Sunday, February 27, 2011

Putrajaya Landmark on the Hill

Time capsules are a curious concept because it encapsulates a piece of history and throws it under the ground like dead corpses, like open secrets. Yet monuments are constructed above it to make sure they aren't forgotten. The Putrajaya Landmark - aka Putra Perdana Landmark or Mercu Tanda (whew!) - is such place. It was built to commemorate the birth of Putrajaya, an "Intelligent Garden City" with an intended population of 300,000 (but currently running 70,000). This was implanted by the visionary former Prime Minister - Tun Dr. Mahathir, the brains responsible for the economic upturn of Malaysia.

This hilltop garden complex is part of the Taman Perdana Putra (Garden of the Prime Minister's Office) located down the hill, just across the street. I have to say that this garden has excellent winding tracks at the top, but the way down to the Waiting Shed (where you can hail your bus or taxi) and the Prime Minister's Office is through unmarked grassy downhill, and isn't particularly easy for seniors and the unfit adventurers.

The landmark proudly stands at the end of an avenue of stairs and stately fountains; at the peak of which is the enviable 5-star Shangri-La Hotel where, I can only imagine a seasonal good occupancy. Click here for an image of the hotel:

The garden is well maintained despite the fact that there isn't a lot of people navigating this hilltop complex. In fact, for 30 minutes, I was the only one there (except for a gardener who was unmindful of my presence). There are benches strewn all over the area and when you just wanna sit back and think of nothing, you could think of thousands of places worse than this.
This is the Eye in the Sky!

Shangri-La Hotel, a 5-star boutique hotel, rises at the end of this boulevard.

Up next: Rolling greens and winding tracks around Putra Perdana Garden.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Putrajaya - Birth of a New Federal City

Have you heard of a place specifically designed and planned as a new city?

Most metropolis naturally grow and flourish, taking a life of its own. But few cities are exactly conceptualized from scratch. I know of Brazil’s capital – Brasilia, which was planned and developed in 1956 (and shaped like a butterfly or an airplane). It became Brazil’s capital in 1960 and is home to 3.4 million people. (Rio de Janeiro has 14.3 million.) I also know of Canberra who, in 1908, became the capital of Australia as a compromise between Melbourne and Sydney (I specifically remembered this from my friend Helen’s stories). The population is surprising spare at about 360,000.

Closer to the archipelago is Myanmar’s new capital, Naypyidaw, elected by its military junta after dethroning Yangon as it’s queen city. It was moved 300 kilometers north of Yangon, and is still set to be completed next year (2012). Tourists aren’t allowed to visit the capital, but I was fortunate enough to have awakened from my deep slumber in the wee hours of the morning as my bus navigated the road from Mandalay back to Yangon. It felt like a dream then – this was a city bathed with a hundred lights. I literally had to pinch myself as my bus unobtrusively careened through Myanmar’s immaculate, albeit clinically barren streets. In Malaysia, it is the city of Putrajaya!

Putra Bridge (above) and the hill towards the Putrajaya Landmark (below).

The first time I was here – not so long ago when I was still too green to be adequately confident with my travel choices, Putrajaya was in its incipient stages. There wasn’t much to see, except the jaw-droppingly awesome showcase buildings of Malaysia’s government offices. After all, Putrajaya’s raison d’etre is as the country’s Federal Administrative Capital located some 30 kilometers south of KL. To decongest the city, this was where government offices were located.

The juiciest rumors circulating then was that the seed money in its evolution originated from the deep pockets of Bill Gates, who also supplemented construction of Putrajaya’s twin-city – Cyberjaya, not so far from here.

True enough, everything in Putrajaya looked new. Each building was designed following traditional Malay influences admixed with modern architectural form. The hybrid end-product is quite fetching to the senses. Heck, even its surrounding lake is man-made! It was about 60% completed the first time I was here. But this time around, the city has come alive (population – 70,000). Fountains, landmarks and new buildings are still under construction, but basic “city life” has already settled into common place functionality.

Putrajaya Landmark up the Putra Perdana Gardens.


