Mention the word “Kedah,” and the first picture that comes to mind would be its green paddy fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. And normally when talking about its tourist attractions, people would just recommend the popular island resort of Langkawi. Aside from beautiful Langkawi, Kedah has many other gorgeous gems to be discovered. If you’re a nature lover, it is time to explore something further afield — the Merbok River Mangrove Forest Reserve — and opens up your eyes and minds to the abundance of nature!
The Merbok River basin is an exciting upcoming destination with several sites of worldwide importance, not least among which is the greater Lembah Bujang area known for its historic and archeological value. We hear that it will soon stake its claim as a UNESCO-recognised site of cultural and natural heritage!
So before you go merrily on your way down the Merbok River, here’s a quick guide to getting a day’s worth of explorations down this important river:
- River Cruise
Spanning over 4,000 hectares, the mangrove forest reserve that flanks the Merbok River is a rich habitat for a myriad of flora and fauna. From the Semeling Jetty, you can take a river cruise along the Merbok River and discover its winding estuaries and dense mangrove forest.
Bring along a high-powered pair of binoculars so you can catch sight of monitor lizards, little herons, Brahminy kites, sea eagles, and kingfishers a little more closely.
Historically, Merbok River was an important trading route for the early spice, goods and clothes merchants during the 1st to 14th century. As your boat meanders up the river surrounded on both sides by dense mangrove swamps, you can easily imagine how busy this piece of the waterway was and even re-live the exciting days of yore!
The mangrove forest plays an important ecological role to our environment. It protects shorelines from rough waters and winds, helps to prevent erosion with their tangled root systems, acts as a filtration system to keep the area clean, and is a protective habitat for numerous species of marine life.
To drive this point home even further, visitors to Merbok River can do your bit for the environment by arranging a mangrove tree-planting session during your river cruise.
Bring along some mangroves tree seedlings for planting purposes at low tide. It won’t be an easy task wading through the sticky and muddy riverbank, but you can take heart that your effort will help Mother Nature do her work better!
- Oyster Farming and Tasting
In this traditional land of noodles in fish broth, curries, and rice, who would have imagined seeing oysters on the menu! But, yes, one can feast on these aphrodisiac delicacies harvested straight from the Merbok River.
The European way may be to take it raw and undressed (the oyster, not the diner), but here, it’s garnished with lemon, shallots and sambal, the Malaysian version of a hot sauce.
Aside from sampling the oysters, you’ll also learn about how the mangrove area provides the ideal environment for oyster farming as well as for aquaculture in general. The oysters are cultivated with great care and consideration for the environment. Visitors to the farm can learn in great detail about the farming process and even help to gently agitate the cages (to prevent the shells from fusing).
- Excavation Adventure
Fancy being an archeologist for a day? Well, at the Sungai Batu Archeological Complex, you can pick up some tools and start digging!
Sungai Batu or Batu River, which flows nearby into Merbok River has an on-going archeology project where visitors can gain hands-on experience about the field of archeology while learning about the history that’s literally being unearthed there.
The Sungai Batu Archeological Complex, claimed to be Southeast Asia’s oldest civilization (older even than Borobudur and Angkor Wat), is said to be the lost world of Kedah Tua (Ancient Kedah), a kingdom complete with iron ore mines, smelting factory, a port, palace, burial sites and a thriving city!
Volunteers can work on some of the excavated sites, of which there are nearly 100, digging, cleaning, and reconstructing pottery, and even take part in brick making and iron smelting just like in the old days.
- Soap and Toothpaste Making
Another fun activity to engage in at Sungai Merbok is the natural soap and toothpaste making a session. The villagers conduct hands-on workshops on how to turn natural ingredients like coconut oil and charcoal into cleansing products to be used on a daily basis. The final results yield soaps that are natural, chemical-free, and safe for both the skin and environment, as well as black charcoal toothpaste that’s a healthier version to those available at supermarkets!