Exploring Kuala Kangsar, Perak’s royal town

  • Malaysia
  • Tuesday, 19 Sep 2017

The iconic Ubudiah Mosque stands majestically in Kuala Kangsar, with its golden domes and minarets.

After a smooth journey on board Keretapi Tanah Melayu’s Electric Train Service, we finally arrived at the station in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, where we would be spending the next few days. Over 50 members of the media, tour agents, as well as representatives from Tourism Malaysia and Destination Perak, were on a familiarisation trip to Kuale (‘Ku-ah-ler’, as the locals call it).

Kuala Kangsar.
The first rubber tree planted in Malaysia can be found in Kuala Kangsar.

Although several of us had passed through this royal town before, we never expected to see and experience so much in this quaint little town, which is home to many historical places of interest.

“The name Kuala Kangsar, which is pronounced as Kuala Kangsor by the locals, comes from Kuala Kurang-Sa (one less than 100). This refers to the 99 tributaries that run into Sungai Perak,” said Samiah Rashid Ali (or Kak Sam, as she is more popularly known), who hails from the town.

Kak Sam, a retired schoolteacher, was our unofficial guide for the trip.

Near the Kuala Kangsar District Office stands a gigantic rubber tree surrounded by a low fence. According to Kak Sam, this was the first rubber tree planted in Malaya during the colonial rule. Nine seedlings were brought from Brazil in 1877 by an English botanist, Henry Nicholas Ridley (better known as H.N. Ridley who established the rubber industry in Malaysia), and this is the only one that survived and grew into a tree. It is the oldest rubber tree that’s still standing today.

Heritage structures

If you’re an architectural enthusiast, you’d be thrilled to know that there are many heritage buildings worthy of a visit in this royal town.

Istana Kenangan is an unusual palace that’s made entirely of wood, without any nails. “Its unique shape resembles a pedang (sword) in its sarung pedang (sheath). The Sultan’s bedchamber is where the sword’s handle would be, while the Balai Rong Seri (royal court) is at the sheath.”

Kuala Kangsar.
The Istana Kenangan is made entirely of wood, and without using any nails. Photo:Destination Perak

Kak Sam was full of knowledge and spoke with passion.

“Although it’s not a large structure, there is a beautiful singgahsana (throne). Its walls have a kelari (diamond-shaped plaits) motif, while the roof is a combination of a perabung lima (five ridges) and perabung pisang sesikat (comb of bananas ridge) design,” she added. Also known as Istana Lembah and Istana Tepas, it is located near Istana Iskandariah and Ubudiah Mosque.

The luxurious interior of the Galeri Sultan Azlan Shah.
The Galeri Sultan Azlan Shah, a former palace, now displays mementos commemorating the life of the 34th Sultan of Perak and some of his personal belongings.

Kuala Kangsar.
The Ihsaniah Iskandariah Mosque has a unique design resembling a bird cage, with its outer walls sporting a diamond motif.

As you walk through the gates of Galeri Sultan Azlan Shah, you can’t help but be impressed by the majestic structure before you. “The former royal palace was opened to the public in 2003 and combines Moorish, Renaissance and neo-classical architecture. It was rebuilt from the old Istana Kota or Istana Hulu (1898–1903), and today displays items belonging to the 34th Sultan of Perak, Almarhum Sultan Azlan Shah,” Kak Sam explained. The exhibits include luxury vehicles and even personal belongings like his passport, clothing, shoes, bags and sunglasses.

Ubudiah Mosque is an icon in Kuala Kangsar, as it stands majestically with its golden domes and minarets on Bukit Chandan.

“Perak’s royal mosque was designed by an English architect called Arthur Benison Hubback during the British colonial rule, and it was built from 1913 to 1917,” said Kak Sam, adding that he had also designed both the Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur railway stations. Beside the royal mosque is the Makam Al-Ghufran or Perak Royal Mausoleum.

The Ihsaniah Iskandariah Mosque in Kampung Kuala Dal, Padang Rengas, is a less well-known mosque located 2km from the toll plaza to Kuala Kangsar. According to Kak Sam, what’s unique about this two-storey mosque is its “bird cage” design with its outer walls sporting a diamond motif made of woven buluh minyak (oiled wicker/bamboo reeds). The mosque’s 20 windows have a shark gill motif and a pea shoot, star and crescent moon design at the window casement, she said, adding that it was built in 1936.

Old and new

Kuala Kangsar combines both the old and the new, and this includes its iconic bridges.

“The modern Sultan Abdul Jalil Bridge, which was officially opened in 2002, spans 330m and crosses the Sungai Perak, connecting Kuala Kangsar with Kampung Sayong,” said Kak Sam, as the bus was crossing the bridge.

“The older Iskandar Bridge, which carries the trunk road through Peninsular Malaysia’s west coast, also crosses the Sungai Perak. This steel bridge was constructed between 1928 and 1932 during the British administration,” she added.

We finally came to Victoria Bridge, which is a popular tourist spot just a few minutes’ drive from Kuala Kangsar, in Karai. “This is one of the oldest railway bridges in Malaysia,” Kak Sam said. At the bridge was a signboard stating that it had been constructed from 1897 to 1900. As you approach the bridge, you might feel as if you’ve stepped back in time, and it provides many photo opportunities. While the single-track railway bridge is no longer used for rail traffic, the adjoining foot bridge is still open to bikes and pedestrians.

You can take a boat ride from the Dataran Sungai Perak Indah jetty, and enjoy some local food at nearby stalls.
Go on a boat ride at Tasik Raban Lenggong and pass by interesting sights like villages and famous filming sites.
Victoria Bridge is one of the oldest railway bridges in Malaysia, located in Karai, near Kuala Kangsar. Filepic

“You can take a boat ride from Jeti Dataran Sungai Perak Indah along the river, and try local desserts like ais kacang and cendol, and other street food, at the nearby stalls,” Kak Sam told us when we were by the river. “And, in the evening, there is a pasar malam (night market) that sells food, fruit and also clothing, bags, shoes and household items,” she said. Another place where you can enjoy a boat ride is at Tasik Raban Lenggong.

Other places of interest in town include the Clock Tower at the central roundabout, Keris Monument, Dataran Putra with its old-fashioned British red phone box, river-front Cultural Park, Royal Malay College, and Clifford School.

Most of the time, we got around by bus, but a good way of seeing the city is on bicycle. This way you are able to explore the nooks and crannies that a larger vehicle might not be able to access or park at.

This occasional series, Lost & Found, highlights the hidden ‘gems’ of Malaysia – destinations that are lesser known or are being rediscovered. If you have any places to recommend, email us at star2travel@thestar.com with the subject ‘Lost & Found’. If you are also interested to write for us, let us know too. We reserve the right to edit all submissions. Contributions will appear in print or online at Star2.com.

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