Putrajaya” is word play that literally means "princes' (putra) success (jaya)". Officially, the site is named in homage to Malaysia's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, but Wikipedia mentions that it's also a tip of the hat towards the "princes of the soil" (bumiputra), a euphemism for ethnic Malays (as opposed to the richer Chinese minority) and one of the key concepts of Malaysia's affirmative action program. Putrajaya is one of the only three self-governing federal territories aside from KL and the controversial island of Labuan that was started in 1993, and officially moved in 1999 as the nation’s federal capital (covering a vast 4,931 hectares).


My latest visit started early with a McDonald’s breakfast in KL. From Pasar Seni station, I took the Rapid KL train to KL Sentral (which is just one stop, at 1 ringgit or $0.32). I changed trains and hopped into a KLIA Transit train (9.50 ringgit) to Putrajaya Sentral.

Even the train station (Putra Sentral) has come alive. It used to be eerily deserted; you could run around naked without much concern for spectators. I took the escalator down the station where a row of local buses await. These would take me to the city's different “sectors”, and a convenient take-off point to nearby Cyberjaya (a new city designed to house the IT industry).


I took Bus no. 100 (no. 300 was also an option), paid 50 cents ($0.16), and told the driver I wanted to see the pink-domed Putra Mosque which I missed last visit. This particular bus couldn't take me directly to the mosque. I was instructed to alight from a waiting shed facing a hill, then take a leisurely walk towards Putra Mosque. The good news - I could visit Putrajaya Hill on my way to the mosque to see the Putrajaya Landmark. The Perdana Putra (Prime Minister's Office) is also in the vicinity.

Taman Putra Perdana (in Precinct 1) is beautifully landscaped. From the waiting shed, I crossed the street and started my climb up the hill which was pleasant (there were no stairs so I stepped through coiffed grass). Except for a gardener trimming the hedges, I had the place to myself. This garden provided the best views in town. Last time I was here some 3 or 4 years ago, this wasn’t even a tourist sight yet. How fast this city has evolved.

At the apex of the park stands Putrajaya LandmarkMercu Tanda- shaped like Merlin’s wizard hat, glistening in silver (or tinfoil)! There was a row of fountains directly facing the landmark. From here, you could see the city sprawl – high rise residential edifices, the Putra Bridge, the skeletal marvel of Seri Wawasan Bridge, the sinewy lakes. It was exhilarating to be catching my breath after the climb, and getting rewarded with such view.

Money and inspired planning made this city, that’s for sure.

I was headed to the Putra Mosque, but at that particular moment, I found my favorite spot in Putrajaya.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Seri Wawasan Bridge as seen from the Perdana Putra Garden from the hill.

Prime Minister's Office (Putra Perdana)

Putra Mosque

A popular steward at the Putra Mosque becomes an unexpected celebrity. Everyone wanted a photograph with him.

If you're inappropriately clothed (shorts, skirts showing knees, skimpy tops), you will be required to wear these pink gowns if you are to enter the mosque.

Justice Ministry

Perbadanan Putrajaya or Putrajaya Corporation (PPJ) is a local authority which administers Putrajaya. PPJ is responsible for public health and sanitation, waste removal and management, town planning, environmental protection and building control, social and economic development and general maintenance functions of urban infrastructure. It's probably equivalent to Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

KLIA Transit to Putrajaya Sentral at 9.50 ringgit ($3.10 or PhP135.70).

Up next: Prime Minister’s Palace, Putra Mosque, and more

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mother and Child at the That Ing Hang - Savannakhet Tales

Lao Wats (buddhist temples) are community institutions bearing the responsibility of performing certain rituals that ensure the prosperity of a community. This includes summoning good health for the people and the fecundity of the farm lands. These practices aren’t too remote from Catholic practices – like sending dozens of crates of eggs to a nunnery to ensure good weather during a celebration or feast; celebratory offerings for special intentions like making the grade or getting your romantic feelings reciprocated; even prayerful congregations for the souls of the departed.

