Katia Spent Over A Year In Malaysia Living, Studying, Working, And Having The Time Of Her Life!
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13th Jul | 11 min read

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    Katia is 24 years old and was born and raised in Moscow, Russia, but moved out of Russia at the age of 17. She speaks fluent Russian, Spanish, and English, as well as basic Mandarin and Italian. 

    Katia has been truly blessed to have an extremely interesting life which has shaped her into who she is today. She’s a truly global citizen and has travelled to 56 countries already, studied in 5 different universities across the globe, and lived and worked in 7 different countries (the USA, MV World Odyssey (ship), China, Spain, Thailand, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia) and now is based in Cape Town, South Africa.

    You can follow all of Katia's adventures on Instagram @rebeiseverywhere.

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    I Have Been Working My Whole Life To Travel

    I never had a hard time managing work and travel, because it was always a part of my life, and opportunities were just given to me when I would arrive at a new place as if the universe knew that I needed a job to support myself. 

    I started working as soon as I moved to the US (17 years old) and never stopped working up to this day. I knew that only financial freedom would allow me at such a young age to go anywhere and do whatever I wanted without having to listen to anyone or conform with the societal dos and don’ts. 

    Actually, only last year, because of the pandemic, I started working online aka “digital nomad” full-time. Before that, in all of the above-mentioned countries, I worked offline in the place where I was living. It is always very easy to find jobs anywhere I go because I am a very versatile person with lots of different experiences and skills, so there would always be something I can do. 

    The range of my jobs is quite crazy: I’ve worked as a tutor and English teacher; exam proctor and secretary at the TOEFL center; line producer on a TV channel; social media manager on a radio station; babysitter; waiter, bartender, and barista; dive master; model; junior marketer; hiking guide; tennis coach; dance teacher; hotel and scuba diving center manager; personal assistant; graphic designer; video editor; artist and many other things. 

    How did I find all these jobs? Whenever I would arrive at a new place, I would try to build a network, meet new people who would introduce me to someone or help me to find a job; I would search Facebook groups and online websites for job offers and just apply apply apply until I receive a “yes”. 

    Now I work online in Cape Town as a Junior Marketer and Creative Communications Specialist in Silicon Valley for one of the venture capitalists, freelancing as a model, and I’m also doing commissioned paintings and looking for a part-time job in one of the film and tv production studios. So, wish me luck!

    Inspiration For My Trip To Malaysia

    I was studying at the University of Nottingham that has 3 campuses: in the UK, China, and Malaysia. And if you have good grades and your major allows, you can technically transfer between campuses at any stage of the degree. So, after studying there in China for 2 years, I thought that not trying to do it would be a mistake, because not many people can have such a chance. I immediately thought about Malaysia, rather than the UK, because I’ve been to the UK many times and was going there regularly to represent my university tennis team. At the end of my second year, I applied to transfer to a Malaysian campus of the UON, and in September 2019 I was moving my whole life from Jordan (where I was working for the past 6 months as a Divemaster) back to Asia, to my beautiful Malaysia.

    Highlights From My Year And A Half In Malaysia

    I was studying, living, and eventually working in Malaysia full-time for one and a half years. Such a long term stay gave me plenty of opportunities to explore the country to the fullest and visit as many touristy and not so touristy destinations that I am very happy to share with you (my top recommendations can be also found under some of the posts on my IG):

    1. Kuala Lumpur and the suburb area around, like Semenyih (Broga Hill to hike and Semenyih Waterfalls to take a dip in); Batu Caves; Selangor River with magical fireflies tour and white water rafting; and Genting Highlands.

    1. Malacca - UNESCO World Heritage, the gorgeous colonial town where basically the history of Malaysia begins. 

    1. Cameron Highlands - British architecture, tea plantations, strawberry farms, cold weather, and lots of hiking. 

    1. Tioman Island

    1. Gua Tempurung Cave Tour- probably one of the best experiences in my life.

    1. Ipoh- an eclectic town with lots of history, culture, beautiful nature, and delicious food.

    1. Langkawi Island- duty-free, party, and stunning nature and wildlife.

    1. The Perhentian Islands - Maldives of Malaysia.

    1. Taman Negara Rainforest- one of the oldest in the world. 

    1. Labuan Island - a tiny paradise near Borneo.

    1. George Town and Penang Island - history, street art, and yummy one-of-a-kind food.

    1. Sabah and Sarawak - you can’t miss these two places and you have a chance to visit the famous Borneo.

    The only thing that I haven’t done, but extremely recommend not to miss is hiking Mountain Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. This will be the first thing I will do when I am back in Malaysia.

    How I Packed For My Stay In Malaysia

    I packed my whole life due to the constant travelling and it was all saturated in 2 suitcases only. So, everything I own is literally always with me. For travelling in Malaysia you don’t need much, but a swimsuit, towel, a pair of flip flops and shoes for hiking, summer clothes and a few sets of warm clothes if you go to Cameron Highlands. Oh yeah, of course, sunscreen and mosquito repellent will be your best friends!

    Malaysia Is Super Easy To Travel Around

    Malaysia, like any other Southeast Asian country, is super easy to travel and everyone speaks English there-so you will have no problem communicating and asking for recommendations or directions. I always say: “Never Plan Your Trip'', because best experiences happen spontaneously. All the bus and plane tickets to travel inside the country are super affordable and always available, so you literally can just book everything a day in advance when you know your next spot. In terms of accommodation, there is a great variety of very cheap and beautiful places, so Airbnb or hostels will be your go-to! 

