Asked in a pub quiz what the capital of Malaysia is, most people would probably plump for Kuala Lumpur, and they would be half-right. That’s because since 1999, the official administrative centre of the country has been Putrajaya, a planned city 25 kilometres to the south. KL remains the national capital, as well as the commercial and financial hub of Malaysia.
Like many planned cities, Putrajaya has a strange, unreal air about it. The vast, empty roads and quasi-Stalinist public buildings contrast strongly to the hustle and bustle of KL. It has the distinct feel of the cult sixties TV show The Prisoner, only filled with Malay civil servants and their families.
When originally dreamed up by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, Putrajaya was meant to completely eclipse KL — a city viewed by suspicion by Malay nationalists because of its Chinese roots and liberal, cosmopolitan character. As well as being the administrative centre, Putrajaya was supposed to become the seat of parliament, and the home of foreign embassies. Quite understandably, both the MPs and diplomats have refused to move.
The most fitting testament to Putrajaya’s failure to live up to Mahathir’s grandiose vision is the monorail “system”. Envisaged as the city’s metro, building came to a halt after just 100 metres. Far from being overshadowed by its upstart rival, KL has gone from strength to strength over recent years, both as a place to live and to visit.
Despite all this, Putrajaya does have enough attractions to merit a visit, including the massive pink Putra Mosque (Masjid Putra), which has space for 15,000 worshippers; the city’s various bridges; and the Botanical Gardens.
The undoubted highlight is the lovely Putrajaya Wetlands Park, known particularly for its abundant birdlife, including a resident flock of pink flamingoes.
Unusually for Malaysia, Putrajaya is convenient to get to by public transport; KLIA Transit from KL Sentral being the speediest option, while several RapidKL buses provide a cheaper alternative. Alight at Putrajaya Sentral, from where an efficient network of local buses set off. Although Putrajaya is remarkably pedestrian-friendly (in contrast to KL), you are likely to have the pavements all to yourself, if you do choose to walk round the city.
By Pat Fama.