I arrived in That Ing Hang’s halcyon bewilderment, feeling relaxed and grateful that I once again made it to one of South Laos’ holiest temple grounds. That buddha once rested here – leaning against a tree, while convalescing from a sickness, I was awash with contemplation. After paying my entrance fee, I noticed the very few people coming in – mostly women, bearing offerings. I have none on my hand, but a camera and a curious demeanor. I have a few intentions to whisper – I know someone might just be listening; just for safe travels.

A Lao woman carrying her child spoke to her in a tender voice, her tone in a sacharine singsong, motherly and comforting, I wish I understood Lao. The little girl, decked in pink dress and bunny head band, stared at her mother. She was holding a pair of white tulips, while her mom was clutching a pyramidal offering made of coconut-leaf.

Such offerings are ordinary day opportunities to gain “boon” (merits). According to, “Flowers will bring in beauty”. The “lotus” is one of the 8 auspicious symbols in buddhist household and public art. It represents the primordial purity of the body, speech and mind, floating above the muddy waters of “attachment” and “desire”. The ultimate goal is the full blossoming of wholesome deeds in blissful liberation. “Nirvana” should stand along this concept.

Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi once wrote, “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained!”

Savannakhet allows backpackers to slow down. Despite some other people’s frenetic itinerary, there’s no way other than immersing in the laidback nature of this place. It is quite – “shockingly quiet!” as one traveler described it. I like that, but sometimes you do feel that Savannakhet needs a little shaking to nudge its people from its somnolence. After all, a border town (Thailand's Mukdahan is just across the Mekong) should be bustling with activity, instead of being slumbering while the rest of the world is moving in frenzied motion.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

That Ing Hang in Savannakhet - Buddha's Spine in South Laos

It had been a long journey from Vientiane, the Lao capital, to Savannakhet470 kilometers, to be exact. It must have been the bus number that clued me in – Bus no. 6666 – that the trip would freeze every crevice of my body. What did they say about "hell freezing over?" Since our 8:45 PM departure, it had been a bitterly cold ride, the AC went unregulated. I tried to sleep through my misery, but it was a shallow sleep, despite a very comfortable seat at the top deck of my bus. I had the best seat as I was facing the windshield - no obstruction, but darkness crept through our ride.

We reached Savannakhet slumbering in the wee hours – 4:30 AM. The view from my front seat didn’t help much. As our vehicle slid through places, I couldn’t venture an impression for everything was bathed in pitch darkness. I was only aware of the abundance of foliage, none else!

I alighted from my bus and saw some unoccupied benches at the almost deserted bus station. There was a flickering light at the unmanned ticket booth. Everywhere else was dim, almost to its creepy witching-hour veneer. Walking around in solitary darkness, when you could hear each stride that you take, offers a surreal experience. For a few moments, I half expected itinerant souls pinching me to signify that I wasn't the only one who's wide awake at 4:30. Once left with nothing else to do, I lazily pulled my luggage until it plopped carelessly on top of a bench. I decided later to look for a guest house at the break of dawn when people were possibly awake. For now, at least, there’s a bench where I could lie down for an hour or two. The station – with its 3 other occupants in dreamland – felt like a safe haven.

Later that day, after finding Leena’s Guest House, right through secluded Chow Kim Road, I asked my tuktuk driver to pick me up at 8 AM. We negotiated on a price – 100,000 kip ($12.50) return.

I was going to visit the second holiest religious edifice in South Laos (after Wat Phu Champasak). It's called That Ing Hang! “That" or "Thaat”, in Laos, refers to a “Buddhist stupa”.

Thaat Ing Hang is said to have been built in the mid-16th century, rising 9 meters from the ground. Like most sacred sites in Indochina, the site is steeped with history: Buddha is believed to have stopped here when he was sick while roaming the ancient lands. He rested by leaning (“ing”) on a Hang Tree – thus “Ing Hang”. A relic of Buddha’s spine is believed to be kept inside the “thaat”. This particular stupa has been restored by the French in 1930. It is located about 15 kilometers northeast of the city center (Savan).
My ride to Ing Hang was pleasant. We passed through houses that looked deserted; through a roundabout with a couple of huge dinosaur statues standing guard beside a city monument.

