From left: Kirsi Salonen, Robyn Eckhardt, Sarah Kling, Angela Carson
Starting a blog as an expat is a great way to keep friends and family back home updated on your exciting adventures in a foreign land. “I loved your story about the temple you visited, it looked gorgeous!” However, given enough time, blogs can also become credible sources of information, which is valuable when you’re a brand new expat venturing into the unknown for the first time.
But how do bloggers know what to review, especially as an expat? Why is their content trustworthy? What recommendations do they have? We picked the brains of four expat bloggers in Malaysia to delve into the science of blogging and find answers to all our burning questions.
BEHIND THE SCENES
In its most basic form, blogging doesn’t require very advanced tech skills, but it does demand discipline and dedication to detail in order to produce quality, reliable content, especially when you have a larger audience. All four of our bloggers reported spending anything from an hour to several days to compose a post due to the amount of research and editing required.
“Popular listings on holiday programmes or activities require a lot of online research. For a restaurant review you’ll first have to have the meal, take pictures, write up your review, then edit and upload photos. Sharing content on social media takes up another chunk of your time too – even a simple post with a few photos will take hours,” notes Kirsi Salonen, editor of Happy Go KL.
Most blog content is a labour of love as well, and dedicated bloggers like Robyn Eckhardt of EatingAsia want to make sure that they’re delivering the best content they can instead of rushing a piece out for the sake of having something published. “I am much less tolerant of halfway-there pieces of writing than I was when I started. So I usually spend several hours on a post, let it rest a day, then go back and edit and put in the photos Dave (her husband and photographer) has picked out.”
WHAT TO WRITE
Sarah and her twin children loved exploring the stunning temples of Siem Reap, Cambodia
Since each blog is set up with a particular focus in mind, our bloggers curate their content carefully, choosing to write about news or stories that are relevant to their audience and their blog’s theme. News are sourced through keeping an eye on social media, getting your Google on and simply taking to the streets to see what’s out there. As the blogs become more popular, the authors also find news coming to them.
“I follow individual KL-based businesses and pages for their updates,” says Sarah Kling of Kuala Lumpur Kids – A KL City Guide For Families, “but now that my page is fairly well known, I tend to get people approaching me to tell me about the new centre they’re opening, or the new class they’re offering youngsters. I always appreciate people reaching out to me with their news.”
Authenticity is held in the highest esteem among our bloggers and they practice various forms of quality control – whether it’s only reviewing places they’ve visited and can honestly recommend, turning down reviews that they feel are not of interest to their audience or simply not reviewing negative experiences. Even though some may receive sponsored items, stays or meals for review purposes, they are clearly marked and it is possible to find the balance between honesty and courtesy to both reader and sponsor.
“There’s been a few times here where I’ve been to nice five-star hotels but had a terrible experience,” says Angela Carson of Luxury Bucket List and Expat Angela. “So I’ll send the management my feedback and tell them I can either post something gentle but honest on the flaws towards the end of the post, not post anything or we do a redo. Usually, they care enough about their brand reputation to fix things and invite me back. If things have changed, I don’t mention the previous negative experience.”
WHERE TO GO
The pristine beaches of Langkawi are a top draw for expats looking for a beach holiday
There’s a reason why Penang, Langkawi and Malacca are so heavily promoted as must-visit Malaysian destinations; they made the travel lists of our four bloggers, who loved all three places for different reasons. Here’s where the insider tips come in handy, though: while the Jonker Street night market in Malacca is popular with tourists, Angela’s “favourite night market experience of all time” is a 20-minute car ride away at Pasar Malam Malim Jaya.
“It’s where the locals go. There were mostly Malay and Chinese people there, and instead of souvenirs, there was so much food. There were even live crabs for sale and other crazy things you don’t normally see at night markets. Everyone was just so nice to me and I was the only foreigner there,” she says.
Besides the main tourist cities, eco-travel also features heavily in recommendations with Langkawi Island “the Bali of Malaysia” and East Coast islands, as well as the highlands and waterfalls of Pahang, ranking highly for their natural beauty. Cameron Highlands, says Sarah, is great for “getting back to nature and enjoying a slower pace of life with some amazing scenery”, while Kirsi enjoys the trek to the scenic Chiling Falls as “it’s like an adventure, you climb up rocks and wade through the river”.
