Alor Setar, the capital city of Kedah has the olden-day charm that is often overlooked by regular tourists. Often eclipsed by its more famous sister-city Langkawi that is known as the Jewel of Kedah, this city that is nearly 300 years old, offers traditional ‘kampung’ scene with its antiquated buildings and vast paddy fields. Pssst..the prices are generally on the cheaper side too!
The state of Kedah lies on the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia, bordering Malaysian states of Perlis, Penang and Perak. It also shares an international boundary with Thailand’s provinces of Songkhla and Yala. In ancient times, Kedah is believed to be one of the oldest civilisations in Southeast Asia. Founded in 1735, Alor Setar has since evolved and proclaimed as a city, and is now the state capital of Kedah.
Kedah will always hold a special place in my heart. My father, a Kedah-native will never miss the opportunity to bring us around Alor Setar whenever we are in town. Raised in cities where I am more familiar with the sounds of traffic, honks blaring and people whooshing by in a general rush to get to places, it always strikes me as odd whenever I go back to Kedah with its relative laid-back atmosphere. Of course, here, people are up and about going about their business too, but there is that lack of the sense of rush that so often bind urban folks in their daily affairs. Which is why a trip to Alor Setar is a welcome change, especially if you need a break from the city rush.
Here are some of my favourite spots in Alor Setar that I think deserves more hits and recognition, as you plan for your next trip up northern Malaysia.
I think it’s only fair to start the list with Kedah’s state icon, Pekan Rabu. Literally translated as “Wednesday Market”, Pekan Rabu is where you can get a variety of goods ranging from your essential household items like food ingredients to little trinkets you can bring back as souvenirs such as local handicrafts. What began as a weekly market has evolved into a one-stop centre in a multi-story building that that can now house over 300 traders right in the middle of Alor Setar.
Among the many apparels available, for the ladies, stop by the stores offering Baju Kedah. This evergreen traditional clothing comes in an assortment of colours albeit its minimalist patterns which will surely make a great addition to your wardrobe. The cotton material which makes it comfortable to don for your daily routine, is one of the reasons why Baju Kedah is a highly saleable asset here. Oh and did I mention that you can get it here from as low as RM10 a piece?
Pekan Rabu also has an assortment of traditional wear for the gentlemen too, including Baju Melayu, sampin, and songkok (traditional headgear). What’s interesting is that many of the traditional garments available here are handmade, so you can be sure to find some of the best quality clothing to add on some zest to your wardrobe.
Looking for traditional Malay snacks and desserts? You’re in luck because Pekan Rabu is the hub for traditional kuih such as bahulu, kuih karas, cucur peneram, kuih bangkit, cakar ayam and many more. Take a leisurely walk on each floor and feast your eyes on the many different products that are offered here. I’m sure you’ll find it hard to go home empty-handed! For something a little bit rare, we suggest you try the local delicacies: ikan pekasam (fermented fish) and the traditional dessert Kuih Bunga Pudak (crunchy, sweet bite-sized dessert from northern Kedah) that you can only get in very few places including Pekan Rabu.
Check out our previous article on Pekan Rabu for more details: Things You Didn’t Know About Pekan Rabu
Jalan Tunku Ibrahim,
Bandar Alor Setar, 05000 Alor Setar, Kedah
Koperasi Pekan Rabu Alor Setar Berhad
Tel: +604-733 5929
Operation Hours: 9AM – 8PM
Menara Alor Setar
High rise towers and observation decks offer a vantage point to soak in the views of any town or place. Therefore, it is no surprise that these buildings are popular attractions for tourists to visit. Towering high at the height of 165.5 metres above sea level, Menara Alor Setar gives you such experience. This telecommunication tower ranks 22nd tallest in the world, and is managed by Menara Kuala Lumpur, one of Telekom Malaysia’s subsidiaries.
Take in the sights of Alor Setar at 88-metre-high above sea level from the Observation Deck which provides automated binoculars for free. Inspired by Menara Kuala Lumpur’s Sky Box, Menara Alor Setar has recently introduced its very own Star View glass boxes, which offer a new experience for visitors to enjoy mesmerising views from 105m above ground. The two boxes are decked in yellow and green, after the colours of Kedah’s state flags. The green box gives visitors an uninterrupted view of the paddy fields and Gunung Keriang, whereas the yellow box faces towards the historical and iconic buildings including Masjid Zahir and Balai Besar.
Want more of the sky experience? Celebrate your anniversaries or birthdays at the Menara Alor Setar Revolving Restaurant and boast about dining in the highest restaurant in Kedah.
The tower is currently offering a 50% discount for the Observation Deck and Star View for a limited time only from Aug 1. Grab it while it lasts! More info on the offer here: Promotions at Menara Alor Setar!
Lot 99 Lebuhraya Darulaman,
05100 Alor Setar, Kedah Darulaman.
Tel : (604) – 720 2906 / 720 2901
Fax : (604) – 720 2073
Operation Hours: 10AM – 10PM
Owing to its unique shape that looks like a crouching elephant, this 250-million-year old limestone formation is also known as “Elephant Mountain”. Looming at the height of 218 meters, the trail up the mountain is the goal of many hikers and thrill seekers. It is said that the height offers hikers a rewarding view of the surrounding rice plains unlike any other.
