I was thinking hard how to write a long post about a type of grass, despite being one of the national symbols, in a place which gets literally zero, or almost zero, tourist attention. Alor Setar aka Alor Star in the state of Kedah up north of the peninsula is that case. And it’s a shame. While it doesn’t offer as much as one would reasonably expect from more exposed towns, it certainly has its charm, not only thanks to paddy fields. Before you decide to see for yourself, let me take you on a journey through this little town and its surroundings. So friends, here’s the result of my thinking efforts.
As usual, ETS is your best option. I shouldn’t be advertising them so much though, because they still owe me money for an unsuccessful transaction, but I’ll give it a try again, fully trusting karma. I know Malaysians are in love with their cars and most of them would never consider this option, but it’s really a wonderful ride. Tell me where else you can get a chance to enjoy a 3-hour uninterrupted spectacle in the form of greenery, mountains, rain forests and the cutest country’s train stations for 146 ringgit return? You say car would be cheaper and more convenient? Nah…. Wrong logic! I don’t know about you, but observing the world around me instead of honking my way through the lanes of similarly thinking drivers is priceless. If you don’t trust me, you simply need to give it a try.
Where to stay
Hmm, how do I put this? Like I said, Alor Setar isn’t exactly a tourist spot. However, it does, to my surprise, have a boutique hotel. The only issue with boutique hotels almost anywhere I’ve been is that this fancy word causes the price to hike up and not always for the right reasons. This is especially true in Malaysia. Therefore, the 38PC hotel in Alor Setar isn’t an exception. The French must be laughing now but I am sure that you can find cheaper options for your weekend in Kedah.
The success of a hotel always relies mainly on its staff. The inflexibility with which many locally-owned businesses approach hospitality is well-known. If not to you, then to me for sure. I arrived slightly before 2pm and was sure I would be able to check-in already. Wrong! When I asked why I was told the room needed mopping. ‘Are you kidding me?’ I couldn’t help thinking. But no, they were not. To them, check-in was at 3pm and even if the room was ready, although ‘ready’ was up to interpretation anyway, and if you wanted to use it earlier, you wouldn’t stand a chance. Compared to the inconspicuous Louis hotel during my trip to Taiping for half the price this was certainly not so kosher.
You surely understand that when I checked in at 3pm only to find spider webs and dust in the nooks of the room, I was slightly puzzled. But hey, at least they mopped! To be fair though, the design is indeed smart, unusual and up to par with the ’boutique’ label. What’s more, filtered water in refillable glass bottles will definitely please all the eco-friendly folks, myself included. I so wish this trend was adopted in all hotels. Any lobbyists here?
Another fun story I find worth mentioning is about the invisible breakfast. The next morning I sprung up and quickly made my beeline downstairs. I made a few slow turns, right and left, wondering where the food was. For the life of me I couldn’t find anything. Later I spotted a set of nonchalantly placed slices of bread on the front desk with tiny jam and butter boxes next to it. So boutique! Maybe it was meant to be something à la Pokemon hunt, you eat what you spot, but once my eyes noticed a fancy, also obviously a very boutique, coffee maker, I knew my Pokemon search was over. I asked for a coffee with milk, downed it as a shot and quickly returned back to my room. Taking the stairs by three I laughed at the newly created connotation to ‘BB’ – i.e. ‘Boutique Breakfast‘! I grabbed my camera and set off to explore the paddy fields. Hmm, that coffee really kicked in!
Paddy fields and Kedah Museum
The main reason why I came to Kedah was to see paddy fields. Yes, the vast tracts of beautifully verdant land that are so appealing if you get to see them just before the harvest. It’s just so pleasing to the eye and calming that I couldn’t wait. And indeed, I got what I wanted. An abundance of vibrant green paddy fields. If you want to combine it with some cultural experience Kedah Museum is your best bet. The whole area is dotted not only with paddy fields but also other interesting sights, such as the mountain Gunung Keriang, Keriang resort, cyclists or extremely photogenic cattle. I was really lucky because my grab driver took me around slowly, made stops for me to take a few shots and simply did his best to make sure I soaked up the atmosphere properly. Good on him!
