check out this area as again it has some appeal.
  • Batu Ferringhi: The furthest out from Gurney (about 15 minutes or so down quite a windy road so I gather) and very popular with expats it seems.  The Miami Green apartments seem to crop up in threads a lot as being quite desirable.  Depending on how things pan out I may end up staying in one while I am there in April.  Some seem to think it's a bit too far out of it and a little quiet but that can be a benefit.  One thing that might bother me is if I had to travel every time I wanted to do anything.  Could become a drag.  Again, an area I plan to hit on the first trip, so watch this space!!!
  • Balik Pulau: More central and some really nice developments here.  I will check this out too but would have to see just what is going on locally.  I'm not looking for a rural idyll at this moment in time.  Quite a lot of landed property in this area and at prices which are much more reasonable than the coastal areas.  Again I suspect it might be a bit of a drag if you need to travel for everything.
  • South of Georgetown: Not a district in it's own right but a general area, in my case, to avoid.  Considerably industrialised by all accounts so a definite non-starter.  there is however mention of some interesting developments springing up at a very reasonable price, if you can stand the area and the 'views'.
So, as it's getting late, that's about it for today.  Much more to come with an update tomorrow on hotels/accommodation I plan to use for my trip and quick update on any jabs needed.  I had a shed full it seems when I went to the UAE 3 years ago so hopefully many will still be 'live'.

Monday, 21 March 2011


One of the big plusses for me with Malaysia is their visa programme. For those able to meet the criteria (see here) the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme as far as I can see is quite unbeatable in terms of what it offers. I won't go into the specifics as these of course can change over time but the main points for me are:
  • A ten year renewable residence visa
  • Minimal costs involved for what you get (albeit the criteria are getting more demanding)
  • The ability to purchase property without strings attached (subject to minimum rates)
  • No tax on pensions remitted to Malaysia
There are other 'incentives' which are publicised too such as tax free importation of a car (cars seem to be quite expensive and but I'm not sure I'd use this incentive option) and the ability to work part-time etc.

At the time of writing you can either apply for the visa yourself or use a recognised agent such as Joy Stay (which seems well thought of and popular). I pondered using an agent for a long time, costs are actually not too bad but you do need to put in a lot of effort yourself in getting the documents together which you will need to do whether you use an agent or not. The fee for a single applicant using Joy Stay is, at the time of writing, 3,300 MYR (Malaysian Ringgit) which, again at time of writing is £666. With self application you do need to pay a 'Security Bond' of 1,500 MYR but you do get this back if ever you decide to leave the programme.

I intend to go the self-service route and will post and overview of the main points that I have discovered, and any others that surface, closer to the time the application is made and hopefully approved. I won't reiterate the terms and conditions or the details of documents required as these are posted on the official Malaysian MM2H site and may change over time. What I will do though is post any specific details around what worked and did not work for me in getting the visa.

I must say that one of the most useful sites I found in terms of the MM2H application is the MM2H forum mentioned in a previous post. Membership of this consists not only of people interested generally in MM2H and Malaysia but also of those who have been, and are going, through the process of MM2H visa application. For me it is an essential read for any applicant and thanks must go to Scott for his efforts on this site and for the help he has given me personally.

Some useful links:

Flights from UK

I have recently booked a flight from the UK and had some difficulty in getting a reasonable price. Normally I like to book with airlines direct but in this case it proved a bit difficult as the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) site seems to be problematic. The main issue was that for the dates I was interested in they had a number of offers under their 'Deal of the Day' from London to Kuala Lumpur. The flights were advertised at £599. Every time I tried to book though I could only get prices of around £800. Now I accept that these offers can go quick but these had only been up a couple of days and I was looking over a period of many weeks.

Luckily I was recommended a very good and helpful agent in the UK by a forum member. The company is Emerald Travel. I spoke to Bobbie there and she was really very friendly and efficient. Their site is good also and while I could not get the dates I originally wanted, by varying my travel plans to avoid travelling both out AND back within the Easter school holiday period I was able to get a return flight from Heathrow for £593. Prior to booking with Emerald I did again check the MAS site and the price was £749. Two days after booking it was £1,287!!! I really think there is something seriously problematic with their site.

