Sunday, July 29, 2012

A City Called Cyberjaya

A year ago, I blogged about my visit in Cyberjaya, a new city specifically designed to accommodate the multimedia industry and the cyberworld. This was conceptualized at the same time Putrajaya (its twin city designed to accommodate all of the government's administrative branches) was conceived. In fact, from the main Putrajaya train/bus terminal, all you have to do is hop on a bus that heads east for Putrajaya - or west for Cyberjaya.

Cyberjaya officially opened in 1997. I discovered Putrajaya barely 4 years ago. At that time, Cyberjaya was said to be 30% complete so I had to stop myself, with grated teeth, from making a visit. On my subsequent trips to KL, something always supervenes whenever I schedule a trip to Cyberjaya. You can imagine how I felt when this was finally realized last year, after a protracted travel through southwest India. Yes, it was an afterthought. It would also be a breather after a heart-pounding traipse through Bangalore, Mysore, Munnar, and Cochin. But Cyberjaya is not for tourists. There's nothing to see, but huge buildings from status companies like Dell and HP.

During my readings, I came across something new - the city's 400-acre green lung, Cyberjaya Lake Gardens. This would be my main destination, I thought.

Cyberjaya is the multimedia corridor in Malaysia, analogous to Silicon Valley. It lies in the district of Sepang in Selangor, the same area where the airports are located. It's approximately 50 kilometers south of KL. Cyberjaya covers about 3,000 hectares of formerly oil palm (toddy palm) plantations. These days, Cyberjaya hosts regional offices of Dell, MSC, HP, DHL, HSBC, Motorola, Winpro, Ericsson, IBM, BMW, Shell IT, Vivanove, etc. There are around 500 status companies in this region. It also has the Multimedia University which boats of 21,000 students; 19% of whom are international students. This is evident in bus stops from whites and Africans to Koreans and other nationalities bearing backpacks and books.

But more than a multimedia hub, Cyberjaya has become a university belt of sort. Its daytime population reaches almost 40,000; 10,000 are local residents. However, this seemingly considerable population is deceptive. Walking around the "city" (and I am conflicted calling it as such) is like a walk in a ghost town. This is marked by the expansive spaces and multi-lane highways.

My morning started in KL with breakfast at the newly renovated McDonald's near Chinatown. From there, I walked towards Pasar Seni Train Station. I bought a ticket to KL Sentral then changed lines heading to Putrajaya (KLIA Express Trains stop at Putrajaya). Like most visits in this almost deserted Putrajaya station, there were very few people. All I had to do was get down from the station and what greets you below is the Bus Terminal, with platforms assigned from either side. I checked the schedules and found what I needed - Bus U429 at Platform 16. I went to the platform, but people were pointing me to the opposite side. Shouldn't they have amended the written schedule? 

My irresolute condition was gnawing in my head, but I guess the only thing left to do was wait. Forty minutes later, U429 arrived at the opposite platform. I paid my 2 ringgit fare (make sure you have the exact amount because they don't offer change). The next problem was: how do I know I have arrived? Hmmm, I thought I'd play it by ear. I told the driver's assistant that I'd get off at the city center. But you see, Cyberjaya's main promenade stretches for 3.5 kilometers. Play it by ear... play it by ear!

Sometime during the ride, I stopped the bus and got off, but the driver's assistant asked me to get back on the bus. It was embarrassing. I was too far from the center of things. How would I know, otherwise? There were no guides to read! Finally, at some crossroad where the HP building stood, I was let off. They stopped me at the Multimedia University. After all these years, people still think of me as a student. And this situation is repeated during my short visit in Cyberjaya. Who knew, right? Cyberjaya has a huge number of students.

There was nothing to do but walk and check out the surroundings. I headed towards the direction of an arrow that says "Garden". I also knew that if I go through with this walk, there's the possibility of not getting a ride from this point. Though I woke up a bit under the weather, what else should I do? Wait for nothing and just stand at the corner of an empty street? 

The walk took almost 40 minutes. I arrived at a Sports Stadium - tennis court race track, swimming pool. Empty, empty, empty! I asked the personable pool caretaker who smiled when he learned that I wasn't Malay, but a Filipino. "Same, same",: he muttered. Then he let me in. I was supposed to pay for the entrance but he just waved me in. Students pay 1 ringgit, staff pays 2 ringgit, guests pay 3 ringgit. What struck me was how beautifully maintained these facilities were, despite paucity of users. Maybe I came at the wrong day or time?

