A journey to a Muslim-majority country – like Malaysia – is probably one of the furthest thoughts for most Americans, and the greater West for that matter. The media portrays the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia as terrorist havens on the brink of destruction and violence. So why on Earth would you want to go to Malaysia?

Malaysia Greeting at the KL Airport | Photo: Ocampo

Malaysia Greeting at the KL Airport | Photo: Ocampo

Inter-religious Friendships Formed

Almost a decade ago in New York City, I met Kamran, my first friend with Pakistani roots. He was born in New Jersey, and his father was from Pakistan. He and I grew very close and took turns with wingman responsibilities since we were both single in the city back in the early 2000’s. I learned a bit about Islam and the Pakistani culture through my friendship with him. It was a bit eye-opening since I knew very little about the religion growing up in El Paso, Tex., a predominantly Catholic city.

Around the same time, a colleague named Mohammed, someone also in the internet marketing industry, and I befriended each other. He, too, had Pakistani roots. These two friends of mine, by the way, were the most “American” guys you could find. They were born, raised and educated in the United States – Kamran at Rutgers and Mohammed at UMass. They spoke with no accent other than a northeast and New England accent, respectively. Every stereotype I may have had was defied with my new found buddies.

So what do these friendships have to do with Malaysia, and why you should add Malaysia to your list of future destinations?

Since Mohammed was also in my industry, I asked him if he knew of any off-shore technical resources to help me with a start-up. US-based programmers were not only hard to find since the demand was great, but they were also out of my budget due to them being so highly recruited. Mohammed recommended a Pakistani-based technology company named DPL. It was owned (in part) and managed by his first cousin, Syed. I hired DPL and have continued to work with them either as a company or with their engineers for the last 10 years.

An Unlikely Destination: Malaysia

Statue of Hanuman at Batu caves | Photo: Ocampo

Statue of Hanuman at Batu caves | Photo: Ocampo

Through my business dealings, a compulsory meeting to launch a new project came up and needed to be planned. With my current prejudices of Muslim countries in the Middle and Far East, I had to come up with a spot to meet with the tech team face-to-face. One candidate city was Dubai, which may still be a viable option in the foreseeable future. Another country came up because the business development team in Pakistan was meeting their existing client around the same time: Malaysia.

I did not feel comfortable visiting Pakistan for all the reasons one might imagine from what you see on the news so agreed to visit Kuala Lumpur – the capital of Malaysia. I obviously had heard of the city, if only in name, and knew it as a world capital but any details about it eluded me. It turns out travel to Malaysia was much easier than my trip to Cuba, and I speak Spanish!

Kuala Lumpur – Getting There

Petronas Towers in Malasia | Photo: Ocampo

Petronas Towers in Malasia | Photo: Ocampo

Flying to Kuala Lumpur – at least from the East Coast – isn’t for the casual traveler. My flight route took me from Ft. Myers, FL to New York City (3 hrs) to Beijing (12 hrs) and then to Kuala Lumpur (6 hrs). The time difference from KL, commonly used initials when speaking of the city, to NYC is 13 hours with the flight crossing the International Date Line. I flew Delta round-trip to La Guardia, then took an Uber to JFK to catch a separately booked Air China round-trip flight from NY JFK to KL, with a layover in Beijing.

The length of flights may be too much for families with young children if they are anything like mine. A 2-3 hour flight is the most my twin preschoolers can handle. Anything over that and they lose their minds! You may have more favorable flight options from the West Coast. I am almost physically, or perhaps mentally, unable to fly that long in Economy so I opted for Business Class to make the air travel a little (read: a lot) less painful. If you have the means to increase your airfare by 75-200% then you should definitely choose this path – your knees and bum will thank you for it. Air China’s seats in Business recline completely flat allowing you to get significant shut-eye all while being wined and dined at 35,000 ft above the planet.

A Quick Jaunt to Beijing

Layover to Malaysia included stop in Beijing | Photo: Ocampo

Layover to Malaysia included stop in Beijing | Photo: Ocampo

I purposely booked my flight with a 20-hour layover in Beijing. That allowed me to break-up my trip and explore Beijing for a full day. I booked a room at the St. Regis, located in the central Jianguomen area of the city. A Chinese visa is required for Americans; however, if you are a transit passenger staying for less than 24 hours, you do not need a visa. Just make sure you are back in the airport and through immigration by that time. I understand there is also a 72-hour transit passenger option but you should check the official Chinese sites, or Chinese Embassy, to know for sure.

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur

Once you arrive at Kuala Lumpur, look for signs for the Express Train to KL Station, in the heart of KL. The train is inexpensive – just over $10 USD – and travels at approximately 100 MPH (according to my SnapChat app), bringing you into KL, non-stop, in roughly 30 minutes. Taxis, by comparison, cost about the same and take at least double the time, typically more than an hour due to traffic.

Tip: Make sure to hang on to your ticket for the train, as you will need it to exit the train! If you lose it or toss it, the friendly, but firm, staff will make you pay for a full ticket. Let’s just say I know someone who lost theirs J

Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur?

I highly recommend staying near KL Station. The different rail systems all stop at KL Station and it is centrally located. I stayed at the Le Meridian and found it absolutely wonderful. Nearby is an Aloft, too, if you prefer a lower priced option but want to stay in the Starwood family. The Hilton is a mirror/twin tower of Le Meridian so you have two great choices steps from KL Station.

Next Article: Kuala Lumpur, a Gem a World Away