KedahPerakPulau Pinang/Penang

Exploring Geo, Archeo and UNESCO Sites of the Northern Region

Thrilling theme parks and extreme outdoor activities are fun but there are more to travelling that can make us more enriched while appreciating the past. 

The stunning view Gunung Jerai which can be witnessed during Merbok Estuary River Cruise.

Thrilling theme parks and extreme outdoor activities are fun but there are more to travelling that can make us more enriched while appreciating the past. 

Malaysia is blessed with various gems to discover, especially when it comes to enlightening history and colourful heritage. While many travellers take history and heritage for granted thus prefer more thrilling and exciting places, there are various destinations in Malaysia that are rich in both aspects and even recognised globally. Hence, it feels just right for us as Malaysians to take time and learn the history and heritage of the land so we can learn from them and further instil the love towards the nation.

At the same time, foreign travellers can also learn the history and cultures of Malaysia, understand the local population’s psyche, thus accumulate more rewarding and educational experiences.  

So to truly learn some parts of Malaysian history and heritage, I participated in a trip themed ‘Exploring Geo, Archeo and UNESCO Sites of the Northern Region’ – organised by Tourism Malaysia Northern Region Office (by Tourism Malaysia) – to delve deeper fascinating historical and selected natural wonders in Penang, Kedah and Perak…

PENANG

George Town Walkabout Tour

City Hall, Penang
City Hall, Penang.

George Town has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list since 7 July 2008 alongside Melaka as the Historic City of the Straits of Malacca. The recognition testified to George Town’s outstanding historical value. One of the best ways to understand this is by joining the George Town Walkabout Tour organised by George Town’s Tourist Information Centre.

Starting from the Tourist Information Centre on Jalan Lebuh Pantai, travellers will then be guided on foot to several iconic landmarks with history spanning two centuries, each presenting their own significance that turn George Town into what it is today. The landmarks include The Esplanade, Town Hall, St. George’s Anglican Church, The Goddess of Mercy Temple, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, and Kapitan Keling Mosque.

The Goddess of Mercy Temple
A Chinese opera performance at The Goddess of Mercy Temple.

It is really captivating to learn about the history and heritage of these well-preserved landmarks, including their notable architectural features such as the antique windows, gates, tiles, and walls, and of course, the community. The Street of Harmony, where four houses of worship have stood for more than two hundred years, is a prime example of George Town’s multicultural characteristic and they are all open for public until today.

The tour comes with a certified guide who will not only explain the history, but also provide personal takes and untold stories behind every landmark, making the experience more fascinating. The whole tour takes around one hour and 50 minutes and is held at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Those who are interested can call +604 264 3456.

Penang Hill Heritage Trail 

Penang Hill Gallery@Edgecliff
The breathtaking view of Penang from Penang Hill Gallery@Edgecliff.

Penang Hill has a 200-year-old history as a hill station, contributing to its reputation as the oldest site for highland respite established by the British in Southeast Asia. From the year of the founding of Penang in 1786, Penang Hill has been the crucial site where a flagstaff was erected on top of it as a signal station linking it to Fort Cornwallis in George Town in the 18th century. As such, the peak is called Flagstaff Hill too, giving rise to the hill’s current Malay name: Bukit Bendera.

The hill has many historical remnants including 52 aged bungalows. One of them is Bel Retiro, built in 1789, and was a government bungalow that served as an exclusive resort for government officials and dignitaries, including royalties. As the hill stands at the elevation of 700 metres above sea level therefore providing cooler clime, it is understandable why the British preferred the hill for resting and convalescing. Besides Bel Retiro, other colonial bungalows include Richmond, Fernhill and Convalescent, the oldest of them all, which remains intact to this day.

The Gate House of Bel Retiro
The Gate House of Bel Retiro.

Other vestiges scattered throughout the hill include a 32-pounder cannon weighing 2.75 tons made of bronze, commonly used as part of the 18th and 19th-century artillery. What was the cannon used for on this hill? Historians say it probably served as an ornament or to alert the presence of pirates. The cannon can still be visited near Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan Temple, one of the oldest Hindu temples in Penang.

There are many historical discoveries that travellers can uncover and one of the effective ways to do so is by joining the Penang Hill Heritage Trail. Those who are interested can contact KP Ong at +6 016 420 1189. 

