Hovering up in the sky on a helium balloon, pilot William Neoh warns that nausea is a potential side effect.
And slight motion sickness is exactly what I had throughout our interview – 120m above the grounds of Skyrides Festivals Park, Putrajaya.
“You know, if you have more questions, we can always continue once we get down,” the young pilot kindly offers.
“Yeah, sure,” I reply, with a smile. On the other side of the gondola, my photographer colleague grips the railing, moving every now and then to snap more photographs. Later, upon disembarking, he admits he was dizzy throughout the ride.
But journalistic duty calls, and Neoh patiently answers all my queries on board Skyrides Balloon – Malaysia’s first and largest tethered balloon.
The wind was especially strong that hazy Friday afternoon. And while we enjoy the 360° view from above, dark clouds threaten over the horizon.
“In terms of safety, we are good,” Neoh says, brushing off thoughts about tumultuous weather carting the gigantic balloon away like a scene from The Wizards of Oz.
“If it reaches 25 knots, that’s when we have to go down. But a range of 20 to 25 knots is fine,” he explains, as he points to the balloon’s control panel. “Of course, we don’t fly during a thunderstorm.”
All of the balloon’s pilots are trained and experienced. Unlike regular untethered hot air balloons, the one at Skyrides Festivals Park is powered by helium. The gas, according to Neoh, is the smallest atom in the periodic table. It doesn’t react with any other substances, he assures.
Subtle air sickness aside, riding the balloon is a pleasant experience. It takes about four-and-a-half minutes to reach the top. Once up there, you have about five minutes to soak in the panoramic lake view of the garden city.
Night views are even more spectacular, says park representative Caroline Ang who accompanies us on the tour. In the evening, the federal administrative capital is illuminated by sparkling lights, making for gorgeous aerial vistas.
“In fact, we get more visitors at night – especially over the weekends,” Ang reveals. On Fridays and Saturdays, the park opens from 10am till midnight. Operation hours from Mondays to Thursdays are till 10pm while on Sundays, it closes at 11pm.
Located on the banks of the scenic Putrajaya Lake at Precinct 2 (next to Monumen Alaf Baru), the family-oriented park opened on May 1. It is an initiative under the Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 tourism campaign. The venue will be a regular fixture for the next five years.
While Skyrides Balloon is the main draw, ironically, it’s the SkyWarrior Rainforest Challenge attraction that has been landing the park in the limelight. Located beside the balloon, SkyWarrior is dubbed a world-class competition-level obstacle course.
With eight obstacles that escalate in difficulty from start to finish, SkyWarrior is not for the faint-hearted or, in my case, those with zilch body strength. But those reasons haven’t deterred the majority of visitors from trying it out, says SkyWarrior supervisor Muhamad Zulhairie.
“You would think that it only caters to gym goers or fitness enthusiasts. But tenacity, courage and confidence are what will get you through this challenge,” says the man who’s affectionately known as Adam.
Not convinced by abstract concepts, I remain on the side as a bunch of college friends attempt the nerve-wrecking circuit that’s styled after sports entertainment TV show American Ninja Warrior.
The youngsters run, jump and lunge – straight into a pool of chlorinated water that is under the first three challenges.
“Most people doesn’t get through the second challenge,” Adam says, as a teenage girl screams while dangling from a monkey bar-like obstacle.
The physically demanding attraction challenges participants’ upper and lower body strength as well as mental sharpness.
The last obstacle – Danum Valley – for one, is an intimidating skateboard stunt ramp that requires great momentum to propel one up to the elevated platform.
But even before they reach that final showdown, participants will have to endure the Kinabalu Ferrata, which resembles a cliff ledge. You must hang onto, and move across, three metal bars – while your legs dangle perilously above icy waters.
Surprisingly, visitors crave more, so two of the obstacles have been upgraded to fulfil participants’ request for more challenge and fun.
According to Adam, male participants are given five minutes to complete the course whereas the girls have to finish within seven minutes.
“So far, we’ve only had 25 people successfully completing all eight obstacles within the time limit,” says Adam. He adds that the secret to their success is nimbleness.
“Although it helps with your endurance, going to the gym does not necessarily guarantee success,” Adam explains. But surely there are tips to excel at the course?
“Well, you can always prepare yourself by doing push-up bars, skipping and running,” he says.
After toughing it out at SkyWarrior, visitors can always hop aboard SkyCruise for a relaxing cruise around the beautiful lake.
And over at SkyGallery, stock up on an array of crafts and collectibles from around the nation. Ask the friendly shopkeeper to demonstrate her remarkable skill at spinning gasing.
Take note that, although entry into the common park grounds is free, separate fees are charged for each of the attractions.
For Skyrides Balloon, adult MyKad holders are charged RM38 while children have to pay RM30. As for SkyWarrior, it’s RM10 with unlimited tries. The Skycruise costs RM20.
Responding via email, Skyrides Festivals Park director C.J. Han says the public’s response has been very encouraging.
“Many are pleasantly surprised by the unique mix of nature and entertainment in the park. The concept enhances Putrajaya’s integrated intelligent garden city image as a unique family-friendly attraction with elements of fun and adventure,” he says.
Han adds there are several ideas to improve the park over time, while retaining Skyrides Balloon as the main highlight.
“We may start with Zumba fun fitness exercises at the park during weekends. And our new alfresco stage may be a crowd draw as we intend to have music performances during the weekends as well,” he reveals.
If anything, all these additions will surely elevate the park’s hidden-gem status and make it a worthy hangout venue for the community. Just remember to bring a change of clothes.