Nevertheless, and I’ve never thought I’d say something like this, the museum itself was definitely the highlight of the trip and I would recommend it to anyone who wants not only to learn something about rice and its production, but also create lasting memories. To some this may seem exaggerated but since I had the building completely to myself, I really had a blast! To add to the shock, I’ll also say that I spent about 3 hours in the museum and returned home with some absolutely to me unique photos and even souvenirs. For a mere 5RM entrance, that’s a lot of bang for your buck!
And trust me, I’m that kind of person who usually whizzes through museums by the speed of light. Although I must admit that there are exceptions to this rule and quite surprisingly Kedah Museum is now on that privileged list. Just so that I am thorough, I will also mention the other museums that had me linger for a long time. Once the borders open, it could be some inspiration for travel in the region. One of them is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum along with the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh and War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately they all depict extremely dark periods of the countries’ history and are a rather sad remembrance of unparalleled cruelty humans are able to bring upon other humans for political reasons. These three museums may send a shiver down your spine or even bring you to tears, but Kedah is a totally different kettle of fish.
Start from top
The top floor 3D revolving panorama is absolutely amazing! Apparently created by artists from South Korea, these wonderfully unique mural paintings take you on a short but incredibly visual journey of life in paddy fields many years ago. It’s not perfect but it was definitely entertaining enough for me to get stuck there for at least 30 minutes. The cinema style seats allow for a truly comfortable experience.
I took my time and a lot of shots and tried sitting at different angles, staring at the well-crafted 3D display of paddy field culture. Paradoxically it reminded me of home, and a particular painting on the walls of a national bank in my little town. While we don’t have paddy fields, the hay culture was very typical back in the day and people lived in a similar fashion. Well done!
If you fancy a souvenir in the form of a professionally taken photo, you can do that too. This is obviously not included in the ticket price but I found it worth for 10RM. Since I’m a hedonist, I had the lady take 3 different shots straight. It came with a calendar. I said I didn’t need the calendar for each photo and asked for a discount. But I only got the typical ‘cannot’. So now I have 3 different photos stuck in 3 identical calendars. No complaints whatsoever though!
Meeting Fira – The absolute Queen of the Museum
After I strolled around different displays of paddy history and beautiful photos on the walls, I came across another interesting station with props and artefacts that you could have your photo taken with too. And unlike the 3D floor, this one was tended by an incredibly charming, friendly and helpful lady called Fira. To me Fira is an absolute sweetheart. She went above and beyond and she did something I’d never fathom. Not only did she take my photos in different poses, using different props, one round with her camera and one round with mine, but she also sent all the photos that I didn’t buy to me via email. I bought 3 photos again, but each of the photos she took had a different background so Fira was kind enough to send the rest so that I wasn’t sad to leave the photo selection behind.
If I had a slightly unpleasant experience earlier, Fira definitely made up for that not so ’boutique’ start of the mini staycation. She had my jaw drop and I was absolutely dumbfounded by the hospitality, kindness and attitude she showed me. Not only did she take beautiful photos of me, but we even had a nice conversation, exchanged phone numbers and to top it all she arranged a taxi back to my hotel. Holy Mishmash! I mean that’s really some package, folks, isn’t it? To this day we are occasionally in touch with Fira and if the situation allows it I’ll definitely come to Kedah and its lovely museum again!
You remember I once told you about another girl, Damia, who made a similarly grand impression on me. If the nation was at least half full with people of this mind-set, this country’s prosperity and reputation would be skyrocketing. Again, nothing sinister. It’s been my home now, and I love it here. But as usual, you know that Travel Mishmash is committed to bringing only honest and if possible unbiased opinion.
Kuala Kedah – fisherman’s village
If you are in Alor Setar for a weekend, you definitely shouldn’t miss visiting, Kuala Kedah, a small fisherman’s village just about a 10-minute drive from the town. It’s not exactly something spectacular but you can observe the river and boats from a bridge and if you walk around you will get this ‘kampung’ (village) feel. On the way there is also the Kuala Kedah Historical Complex with a fort and other sights so you can kill two birds with one stone. I didn’t go as it was closed and it seemed slightly uninteresting to me, but if you are into history, why not give it a shot!
Where to eat
Before as well as after all that exploring you will need some good bite. My go-to place was Caffé Diem. This lovely café fed me for the whole stay and I absolutely fell in love with their chicken wrap. It’s probably the first café I’ve been to in the Malaysian peninsula which served food with some crazy tasty salad with even tastier dressing.