While Penang Hill is highly regarded for its history, it is known for its biological wonders as well, especially after it is bestowed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve beginning from 15 September 2021. Standing amidst a 130-million-year-old virgin rainforest, the hill is home to diverse tropical flora and fauna, including some of the world’s endangered species like the dusky leaf monkey and black giant squirrel. 

Learn more about Penang Hill at https://www.penanghill.gov.my/.

What not to miss on Penang Hill? 

The Habitat
This rainforest discovery centre consists of 1.6 kilometres of nature trails. Most of the flora and fauna in Penang Hill can be spotted here so there are high chances for travellers to stumble upon them, including the elusive ones! Travellers should experience walking on the Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk, which sits 800 metres above sea level, the highest public viewing platform in Penang, allowing travellers to enjoy a 360-degree view of Bukit Bendera and parts of Penang. There is even a 230-metre Langur Canopy Walk that promises the experience of walking amongst soaring trees while being suspended some 40 metres above the forest floor. Log on to The Habitat’s official website here.

Penang Hill Gallery@Edgecliff
This cliffside, Art Deco-style gallery used to be a bungalow owned by J.C. Miller. It now serves as an information and education centre for travellers to learn everything about Penang and Penang Hill in one-go. The gallery comprises five exhibits namely Funicular Train, Time Tunnel, Biodiversity, Heritage, and Cultural, giving travellers a wholesome and complete knowledge to make their visit informative. Log on to Penang Hill Gallery@Edgecliff’s website here.

KEDAH

Jerai Geopark is Malaysia’s first National Geopark since 18 July 2017. It covers an area of 501 square kilometres comprising Kuala Muda and Yan districts, bounded by Sungai Limau at the north and Sungai Muda at the south of Kedah and Pulau Pinang. 

Jerai Geopark, which has 25 important geosites, is unique because it is scientifically located in the high rock geodiversity area of the Jerai Formation, Mahang Formation, and Jerai Granite.

Gunung Jerai

Padang Tok Sheikh
Padang Tok Sheikh lies along the Cambrian geotrail.

At the height of 1,170 metres above sea level, travellers can visit a metaquartzite area that is a product of the Jerai Formation some 550 to 500 million years ago. Ancient trace fossils can still be seen on this metasedimentary rock such as crinoid stem, Dictyodora Tenuis species, and Arenicolites, proving that the depositional environment was once marine.

Padang Tok Sheikh
Ancient trace fossils at Padang Tok Sheikh.

The geosite known as Padang Tok Sheikh – which lies along the Cambrian geotrail – has a unique morphology consisting of tiered slopes, believed to be a consequence of differential in weathering of metaquartzite layers.

Padang Tok Sheikh was named after an Arab preacher, Sheikh Abdullah Yamani, who was responsible for converting Sultan Muzaffar Shah (formerly known as Raja Durbar) to Islam in 1136. The occasion was significant to Kedah as it brought major changes to the government such as the use of the title of ‘Sultan’ for the first time and the replacement of the name Kataha or Khalaha to Kedah. Some even believed that the first adzan (the Muslim call for prayer) in Kedah was performed here. 

Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum

Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum
One of the visitors looking at some of the relics exhibit at Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum.

This first archaeological museum in Malaysia is situated 23 kilometres from Sungai Petani. It exhibits the pre-Islamic and proto-history artefacts that prove Bujang Valley’s (or Lembah Bujang) existence as a powerful entrepot in Southeast Asia during the second until the 14th century.

Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum
Candi Bukit Batu Pahat

These notable artefacts like Hindu-Buddhist figurines, votive tablet, pottery, beads, and glass materials, were unearthed during the archaeological research and excavation in Bujang Valley since 1840. 

Just a walking distance from the museum, travellers can find few old temples such as Candi Pendiat, Candi Bukit Batu Pahat, Candi Pengkalan Bujang, and Candi Bendang Dalam. Near Batu Pahat Hill, travellers can further witness vestiges in the form of chiselled markings on the boulders.

Merbok Estuary River Cruise

Merbok Estuary River Cruise
The river cruise takes around an hour and a half.

Merbok River played the crucial role in economics and trading, which propelled the creation of Kedah Tua civilisation. It used to be a busy stretch of water filled with ships carrying goods from all around the world coming in and out of it. Travellers can imagine the situation while joining the Merbok Estuary River Cruise departing from Semeling Jetty.

