A Week in Sepang, Malaysia

I know you are all waiting patiently for my first post about Melbourne, but I have one more adventure to share first. To save a little cash, we ended up spending another week in Malaysia, this time in the city of Sepang. It is surprising how much money I can save on flights simply by researching my options. I’ll go over this in more detail later, but long story short, I was able to save about $100 by flying from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, staying there for a week, then flying to Melbourne on the first day of my house sit. Here is a quick recap of our week in Sepang, Malaysia.

Sepang, Malaysia

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Sepang is in the same state as Kuala Lumpur, but about 40 miles to the South. It is the city where the main airport is located and therefore very convenient for anyone looking for a KL layover destination.

Our hotel was easily accessible by either the airport train, a 30 MYR taxi for two, or a free airport shuttle (mostly full of employees). This made it incredibly convenient and inexpensive (cheapest option to KL is about 70 MYR). In addition to the cheap transportation, the hotels are cheaper, and so is the food. Sepang proved to have a much more local-friendly price range.

Our hotel was in a small suburb near the train station. We counted about five restaurants, three grocery stores, six laundromats (?!), two barber shops, one hotel, and that’s about it. Literally. Imagine a block-sized strip mall packed with practically identical shops, a parking lot wrapping the whole thing, a street surrounding that, then jungle. Just jungle. That is where we were. It was… odd.

Breakfast? Dessert? Who cares!

We became quick regulars at the five restaurants in the neighborhood. As soon as the staff saw us, they would call for whichever server spoke the best English and he would come running and start offering us all of the same things we had the day before. We quickly learned that our dining choices were the talk of the town. It wasn’t our fault. The server would hand us a menu three pages long, we pointed to what looked good, he would giggle for an unknown reason, then we would eat our delicious meal. We did eventually discover that we were eating the dishes in all of the wrong orders: dessert for breakfast, breakfast for dinner, dinner for lunch, etc. Whatever. It was amazing!

Roti bread dish served in Malaysia. It is a circular loaf of bread cut into eight slices. It looks to be glazed with a light brown sauce. The plate also displays three dipping sauces. There is a dark red sauce that looks spicy, a yellow one, and an orange one.

Let’s put it to the world. The above dish is a deliciously fluffy bread. It is covered in a sweet glaze. It tasted like a heavenly breakfast or a light dessert to me. BUT it is served with savory, curry dipping options. So is it dinner? What IS it?!

Aside from our continual faux-pas or ordering off the wrong page of the menus, we had an amazing time returning to the delightful dishes of Malaysia. We ate as often and as much as we could and enjoyed every bite. We were particularly excited to have another chance at our favorite, three layer tea.

Two tall glasses of iced, milk tea. The tea has three layers, the bottom layer is dark brown and thick. The middle layer is milky, and the top layer is light and brown. A menu for Hijas Restoran is held up in the background.

Eating our way through KL: a dining adventure of spicy goodness. ♥

Staying Busy

It might be noticed that I haven’t mentioned the name of our hotel. That is because we were very torn about our opinion of it. It was cheap, but extremely clean. The internet didn’t work very often, but when it did, it was lightning fast. The staff wasn’t particularly helpful, but they were incredibly friendly. It was just sort of “meh”.

White walls and white floors with a black desk in the corner. The desk holds bottles of water, a purse, framed photo, and a CO alarm.

We were put in a windowless, white room. The only thing that wasn’t white was the tiny desk in the corner of the room (the major selling point to the room), but the desk didn’t have any accessible electrical plug-ins, so that was a bust.

Read about our hotel in KL: Hote123 ♥

What do you do in a windowless white room with random internet? Sleep. A lot. After a couple of nights, completely losing track of time and our tans, we finally came out and started to explore again. Who knew fresh air could feel so good?

One night, our neighborhood hosted a night market. We grabbed one of just about everything and had a small feast of crazy flavors for less than $10. I also purchased my second souvenir of the trip, a beautifully decorated head scarf in the local style. Maybe not my most practical purchase, but I really liked it.

