Situated far north of the Peninsula, Kedah is known as the rice bowl of Malaysia. With picturesque paddy fields, historical landmarks, and charming quaint towns, this Northern state bordering Thailand is ideal for heritage lovers or a getaway from life in the metropolis.

Here are places of interest in the paddy planting state that will excite inquisitive tourists, history buffs, and photography enthusiasts alike.

Kedah is said to be the oldest state in Malaysia, where civilisation began on the peninsula. The state also carries the pride of being the birthplace of several notable Malaysians, including the nation’s Father of Independence (Tunku Abdul Rahman), the only prime minister to be elected twice (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad), and the only Sultan who served as Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia twice (Sultan Abdul Halim).

The State Museum is THE place to gain insight into Kedah’s rich history, from its ancient civilisation in Bujang Valley to the present-day industrial hub.

Address: Muzium Negeri Kedah, Lebuhraya Darul Aman, Bakar Bata, 05100 Alor Setar, Kedah

In the capital city of Alor Setar, historical buildings stand proudly alongside modern landmarks around the main heritage square, known as Medan Bandar (also known as Dataran Alor Setar). These buildings are within walking distance of each other, and although most of them are not open to the public, visitors admire them from the outside.

The immediately noticeable landmark at the square is the Zahir Mosque (Masjid Zahir), one of the oldest mosques in the country. Built in 1912 and opened in 1915 by the Sultan of Kedah, the mosque has a distinctly Moorish architecture.

Next to the Zahir Mosque is the Big Clock Tower (Menara Jam Besar), which broadcasts the Muslim Call to Prayer, the Adhan, five times daily. Right across the street from the clock tower is the Nobat Hall (Balai Nobat), a three-storey octagonal tower housing the sacred instruments of the Nobat musical ensemble, which only plays during royal ceremonies such as inaugurations and weddings.

Just a stone’s throw away is the Grand Audience Hall (Balai Besar). Built in 1735 by the 19th Sultan of Kedah, the original building was restored after it weathered attacks from the Bugis armada in 1770 and Siamese forces in 1821. Today, the Sultan of Kedah still uses the striking landmark, which has elaborate carvings, arched stairways, and high ceilings, for selected royal ceremonies and state functions.

Within the city square are also the Kedah Royal Museum and Kedah State Art Gallery (Balai Seni Negeri Kedah), where one can learn about the history of Kedah’s sultanate and see the works of contemporary local artists, respectively.

From the city square, you can walk over to Pekan Rabu on Jalan Tun Ibrahim, a bustling bazaar where an assortment of local goods and food are sold. Its name literally translates as ‘Wednesday Town’; the marketplace was named such because it used to operate only once a week.

Pekan Rabu has special significance for the locals. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Muhammad once worked as a trader here when his medical studies were interrupted during the Japanese Occupation.

Address: Kompleks Pekan Rabu, Jalan Tunku Ibrahim, Bandar Alor Setar, 05000 Alor Setar, Kedah

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The state’s tallest structure, a 165.5-metre telecommunications tower, soars above the city skyline. It was designed to resemble a bunch of paddy stalks as an homage to rice farmers.

From the tower’s Observation Deck, 88 metres above ground, you’ll get a sprawling panoramic view of the city’s landscape. Above the Observation Deck, at 94 metres, is the Alor Setar Tower 360 Degree Revolving Restaurant, where you can dine with a spectacular view.

Further up top, at 100 metres high, is the Megaview Banquet Hall, an aptly named event space. Here, visitors can take a hydraulic lift up to Star View, two units of glass boxes on the Open Deck at 105 metres high, where the whole of Kedah, as far as the eye can see, is practically under their feet.

Do note that tickets to the Observation Deck and Star View are priced differently, and rates are an additional RM1 higher on weekends.

Address: Lot 99, Darul Aman Hwy, Bandar Alor Setar, 05100 Alor Setar, Kedah

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Kedah is home to some of the finest examples of traditional Malay architecture. Some noteworthy buildings have been restored and repurposed as tourist attractions, with original furniture and personal effects on display.

The first place of note is Rumah Merdeka (Independence House). This double-storey house was the private retreat of Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, whenever he returned to his home state. It was also here that the premier hosted several foreign leaders and pursued his passion for creative writing. Today, its exhibits offer a glimpse into the life of Malaysia’s Father of Independence.

Address: Jalan Putra, Bandar Alor Setar, 05150 Alor Setar, Kedah

Next is Rumah Kelahiran Tun Dr. Mahathir (Birth Home of Tun Dr. Mahathir). This traditional wooden house was the birthplace and early home of Malaysia’s fourth, seventh, tenth, and longest-serving prime ministers. Documents on his family genealogy and school photographs showcasing his remarkable life from his school days to his political career are on exhibition.

Address: No 18, Lorong Kilang Ais Sekolah Kebangsaan Jalan Pegawai, Jalan Seberang Perak, Taman Pesisiran Tanjung Chali, 05000 Alor Setar, Kedah

In addition to the homes of former premiers, two other worthy stops are Rumah Tok Su and Rumah Seri Banai. These heritage buildings were once private homes which have been restored and relocated. They stand as exemplary representations of traditional Malay architecture.

Address: Bandar Alor Setar, 05250 Alor Setar, Kedah (In front of Wisma Darul Aman, Alor Setar)

Located on the Kedah riverbank in Kuala Kedah, a town 12km from Alor Setar, is the site of an ancient fort that has survived many battles since its construction in the 1770s. Also known as Fort Kuala Bahang, the fort has withstood attacks by the Bugis, Achinese, and Siamese.

When Kedah fell under British rule in 1909, a colonial Malay building was erected as an administrative centre on the site. It also served as the headquarters for the Japanese Armed Forces during the Japanese occupation. This building is now the Kuala Kedah Fort Museum.

Address: Kampung Seberang Kota, 06600 Kuala Kedah, Kedah

From the third to 14th century AD, Bujang Valley (Lembah Bujang) was the site of a flourishing civilisation and centre for trade that attracted merchants from Southeast Asia, Arabia, India, and China.

Thousands of fascinating artefacts from this buried civilisation are on display at the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum. On the grounds surrounding the museum are several candi (temples) that archaeologists unearthed in the Bujang Valley area and preserved in their original structures.

Address: Muzium Arkeologi Lembah Bujang, 08400 Pekan Merbok, Kedah

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Tucked away at the foothills of Mount Keriang, amidst acres of paddy fields, is a building designed to resemble bushels of harvested rice stalks. It is only fitting that Malaysia’s main rice-producing state has a museum dedicated to all things paddy-related, from tools and technology for cultivation and harvesting to legends and taboos.

Address: 58RG+9H Jalan Gunung Keriang, Gunung Keriang, 05150 Alor Setar, Kedah

Nestled among mechanic workshops, eateries, and pet stores at Belakang Pekan Pumpong, Alor Setar is a shoplot with an impressive collection of over 70,000 fast-food toys, memorabilia, and ephemera. This private museum is made possible by one dedicated collector who decided to make his collection public in 2021.

Address: 2521 Belakang Pekan Pumpong, 05250 Alor Setar, Kedah

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