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As the ground grows distant, its small details are no longer visible and the earth begins to resemble an abstract painting.
Swathes of green forest are flanked by the curved navy lines of a river, while cutting-edge architecture is reduced to miniature art, its bold patterns contrasting with the subtler designs of nature.
Floating high above Malaysia’s administrative capital, Putrajaya, these beguiling sights have silenced the five occupants of our hot air balloon, a quiet broken only by the occasional roar of its fire release.
“I just love the peace up here,” says our pilot, Jonas Van Doorsselaere, a 30-year-old Belgian and co-founder of My Balloon Adventure, the first company in Malaysia to offer certified commercial hot air balloon rides.
“Put me in the air and I’m very happy,” he says.
The stability of the basket coupled with its silent, smooth movement through the air has a swift calming effect.
The basket doesn’t shake or tilt whatsoever, making it feel reassuringly safe.
It’s also a great comfort to know the person piloting the balloon is an accomplished pilot.
Doorsselaere’s life rotates around ballooning. For half the year he resides in Belgium where he operates a separate ballooning company.
When the weather becomes less favorable for ballooning in Europe he heads down to Malaysia.
Doorsselaere hopes that ballooning will become a popular activity for travelers to Kuala Lumpur, which received about 12 million tourists in 2016.
But very few of those tourists visit Putrajaya, despite seeing it out their window as they travel on the highway from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Malaysia’s administrative capital
Putrajaya took over as the country’s political hub from Kuala Lumpur in 1997 and is, to a large extent, a purpose-built capital city.
Its greatest appeal is its impressive architecture.
The striking Seri Wawasan and Seri Saujana bridges span Putrajaya Lake, beside which are the towering Millennium Monument, and Islamic architectural gems like Istana Darul Ehsan, Perdana Putra, Putra Mosque and Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque.
Capturing these structures from the air is a wonderful experience for photographers, whether amateur or professional, and is the highlight of the balloon rides.
Putrajaya’s remarkable beauty from above is one of the reasons it was chosen as the location for Malaysia’s first annual balloon festival.
According to Doorsselaere, the Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, which started in 2009, was created with the help of Malaysia’s first hot air balloonist, the late Captain Khairudin Abdul Rani.
Capt. Khairudin’s daughters, Atiqah Khairudin and Izzati Khairudin, are part of the My Balloon Adventure team, along with fellow balloonists Sobri Saad and Filip Audenaert.
The company has been offering flights over Putrajaya for three years now and plans to expand their services to other locations in Malaysia.
Like the Khairudin family, Doorsselaere has a lifelong passion for ballooning, which is very popular in his home country.
He was only 16 years old when he earned his balloon pilot license and two years later he was flying commercially. Even after an estimated 1,000 flights, he says his job never gets tiresome.
“Every flight is different,” says Doorsselaere.
“Every day we meet new people from all over the world with interesting stories. For most people it’s their first balloon experience. It gives me a great feeling to see them smiling and enjoying their experience like I did with my first ride.”
How to book
My Balloon Adventure offers packages for USD$230 per person, which includes a one-hour flight over Putrajaya followed by a buffet breakfast at the nearby Cyberview Resort & Spa.
Flights are only conducted in the early morning when the weather is the calmest in Putrajaya.
Ronan O’Connell is a freelance photojournalist. He’s contributed to more than 40 international media outlets including BBC, CNN, The Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle, Travel + Leisure, Toronto Star, South China Morning Post, Irish Examiner and Australian Financial Review.