Night market stall selling grilled meat on sticks.

Nasi Lemak Burger

If it sounds like I am giving off the impression that all we did in Sepang was sleep, work, and eat, it is because that is exactly what we did. So the story of our Sepang adventure ends with yet another story of food: the McDonald’s Nasi Lemak Burger.

That’s right, nasi lemak is one of our go-to meals in Malaysia as it is filling, varied, delicious, and usually cheap. Most often, it is a plate of coconut milk rice, paired with dried anchovies, cucumber salad, boiled peanuts, sambal, and either fried chicken or lamb curry… or both. It seemed like an odd combination at first, but we warmed up to it.

A plate of nasi lemak in Malaysia. White rice, curried lamb, grilled shrimp, cucumbers, hard boiled egg, boiled peanuts, dried anchovy, and sambal

Luckily enough, we passed by a McDonald’s on the launch day of their new Nasi Lemak Burger. In line with our previous American fast-food chain adventures around the world, we went in for a taste.

Close up of McDonald's Nasi Lemak burger in Malaysia.

It was a little more expensive than we would usually pay for lunch, but totally worth it. The bun was the star of the show, a coconut milk bun with pepper flakes. Next, a layer of sambal, cucumbers, and caramelized onions. Finally, a fried egg and large fried chicken breast. We were very happy with this burger and the flavors paired very well together.

To Melbourne… Finally!

As we travel full-time we can sometimes get caught up in the “can’t wait” loop. “I can’t wait until we get to China! I can’t wait until we get to Malaysia!” etc. This is a horrible habit that keeps us from appreciating where we are here and now. We are absolutely excited about Melbourne and we know our readers are too, but I can’t let my excitement keep me from posting about an entire week we spent in Sepang.

But now that the time has come and gone, it is time to get stoked for our next adventure. Good-bye SE Asia (for now) and hello Australia!


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"From This" image of traditional nasi lemak plate "To This" close up of McDonald's new nasi lemak burger in Malaysia.


 

Brews Around the World: Malaysia and Thailand

Long time, no see! That’s right, it has been two months since my last Brews Around the World Update. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been drinking beer. It just means I have been waiting to share all of the awesomeness until I finally had enough to write about. Get ready for a dual post of Brews Around the World – Episode Four: Beer of Malaysia and Thailand!

S1E1 Brews Around the World – Beer of Idaho, USA 

S1E2 Brews Around the World – Beer of Florida, USA 

S1E3 Brews Around the World – Beer of China 

Malaysia Brews

The month of February was spent in lovely Malaysia, where brewing beer is illegal! Drinking beer, however, was still OK, yet it was all imported and decently expensive. We did the best we could, though, walking miles out of our way to try something interesting. My favorite find was the Penang Craft Beer IPA, which we drank in Penang… but is brewed in California. I also really enjoyed Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale. This is one of my all-time Oregon favorites, so it was really nice to have a taste of home while in Kuala Lumpur.

As a result, I did not collect any new Malaysian brews. I did add a few things to my Life List though. We left Malaysia with six new brew flavors, bringing my unique brew total to 54.

Anchor Smooth Draught, Heinken Asia Pacific - The Places e Live  Dead Guy Ale, Rogue Brewing - The Places We Live  Guinness Draught, Guinness - The Places We Live  Penang Craft Beer IPA, Bay Bridge Brewing - The Places We Live  Skol, Ambev - The Places We Live  Tiger, Heineken Asia Pacific - The Places We Live


Amazon com guinness draught.pngAmazon Link: All purchases earn Josh and I commission. Thank you!


Thailand Brews

We spent the majority of March in Thailand. Beer in Thailand was readily available, but limited in variety. Our choices were pretty much just Leo, Singha, Chang, or overpriced import beers. I was a little disappointed with only three new flavors, but all three ended up being pretty tasty. They paired very well with the hot weather and spicy food.