Along the way, I noticed stalls selling what would be temple offerings, not unlike incense, flowers, fruits; but these were conical things wrapped in coconut leaves. I've only seen such offerings here in Laos. My tuktuk parked right in front of the ground walls. After paying 5,000 kip ($0.60) for my entrance, I made tentative steps towards a square compound: each of the 4 sides are lined by uniform gleaming buddhas, and right at the center is the stupa. It isn’t as visually impressive as I thought it would be, but you feel piety all around. At some point, women weren’t allowed inside. There weren’t a lot of people, and like most sights in Laos, there were no bothersome touts either.

It doesn’t take much to roam the compound. And I was pleased to have made my journey there.
Lonely Planet's description doesn't quite match what I saw, thus I was somehow asking myself if this indeed was Ing Hang. A guy on his way out, so I asked him and he nodded. That was a relief! Somehow, it felt like a place waiting to be visited. It's modest size imparted a sense of intimacy, which I liked. Special sights too far removed from the madding crowd gives me a sense of empowerment. A tourist as inconsequential as myself has stepped on lands where Buddha used to roam. That, to me, is a little bit of magic!

This is the Eye in the Sky!

A parade of medium-sized buddhas line every four corners of this holy compound.

The way out!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

NAIA Terminal 3 Pre-Departure Shops (2011) - Part 5 of 5

In this last part in our series on NAIA Terminal 3, we'll allow the photos to do much of the talking. Here are some of the shops available for your perusal if you happen to have more time than necessary prior to your flight, just before heading to your respective Gates.

The shop right across the last security check and xray is Victoria's Secret  (who would buy sexy lingerie at the airport, I wonder) and just beside it is Air Mall which now carries a Krispy Kreme counter.

Mixed Lifestyle is situated beside Le Boutique (selling bags, flip flops, caps), which is beside a coffee house - KR Express (Kopiroti). There is a Money Exchange Counter just beside Let's Chow Restaurant. This Forex counter is open from 2AM to 6PM.

Cinnabon is close by beside Mrs. Field's Cafe. Cafe France stands beside Red Ribbon which shares its space with GoNuts Donuts - at the center aisle of the hallway. Gate 116 is flanked by Espresamente (closes at 8:30PM) and Mrs. Fields. Meanwhile, a Rajah Maynila stall stands beside Pondohan.While Pondohan sells a smorgasbord items from candies to cigarettes a la sari sari store, Rajah now offers affordable rice meals like beef pares at P89, luglug at P99. They have 2 long tables (no chair beside their stall), just across gate 117.

Update as of May 14, 2011: Chaikofi Restaurant Cafe is now open, flanked by Chipstead at each side. A National Bookstore branch is also open, found between KR Express and Island Souvenirs.

There's a new Crew Lounge right across the Citibank counter. At the vicinity of Gate 117, there's Muhlach's Ensaymada (a bread shop franchise owned by former child actor Nino Muhlach). Beside it is Fruitas (Fresh From Babot's Farm) if you're into fresh fruit shakes (P45 for a small glass).

A new EBG Convenience Shop across Gate 118 combines convenience store and fast food - rice toppings for P100, although I have to say that soda drinks are way overpriced at P50. Also nearby - Hen Lin and Kape Manila which has comfy looking lounge seats. Gate 119 has Stop n Fly Cafe, which is a smoking joint. Stress Away Massage is a spa-inspired installation near Gate 120 which hosts flights of PAL Express. Rates: whole body massage 1 hour - P1000; half hour - P500. Chair massage (foot, leg and scalp) for 30 minutes at P500. Gate 120 is the hallway's last gate at the extreme end.

As of March 2014, there are more shops in the vicinity of Gates 130/131 to 134 (go down the escalator to level 1 predeparture and boarding gates).  Army Navy Burger + Burrito, Mrs. Fields (the 2nd shop in the pre-departure area; the first one is a cafe near the security X-ray entrance), a Nescafe Point, and of course, the same EBG Convenience Shop mentioned earlier. There's also the Siloam Day Spa in the vicinity. The chairs have been arranged in rows of two's with 4-chairs each. This provides more space to walk around in compared to the "cordoned" arrangement of the past. As of August 2014, a Jamba Juice and another Krispy Kreme (a bigger, more proper shop) have opened beside Army Navy. 


