Perlis, the tiny state that packs a punch


Gua Kelam is a popular caving spot in Perlis. — The Star

In the northernmost part of Peninsular Malaysia lies the smallest state in the country – Perlis. Surrounded by limestone caves and lush rainforests, the state is no doubt known for its natural wonders.

One such example is Gua Kelam (or Cave Of Darkness), which is located in the town of Kaki Bukit.

Nestled within the Nakawan Range in the Wang Mu Forest Reserve, the cave is popular with adventurers. In the past, Gua Kelam was used for tin mining operations, and remnants of mining activities can still be found when you explore the cave today.

But Perlis isn’t just about caving and hiking (although adventure tourism does thrive here), as there is plenty to do in this quaint state, especially during Visit Perlis 2024.

For example, check out the Kota Kayang Museum in Kuala Perlis, which is a great place to learn about the state’s history. It was opened in 1999 and modelled after the former building on the site, which was once the residence of the chief minister.

The museum, surrounded by various hills (Kayang Hill, Jagat Hutang Hill and Wai Hill), comprises several galleries with historical exhibits, such as musical instruments, weapons and headstones.

Kangar is the capital town of Perlis. — WOLFGANGHOLZEM1965/Wikimedia CommonsKangar is the capital town of Perlis. — WOLFGANGHOLZEM1965/Wikimedia Commons

Hiking adventures

Among the various things the state offers, hiking remains one of the top activities for locals and tourists, thanks to the breath- taking natural landscape.

The trail at Bukit Merbok, which is named after the zebra dove or burung merbok, takes roughly two hours to complete and will lead you through a bamboo forest.

Bukit Chabang, on the other hand, is dominated by two enormous limestone outcrops. Here, you can get a picturesque view of Malay villages dotting its foothills.

About 29km from Bukit Chabang is Bukit Keteri, a popular spot for rock climbing. From atop the hill, you will be rewarded with a view of the padi fields below.

Other trails that you can explore in Kangar, the state capital and largest Perlis town, are Bukit Guar Sami and Gua Cenderawasih.

If you’re not into hiking, then check out the Perlis Snake And Reptile Farm, which features more than 180 snakes.

Occupying 5ha of land at Sungai Batu Pahat, the farm originally functioned as a research centre to produce antivenom for treating snake bite, which ran from 1978 to the 1990s.

Perlis Snake And Reptile Farm houses a collection of snakes from around the world. — Photos: Taman Ular Dan Reptilia Negeri PerlisPerlis Snake And Reptile Farm houses a collection of snakes from around the world. — Photos: Taman Ular Dan Reptilia Negeri Perlis

Today, it serves as a family- friendly attraction that is divided into outdoor and indoor exhibits. There are over 30 species of snakes found in this farm, and you can even touch some of them.

There are other spots that you can visit at the farm, too, including the gardens, a petting zoo and a bird park.

Meanwhile, in the heart of Kangar, at Jalan Lencongan 2, you will find a series of colourful murals painted by 30 art students during a four-day “Colours of Perlis” festival in 2016.

The paintings illustrate the state’s unique heritage, such as the awang batil, a traditional storyteller who wears masks and plays musical instruments like the serunai (flute) and the batil (percussion pot) while performing.

The Kangar Street Art 2.0, unveiled in 2020, is located on Lorong Seni, which is just a short walk from Jalan Lencongan 2.

The Alwi Mosque was built in the 1930s. — JENSENNBJ/Wikimedia CommonsThe Alwi Mosque was built in the 1930s. — JENSENNBJ/Wikimedia Commons

Mosques and temples

Built in the 1930s, Alwi Mosque – one of the oldest mosques in Perlis – was listed as a national heritage site in 2018.

A fascinating highlight of this place of worship is the fact that it was constructed out of sand and egg whites! The grand structure stands as a testament to the traditional craftsmanship of the skilled artisans of Perlis.

The mosque features Mughal architecture that is reflected in its ornate arches and minarets.

If you look closely, you may notice that the complex bears a resemblance to Penang’s famed Kapitan Keling Mosque. This is because the design was inspired by it.

Kangar is home to not just one but two Thai Buddhist temples. Unsurprisingly, there’s a small Thai community that lives in the state due to its close proximity to the country.

Wat Suwankhiri is located in Kampung Guar Musang. You can take a short drive there from Kangar and marvel at its intricate facade as you enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Meanwhile, just 10.5km away from the temple is the majestic complex of Wat Macchimaprasit Jejawi. In its grounds, you will find artistic dragon statues.

Worshippers, both local and foreign, flock to the temple to pay their respect during special occasions.

Mentarang is shellfish that can be eaten boiled or grilled. — Wikimedia CommonsMentarang is shellfish that can be eaten boiled or grilled. — Wikimedia Commons

Local delights

In Kangar, it is easy to find many of the state’s traditional delights, some of which may appear interesting to big-city dwellers. These include kuih dangai and emping or ringgi.

Kuih dangai is a traditional delicacy made with ingredients like glutinous rice flour, sugar and grated coconut.

Emping, meanwhile, is a dessert made from glutinous rice grains. This is quite laborious to make, so it is unsurprising that it is only available during the “winter wind” season from December to March.

You can most likely find these food items at Pusat Penjaja Mahkota at Jalan Jubli Perak, or at Medan Selera Sena in Kangar. If you’re not into desserts, then look for stalls selling the favourite local seafood, mentarang, a long-ish shellfish that’s eaten boiled or grilled.

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