Startup life in the tropics

by Jobbatical March 30, 2016

From left to right (mostly): one data scientist, one CEO, two copywriters, one business developer, one sunny Malaysian afternoon, and one office swimming pool.

In early January, the average temperature outside a Jobbatical team meeting increased by about 30 degrees, and typical office apparel changed from sweaters and boots to shorts and flip flops. Since career adventures in distant lands are what we offer our users, it made sense to take one ourselves!

Not pictured: our marketing chief, our CPO, a precocious three-year-old, three kooky cats, and a very persistent turle.

After two sunshine-y months, we said farewell to Kuala Lumpur and the airbnb in that served as home and office for most of the Jobbatical team. Our HQ has returned to the land of sauna sessions and sült (Estonian meat jelly). But we certainly haven’t forgotten the land of early morning dips in the pool and lunchtime sunbathing.

Take a few minutes, if you will, to join five Jobbatical teammates as they reminisce about favorite tastes and memories from the trip, and share some advice for anyone following in their footsteps. But first, let me introduce them:

Five members of the Jobbatical team in Malaysia, including our CEO Karoli Hindriks (bottom right)

Food things first: What was the best thing you ate in Malaysia?


Mango lassi — reminded me of homemade granny’s strawberry-jogurt


Teh tarik!

Mango lassi (source); Teh tarik — “pulled tea” — a deliciously sweet Malaysian tea with condensed milk (source)


Not strictly speaking a local dish, but the tuna ceviche at Pisco Bar in KL blew my mind. And chicken wings in Jalan Alor — worth flying halfway across the planet for.


Chicken wings at Wong Ah Wah, Jalan Alor

Chicken wings at Jalan Alor. This photo is from a local food blog that hails them as the best wings in Kuala Lumpur. We were much too messy and busy devouring them to take pictures!



Breakfast: golden passion fruit (left), mangosteen (center), coconut (right).

A favorite memory from the trip?


Playing poker at a local guy’s house with his family minding their business and being curious all around. Getting the details about local politics and mindset of Malaysian people.


Volunteering with Incitement and Liter of Light to build and put up solar lights in an indigenous village in Cameron Highlands. An incredible experience from start to finish. Met plenty of inspiring people, got my hands dirty, and saw some stunning landscapes. For a girl hailing from a flat little European country, the sight of the highlands and the gorgeous tea plantations was nothing short of amazing. Definitely on my list of places to visit again.

Traversing mountain roads in the Cameron Highlands.


One evening, we went to a local restaurant in Bukit Bintang. There was a little Chinese/Malay girl at the next table who was around the same age as Maya, Karoli’s daughter, and had almost the same haircut. The two of them bonded really quickly and were playing with each other within minutes as if they had been friends all along.

They were so ridiculously cute that they became instant celebrities! Everyone at the restaurant was snapping photos. I just loved watching them and seeing how children don’t think twice about things. They haven’t built up all these walls that adults tend to carry around with them a lot.


Introducing the team to kaya (coconut jam) and creating a chain of events that led to smuggling a lot of cans back to Europe 🙂

Left: a photo taken by a food blogger with the same addiction to kaya that our entire team developed. Right: the optimal way to eat kaya.


I really loved the late night swims in the warm tropical evening after a long day of working. One night when I finished up work late after midnight, around 2 am and everybody was asleep. It was just me, the cats, the stars, and the turtle who had again escaped her pond and climbed into to our swimming pool. I did not want to wake up my neighbour with whom we shared the bathroom in order to get my swimming suit. So I decided to just go skinny dipping! Probably the last time I did it was around 15 years ago therefore that was pretty fun. The cats seemed not to care and the combination of starlight, warm water and some adrenaline — it was a delightful fun.

The turtle; the pool

What advice do you have for anyone about to embark on a jobbatical in Malaysia?


Take the time to see around. There is a lot to see. Vary the places you go and the routes you take to the places you like to go regularly. Give a chance to situations that give you something to think about later.


Bring sunscreen. Forget about walking anywhere (it’s hot, and sidewalks are few and far between). Expect geckos (they’re the cutest). Prepare to be amazed by a country that’s wonderfully diverse and beautifully chaotic. Don’t forget to exercise, because you’ll want to eat everything. Drink teh tarik and kopi tarik.

Sunscreen: a necessity when this is your winter office.


If you’re coming from a place where things are done quite fast, you’re going to have to get used to a much slower pace here. That was the hardest thing for me, I think.


Pack sunscreen and don’t bring too many clothes! The style is less formal than most cities and there are plenty local shops where to find weather-appropriate clothes. As it’s a big city, it will be easy to find friends that share your passion — whether it’s suspension yoga, trampolining or ice hockey, KL has a place for you.


Malaysia is a great country for an expat, it is easy to get around with English. Some tips: — If you are going on a jobbatical with your kid(s) then be sure to map where is the closest private hospital near you. The price/quality in the private hospitals is really great. There are a lot of English speaking daycares in the KL area and they are reasonably $100–200/mo; — In Malaysia people drive cars, they do not walk. There are literally no sidewalks. Check out if your apartment has a good gym nearby as you will not really be able to jog outside (also signup for Kfit — an app that gives you an access to multiple gyms across Malaysia); — The flights around Southeast Asia are extremely cheap (e.g. $10 from Kuala Lumpor to Langkawi) therefore plan your weekends to travel around the region (Bali is just a 3 hours away)

Langkawi is a beautiful archipelago of 104 islands on the northwestern coast of Malaysia.

Leave all your long sleeved shirts at home (you will not use them), you will only use clothes that are comfortable against your skin in heat and those other clothes will just take up space and you will not have enough luggage room to take home kaya for all your family and friends.

Thanks for reading about our trip! If you’d like to take one too and use your tech or business skills in a new city while exploring a different part of the world, then it may be time to find yourself a jobbatical! Where do you want to go?

Share this article:

Get a job abroad in 2019

Sign up to Jobbatical and explore these featured locations