Top Place to Retire in Malaysia

Top Place to Retire in Malaysia
Why Listen to Me
My Ranking Methodology
Top 3 Places in Malaysia for Cultural Explorers
Top 3 Places in Malaysia for Active Adventurers
Top 2 Places in Malaysia for Rural Self Reliance

Top Place to Retire in Malaysia

This is Dan of Vagabond Awake, the Youtube Channel for Vagabond Buddha.

We just completed a one year tour of SE Asia. We surveyed the top place to retire in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. We head to the Philippines next week. I have been to Laos, Myanmar, and Indonesia on previous tours.

Today, I will tell you my top place to retire in Malaysia. After I tell you my top 3, I will tell you (1) why should you listen to me, (2) what is my ranking methodology, and (3) how to determine your top three according to your lifestyle and needs.

Next week, I will tell you my favorite retirement destination in all of SE Asia. The week after that, I will tell you my favorite retirement destination in the world.

Okay, here we go. Here are my personal top 3 favorite places to retire cheap in Malaysia.

Number 1: Kuala Lumpur

Number 2: Penang

Number 3: Malacca

Now that you know my top 3 favorites in Malaysia, let me explain why they are my favorites. I have ranked these 3 according to my preferences as a cultural explorer. But you might be more interested in other criteria, like action adventures or rural self-reliance. In that case, I recommend other destinations below. But let me explain the differences between these three preferences. But first, a little about why you should listen to me.

Why Should You Listen to Me

My job has allowed me to travel the world since 2007. I have lived in or visited 65 countries so far. I am the opposite of a tourist. Instead of living in my home country and traveling 2 weeks per year, I do the opposite. I live outside my home country all year, and go home 2 weeks per year to see my family.

I stay in each foreign country for a month or more, sometimes, 2 to 3 months. And, when I do leave a foreign country, I don’t fly home. I move forward to another foreign country. I almost never buy round trip tickets. I move forward not backward.

I am not a tourist. This is a lifestyle. I live like a local all over the world.

I like to rent furnished apartments and I love to cook. I know what groceries cost because I buy them. I like to stay in charming walkable city centers and walk everywhere. My life has taught me things that might be valuable to you.

I learned that I could retire on half as much money as I thought I would need in the USA. Even better, I learned that living internationally 11+ months of the year was more exciting, more interesting, and more fun than hanging out in my home country.

So, in 2016, I started Vagabond Buddha to share this information with you. I have already published more than 50 retire cheap in paradise reports. I travel all over the world and pick the best places in the world to retire cheap.

Today, I am ranking the best place to retire in Malaysia. But your favorite place in Malaysia might be different from mine. What attracts me to one place may not be interesting to you. So along with my ranking of favorite places, I am doing two other things that may help you.

First, I have written detailed retire cheap reports about each. If you know each report’s reasoning, you will be able to adjust my favorites more closely to your own unique style and needs. Second, I rank the places in Malaysia according to three different ranking systems.

I intend to give you enough information, so you can reorder my favorites based upon your needs, not mine. By bubbling the best ones to the top, you will be able to eliminate many from your shortlist. That will save you time and money when you take a retirement tour to investigate further.

Let me explain the three different ranking criteria I use to bubble the best ones to the top.

My Ranking Systems

I am a city guy that loves culture. I like museums, art galleries, live music, international foods, street art, youth culture, the university atmosphere, and public transportation. I prefer to live in areas where the cultural experiences are walkable. I call someone like me a cultural explorer.

Other people prefer action sports like mountain/rock climbing, surfing, wind or kite surfing, riding horses, zip lines, snowboarding/skiing or skydiving. I call someone like that an action adventurer.

Other people enjoy growing their own organic food, living in rural areas with some distance from their nearest neighbor, and studying survivalist techniques. I call this rural self-reliance.

We are not all the same. So I am providing information to help you find your own best personal place in Malaysia. Okay, now that you know my criteria for ranking the best place, here are the retirement places we ranked in Malaysia.

Top Places to Retire in Malaysia for Cultural Explorers

I have already told you that I am a cultural explorer. Now let me explain why these are my top three.

(#1) Kuala Lumpur (Retire Cheap Report): There are two kinds of cultural exploration. One is more historical in nature. Historical culture is about what happened in the past and how that has influenced the society today. That would include architecture, the arts, music, religion, archaeological sites, etc. This shows up in museums, written history, archaeological sites, and oral story telling. Kuala Lumpur (KL) is technically the youngest of my top three in terms of historical culture. KL was founded in 1857 in the Ampang area when a group of Chinese Malaysians started a tin mine. Thus it does not have the ancient stoned walled colonial-era structures that you will find the other two, Penang and Malacca. But it does have the modern cultural amenities that cultural explorers expect such as Symphony, Live Music, Performing Arts Center. There are literally hundreds of great restaurants. Kuala Lumpur has an amazing international airport so all of SE Asia and the world is a reasonably priced flight away.

Plus, there are several neighborhoods in KL where you could live without ever having to get into a car. Three examples would be the Petronas Towers area, the Bukit Bintang area, and Bangsar. Once in any of these three areas, you are walking distance to all necessities like movies, malls, and restaurants from super expensive to super cheap. Plus KL has an amazing transportation system that you can access using google maps. You could easily live here without buying a car.

KL is the capital and the largest city in Malaysia with over 7 million people within the metro area but is also one of better environmentally managed large cities in SE Asia. KL is also the cultural, financial, economic, and political center of Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is the tenth most-visited city in the world in 2017 and has three of the world’s ten largest shopping malls.