Other than hiking, you can also go caving at the Gunung Keriang Recreational Park. What some might not know is the unique structure of the mountain, which has different foundations and rocks that might excite geologists. This includes the presence of calcite crystals within the caves of Gunung Keriang. Feng shui practitioners and followers believe that the crystals store positive aura and can ward off bad vibes. Visitors can drop by at the stalls set up at the base of the mountain, offering a variety of crystals that can be brought home as souvenirs or home ornaments.
While you’re at the base of Gunung Keriang, be sure to drop by or stay at the Keriang Hills Resort. Aiming to provide a “back to kampung life” experience, the resort provides accommodations that are inspired by ‘pondok’ or a typical Malaysian village atmosphere. The serenity that engulfs the surroundings and the ample space around the property make it ideal for event receptions. The resort has a dedicated team for event planning that is perfect for wedding receptions or even team buildings. Even if you’re not staying at the resort, you can drop by after a hike of the mountain to enjoy a tantalising selection of Malay cuisine at the in-house restaurant, the Puteri Restaurant.
Keriang Hills Resort
Jalan Gunung Keriang,
Mukim Gunung, 06570 Alor Setar, Kedah
Tel: +604-731 5233
Kedah Paddy Museum
From the top of Gunung Keriang, you can probably vaguely see the structures of a distinctive-looking building near the base. That is the Kedah Paddy Museum, home to all things related to paddy you can find. Kedah is known as the “Rice Bowl” of Malaysia as attested by the state slogan “Negeri Jelapang Padi”. Therefore, it is only apt that a museum dedicated to the rice-making industry can be found here in the capital city of Alor Setar.
Malaysia started as an agricultural society whose primary produce is paddy. So much of Malaysian culture is intertwined with this sector that has enabled the country to progress to what it is today. This is showcased at the three-storey museum, chronicling Malaysia’s relationship with this crop that is primarily produced for domestic consumption, the research and development that goes into the production and paddy technology.
The museum houses six galleries that feature agricultural activities from the olden days until today. The most amazing attraction at the museum has got to be at the top floor, where there is a platform featuring a 360 view of Gunung Keriang mural. The revolving platform accommodates 40 cinema seats which allow visitors to enjoy a panoramic diorama that makes you feel like you’re actually viewing from the top of Gunung Keriang! It is pretty awesome when you think of the illusion created when the mural is actually painted on the entire inside wall of the upper level.
You can also try your hand at slamming and pounding the rice here. Don’t forget to stop by the souvenir shop inside the museum and savour the taste of traditional snacks made from rice like kuih loyang, sagon, emping and karas that are specially made by the locals.
Muzium Padi Kedah
Lot 798 Jalan Gunung Keriang, Mukim Gunung Keriang
06570 Alor Setar, Kedah Darul Aman
Tel: 04 735 1315
Operation Hours: 9AM-5PM daily except for Fridays from 12.30-2.30PM
Restoran Gulai 7 Kawah
From the Paddy Museum, you’re only about 5km to one of the highly-rated restaurants around the region: Restoran Gulai 7 Kawah, known to give patrons the village or ‘kampung feel’ amidst the green paddy fields in the background. It is named “7 Kawah”, as the dishes served are made using 7 big woks. The restaurant is not only famed for its unique atmosphere, but also for providing authentic kampung dishes such as ulam-ulaman, gulai daging rebung, ayam bakar and ikan bakar.
The most famous dish here is of course the gulai or curry. Try the deer curry or porcupine curry for something more bizarre. While you’re savouring the dishes, have a look at the banners hung at the restaurant and learn a Malay sentence or two in pure Kedahan dialect! Jom kita pi pekena nasi di Gulai 7 Kawah? (Let’s go and eat at the Gulai 7 Kawah!)
Lot 1861, In front of Sek. Keb. Sri Gunong,
Jalan Sungai Baru, Gunung Keriang,
Alor Setar, Kedah
Operation Hours: Everyday from 9AM-6PM, except on Mondays
This famed mosque with its trademark black domes – has been captured and has graced catalogues and online media feeds due to its breathtaking beauty. One of Malaysia’s oldest mosques built over a century ago, Zahir Mosque ranks among the beautiful mosques in the world for the intricate details of its architectural design. The black domes, consist of a big one in the centre, flanked by five smaller ones to represent the five pillars of Islam.
Despite its mesmerizing beauty, the mosque has a grim history where it was built on the burial ground of the fallen local warriors who have put their lives on the line when the state was attacked by Siamese army in 1821. In 2014, Zahir Mosque has been named one of the most beautiful mosques in the world by a national news channel in India, after the ranks of Al Haram Mosque in Mecca, Al Nabawi Mosque in Medina and al Aqsa Mosque in Palestine, just a few months shy of the mosque’s 100-year celebration.
Jalan Kampung Perak,
Bandar Alor Setar, 05150 Alor Setar, Kedah
As one of the oldest cities in Malaysia, Alor Setar is steeped in history and should be on your list if you are set on retracing Malaysia’s heritage trail, especially for history buffs out there. This article only lists out a few of the must-visit places in Alor Setar and the city has much more for you to discover. Share with us your favourite spots in Alor Setar or even in your own city!