While many head north out of Kuala Lumpur on the E1 North South Highway, there are slower and more scenic alternatives on the byways and side roads. David Bowden heads generally north to explore some scenic attractions away from the main expressway on the northwest of the peninsula. These charming places are near enough for a weekend getaway from the bustling city.
1. Leaning Tower, Teluk Intan
Head north along the somewhat uninspiring coastal road for approximately 100km to reach Teluk Intan and its famous leaning tower. This pagoda-styled clock tower was built in 1885 by a Chinese contractor, Leong Loon Choon Chong. Teluk Intan is at the confluence of the Bidor and Perak Rivers and experts suggest that the marshy ground here has resulted in the tower tilting and sinking. This doesn’t appear to concern the locals too much although the tower is located in a large open expanse just in case.
2. Royal Town, Kuala Kangsar
Of the five listed northern sights, Kuala Kangsar offers the quickest deviation from the North South Highway. The Perak royal town of Kuala Kangsar is located between Ipoh and Taiping, 35km north of Ipoh, on the banks of the Perak River. Kuala Kangsar has been the home town for the Perak royal family since the 18th century and its two royal residences (the new and the old) are landmarks. The older and much more modest of the two residences is known as Kenangan Istana. It’s hard to miss the imposing Ubudiah Mosque due to its prominent location. The mosque is one of Malaysia’s most admired mosques and images of it grace many guidebooks. The Malay College, Malaysia’s premier residential boys’ school is another reason for the town’s fame. Kuala Kangsar is also noted as the first place in Malaysia to grow rubber trees.
3. Mangrove Forest, Matang
Exit the highway at Taiping and drive towards Kuala Sepetang and the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve. The road basically follows what was Malaysia’s first railway line from Taiping to Port Weld (now Kuala Sepetang). The line was opened in 1885 but closed in 1987 and the line dismantled in the 1980s. The only remaining evidence is the former Port Weld signboard that adorns a Chinese coffeehouse in the small town of Kuala Sepetang. The mangrove forest with an elevated boardwalk is on the right hand side a few kilometres before the town. There is an entry fee with expats paying more than MyKad-carrying locals. The mangrove forest is sustainably harvested to produce charcoal and there are a few kilns to be seen.
4. River Cruise, Sungai Petani
Exit the main highway and drive into Sungai Petani, a town that surprises in many ways. There is a Visitors Centre and seafood restaurant down on the banks of the Merbok River and it has some excellent displays on the local natural history and ancient history dating back 2,500 years. Small boats head down the mangrove-lined Merbok River from the Visitors Centre with a stop at an oyster farm halfway along the river. This is another eye-opening project involving enthusiastic youngsters who operate a sustainable aquaculture project.
5. Kuala Selangor Wetlands
Kuala Selangor is a small fishing village situated just 65km north of Kuala Lumpur, best known as a venue for eating fresh and affordable seafood beside the Selangor River. An estuarine nature park (Taman Alam Kuala Selangor) also attracts nature lovers and birdwatchers. The park, covering 320ha, is located at the base of Bukit Melawati which is where the Altingsburg Lighthouse stands high. Waders and raptors can be seen in the park along with monkeys. Basic accommodation is available here and in the small town. Access to the nature park is from the base of this hill with clear roadside directional signs to Taman Alam Kuala Selangor.
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