So, once again, I did not collect many new flavors while in Thailand. I added three new flavors to my Life List, bringing my unique brew total to 57.

Chang - The Places We Live  Leo Beer, Boon Rawd Brewery - The Places We Live  Singa, Boon Rawd Brewery - The Places We Live


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Amazon Link: All purchases earn Josh and I commission. Thank you!


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Brew Around the World S1E4 - The Places We Live Brews Around the World S1E4 Title - The Places We Live Beer of Thailand - The Places We Live


 

Penang Street Art

As we walk down the dirty and narrow street of Georgetown, we are surrounded by Starbucks and big banks. Only a block later there are bomb-ridden buildings with trees growing out the side of them next door to a glittering mega-mall. Yet the transitions seem somehow eased by the pleasant, almost random spottings of the Penang street art.

As I mentioned in my last post, Georgetown has a variety that is indescribable. As we walk down the dirty and narrow streets of Georgetown, we are surrounded by Starbucks and big banks. Only a block later there are pre-WWII buildings with bomb damage and trees growing out the side of them. Across the street sits a glittering new mega-mall. Yet the sharp transitions are eased somewhat by the pleasant, almost randomly placed Penang street art.

Heading to Georgetown? Check out this helpful street art brochure. ♦

Welded Iron

20180330_174334One of the more common art installations around the city are the welded art pieces. They stand against walls around the city and make jokes about the location or its history. I like the idea of a modern style of iron mixed with the historic figures. It seemed only fitting in Georgetown.

One I particularly liked was the “Narrowest Five Foot Way”. Only a couple of days before seeing the sculpture I read about the Five Foot Ways in Malaysia. It is the name given to the covered walkways that line the front of the shops. They really came in handy every time it rained in KL. This particular art installation was next to what is said to be the narrowest five foot way in Penang.

Street Art

Another type of street art I enjoyed in Georgetown played with some of the older elements of the town. Many of these pieces integrate the exposed bricks, damaged pipes, or broken ledges found along the streets. This, once again, cementing that odd collaboration of old and new throughout the town.

Ernest Zacharevic

The most popular pieces around town are the ones completed by Ernest Zacharevic. He is a Lithuanian artist living in Penang. Yet again, he played with the duality of the city by creating old imagery that exposed itself to the modern world.

I’m not the die-hard street art fan that I know many travelers are, but I definitely appreciated the street art in Penang. It captured a lot of that “huh?” feeling that I wasn’t able to express and made me feel a little more comfortable in this off town.

Of course, there is some art I just don’t understand. Or maybe it isn’t meant to be interpreted.

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Penang Street Art Penang Street Art 2 PEnang Street Art (1)


 

Adventures in Penang

The island of Penang is located off the Northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia. The capital city of Georgetown, where we were staying, is named as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historical significance. There is so much to see and do on the island. I had no problem finding adventures in Penang.

After our house sit in Kuala Lumpur, we headed off to the island of Penang for a long-weekend getaway. Penang is a popular tourist stop, located off the Northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia. Getting there from KL is pretty easy; you can either take the train, which will take three-ish hours, or a five-hour coach bus. Both of these options drop you off in the coastal city of Butterworth. From there, it’s a quick ferry ride across the strait to Georgetown, which is where we stayed. Georgetown is an old English colony, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. There is so much to see and do on the island that we had no problem finding adventures in Penang.

Check out how to get from KL to Penang by train with Daneger and Stacey. ♦

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Island of Penang

Even though Georgetown is on the ocean, we never really made it to the beach. The city itself is a port, located on the side of the island facing Malaysia, so it is understandably a little more industrial. There were a ton of boats and freighters cruising by, and of course plenty of litter. The water and the scenery were pretty, but I would not suggest swimming anywhere near it.

