Think Putrajaya is just a well-planned collection of government buildings and nothing more? Editor Chad Merchant puts that perception to the test and finds the country’s administrative capital is also a fine weekend destination in its own right.
Taking the short drive to Putrajaya has long been a must-do activity whenever I have overseas guests visiting. The beautifully planned city, wide swaths of green spaces and gardens, and of course all the striking architecture on display make for nice little day trip. But what would it be like to escape KL and stay there for a weekend?
There are a number of fine hotels in and around the administrative capital – Pullman, Marriott, Shangri-La, Palm Garden, and others. We decided to try the new Le Méridien high-rise hotel, which just opened last August. Attached to the sprawling IOI City Mall, the 353-room, 21-storey hotel offers five-star accommodation and plenty of comfort and convenience – a good place from which to explore.
Driving around Putrajaya on the weekends is always a pleasure. Conceived by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad, the city was planned and built almost 20 years ago in a bid to relieve traffic congestion in Kuala Lumpur by relocating nearly all of the country’s administrative buildings to Putrajaya. So while KL is still Malaysia’s capital city, Putrajaya has served as its administrative centre since shortly after its creation, with the seat of government officially shifting there in 1999. So while weekdays might see quite a bit of traffic, weekends in the city are generally quiet and the wide boulevards and tree-lined streets and highways are clear.
Welcome to the Garden City
After making our way to Putrajaya, checking in at the lovely new Le Méridien was a breeze, and the team there were quick to point out the many attractions in the vicinity, starting of course with the adjacent mall. To be honest, I’m not really much of a mall person – I actively avoid them in KL on weekends, especially – but the IOI City Mall is genuinely well-designed, making it somewhat more enjoyable for me.
It’s huge, too, with some 750 shops, a multiplex cinema, an ice skating rink, a 70,000-sq ft indoor apocalypse-themed adventure park called District 21, and well over 100 restaurants, cafés, and snack kiosks, too. As this modern and beautiful mall is directly connected to Le Méridien, it offered a convenient way to shop and dine without even having to get in the car.
However, we did actually want to explore the area, so we wandered quite a bit, taking in some of the many attractions of Putrajaya, many of which I hadn’t known about before the weekend. In planning Putrajaya, 38% of its 49 sq km was set aside for green spaces. Today, that foresight has really paid dividends.
The beautifully landscaped Putrajaya Botanical Garden (Taman Botani) is the country’s largest at 92 hectares and offers a diverse array of trees and plants to enjoy, made even better by the garden’s free admission.
Also in the garden is the Moroccan Pavilion, which, over its 18,000 sq ft of built-up area, stunningly showcases the sort of gorgeous Moorish architecture you’d usually have to travel quite far to see. The pavilion was built with assistance from Morocco and was intended to highlight the strong diplomatic ties between that country and Malaysia. There is a nominal entry fee here (RM3), well worth paying. Who even knows about this place? I sure didn’t… but it’s just one of the things which makes Putrajaya a great getaway destination.
Since Putrajaya was built with a network of lakes, an efficient filtration system was required to prevent stagnation. Rather than using a mechanical filter, the wetlands were created instead to provide natural filtration through a series of catchment cells, and now effectively serve as the ‘kidneys’ of Putrajaya. The wetlands cover an area of about 197 hectares, and there is a Visitor Information Centre and a Nature Interpretation Centre onsite. You can rent bicycles here for a very low cost if you prefer pedalling over walking.
Of course we visited the centre of Putrajaya, with its beautiful lake, stunning Putra Mosque, and smattering of impressive bridges and buildings. Visually, the Seri Wawasan Bridge has always been my favourite, with its impressive asymmetric cable-stayed main span carrying both vehicles and pedestrians across the lake. However, there is one bridge in particular that’s long piqued my interest as, though it, too, spans the lake fully, has never been completed on either side. I figured the weekend trip was a great time to get the story, so I did.
The suspension bridge was actually meant to carry the Putrajaya Monorail, which got off to a good start but had the plug pulled in 2004 over budget constraints, and so has since languished unfinished for the more than a decade since. (Malaysia seems to have a habit of starting monorails and either not finishing them or shuttering them: there are also defunct monorails in Bandar Sunway, Genting Highlands, and Melaka, with additional stalled monorail projects in Penang and Kota Kinabalu.)
However, now there’s talk of reviving the transit project in Putrajaya, and if it’s approved, the monorail line there would connect with the new second MRT line that will run from Sungai Buloh to Putrajaya. This line just had its own groundbreaking ceremony last September and will be completed in 2021-2022, which would apparently dovetail perfectly with the completion of the Putrajaya monorail, and that graceful, lonely suspension bridge would finally be put to its intended use.
Putrajaya has no shortage of impressive architecture, such as the Malaysia Energy Commission headquarters (Suruhanjaya Tenaga), also known as the Diamond Building. A crown jewel for sustainable office buildings, the striking edifice uses less than one-third the energy of comparably-sized office buildings in Malaysia. And in addition to the terrific architecture on display, and the parks we were able to see, Putrajaya boasts plenty of other parks and gardens, too – indeed more than we could explore in a weekend. Taman Wawasan, Taman Saujana Hijau, Rimba Alam, the Agricultural Heritage Park, and one of the more popular parks (of a different sort), the Putrajaya Challenge Park, a 30-hectare park for adventurers and thrill-seekers that features an indoor rock wall climbing complex, a skate park, mountain bike trails, and more. Entrance to all these is free, with the Challenge Park charging very reasonable fees only for the various activities and equipment rental.
Great golfing, delectable dining
Also very near Le Méridien is the beautiful Palm Garden Golf Course, an 18-hole public course with gorgeous tropical landscaping, a full clubhouse and restaurant, pro shop, two-tier driving range, infinity-edge swimming pool, and more. We spent part of an afternoon looking around, enjoying the scenery, and meeting the friendly goats and chickens (housed in a large pen near the clubhouse) that apparently serve as the club’s unofficial mascots. This is a casual and inviting golf club, and the course is beautiful, with the lushly landscaped undulating hills playing host to tee boxes and fairways, bunkers, and water features.
We headed back over to the hotel and later enjoyed sunset cocktails in the 20th-floor club lounge, then had a delicious dinner downstairs in the hotel’s contemporary Chinese restaurant, Le Mei. The meal was excellent, had superb presentation, and we felt the prices were quite reasonable for the calibre of the cuisine, ambiance, and service we enjoyed. Of course, if Chinese isn’t what you’re craving, the attached mall has no shortage of restaurants with fare ranging from Korean and Japanese to BBQ ribs and thick burgers – and everything in between.
On our final morning, we got to enjoy Putrajaya’s wide-open highways a bit more before making our way back to KL and reality. But it was a great weekend in a nearby city that is all too often overlooked as a weekend destination. We had an easy drive to get there, stayed in a beautiful new hotel, and got to sample just a bit of what Putrajaya offers – shopping, golfing, sightseeing, nature, adventure, and much more. I think we’ll go back again soon!