As of March 2015, "Kase - Paris" has opened a branch beside the new "Bath and Body Works". "Sir, we can personalize your iPhone case while you wait, and it won't take long. It's scratch proof - and it's from (drum roll, please! - Paris!" The sales girl talked shop. Did she say Paris for the 3rd time? LOL. She even offered if I wanted a photo of myself as a phone case! Who would want his face on his phone case? Ugh. But then this would be a proprietary move. No need for identifying tags if you have your face on your phone.


And just so you avoid delays, if you're taking a meal or snack at the Food Court, we feel we need this special mention. Avoid Mary Grace Cafe. The place is messy, the servers take forever to serve you and they forget orders.


While operations in T3 have gone full throttle, it's becoming clear that what was once a relaxing "space" is now starting to resemble a madhouse. In fact, there's hardly a space for me to wait while waiting for my plane for Bacolod: no seats available and no space to even stand on for the wait, I had to stand for 30 minutes before I was able to get a chair. 

New arrangement of the chairs near Gate 130 as of March 2014.

Army Navy Burger + Burrito is open until 6PM.

The second Mrs. Fields cookie shop in the pre-departure area.

Nescafe Point is open from 7:30AM to 8PM.

EBG Convenience Store with pricey drinks, you feel like you're drinking gold. When drinks are this expensive, you feel like they don't deserve the term "convenience".

There are pay phone units near "Stop n Fly". These phone units accept credit cards (Visa, Mastercard and Amex), coins and PLDT call cards.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Victoria's Secret is open from 2AM to 8PM.

Air Mall, the shop beside Victoria's Secret near the security check. They also sell Krispy Kreme donuts. Note that their Krispy Kreme does not sell singles. When I tried to buy one, the sales lady handed me one - for "free"! "Complimentary, sir," she smiled. They only sell them in boxes. Wasn't I just lucky? Krispy Kreme has another branch near Gate 33, 1st level and open from 2AM to 6PM.

Let's Chow! Money Exchange counter standing beside it. To its right is the Air Mall and a Foreign Exchange Counter.

Delifrance. As of October 2011, they have renamed it to Cafe France. They're open until 5PM.

Tick Tock Flip Flop - standing beside Mixed Lifestyle and KR Express. Nearby is Le Boutique.

Island Souvenirs (above and below) opens at 2AM and closes at 6PM.

As of March 2015, 2 new shops have opened, just across "Let's Chow": "Kase - Paris" (left) sells phone cases and even customize or personalize designs for your iPhones. "Bath and Body Works" sells errr...well, figure it out. :)

Cinnabon (above and below)

Mrs. Fields Cafe - beside it is the stair that leads to Gate 116.

Art's Cream Gallery - Gelato and Cafe

NAIA 3 2011 Departure Hall and Services -

Airport Terminal, Left Luggage and Viewing Gallery

Covered Parking

Pondohan stands beside the Rajah Maynila stall.

"Kape Manila" sells rice meals, and they have comfortable tables. This is located near gate 120.

For specific inquiries, here are some important telephone numbers and email addresses at T3:

Airport Trunkline+63.2.877-7888
Asst. Terminal
Lost & Found+63.2.877-7888
Bureau of Animal Industry+63.2.877-7888 loc.8238/
Bureau of Customs+63.2.877-7888 loc.8127/
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources+63.2.877-7888 loc.8238/
Bureau of Immigration+63.2.877-7888 loc.8128/
Bureau of Plant Industry+63.2.877-7888 loc.8238/
Bureau of Quarantine+63.2.877-7888 loc.8125/
DENR Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit+63.2.877-7888 loc.8238/
Philippine Overseas Employment Adminnistration+63.2.877-7888
Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority+63.2.877-7888 loc.8159
Customer Relations
Passenger & Customer Relations+63.2.877-7888 loc.
Terminal Administration+63.2.877-7888 loc.
Terminal Security & Safety+63.2.877-7888 loc.