My last trip to this Asean neighbor was more than 30 years ago and, ever since it adopted its very popular “Truly Asia” tourism tagline, I have always wanted to go back and check it out, to see how it has progressed and how it supports its claim of being the best representation of our region.
However, every time I planned the trip, something more important always came up, requiring me to shelve the travel for another day. Now that I am retired from my day job, I finally found the time to make that long overdue visit. So, with my eldest son as my traveling companion, I flew on “The Heart of the Filipino” (our national carrier’s bold tag) and spent a weekend in Kuala Lumpur.
Covering a massive area of 39 square miles, which was formerly agricultural land, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, commonly referred to as KLIA, opened 20 years ago. It has parking bays for 120 aircraft at any given time and can handle as many as 100 million passengers yearly. It has three parallel runways and management has plans of adding two more. It has two main terminals, each with two satellites. These impressive figures are definitely in line with the facility’s tagline—“KLIA, Next Gen Hub, The New Way To The World.”
Located in Selangor, the ultramodern KLIA is 45 kilometers south of Kuala Lumpur, a good 45-minute drive through wide, clean, and well-maintained highways. Armed with the curiosity to discover what makes “Malaysia...Truly Asia,” I didn’t realize when I landed at this futuristic mega-structure that it would be a teaser of what I would later see in Kuala Lumpur.
My home for the weekend was the swanky Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur, right in the middle of town. Of course, after freshening up, my son and I immediately engaged the hotel concierge for information and asked him, what I learned later, the number one question guests ask: How far is the Petronas Towers?
Of course, the concierge had a ready reply, “It’s just a seven-minute walk from the hotel!” Eager to take the perfect photo-op with the country’s tallest structure, my son and I immediately headed toward the given direction and, sure enough, on the 7th minute, we found ourselves right on the same block as that of the Twin Towers.
But, to be able to snap the much coveted souvenir photos tourists want, we still had to walk around the humongous structure to get to the front of it, then walk again for what seemed like another kilometer, alongside a beautiful longitudinal reflecting pool, then walk down several steps more, for the perfect souvenir photo of the city’s most popular landmark.
The wide-open park was teeming with tourists, trying to beat each other to the perfect spot which would show the famous attraction in the background. The cacophony of different languages, the calls of ambulant vendors selling all kinds of stuff, and the shrieks of those who were there just to have fun, reminded me of Luneta Park on Christmas Day, but without the garbage and neglect of the surroundings.
The following day, my son and I took a tour of the city and we were fascinated by all the shapes and sizes of modern architecture. In fact, we extended our tour to Putrajaya to the south, which is approximately 30 minutes from Kuala Lumpur. This city is Malaysia’s seat of government, with all the government buildings displaying late 20th-century architecture.
As we entered the city through the Putrajaya Bridge, which has a unique, futuristic design, we could see right away the massive Ministry of Finance, with its front pillars displaying giant-sized Malaysian flags. Also at a distance, we saw the pink dome of the supersized Putra Mosque which is made of pink-colored granite. And, of course, the city’s piece de resistance is the beautiful Perdana Putra, the Prime Minister’s office complex, easily recognizable with its green dome. (More of this city in a future column.)
Although I was a little disappointed I didn’t see much of native Malaysian colors—outfits, indigenous architecture, lifestyle designs, etc., I was elated to see how this country has kept up with the surge of modernization in the rest of the world. Just as we here in the Philippines want to show the world that we are in step with progressive modernism, I’m sure the Malaysians, who are several steps ahead of us in this aspect, take even greater pride as they cheerfully shout out, “Hello World!”
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