Kedah, the home state of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is known for world-renowned Langkawi – the island paradise of the legendary Mahsuri.
What is lesser known are the serene, rolling hills, the rich archaeological sites and the scenic waterfalls. From relaxing sightseeing to strenuous outdoor activities like diving and hiking, Kedah has a lot to offer.
Many stop over in Alor Star on their way to Thailand or before turning off to Langkawi. This quaint town with historical buildings is not without charm. Thai heritage is particularly evident in relics and temples set against the modern skyline of the capital.
Revisit the childhood days of Dr Mahathir at Rumah Kelahiran Mahathir, which was restored and gazetted as a historical building in 1992.
A tour of the house gives a glimpse of Dr Mahathir’s growing up years. Photographs, furniture, household items and even his favourite bicycle are displayed.
Other historical buildings include the Balai Besar, an impressive wooden edifice with traces of Thai architecture. Built in 1898, this “great hall” is used frequently for royal and state occasions.
Not too far from it is the Balai Seni Negri or State Art Gallery with its collection of paintings, antiques and historical relics.
The Balai Nobat houses the sacred instruments of the royal orchestra, played only during royal ceremonies such as inaugurations, weddings and funerals.
For those into naval history, the Royal Boat House will be interesting. The antique royal boats are kept in mint condition and visitors can read about their origins and usage.
When tired of sightseeing, try out the Pekan Rabu, or the Open Bazaar. It’s nothing like your neighbourhood supermarket, but one can still find almost anything and everything there – from local farm produce to handicrafts.
The mountains and hills of Kedah have lovely picnic spots with lush greenery, cool mountain streams and fresh air.
Spend a day with nature, at the scenic Puncak Janing Waterfalls in Padang Terap, about 25km from Alor Star.
For some sun and sand, Pantai Merdeka in the outskirts of Alor Star is ideal. One can laze for hours on the white sandy beach amidst swaying palms, or try out water sports like water skiing and sailing.
Formerly known as Kedah Peak, Gunung Jerai rises 1,200m above sea level. On a clear day, you get breathtaking views of rolling rice fields, the mysterious emerald sea and the islands of Langkawi.
The phenomena surrounding the peak is fascinating. Recent archaeological findings show the existence of the Temple on the Ninth Water pool (Chandi Telaga Sembilan), believed to be the private pool of the mythical Raja Bersiong or the king with fangs.
Lembah Bujang, the valley at the foot of Gunung Jerai is one of Malaysia’s richest archaeological area with its history as an ancient centre of Hindu civilisation within the region. Numerous temples (chandi) were found along Sungai Bujang, a few of which have been restored to their original form using the same original materials.
At the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum in Pengkalan Bujang, Merbok, one can see the numerous artificial stone caskets, gem stones, beads which tell of the history of the ancient civilisations.
This archipelago of 104 paradise islands is full of legend and mystic. While Langkawi's main attraction is its white sandy beaches and clear water, the island is not nicknamed Pulau Lagenda for nothing.
The most famous legend is that of Mahsuri, who is said to have cursed the island for seven generations. Luckily, the seven generations have passed and Langkawi Island is fast gaining popularity among tourists worldwide.
For more adventure, go off the beaten track to Pulau Payar, which can be reached by ferry from Pulau Langkawi. The marine park has gorgeous coral gardens, and if you are lucky, you might even spot a dolphin or two.
Where else can you dream of coming across elephants and tigers while enjoying the clear waters of one of Malaysia’s most beautiful lakes?
A prime eco-tourist destination, Pedu Lake boasts of wide array of flora and fauna. The 12km-long lake is situated in the middle of virgin rainforest, approximately 5km from the Malaysian-Thai border. An ideal holiday spot for the whole family, there is so much to do here – water sports, fishing, camping, bird watching and even golfing.
For those interested in jungle-trekking, the lush jungle is home to a plethora of wildlife – including deer, wild boar, leopards, birds, bats and albino snakes.
With specially created hideouts and canopy walks, nature lovers can enjoy the wilds in comfort. And the adventure doesn’t stop when night falls and the cacophony of jungle insects, the hooting of night owls, and the strange cries of wild animals evoke a mysterious world. On a moonlit night, it's almost surreal.
This large animal reserve in north-eastern Kedah is a good alternative to Taman Negara. Camping facilities are available, and no special equipment is needed. Facilities for tourists are limited, but that is the fun.
High Adventure Travel, in Kedah, has some interesting nature tours here, including jungle treks to observe elephants in the wild.
To learn more about Kedah, visit the website of the Tourism Ministry (Kedah highlight).