KL was also ranked the 70th most livable city in the world and the 2nd most livable in Southeast Asia after Singapore. Grab our Retire Cheap Report for KL for more details.

(#2) Penang (Retire Cheap Report): George Town is the capital of Penang state. George Town is located on an island that you can access by ferry or bridge. Penang state is more historically interesting than KL with earliest human remains dated 6000 years. The British arrived in the 18th century offering military protection to the Sultanate.

The Brits kept the island until Malaysia’s independence but reneged on the promise of protection. The Brits later combined Penang with Malacca and Singapore to create the Straits Settlements of Britain.

The Straits Settlements were officially made into British Colonies which increased investment in education infrastructure, and healthcare. Once a colony, intellectuals and authors started living here, such as Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, and Sun Yat-sen.

The Island was taken during World II. But when the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Penang was the first city in Malaysia to be liberated. In 1948, British colonial Penang was merged into the Federation of Malaya. The new Malay nation preferred Kuala Lumpur over Penang, so Penang fell into disrepair.

George Town revitalized its cultural heritage starting in 2000 and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. Today it is recognized as one of the most interesting tourist destinations in SE Asia.

Today, Penang is known for spicy Malaysian foods and charming colonial-era buildings with a rich cultural heritage. Colonial-era George Town is totally walkable. If you need to go anywhere else, they have a great public transportation system.

We found a bunch of odds and ends happening in the Time Out Magazine for Penang. There are art galleries listed, things to do, music and nightlife, and arts and entertainment. The Canteen in China House Restaurant is still listed as the premier live music forum, the same as my last visit. The China House is listed in the 50 Things to Do in Penang. Of course, you are on an island with jungles and surrounded by water full of fish and all that implies. The number one attraction here is finding the best Mama’s restaurant in town for a $2 USD meal. Once you taste the amazing local foods, you will have a hard time convincing yourself to pay $8 to $10 USD in the tourist restaurants. Grab our Retire Cheap Report for Penang for more details.

(#3) Malacca (Retire Cheap Report): Malaysia has been considered a top retire-cheap in paradise country for years. Malaysia is known for spicy foods and charming colonial-era buildings with a rich cultural heritage. All of that is true in Malacca also. Malacca also includes a focus on the arts and culinary choices, and as such, is growing up to be a distinct competitor for Penang and KL, the other two big tourist spots in Malaysia.

Like Penang, Malacca has many of the cultural amenities described in Penang because it was part of the British Straits Settlement. But it also has a few hundred years of Dutch settlements that predate the British. Even before the dutch, there was a Hindu ruler here starting in 1402.

The Vietnamese even attacked once in the 15th century and castrated all the men.

Malacca is a medium-sized town with almost as much to do as Penang. There are movies, malls, long walks, some live music, and many restaurants to check out. Beautiful old architecture to admire and a bunch of really nice people. There are two large outdoor markets here including the biggest on Jonkers Street.

There are a bunch of English speaking people here. We saw signs for cooking classes, art classes, and dancing classes. This would be a great place for people that are most comfortable in a medium-sized city.

Before settling on which city in Malaysia to retire, we recommend you come do an investigative visit. Here is our How to Tour Malaysia for cheap report.

Okay, here is how I believe an Active Adventurer would order the best places to live in Malaysia.

Top 5 Places to Retire in Malaysia for Active Adventurers

I picked where to tour in Malaysia based upon my interest in cultural exploration. So to find out the relevance of each place with respect to popular adventure sports, I did some research. Here are the results of my online research. Some of the spots suggested for an adventure spot are up to 50 minutes away from the below marked places.

Here are the best places for Active Adventurers based upon the above table.

(#1) Borneo

(#2) Langkawi

(#3) Kuala Lumpur

(#4) Cameron Highlands

I have visited Borneo, Langkawi, and Cameron Highlands before writing this “Best Place to Retire in Malaysia” report. But it did not occur to me that people might want to retire in any of these places at the time I was there in 2016. I have much of the data about this places, so I may decide to write retire cheap reports on them if people express an interetst in this information.

Of course, if you are only interested in one or two of the above listed sports activities, you would focus only on places in where they are occurring. Okay, here is where I estimate that people interested in rural self-reliance would want to live in Malaysia.

Top 2 Places to Retire in Malaysia for Rural Self Reliance

(#1) Cameron Highlands: The soil around Cameron Highlands appears rich in nutrients and there is ample rain to support many kinds of crops. You will need to study the climate that the fruits and vegetables you want to grow survive best. But the terrain around Cameron Highlands and the environment seem ideal for those interested in growing organic fruits and vegetables. Plus, there are enough foreigners roaming around the area so you will not stick out like a sour thumb when you are wondering around this part of Malaysia. You may be able to find land that is not too close to your neighbors here.

(#2) Borneo: Borneo has the higlands like you will find in Cameron. But it also has sea level land that may be more useful for growing other kinds crops. But you may stick out like a sour thimb here since there are not as many westerners in this part of Malaysia.

Retirement Places Ranked in Malaysia

Here are the places we ranked for best retirement in Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Malacca, and Perhentian Islands. If we missed anywhere of interest to you, please let us know for future visits.


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If you want to know how I was able to travel the world for 13 years, watch this Youtube video.

This is Dan of Vagabond Buddha. Thank you for stopping by. The world is your home. What time will you be home for dinner?