Air Asia do operate flights that I could have got quite reasonably too but they operate out of Stansted which for me is a bit of a pig to get to. With Heathrow I can easily get a train to Paddington then hop across to the Heathrow Connect (I don't use the Express now unless I'm running late as the Connect takes only 15 minutes longer and is less than half the price).

So, my first trip is booked, travel out 19 April and return 11 May. Looking forward to it I have to say.

This is the link for Emerald Travel.


I have posted below the details of some of the resources I have found very useful in coming to my decision to explore Malaysia (Penang) with a view to relocating and for both finding information and booking travel etc.

Forums and Country Information:

Hotels and Reservations:

Why Malaysia?

The other question I pondered long and hard.

There are a few important considerations for me as a retired 50 something year old when pondering where to live.
  • Where is it possible to get a visa for
  • What countries that meet that criterion tick the boxes in terms of where I'd like to live
  • How stable are they now and in the future
One you go through the process of considering countries on the basis of the above the World shrinks considerably. Several countries made the short list:
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Thailand
  • South Africa
  • Panama
  • Spain
  • France
  • Italy
Without going in to a blow by blow account, the list was narrowed down in my case because of the following considerations:

1) Malaysia: Benefits and stability of the retirement visa, variety of food and cultures, cosmopolitan, good standard of living and lower costs, well placed for travel in Asia, good climate, English widely spoken.

2) Phillipines: Similar option but perhaps more one dimensional (Philippine) from what I gather than the greater diversity of Malaysia. I am a bit of a 'foodie' and Malaysian cuisine I gather is more diverse and, dare I say, better.

3) South Africa: Good visa option. Real concerns over high crime/risk and the numbers of SAs who leave (for the same reasons).

4) Thailand: Again OK but it seems less advanced/sophisticated that 1 & 2 above and there are more concerns over stability.

5) Panama: Very good visa options, some concerns over crime etc, perhaps less well developed outside of Panama City, not so good cost of living wise, only really well placed for the US and Central America

6) Europe: Fits the bill in some ways but for me, largely a warmer version of the UK and in most cases don't tick the boxes of what appeals about Asia. Costly in some cases too.

So, after much pondering, Malaysia it is, the next step being to go and check it out.

Why leave the UK?

A question I pondered long and hard before deciding to leave.

I have to say that for the most part I do like the UK, my main concerns are how the country is going, the climate, cost of living and the lack of things to do that appeal to me. I worked in the UAE for two and a half years and while I would NEVER contemplate living there there are things I do miss.

One of the things I looked long and hard at were the reasons many Brits give for coming back having tried overseas. In many cases these relate to missing friends and family, pubs, football, things to do and the scenery. For me the majority of those things don't apply. Football is of no interest to me, pubs of the type I like are few and far between, the things I do I can do anywhere and the scenery, well, when that becomes the main saving grace it's time to reconsider.

I have plenty to keep me occupied in the day but, coming back to what I did miss in the UAE, it's the time when I'm not so busy that concerns me. I find that there is little that appeals to me in the UK and I miss not being able to sit outside at a bar, beach or restaurant most days, running along beaches, visiting well equipped gyms within a short distance and the wide variety of food on offer at the many diverse types of restaurant. Add to that the cost of living in the UK and the weather and it did not take much to decide the UK is not for me, at least for now.

So, off to pastures new to tick those boxes!!

Sunday, 20 March 2011


After what seems like a lifetime of working, and being tied to the UK through work and a pension scheme, and after experiencing life overseas for two and a half years in the UAE, I decided it was time to seek pastures new.

Lots of research having been done I decided to start this blog, partly to create a diary of my experiences for personal use and also to provide information, and hopefully some help, to those contemplating the same thing and/or a trip to Malaysia.

My personal experience of the country at this time can be summed up in one word - zero. As time goes on however that will change dramatically with the first trip to check the country out on 19 April 2011. As time progresses I plan to provide details of all that affects me in terms of the planned move with particular consideration to: the visa process; travel to, from and within Malaysia; the areas; hotels; accommodation; food; activities; and nightlife. I am sure there will be more but those are the subjects that I think will be most pertinent early on.

On the title of the blog, well from what I've seen so far Malaysia is the country that appeals to me most and Penang seems to tick most of my boxes. The 'Pick' component relates to my name rather than my view on the best Penang has to offer. As time goes on however it will come to represent both.