Having successfully completed our banking issues, Diane and I arrived in Penang a few days ago and set out in search of an apartment complex. Ironically, our first day of hunting literally followed the script of any HHI episode almost to the letter. Referred to a property agent rumored to be the best in the island in terms of integrity, honesty and understanding the needs of new arrivals, we met Catherine Outside the hotel where she picked us up right on time. Having read dozens of posts telling us how we should schedule as many meetings as possible with multiple agents because they’re all scammers and not even licensed in any way, our skepticism quickly disappeared. Within the first half hour we could tell our agent was just as professional as the realtor in Walnut Creek that helped us sell our house.
Before I get to that, however, I need to mention a word about our experience with Copthorne Orchid, an old dilapidated outdated and pathetic excuse for a hotel disguising itself with the Millennium Hotels’ name. Having selected it for a 12 day stay based on strangely inaccurate TripAdvisor comments and a website that’s a total lie, we arrived to a morgue-like eerily quiet lobby where five employees stood there and didn’t say one word. Finally deciding to check us in, the staff spoke very poor English which is highly unusual for Malaysia, especially in the hospitality industry. Taking the rickety elevator that barely fit our luggage to the 17th floor, we exited to a dirty smelling and dank hallway with no decor and old carpet. Even worse, the room looked like it hadn’t been touched since 1975, with a horrible bed, one small desk, worn our carpet, leaky bathtubs and a crappy shower. Attempting the wi-fi was an exercise in futility and we knew the temporary living quarters would not work for us at all.
Fortunately, there was Four Points by Sheraton five minutes away and an incredibly friendly and helpful front desk employee went above and beyond to get us into a comfortable room with a nice sea view. Immediately returning to Copthorne to retrieve our bags, they had the gall to charge us for one night even though we spent two minutes in the room and the manager didn’t ask why or even say one word about why we’d cancel a 12 night stay. Intending to write a scathing review and dispute the charge with my credit card company, let it be known that the Copthorne is probably the worst hotel associated with a quality name chain anywhere in Asia. Stay far away from this place should you ever need a room in Penang.
Once comfortably relaxed in the comfort of a nice hotel, we focused on the apartments and quickly learned that it’s harder than it looks on television. Viewing apartment complexes that our agent perceived as the best three choices that fit our budget and needs, the first complex was in an area under never-ending construction thanks to a swath of ongoing new complexes they keep building in Penang. Unfortunately, that means the bedroom window faces what looks like the World Trade Center complex after 9/11. Aside from the distorted view, Malaysia is not South America and construction projects get built quickly, efficiently and with lots of noise. While nice enough inside, we were a bit surprised by the meaning of “fully furnished” and found most places came with a couch, bed , perhaps a table or two and that’s about it. Having sold everything, that leaves a lot of space given that all the complexes here are bigger than most American and Canadian markets.
The second complex we viewed was in the northern end of the area known as Tanjung Bungah. Set slightly off the main road but not so far that walking to the main wouldn’t be a hassle, we viewed a unit on the 26th floor. Only 1,307 square feet, it was more in line with our needs for living space. Featuring gas stoves, a microwave, glass table, sectional couch and beds that had box springs (which go by some funny name that we didn’t know here in Asia), the furnishings were nicer than the first complex and helped fill out the space. With two small balconies, the view was very nice, facing the water and the hills. Lo and behold, there’s always one drawback just like in the TV show and sadly, it said was a deal breaker. Situated directly across from Malaysia’s only floating mosque, the apartment comes complete with the rhythms of five daily calls to prayer emanating from the mosque. While I have nothing at all against any religion and its beliefs, we both agreed that awaking to the call earlier than we want to wake up every day was just not for us. Close, but no cigar.
Originally thinking we’d only want to be in the towns of Tanjung Bungah or Tanjung Tankoh, both situated relatively close to shopping, amenities , and GeorgeTown (the “big city” on the island), we began to get a bit disheartened until our agent suggested visiting a complex further away but still accessible to “civilization” via two daily bus lines. Driving a few miles up where the road narrows into a twisty turny scenic gem, you reach Batu Ferrengghi, the touristy area of the island but paltry compared to larger beach environs like Bali or Phuket. Having known someone on the now defunct MM2H forum that lived in the nearby Bayu Ferrengghi complex, we heard positive things about quality of life there. Set right off the main road on a beautiful piece of land where construction is noise remains minimal due to lack of space available for development, our agent showed us a 26th floor unit with an unparalleled view of the sea and the green mountains. Immediately in love with the unit, we spent the first 15 minutes hanging out on the enormous balcony that’s strategically placed and open on two sides, allowing afternoon breezes and favorable cross ventilation.
Naturally, when one thing is great, another is usually not. With 1,777 square feet as the smallest unit, it’s bigger than we need and furnishings were minimal. Featuring only a sectional couch, average dinner table and television set, it would highlight minimalist living at least until we ship our remaining stuff from California (mostly art and personal artifacts with no furniture). Undaunted, we tested the air conditioner, went downstairs to the small but acceptable gym and checked out the pool which is serene, relaxing and perfect for kicking back with a good book. Almost everything is negotiable in the Malaysian rental market and there are way too many unoccupied units so we’re told you make a “wish list” of amenities or other things you’d like to have and see where it goes. With the owners asking somewhere in the range of $935 USD per month, I couldn’t think of many other places this beautiful for such a reasonable price. Overlooking the Shangri-La beach resort, we’d have full access to the resort’s beach and the walk into town is only about ten minutes. Hawker food courts, all the cheap DVD’s you’d ever need for years of cheap entertainment and even a new and enormous Starbucks are all walking distance from the complex.
Yesterday we viewed another five or six complexes, all of which had one or multiple issues such as excessive noise, set in the middle of a construction zone, or way too far from the main road for expats with no vehicle, we agreed to return for a second viewing today in the Bayu Ferrengghi complex. Fortunately, our agent emailed us and said she has another unit available with a bit more furnishings. Of course, it’s on the 9th floor so the spectacular view will probably turn into a good view and the cross ventilation may be less than the higher floors. But compromises are necessary when money is an issue and at our age, we set a budget and intend to stick to it hoping only to buy necessities like cutlery, towels, toiletries and basic food, we’ll go view it with an open mind and hope we can use it as leverage against the nicer unit with no furnishings. Sorry for the relatively short post but we’re finding the days just fly by and are mentally taxing so I haven’t found a lot of time for writing.
Oh yeah. It’s hot. Anyway, we hope to move the process forward and get out of the hotel and into an apartment by the time our two-week stay ends. (We had to change hotels on Friday because it was booked for the end of Ramadan holiday but we chose the Holiday Inn that is closer to the unit we want anyway). Later this week we need to travel to the Georgetown branch of the bank and collect our cheques. For now, menikmati andi hari.
Please Share your expat apartment hunting stories and help us with any advice.