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My favorite island adventure was visiting the Clan Jetties of Penang. It is a traditional village on stilts built out over the water. Although it did look people were living there, it was a bit touristy as well, and less “traditional” than we were meant to assume. Either way, it was still a great adventure. I was particularly drawn to the views of the richer tourist area just blocks away. To see such overt poverty within view of a five-star hotel really made me consider the lives of the people around me.

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Georgetown History

Upon arriving in Penang, we were immediately stuck by the variety of buildings. There were old buildings and new buildings, eastern and western, tall and short, beautiful and ugly. Nothing looked like it quite belonged, yet everything seemed oddly familiar.

We came to Penang specifically in search of its pre-war history. Along with exploring the Eastern & Oriental Hotel and Mansion Street, we made a quick stop at the Western Cemetery. It wasn’t the sort of stop I would rave about on TripAdvisor, but one I quite enjoyed. Everything was old, from the trees to the inscriptions on the headstones. It was a great way to help us set the scene for our WWII history adventure.

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Food of Penang

Just like the architecture, there was an endless variety of food. There were high-end restaurants catering to the Western tastes of the tourists, along with open air food carts that came out when the sun went down. One of these carts served up great big bowls of porky, noodle-y goodness for less than a buck; it ended up being our favorite. This, despite the fact that the chefs were barefoot and used water from an open-top barrel that I may or may not have watched a pigeon bathe in.

See what we ended up eating while living in KL. ♥

Still, it was hard to resist the call of the familiar flavors of home. We tried a delightful Mexican restaurant with nearly perfect nachos and a pastry shop that served ice cream inside of a cinnamon roll cone.

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A Feeling of “Huh”

Overall, I came away from Penang with a feeling of “Huh”. With the juxtaposition of old and new, rich and poor, and Eastern and Western, everything just felt… off. It was interesting to see, and I’m glad we went, but it wasn’t really worth raving about the way we had heard before arriving. Hopefully we can come back one day to see the other treasures the island holds, but for now it’s time to move on to the next big adventure: Thailand.


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PEnang Street Art (2) Penang, Malaysia PEnang Street Art


 

 

Budget – March 2018

There seem to be a bazillion nomad bloggers out there talking about how cheap it is to travel, but very few are open about their finances. We’ve gotten quite a few questions about how we can afford to travel full-time, so we’ve decided to open up the books and do a monthly post with the details of our budget. The hope is that these posts will help prepare others who are thinking about jumping into the nomad life, and help us re-assess our spending habits. Enjoy!

There seem to be a bazillion travel bloggers out there talking about how cheap it is to travel, but very few are open about their finances. We’ve gotten quite a few questions about how we can afford to travel full-time, so we’ve decided to open up the books and do a monthly post with the details of our travel budget. The hope is that these posts will help prepare others who are thinking about jumping into the nomad life, and help us re-assess our spending habits. Enjoy this Malaysia travel budget!

Check out our full-time travel budgets for another month. ♥


Malaysia has proven to be a bit more expensive than China, both for food and lodging costs. However, we were able to keep our spending on track (mostly), and really save a lot at our housesit in KL. Our goal budget for this journey is $200 per week, putting us at $800 to spend for the month of March and our Malaysia travel budget.

  • Average Daily Food Cost: $11 per day
    • Hotel – Breakfast was included, so we only needed a light snack, and dinner each day
    • House Sit – Groceries for three meals and snack per day. One night dining out per week.
  • Average Daily Lodging: $10 per night
    • Hotel – $20 per night for basic room in questionable neighborhood
    • House Sit – $0 per night for luxury home, pool, and car use

Money Spent: -($818)

Income: $157

Monthly Net: -($661)


Three Month Spending Total: -($3,585)

Three Month Earning Total: $852

Total Journey Net: -($2,733)

(Goal was -$2,600 for month three)


Week One Malaysia Travel Budget: -($200)

We were very happy to stay exactly on budget this week. It took a little extra effort to balance the cost of food, but we made it! We loaded up on hotel breakfast every morning and tried to hold off for as long as we could until dinner. It wasn’t a strict rule. If we were hungry, we ate. But if we weren’t hungry, we did our best not to spend money on food we didn’t need. At the end of the week, we were feeling healthy and were excited about our spending. We spent $200.

