I’ve spent the last 3 months living in Kuantan, on Malaysia’s east coast. Malaysia is starting to get a big reputation in the digital nomad scene as a good place to live and work. Malaysia’s got great amenities; a friendly culture and fantastic food – and it’s a really inexpensive place to live.
A lot of digital nomads have been opting to live in Kuala Lumpur or Georgetown, and Terengganu is the famous beach area in Malaysia.
I came to Kuantan because a cool friend of mine, Kamal (a.k.a. Bob) lives here. We played music together a couple of years ago, and I mostly came to Kuantan so we could hang out and play songs together again, but Kuantan turned out to be a great place to live in lots of ways I didn’t expect.
Kuantan is Super Chilled
The outside world hasn’t discovered Kuantan yet, which is amazing really because it’s less than 3 hours from Kuala Lumpur on the highway. Kuantan is a relatively small city, with good roads, minimal pollution, and a very unpretentious atmosphere.
This is a relatively conservative town, so the nightlife is pretty non-existent, but if you like live music there are always cool bands busking on the beach boardwalk at Teluk Chempedak.
Bob and I spent a lot of nights down the beach playing music, and every night we were there at least one or two other bands were playing as well.
(Below: Bob and Lan playing music at Teluk Chempedak. So many fun jams with these guys.)
The most remarkable thing about Kuantan is its beaches. There are lots of them, and they are all beautiful. Golden sand, gorgeous jungle, coconut trees… Kuantan’s beaches are really spectacular, and because this place hasn’t been discovered by tourists yet, the beaches are quiet, clean, and hardly touched by development.
Teluk Chempedak is the main beach for the night time social scene. It’s also one of the prettiest, with beautiful rock formations jutting out of the coastline, and steeply sloping forest right beside the water.
There are a bunch of little restaurants scattered around the beach, as well as fast food outlets and a karaoke joint or two.
There’s also a cute little fairground, like a miniature Coney Island for the kids and a tribe of very cute monkeys that scamper around during the day, eating garbage and posing for photos.
The easiest and cheapest way to get here from Kuala Lumpur is on a bus from the Bersepadu Selatan Terminal in KL.
There are well organised regular bus services every hour, and you won’t need a reservation since there are multiple companies running clean, air-conditioned buses.
Kuantan is quite a small place, so the most convenient way to get around town is by Uber or Grab. I use both regularly, and they are very good value. A 4km ride into town to shop typically costs me about MYR5.00 – which is only about $1.50!
The Uber drivers in Kuantan are well organised and courteous and usually arrive to pick me up within 5 minutes in clean, air-conditioned cars. Amazingly good service. I usually tip my Uber drivers in Kuantan around 25% on shorter rides because I think it’s a great service, and I want it to continue.
The hotels and hostels in Kuantan are overpriced and fairly sparse. This seems to be a typical scenario in Asia: the less popular a place is with tourists, the more expensive the hotels are… go figure.
Anyway, I stayed with Bob for a while, which was lovely, and then I found my own room to rent in a bachelor share house, in one of the more middle-class parts of town. I found the place by searching on these websites:
Bob recommended these sites to me, and they both seem to be quite good for medium to longer term rentals.
(Below: my basic, but comfortable room that I rented in Kuantan. There were a whole bunch of cracks and marks on the walls, so I bought this brightly decorated paper to cover them and make the room look a bit more colorful. Turns out that these are some kind of devotional offerings that Chinese Malaysians burn when they want to commune with the dead. My Malaysian friends thought it was super weird that I used them to decorate my walls.)
The place I rented is about MYR105.00 (US$25.00) p/week on a two-month lease (utilities included).
It’s quite a spacious room in a clean house, with a basic kitchen, a washing machine, hot shower bathroom, air-con and a basic double bed. Not fancy but very cheap.
In Kuantan you can rent a whole house for less than US$100 a week I reckon.
My housemates were quiet, friendly young professionals from Kuala Lumpur who were working temporarily in Kuantan.
Eating and Shopping in Kuantan
Kuantan has lots of very good and cheap restaurants. Indian, Malay, Chinese and even hamburger joints are everywhere. A really good meal in a basic restaurant will run you about US$2.50, and if you want to eat somewhere a bit fancy, maybe as much as US$10.00.
I shop for groceries and make my own food a lot, and there are lots of good supermarkets in Kuantan. My favourites are ‘Nirwana Hypermarket’ (best name ever) and the aptly named ‘Giant’, which is a western style supermarket with low prices and really fresh produce.
For household goods like kitchenware, it’s best to go to the middle of town near the big Mosque and shop in the little mom and pop stores. The prices are really good for basic stuff like crockery and pots.
This is important because getting good coffee in Kuantan is a mission. There are only a few cafes that serve real coffee made from beans, and most supermarkets don’t sell real coffee either. Malaysia loves instant coffee, and it’s always served sickly sweet.
I found a place near my house – ‘Pauls Cafe’ – that grinds and percolates their own premium blends, and I persuaded them to sell me ground coffee to take home as well. It is delicious coffee, and also good value. Thank you, Paul! You saved me from a lot of grumpy mornings, sir!