Exploring Kedah, birthplace of Malaysia’s Bapa Kemerdekaan

  • Malaysia
  • Friday, 31 Aug 2018

Rumah Merdeka in Alor Setar, Kedah, was the residence of Malaysia's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. Photos: Tourism Malaysia

When most people think of Kedah, what usually comes to mind is the island of Langkawi and the endless padi fields that seem to surround the state.

In fact, Kedah is referred to as negeri jelapang padi or “rice bowl state”, as it is the largest producer of rice in the country. The state is also populated by limestone hills, forests, lakes, mountain ranges and islands.

But that is not all that this northern state has to offer. Kedah is also the birthplace of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Malaysia’s first prime minister after gaining independence from Britain in 1957. Tunku is widely regarded as the country’s Bapa Kemerdekaan or Father of Independence, as well as Bapa Malaysia (Father of Malaysia).

Here are some of the significant places in Kedah that are associated with the Tunku’s life, such as where he was born, where he spent his early years, and where he became prominent.

What better time to visit these significant sites in Kedah, than during this three-day Merdeka Day weekend?

Alor Setar

Rumah Merdeka showcases some of Tunku Abdul Rahman's personal belongings.

Alor Setar is the capital of Kedah and the state’s second largest city. It is also Tunku’s hometown, where you can find his former residence, Rumah Merdeka (Independence House).

According to the National Archives of Malaysia, the big plot of land upon which this house stands was once owned by the Tunku’s mother, who later gifted it to him. During the Japanese invasion in 1942, Tunku built a wooden house in the area. In 1953, he built another structure nearby and placed the old house on top of the new structure.

(Angkat rumah is an old tradition practised by many Malay villages, usually in the northern states of the peninsula.)

A year later, this now double-storey house was named Rumah Merdeka by Tunku, at the suggestion of his friends like Senu Abdul Rahman, Tan Cheng Lock, and Mohd Khir Johari. It is said that Rumah Merdeka was where Tunku and his supporters planned political campaigns and strategies for several elections.

The house was restored in 2003 by the National Archives, maintaining most of its original structure, layout and furnishings. The building stands as a memorial today, showcasing Tunku’s personal belongings, including old photographs, furniture, cameras, walking sticks and golf sets.

Rumah Kelahiran Tun Mahathir in Alor Setar.

Did you know that Alor Setar is also the birthplace of Malaysia’s current prime minister? You can visit Rumah Kelahiran Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the house he was born in on Dec 20, 1925. There are many exhibits and historical facts displayed here, where you can learn more about his early years and education.

Masjid Al-Bukhari is a beautiful mosque in Alor Setar.
Rumah Tok Su is a traditional Kedah-style Malay house that is now a tourist attraction.
The Kedah Paddy Museum has a unique architecture, resembling bushels of padi stalks.

There is also the Kedah Paddy Museum in Alor Setar. The building has a unique architecture as it was built to look like bushels of padi stalks and decorated with padi motifs. Exhibits in the museum show the padi cultivation process, as well as the tools and equipment used.

Other places to check out in the city include Kedah Royal Museum, Kedah State Museum, Kedah State Art Gallery, Balai Besar, Balai Nobat (which houses the musical instruments of the royal orchestra), Al-Bukhari Mosque, Zahir Mosque, and Rumah Tok Su, a traditional Malay house.


Kulim is where the Tunku became an assistant district officer. This is where he spent his time getting to know the villagers and helping them with the issues they faced. The Merdeka Clock Tower is located here; it was built to commemorate the Malaysian independence day.

The Merdeka Clock Tower in Kulim was built to commemorate Merdeka Day. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Terry Lum

The groundbreaking ceremony was officiated by Tunku, who was chief minister of the Federated States of Malaya at the time. The tower has the words “Merdeka 1957” etched on all sides.

Other places of interest in Kulim include historical buildings such as the Nattukkotai Nagaraththar Sri Thandayuthapani Temple and Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

For nature lovers, there is also the Sungai Sedim Recreational Forest, where you can go on a hike or canopy walk, or even have a picnic. You can also try your hand at whitewater rafting and kayaking.

Padang Terap

This town is where the Tunku was stationed after getting promoted and becoming a district officer. Here, he arranged for the swamps that bordered Padang Terap to be drained to prevent malaria – which was rampant during that time – from spreading.

Spend some time fishing at Tasik Pedu.

From Padang Terap, make your way to Tasik Pedu, where a houseboat called Seri Mahawangsa stands. Visitors can actually stay on the houseboat as it is equipped with two bedrooms as well as a working kitchen and toilet. The houseboat is able to fit as many as 13 adults at any one time, so it may be ideal for those looking for a unique family party venue.

If you’re not keen on staying overnight, then why not trek out to the Fakir Terbang Mountain (574m) nearby? The view from the top is bound to be spectacular. There are also plenty of other outdoor activities you can do in the surrounding areas.


The Tunku was later transferred to Lang­kawi to be the district officer there. At the time, Langkawi was just a group of sparsely populated, undeveloped islands. Here, he spearheaded the construction of a jetty, roads and the overall development of the district.

It is said that Tunku had searched and arranged for the building of Makam Mahsuri (the tomb of the legendary princess, Mahsuri) to be built. This is now a historical site and features Mahsuri’s shrine – a fenced-up white marble slab in a garden – as well as a traditional Malay house and a “diorama museum” on her story.

The SkyCab in Langkawi.
Makam Mahsuri is popular with local tourists who know its significance.

Without a doubt, Langkawi has since grown into a popular destination for both local and international tourists.

Other exciting places to check out in Langkawi include Dataran Lang, Taman Lagenda Langkawi, SkyCab (Langkawi Cable Car), Langkawi Sky Bridge, Langkawi Underwater World, Langkawi Wildlife Park & Bird Paradise, and Art in Paradise (a 3D art museum).

For outdoor enthusiasts, you can go hiking at Gunung Raya. It is advisable to get an experienced local guide who is familiar with the terrain, though.

You can also go snorkelling at Pulau Paya Marine Park or explore Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls.

Sungai Petani

Sungai Petani is the largest city in Kedah. Tunku was also a district officer here.

There are several places of interest in this highly-industrialised city which has many businesses and shopping malls.

Lembah Bujang in Sungai Petani is an interesting archaeological site to visit.

Lembah Bujang is a historical complex that has often been referred to as the “ancient wonder of Kedah”. The valley is the richest archaeological area in all of Malaysia and comprises several Hindu and Buddhist temple ruins and ancient artefacts. Researchers and historians are still conducting studies on the place today.

Kota Kuala Muda, an old fort located along the banks of Sungai Muda, is another interesting archaeological site to visit. All that remains of it today is the entrance arch and some foundation stones.

Sungai Batu, an archaelogical site near Pantai Merdeka, dates back more than 2,000 years and is said to be the home of the oldest civilisation in South-East Asia. The wrecks of ancient ships, iron-smelting facilities and other remains of early man-made structures have been discovered here.

Besides archaeological sites, there are also other historically known places such as the Sungai Petani clock tower. Built in 1936, it was presented by a rich businessman named Lim Lean Teng to Britain’s King George V and his wife Queen Mary to commemorate the Silver Jubilee.

Other places to check out in Sungai Petani include Carnivall Waterpark, Gunung Jerai, and Sungai Badak Recreational Forest.

There are also several golf courses in the city including Sungai Petani Club (SP Club) and Cinta Sayang Resort & Golf Course.

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