The river cruise takes around an hour and a half. Travellers are brought on a boat to traverse along the Merbok River, not only to learn about the historical facts concerning the river but also to witness the indigenous flora and fauna too in the forms of 38 types of mangrove trees and myriads of birds like Brahminy kites, kingfishers, storks, and egrets, among others. One rare species that is specifically found here is kurma laut (Pheonix paludosa). 

To add to the rare-to-be-seen list, travellers can get a glimpse of the community’s unique fishing technique using fish traps are called langai that cannot be found anywhere else in Malaysia. The technique utilises mangrove trees that are aligned along one stretch that are kitted with fishing nets between them. 

Talking about fish, some of the species that can be found in the river are pomfret, snapper, seabass, and catfish.

As important as the mangrove is to these creatures for providing habitat, it is equally vital to humans and the environment because the mangrove system provides protection from erosion and keeps the area cleaned through its natural filtration system. 

Those interested to cruise along this river may contact Encik Mazlan (+6 016 505 3531) or Encik Zai (+6 019 423 6521).

Sungai Batu Archaeological Site

Sungai Batu Archaeological Site
An ancient ritual site at Sungai Batu Archaeological Site.

Based upon the archaeological research conducted in this site since 2009, Sungai Batu in Kuala Muda has successfully and scientifically proven the existence of Kedah Tua civilisation as early as 788 CE (Common Era or AD). Over the years, many later-found artefacts have been excavated and strengthen the theories after theories suggested by Professor Datuk Dr Mokhtar Saidin, a renowned Malaysian archaeologist from Universiti Sains Malaysia, together with his team. The breakthrough findings suggest that the site was once a bustling hub for iron smelting that included harbour piers, harbour master complexes, and ritual sites.

The archaeological site sparks the interest of many regarding how an ancient civilisation such as Kedah Tua already had a state-of-the-art technology when it comes to iron smelting, as evidenced from the objects like furnaces and tuyere. Even the existence of a harbour master complex since 487 BCE (Before Common Era or BC) is indeed a groundbreaking discovery that indicates Kedah Tua as an advanced, well-structured society.

Another discovery, in the form of a ritual site, proposes that it has been used as a religious site continuously through generations, from animism in 100 BCE to Hindu-Buddha in the sixth CE. This timeworn religious monument has a circular base, a square, and smaller circle platform on top of it.  

Taking this highly valued historical site as having the high potential for archaeotourism, Persatuan AncKed Sungai Batu has developed packages to further attract tourists, especially youngsters, to come and learn about the mind-blowing history. More than just visiting the sites, travellers can scan a QR code provided by the knowledgeable guide to have a look at how the sites looked like in the past using the artificial intelligence (AI). 

Other interactive activities that travellers can partake in Sungai Batu are learning the right technique of excavating an archaeological site, making bricks manually, and discover how a furnace and tuyere work during iron smelting process. 

Those who are interested in this wholesome experience can call +6 014 757 5598 or +6 018 918 9035.

PERAK

Gua Tempurung

Gua Tempurung
Gua Tempurung is one of the most beautiful caves in Peninsular Malaysia.

Gua Tempurung or Tempurung Cave is the largest limestone cave and one of the most beautiful in Peninsular Malaysia. Spanning 1.9 kilometres in length, this cave is equipped with walkways and bridges, as well as appropriate lighting, so that travellers can conveniently wander inside while admiring all its glory.

Stepping inside the cave is similar to stepping into a gallery that stimulates travellers’ imagination and creativity. There are countless stalagmites and stalactites exhibiting different shapes at the cave ceiling and floor respectively. Depending on one’s eyes, the shape, if travellers were to look closely, might resemble a cow’s head, a cat’s face, crocodile, tiger, and even a face of a woman. 

There are five platforms in this cave. Depending on stamina, travellers may choose to either stop at Platform 3 or continue their journey until Platform 5 before returning to the entrance. As each platform showcases unique characteristics, one of the must-experience is Platform 4, known as the Wind Tunnel. Exploring this tunnel gives travellers an intriguing experience due to the strong, natural gust of wind that can be felt throughout the tunnel.

The tickets are priced at MYR8 (per adult) and MYR4 (per child) for access up until Platform 3; and MYR12 (per adult) and MYR6 (per child) for access up until Platform 5. Gua Tempurung is open daily from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

Gaya Travel Magazine team extends its heartfelt gratitude to Tourism Malaysia Northern Region Office for organising this trip and making the writer’s experience smooth-sailing.

Share with us what you think about this article!