From there, I crossed the lane across the stadium and found a Food Court. It was past lunch time. Though not particularly hungry, I was darn thirsty. I had to stock on energy for my sojourn to the Lake Gardens. I ordered food at Hee Soon (Swimming Pool Food Court) - Stir Fried Chicken with Onions on Rice at a measly 4.50 ringgit, iced tea included! I noticed that most stalls were still unoccupied, but many of its cuisine were Persian and halal. I also noticed that people in my bus were there. Wow, this was the "in" place. :) Meanwhile, I basked in the comfort of a windy shade. I still haven't arrived at the main destination.

But that could wait for now.

This is the Eye in the Sky!   
Central Market and its new Kasturi Walk

Up Next - Cyberjaya Lake Gardens -

Putrajaya Terminal (both bus and train)

Waiting area at the Putrajaya Bus Station. The stairs lead to the train station.

Some of the bus schedule.

A bus in platform 16! NOT my Cyberjaya bus!

Bus U429 finally came 40 minutes after my wait. The bus driver was moody. We left a minute after it arrived.

Clean and huge highways in Cyberjaya.

IBM Office

HP Office

Multimedia University

Solitary walks to nowhere.

Part of Multimedia University

An International School for younger children.

Tennis Court

Race Track
Amphiteater/Stadium facing the swimming pool.

Swimming Pool

What you can and can't wear.

Swimming pool schedule and tariff rates.

Swimming Pool Food Court is located right across the stadium and pool.

Hee Soon had a very friendly owner.

Stir Fried Chicken with Onions on Rice at 4.50 ringgit with free iced tea!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ubon Ratchathani International Airport - Arriving and Departing

Ubon Ratchathani International Airport was a front line base of the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. It has since been the Royal Thai Air Force's. It eventually became a commercial airport that flew flights to and from Vietnam, but this was scrapped as it ran on losses. Nowadays, the airport mainly flies to Bangkok, with seasonal charters to Chiang Mai and Phuket. Thai Airways, Nok Air and Air Asia have flights from Ubon. Other than that, the "international" marked at the arrival building is mostly nominal.

Ubon's airport is also medium sized, and with that, I mean it is a bit bigger than Chiang Mai's or Chiang Rai's. Departure and arrivals in this airport are a no-frills affair. They're also a little more relaxed even in security. In fact, upon arriving at the airport, no one would tell you to get your luggage into the security scanners until your check-in. So make sure you have then screened or else, you would have to leave your queue and have your baggage checked.

Arrival is swift. Upon entry into the building, you find yourself in a spacious hallway where you wait for your checked in baggage from the conveyor belt. Then just as easily, you leave the hallway and enter the airport's main lobby which is essentially divided into the departure side and the arrival side.

There are counters for your fixed-rate taxi (two of them, charging 100 baht anywhere within the city center. Muang District (the backpacker's area) is merely 15 minutes away by taxi. It's possible to walk, but I wouldn't advise it. There's a foreign exchange counter also, just outside the building. Once you purchase your 100-baht taxi fare, an assigned driver will lead you to his taxi waiting at the sprawling parking space across the airport.

Arrival is likewise simple. Once inside the main hallway, head to the security scanners and have your bag tagged or marked, then proceed to your Air Asia or Thai Airways check-in counter (they're small counters). From there, head to one of the three gates. Air Asia usually uses Gate 3. After another security scanner, you're inside the pre-departure hallway. There are two shops inside: a Black Canyon Coffee and a souvenir shop (with postcards, keychains, etc.).

If you have the time, there are several shops at the main hallways; many of them sell ladies' garments (really beautiful, but pricey). There's another Black Canyon Coffee, a Thai Massage stall, and several others. It's a serviceable airport. I like the atmosphere because it carries a laidback vibe, unlike most airports in bigger cities.

If you're looking for a Tourist Information counter, there's none here. And if there is, there's no one manning the place.

Airport statistics reveal a steady growing clientele. In 2005, it accommodated 387,150 passengers. In 2010, this grew by almost 60,000 more. In 2011, an exponential growth turns in 614,645 passengers - that's approximately 160,000 more passengers! But this growth doesn't show in terms of manual congestion or declining services. This is good news.

This is the Eye in the Sky!    

The first stalls to your left (with yellow and white sign boards) are your fixed rate taxi counters. Pay 100 baht .

Foreign Exchange Rate and Thai Massage

Entrance to the airport's main hallway.

Security scanner before check-in

Air Asia check-in counter. They don't have web check-in.

A common pre-departure area.

Boarding gate