Read about the amazing food in Kuala Lumpur. ♥

This month, we are cutting down on the amount of “unfocused” work we are doing. Josh has one last project on UpWork to complete, then one hour a day going forward. It won’t make us a lot of money, but will hopefully provide us more time to focus on the projects we truly want to do. We made $0.

Week Two Malaysia Travel Budget: – ($123)

We started our house sit this week! Once again, we found this arrangement to not only be comfortable and fun, but a great way to save money. We purchased groceries and cooked most meals at home. We spent $160.

Meet Molly, our new furry friend! 

Josh made some money from his one hour per day UpWork time. We made $37.

Week Three Malaysia Travel Budget: – ($172)

Even without trying, we totally nailed this week. We only went over budget on two of the days; once for a nice dinner out and another for our trip to KL Tower. We found some fish at the grocery store we really liked, making the home-cooking even more enjoyable. We spent $192.

Read about our KL Tower adventure. 

We made $20.

Week Four Malaysia Travel Budget: – ($166)

As per usual, our transition week was a little more difficult than the others. We moved from our house sit in Kuala Lumpur to Penang. We’re here for a short excursion before heading to our next house sit in Thailand. The train tickets, food, and hotel costs weren’t too bad, but always a bit more than I would like. We spent $265.

Josh has been working really hard this month to publish two short stories in addition to his CannaHealth article each week. He has been doing an amazing job and even made his first dollar as an author!!! He made $1.80 from people viewing his story, “Open Letter to my Hostel Roommates“. I’m so super proud of him! We made $100.

_Open Letter to My Hostel Roommates_


Each month seems to get better and better. For our third month over-seas, we are feeling very good. We only barely spent over our travel budget and were able to offset quite a bit with some income. We still aren’t breaking even, but each month gets closer and closer.

I can not wait to see what next month has in store!!


Instagram advertisement for @theplaceswelive. It has a blue box labeled "Follow us on Instagram" and is surrounded by four pictures. One is of a woman dancing in a desert. Under that a bowl of pork noodles. Then a photo of a bridge in Chengdu, China. Under that a photo of a farm in Yangshuo, China.


 

Bird Watching in Kuala Lumpur – March 2018

Bird Watching in Kuala Lumpur

The Zebra Dove I caught on March 6th was my official 100th bird!! I’m so excited to have finally made some major progress in this new hobby that I enjoy so much. Bird watching in Kuala Lumpur was a ton of fun. I can’t wait for my next 100 birds!

Birding Life List #100. Zebra Dove, June 3, 2018. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Bird watching in Kuala Lumpur was difficult, but wonderful. Most of the birds were well hidden in the tall and gnarled trees. Just outside of my window at the hotel, there was a huge tree. Each morning, I could hear the beautiful calls of at least three different birds. Even after two weeks of watching that particular tree, I was not able to capture many photos.

Read about our hotel in Kuala Lumpur. ♥

My favorite bird of the month was Asian Koel. As is common for this bird, I wasn’t actually able to catch it with my camera. However, their call is very distinct and there is no way I could have misheard it… right outside of my window… at 4:00AM.

I also really enjoyed learning about the Zebra Dove during my identification research. The few I saw were so small and delicate. I thought they would make beautiful house pets. Apparently I was right. Zebra dove competitions are very popular in Northern Malaysia and Southern Thailand. The winner of the competition is the dove with the best call.

Birding Update – March 2018

Identified: 12

New: 10

Life List: 108


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"Malaysian Birding. The Places We Live"


Batu Caves

When I was looking for things to do while in KL, one of the major attractions that just kept popping up was the Batu Caves. They are a set of five caves located inside of a limestone mountain just a little North of town. One is used as a research area and the others have been fitted with Hindu temples. Although a lot of the travelers we spoke with seemed to love the cave, many of the locals and expats warned us against going. It was close to our house sit AND free though, so we went ahead and made the trip anyway.

