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North Malaysia: West Kedah, Bujang and the road to Penang


Few travelers visit Perlis and Kedah in north Malaysia. This is basically because Penang and Langkawi are more interesting, or so people seem to think. And if they visit it's usually by bus or train to pass by going either into Thailand or continue to Penang or Langkawi.

Peninsula North West Malaysia doesn't have much to offer to travelers but there is enough to keep you busy for at least a couple of days. This page will focus on Kedah, the most northern state except Perlis.

Mosque in Alor Setar

The Great Mosque of Alor Setar

Cycling Thailand to Kedah

Kedah is easy to reach from Thailand. The main entry is Padang Besar in Perlis. Perlis also offers a second border post at Wang Kelian but regardless which you choose, you most likely have to pass Kangar to enter Kedah.

Kedah has one border post itself: Durian Burung, a little known and even less used border east of Padang Besar. See my Thai-Malaysian border posts page for details).

Alor Setar

Alor Setar is the capital of the state. It's an uninspiring city although the Zahir Mosque in the city center certainly shows it's beauty.

Almost all roads in north Malaysia have road signs with Alor Setar mentioned, so you may get the impression the city is interesting. It's not. If people visit Alor Setar and stay here it's usually to get the ferry in Kuala Kedah to Langkawi. And it is Langkawi you hardly find on the sign boards. Yet Langkawi is the main attraction of the state!

Here is more about Langkawi.

Alor Setar around the Zahir Mosque Great Clock Building Alor Setar around the Zahir Mosque
Alor Setar around the Zahir Mosque

In the area of the Zahir Mosque there are some hotels. Whenever I am in town I always use a small Chinese hotel opposite of Miramar Hotel and next door to the Nasi Kandar restaurant at Jalan Putra (RM 50 for a good and clean room). For some good food, walk back 200 meters on Jalan Putra to the Chinese night market and restaurants.

Although the city was founded in the 18th century there's little left of the old city. And there's no need to spend more than an afternoon to explore the city.

On the K1 from Kuala Kedah to Yan

On the K1 from Kuala Kedah to Yan after a couple of day with heavy rain

Alor Setar to Sungai Petani for Butterworth/Penang, 100/110 km

If your next destination is Langkawi or Penang, follow the road to Kuala Kedah. It's a rather busy road out of the city but soon becomes quiet. Kuala Kedah has a fortress, of which little has remained. There are several ferries a day to Langkawi.

Even if you don't want to go to Langkawi, I suggest you take the direction to Kuala Kedah anyway. A km before Kuala Kedah there's a junction with the K1, the road to Yan.

view of the north side of Gunung Jerai Steep slope of Guning Jerai
Left: view of the north side of Gunung Jerai (from the K1)
Right: Steep (but the only one) slope of Gunung Jerai on the far west
side of the mountain on the way to Pekan Yan

Follow the K1 until you reach Yan Kecil, 29km. Turn right to Yan and get some refreshments in the town center. It's a sleepy little town at the foot of Gunung Jerai. Yan has two homestays available and there's a waterfall nearby.

Town center of Yan
Town center of Yan

12 km further on the K1, you have passed the only serious climb for the day (see photo above), you will find Merbok and the museum in the Bujang Valley.

Bujang Valley

The Bujang Valley is a little visited complex of 2000 years old temples on the south slopes of Gunung Jerai. There's nothing but the stone foundations of the original temples left as they were build of wood. However, the artwork was all in stone and predates much later dated artwork in Angkor, Borobudur or Prambanan. If you come this way, you should visit the Bujang Valley.

Getting/Going to Bujang Valley

As described above, follow the K1 along the west side of Gunung Jerai. Going away is a little more difficult to explain: follow the road out of town until you see a signboard for Highway Kuala Lumpur/Alor Setar. This is about 2 km out of town. Follow the road signs for the Highway until you find a clear road sign for Butterworth. This road bypasses Sungai Petani so Ignore directions for Bedong or Sungai Petani. You will arrive at the junction Sungai Petani (left), Baling (straight) and Butterworth/Kepala Batas (right).

Bujang Valley, Candy Bukit Batu Pahat
Hoover your mouse over the photos to get a better view

Bujang Valley temple complex Bujang Valley Bujang Valley temples Temples Bujang Valley
Complex at Bujang Valley Bujang Valley temple complex Bujang Valley Kedah Kedah Bujang Valley

Going the opposite: either from the highway (car only) or Road #1, look for the Giant supermarket before entering Sungai Petani. There's a clear sign for Baling highway to your right and turn left. Follow this road until the 4th (forth) traffic light and turn left again (K167). Follow this road, it's rather small and crosses the mangrove forests until you arrive at the junction Bujang and turn left again K632) and continue all the way to the end where you turn left on the K1 and within 2 km you're at Merbok.

You can of course also pass Sungai Petani city center and in Taman Tasek Indah take the junction to your right which is already the K1 but in that case you have to work your way through the Sungai Petani city center.

Bujang Valley is 65 km from Alor Setar if you follow the K1 road west of Gunung Jerai, 25 km from Sungai Petani and 55 km from Butterworth/Penang.

Mainland Penang, the north near Kuala Muda

Scenery in the north of mainland Penang state with view towards the Kedah hills

Sungai Petani to Penang

It's an uninspiring road from Sungai Petani to Butterworth but you can spice it a bit up. Cycle on Road #1 in the direction of Butterworth and cross the hills until you arrive in Tikam Batu. Here you can turn away from the main road and cycle on the more quiet P107 to Kuala Muda. This little village is known for the Whispering Market (morning only) as fishermen bring their catch in and whisper prices to potential customers.

In the same area you can visit a local beach: Pantai Merdeka but it's a dead end road.

From Kuala Muda, follow directions to Penaga and Butterworth. The last 15 km you have to cycle the main road #1.

Pantai Merdeka
Pantai Merdeka Beach

Alor Setar to South Kedah and Perak

The south of Kedah state is interesting if you consider going to either Betong and/or Kota Bharu. This page explains a good road to cycle. The quiet roads will lead through kampongs and estates to Baling with alternatives going into the more eastern part of Kedah and going to Gerik and the East-West highway.

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Kedah & Perlis

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