    If you don’t want to use public transport (which I think you should), there are lots of car rental places in Kuala Lumpur as well as the car-sharing app Socar that is very convenient and affordable. But do try to utilize busses and trains, as well as e-hailing service Grab to get around.

    I Met So Many Travellers And Locals

    I met travellers everywhere I went to! There are plenty of foreign travellers as well as locals (because Malaysians love to travel around Malaysia). Meeting new like-minded people is always a great advantage when you are solo-travelling or even in general. So, be open to new interactions, because they always bring positive energy and lots of cool pieces of advice about where to go and what to try. I met an incredible amount of great foreign travellers and locals that became my very good friends and enhanced my overall experience. I have many cool stories to share, but I will pick these two: 

    When I arrived at Labuan Island, I didn’t have data on my phone to order a Grab (taxi), so I decided to hitchhike. An old Malay man called “Man” stopped and offered me a ride. I didn’t know where I wanted to go when he asked me, so he just decided to take me to all the top places on the island and a beautiful beach. While we were in the car, he told me almost his entire life story, about his wife and kids. It was so interesting and magical in a way. I really resonated with him. We got along very well and promised each other that next time I come to Labuan I will visit his house. After he took me to places, I had to catch a ferry to go to Brunei, so we exchanged numbers and he asked me to call him when I will be back, so he can pick me up again and take me to the airport. You're never going to believe it, but when I came back his car was already waiting for me at the ferry port since early morning because he didn’t know exactly what time I would be back. It was so sweet and cute, I almost felt bad for making him wait... I am still in touch with Man and I can’t wait to be back in Malaysia to see him again.

    My other story is not about a local, but a foreign traveller that changed my life. In summer 2020 I decided to visit the Perhentian Islands once lockdown was over and we were again able to travel interstate. On my second day there I met a South African guy Philippe who is also a scuba diver and he was stuck on the island during the pandemic with lots of other foreign tourists. It was love at first sight and a week after I met him, we were already living together (yeah, I moved to the island from Kuala Lumpur), then we moved back to the city in September and worked there together, and several months later we moved to South Africa. Now we are happily living together in Cape Town, we have a dog and a beautiful house.

    Food That You Can't Leave Malaysia Without Trying!

    Food in Malaysia is mind-blowing, like everything else here due to the insane mixture of cultures, religions, races, and traditions. On top of that, food is everywhere, on every street and corner, there are lots of hipsters and fancy restaurants and cafes, stunning rooftop bars with signature cocktails, as well as local Mamaks (canteens) and street food stalls. My only recommendation- try everything and never think twice. The palette of flavors you will experience in Malaysia you will not experience anywhere else. Interesting fact: every small town and state in the country has their own traditional meal that you can find only there, so if you have a chance, do not only spend your vacations in one place- travel, discover and eat! Below are my 15 top foods and drinks that you can’t miss (all vegetarian, but you can have them with meat, fish, or chicken as well):

    • Masala Dosa

    • Teh Tarik (drink)

    • Garlic and Cheese naan

    • Mee Goreng

    • Apam Balik (dessert)

    • Nasi Goreng

    • Nasi Kerabu

    • Nasi Lemal

    • Roti Canai

    • Rendang

    • Cendol (dessert)

    • Kuih (dessert)

    • Laksa 

    • Bubur

    • Cendawan Goreng

    How I Managed My Costs

    Malaysia is one of the cheapest countries to travel to. Literally, everything is affordable there: from accommodation to transportation, from food to leisure... I never had to struggle and count my money, because there were always cheap and expensive options available depending on what I wanted. Of course, you can spend thousands of dollars, if you wish, but at the same time, you can spend only 100$ and still have unforgettable experiences and not miss out on anything. The only thing that is expensive is alcohol and cigarettes because it is a Muslim country and they have a sin tax in most of the places, apart from duty-free Langkawi, Tioman and Labuan Islands.

    It’s Hard To Choose One Favourite Memory From Malaysia

    Since I spent more than a year in Malaysia, I don’t have just one favorite memory from this trip. Everything there is one massive favorite memory, because I had no expectations beforehand and I did not know much about the country, which I think, was a huge advantage. There is no single thing that I was disappointed about or had a bad experience with. Malaysia is very underrated, but, in my opinion, it is one of the top places for travelling and one of a kind. It is perfect for solo-travelling, group travelling, family vacation, romantic getaway, short- and long-term visiting, fancy high-end holiday, or cheap and chic ones.

    My Advice For People Travelling To Malaysia For The First Time

    Be open-minded, take into consideration that it’s still a conservative Muslim country where people strictly follow their traditions, so respect it. Don’t plan too much in advance. Plan only your stay in the city of Kuala Lumpur and then take it from there, depending on what type of experiences you want to have as there is a wide range of things you can do and see. Climate is awesome all year long, so I can guarantee you that the weather will not change your plans. Unless you want to visit islands, then avoid the Monsoon season from November until March, because it will be raining heavily. Other than that embrace every single opportunity, try new things, and interact with locals- they are sweethearts and always willing to help or even show you around!

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