While here in Asia, our bloggers also jumped at the chance to visit neighbouring countries. Taiwan is Robyn’s pick for being “Asia’s most underrated food destination”, while Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Bali also top the list closer to home. “Living in Bali for three years gave us the chance to discover Indonesia quite extensively, from climbing Mount Kelimutu and searching for Komodo dragons in Flores to snorkelling and relaxing in the Gili Islands and Lombok,” says Sarah.
WHAT TO DO
Kirsi enjoyed the serenity of bamboo rafting on the Yulong River of Yangshuo, China
According to both Kirsi and Sarah, families with young children will find the Klang Valley – and Malaysia in general – to be a wonderland. Sarah’s twins love Kuala Lumpur with the Petronas Twin Towers, science discovery centre Petrosains in Suria KLCC and the Berjaya Times Square indoor theme park. The daily 45-minute cultural show performed at the Malaysia Tourism Centre (MaTiC) is also a free activity that has become a firm favourite – they’ve even been known to bring school friends there on play dates.
On the luxury front, the shopping haven of Bukit Bintang is one of Angela’s favourite neighbourhoods now in Kuala Lumpur. “It has crazy small shawarma shacks – Shawarma Factory behind WOLO Hotel is the best – next to Pavilion KL with Prada, Gucci, Dior, everything your heart desires.”
Conversely, Angela also ranks her adventures in the Mulu National Park, part of an itinerary prepared by the Sarawak Tourism Board, as her single favourite trip of 2016. “I spent two full days exploring four different caves, going on long boat river rides and walking on the world’s largest suspension canopy bridge in the rainforest. I really enjoyed Mulu and plan to go back this year on my own accord.”
WHAT TO EAT
Dinner served on a mat in the gardens of the Red Boat Fish Sauce Factory in Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Street food is a huge draw here and Robyn cannot recommend it highly enough. “Street food in Malaysia is peerless, in my opinion. The fact that it’s multi-cultural sets Malaysia apart from every place but Singapore. The fact that hawker stalls are not corralled into food courts and there has been no attempt to limit the use of ingredients like blood cubes and lard, sets it apart from Singapore,” she says.
Why is it so appealing to her? “The accessibility, the transparency – you can see the ingredients and watch them being prepared – and the freshness of a dish that is served literally seconds after it has been cooked.” Plus, Malaysian street food is inexpensive, making it a “can’t lose proposition” as leaving behind an RM3.50 bowl of noodles won’t bankrupt anyone. However, Robyn believes that if the hawkers aren’t able to raise prices to compensate for rising ingredient costs, it will result in a lower quality end product. “We must be willing to support the hawkers we claim to revere.”
With three of her five must-try Malaysian dishes found in George Town (assam laksa from a stall at Weld Quay and Aceh Street, double-cooked pork at Tek Sen and nasi Melaya at International Hotel), Robyn reaffirms Penang’s reputation as the street food mecca of Malaysia. However, for her, Kelantan is also a hidden food gem and is more than just a pitstop on the way to the Perhentian Islands.
Kuala Lumpur is blessed with an abundance of tasty local fare and new food trends. Robyn recommends Yut Kee and Sek Yuen – the mock ‘shark fin’ served with lettuce leaves and black vinegar in Sek Yuen is another musttry – for great Chinese food; Kirsi has recently enjoyed Common Man Coffee Roasters and Goodness Greens Café, both in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI), along with Petaling Street’s Chocha Foodstore for heritage architecture and traditional cuisine with a twist.
For something more upscale, Angela favours afternoon tea at The Ritz-Carlton KL with live music and 40 teas to choose from. Meanwhile, Enfin by James Won in Menara Hap Seng and DC Restaurant in TTDI are currently two of her favourite independent restaurants due to “such exceptional quality and care put into every dish, it’s insane. They adhere to quality standards that I didn’t even know existed.”