I found this blog about the five caves to be very helpful. ♦

Batu Caves

The moment we were dropped off, we experienced all of the negative experiences that our local and expat friends described. The place is infested with pigeons, monkeys, and stray dogs. I sort of felt like it was the dirtiest theme park I had ever been to. Any of the religious relevance seemed hidden behind the gift shops and side shows.

That said, we did end up having a great time. We were in good spirits from the start, so were really able to enjoy some of the quirks as they came along. There were quite a few tourists wandering around with sarongs sloppily thrown on. You’re not allowed to wear shorts in the cave, so they had been forced to buy the sarongs before going it. We were able to avoid this by wearing long pants, even though it was super hot and humid. Even so, our walk around the area was quite comfortable. After some quick exploring, we decided to visit the Temple Cave (The Batu Cave) and the Dark Cave (the conservation cave).

Temple Cave

The Temple Cave was turned into a temple in the late 1800s and dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. Lord Murugan towers in front of the cave, making it clear why the tourists love Batu Caves… it is Insta-Worthy.

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Unfortunately, that is about it. It is decent hike up steep and crowded stairs to the mouth of the cave. I bet the temple is usually quite grand, but we showed up in the middle of renovation. Otherwise, the cave is large. That’s it.

Like my photos? Follow me on Instagram! ♥

Dark Cave

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the Dark Cave, the science research and conversation cave, was our favorite. This cave was not free, but was only 35RM ($9) and included a 40 minute, guided tour.

Did you know Josh is a Ph.D biologist? Learn why he gave it up to travel full-time. ♥

We booked our time slot on our way up to Batu Cave, then came back half an hour later to start the tour. We joined about 10 other guests and were fitted with helmets and a flashlight. Our guide was an adorable, young Chinese student who spoke nearly perfect English.

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The tour was very informative and fun. Throughout the entire tour, our ears were bombarded with the sounds of squeaking bats. I saw only one fluttering around in the dark, but I could tell that there must be hundreds if not thousands. Our tour guide even pointed out a pit of bat guano (poop). She said that if we were to walk through it, we would sink in up to our knees!

We even saw a couple of creepy crawlies. She pointed out a centipede with super long legs, a huge spider, and a cave cricket. There were several other creatures hiding in the dark that we didn’t see, but she did a pretty good job of explaining each one.

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The part I enjoyed the most was when we moved into the deepest part of the cave. She had us turn off our flash lights, put away our phones, and stand in complete darkness for over a minute. It was crazy how dark it was. My eyes kept telling me that there was something to see, but even when I waved my hand right in front of my face there was just nothing. It was a bit creepy, but exciting at the same time.

The Adventure Home

I have a dirty little travel secret for you. McDonald’s saved our day today… and it wasn’t the first time.

Whenever we get into a bind on the road, like realizing we don’t know how to get home, we turn to our off-line maps… and search for McDonald’s. It is the most embarrasing thing to admit, but it is truly the most useful travel tip I have. Always know where the McDonald’s is.

We took an Uber to Batu for 18RM and assumed we could take the train home. Turns out the train couldn’t take us home. Since we didn’t have internet, we turned to the taxis… who wanted to charge us 60RM. What do we do? We’re in the middle of a poor neighborhood at the far edge of town. We walked about a mile to the nearest McDonald’s, ordered a much needed beverage, hopped on their wifi to call an Uber, and enjoyed a rest in the air conditioning.

Thank you, McDonald’s, for being everywhere we go and for always having AC, cheap sodas, and free wifi. You have saved our lost butts way more times than we can count.

Overall, it was a successful trip. If you only have time to see one thing in KL, maybe go to the Petronas Towers. But if you have time for two things, the second one should definitely be Batu Caves.


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Batu CavesBatu Caves 2