Amongst of a host of other names, Penang is most notably regarded as the Pearl of the Orient. Strategically located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, this charming island is an excellent rendezvous point to several fascinating townships in Malaysia. Melissa Cheah looks at seven road-trip possibilities to explore.
If you are spending the weekend in Penang, an interstate road trip is one of the best possible ways to explore the many interesting facets of the Malaysian Peninsula. Simply rent a car, roll down the windows and feel the wind in your face as you cruise down the highway.
Through the North – South Expressway (NSE) – the longest controlled-access expressway in Malaysia with the total length of approximately 772 kilometres – most of the major cities and districts in western Peninsular Malaysia are conveniently linked. This expressway passes through seven states in the Peninsula: Johor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Perak, Penang and Kedah.
1. Bandar Baharu
Distance from Penang: 63 kilometres
Approximate travel time: 1 hour
Bandar Baharu is a town in southern Kedah, located along the Penang-Perak-Kedah border tri-point. The humble town consists of seven sub-districts. Serdang is the administrative town of Bandar Baharu district, situated about 20 kilometres away.
The Seri Tasik Park was originally an inactive mine. It has since been developed to become a recreation garden, a frequent favourite for both children and adults for the facilities. Plans have been made to enhance the current state of the park, which includes the building of concrete bridges to link two lakes, a pedestrian pathway, a rest house for drivers and a floating restaurant.
A mere hour away from Penang, the evergreen rows of paddy fields on either side of the road, the rolling hills in the background and the peaceful setting will instantaneously transport you to sheer peace; a reminder for us to slow down every now and then to enjoy the simple things in life.
Distance from Penang: 74 kilometres
Approximate travel time: 1 hours 10 mins
Merbok is a rustic town in Kedah, its name derived from an archaic Langkasuka-Malay language, which means ‘the declaratory place’. Based on the ancient tale, the declaration of Islam as the official religion for the state was performed at the Merbok estuary port, hence its name. However, other historians have debated that this is in contrast to the popular belief that the inspiration for the town’s name was from the local burung merbok (zebra dove).
Whichever side of history you choose to believe in, the district’s historical origins unmistakably plays a part in attracting visitors. The Bujang Valley (Lembah Bujang) is based in the Merbok district of Kedah. It is marked as the richest archaeological site in Malaysia and the prehistoric ruins tell the story of an ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdom that ruled the region in the 4th century AD. Sometimes referred to as the Ancient Wonder of Kedah, the rich historical site covers a 400sq ground area, bounded by Bukit Coras (Choras Hill) and Gunung Jerai.
There are over 50 Hindu and Buddhist temples (otherwise known as candis) excavated from various sites in the valley. The artifacts and relics discovered dates all the way back to the 4th century, and are on display at the archaeological museum located here.
3. Tanjung Dawai
Distance from Penang: 84 kilometres
Approximate travel time: 1 hours 35 mins
A small fishing village on the coast of Kedah, Tanjung Dawai is about 30 kilometres away from Sungai Petani. Here, you’ll be sure to get a glimpse of fishermen landing their catch and fishing boats drawing in after a hard day’s work. For the curious, ask the locals and they’ll be delighted to grant you a sneak-peek into how salted fish is made.
By the time dusk slips in, take a seat at the wooden jetty and let the mesmerising colours of nature unfold before your very eyes. If you are one who finds joy in the freshest catch from the sea, there are plenty of restaurants lined up. Drop in, inquire about the catch of the day and be ready to be blown away when you tuck in to the seafood dishes.
4. Mount Jerai
Distance from Penang: 93 kilometres
Approximate travel time: 1 hours 45 mins
Formerly known as ‘Kedah’s Peak’, Mount Jerai (Gunung Jerai) is a massive limestone mountain that rises 1200m above sea level. As the highest peak in the state, it adds a touch of variety to the scenic flat plains seen throughout the area. Legend has it that Raja Bersiong – the ‘King of Fangs’ – once had his ancient kingdom within the Bujang Valley at the foot of the mountain.
It is rather strenuous for most cars to make it all the way to the top. So, once you’ve arrived at the base of the imposing mountain, park your car there and ride a van up. The chilly breeze is a surefire arrival indicator.
At the crest of the mountain, the Museum of Forestry displays an extensive wealth of information and artifacts on Malaysian forestry in a traditional Malaysian house. You’ll be sure to learn more about Malaysian forests and medicinal uses of different indigenous plants there.
Distance from Penang: 157 kilometres
Approximate travel time: 2 hours 15 mins
A cup of steaming white coffee, a hearty bowl of Ipoh hor fun (flat rice noodles soup with shredded chicken) and a plate of bean sprouts chicken (steamed chicken meat, served with blanched beans sprouts and dressed in soy sauce and sesame oil) aren’t the only justifications to visit Ipoh.
Qing Xin Ling Leisure & Cultural Village is Ipoh’s latest tourist attraction spot. Opened in August 2014, this delightful cultural village remains a work in progress. What was previously an iron ore mine (mining operations ceased in the late 1970s) is now an enchanting ode to the yesteryears, under the masterful hands of contractor Jason Tang.
Expect to see wooden chalets with stretching verandas, antique food stalls, drink carts, wooden structures and even gazebos and carriages. The grounds of the village are littered with exotic bonsai and suiseki, a tribute to the owner, Mr. Cheng’s love for nature.
6. Teluk Intan
Distance from Penang: 250 kilometres
Approximate travel time: 3 hours 25 mins
A town with strong fusion of Chinese and colonial influences, Teluk Intan is the district capital and largest town in Hilir Perak. During the British protectorate era, the town was named as Teluk Anson (Anson Bay), in honour of a British Officer who drew up the plan of the modern township. Later on in 1982, the Sultan of Perak at that time officially christened the town as Teluk Intan (Diamond Bay).
Built in the heart of town, the Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan is Malaysia’s equivalent of the extraordinary Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. The pagoda-style structure was constructed as a preemptive measure for water storage during the drought season. It is 85 feet tall and 43 feet in diameter. Although from the outside, it looks very much like an 8-storey building, it is divided into 3 different levels.
Another point of interest to visit is the Riverside Playground. It is the largest riverside playground in Teluk Intan with a wide variety of facilities to pick and choose from. There is a small jetty nearby the playground, which offers tourists boat rides from morning till evening.
Distance from Penang: 289 kilometres
Approximate travel time: 4 hours
A village blessed with fertile soils, Sekinchan has quickly become an hot tourist attraction. The seemingly endless carpet of lush greenery dotted with dragonflies and birds isn’t only pleasing to the eyes, it is calming for the soul.
While you’re there, the paddy processing factory and paddy museum are not-to-be-missed sites. You’ll be given firsthand knowledge on the complete life cycle of rice planting. While feeding your mind is essential, we’d like to think that it is equally important to nourish your body. At the ‘Seafood Street’, one would be spoilt for choices, cooked to cater to your taste buds.
To end a scenic day out, seal the deal by making a wish at Pantai Redang Beach. Simply tie a red ribbon onto the tree and whisper your deepest heart’s desires while forming the knot. If you are not one to acquiesce to such traditions, the enormous tree decked in red ribbons does make a lovely backdrop for photo ops.
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