Not only is local cuisine void of good salad places (forgetting for a second about the best restaurant I know), but a good salad with a scrumptious dressing too? That’s Holy Grail! And I found it here. I’m telling you, I’m salivating just thinking about it. And I would be so nuts to return for a day trip only to eat that salad again. Coffee was also fantastic and the lovely, mix of colonial and Chinese decor ambiance is just the icing on the cake. No wonder, the cafe is situated in a famous heritage building so you would need to be a stone not to feel the history of the place.
Music and fun
Just opposite 38PC (okay, 10 points for this one) is Terrace Forty Eight. This place is the right spot for some evening drinks accompanied by great music. What makes it so unique is its owner and his staff (like I said, it’s all about the people, isn’t it?). On the first night I got a bit in the right mood and it was time for some cool, hip and soul moving tunes. At first I just politely asked for a song or two. Next thing I know, I was the DJ of the night, frantically scribbling a chain of tracks and bands on tiny pieces of paper that Khai, the awesome waiter, so kindly kept delivering to my table. What’s more, he played all of the tracks I asked for! What a night! What a place! Don’t forget to come here if you are in the area.
Well folks, and that’s exactly why I love Malaysia and South East Asia for that matter! You discover open-mindedness and hospitality in places you would never expect to. I know for some it may sound like it’s not a big deal, but I am from Europe where DJs and restaurant owners have full control of their establishments and most of them would never allow a stranger to take the reins of the music, even for a brief time.
Beware of crocodiles
On the second weekend afternoon I had some time on my hands and wanted to see even more paddy fields and possibly catch some lovely photo-worthy scenes by sunset. Since I am well aware of the thinking some Malays employ at work, I sent messages to the hotel about this several days prior to my arrival. I got plenty of ‘don’t worries’ and ‘no problem at alls’ assuring me how this would be dealt with on-site. When the time came and I ‘popped the question’ all I got was blank stares, more precisely the 38PC boutique stares. It took 10 minutes and some inaudible confusing conversation for the slow motion staff to tell me that I could go to a honey farm. ‘But I want to see more paddy fields,’ I assertively pointed out again. Well, it was pointless. Honey farm it was. I booked a Grab and was slightly disappointed to see when it started raining. No sunset then. But the vision of more vast greenery kept me optimistic.
That is until the driver, clearly not as nice as the one who took me to the museum, curtly said that it’s closed upon our reaching there. 38PC staff totally deserved to get a roasting but well… I politely asked the driver for a couple minutes just to look around and take some shots before he took me back. I walked past the closed farm and walked towards a paddy field that stretched behind it. I passed something like a small river or a stream and started to soak up the fresh air, gazing romantically at the verdant beauty laid before my eyes. I was taking photos, experimenting with different angles while I suddenly heard some rustling. It came from the left side of the stream but I thought it would be just some small harmless animal and continued taking my dose of natural beauty.
But the rustling became more and more audible and as if it was coming closer. I turned my head somewhat annoyingly as if saying ‘What is it that interrupts my last quiet moments with paddy fields when I suddenly spotted a crocodile’s tail disappearing in the grass just a couple meters away from me. ‘F***//*///*******”@@$:ck’!!! I exclaimed silently in my head, standing there completely frozen. My heart stopped and for a moment I didn’t know what to do. I knew I should be running but I was just probably waiting for the crocodile to emerge from the grass and kill me first. During this nanosecond where I couldn’t breathe nor think my body suddenly went on autopilot and broke into run towards the Grab. I remember I shouted ‘Driver, driver, crocodile!’ with a pitch that could alarm the whole state’s army. When I sat down at the back of the car, still distraught, shocked and puzzled by the driver’s cool I exclaimed again. ‘Driver, there was a crocodile!’
But the driver just stoically asked ‘Was it big?’ Well, I had no idea honestly. It was a crocodile for god’s sake. ‘Because if big, that’s a big problem’ he continued. ‘But since you are here, it was probably a small one’ he nonchalantly added. Taken aback by the simplicity with which the driver presented the facts to me, thinking that he wouldn’t probably mind if I was gone and he wouldn’t get paid for the ride, I was also inexplicably proud at the same time because this was probably the first time in my life that I pushed myself to running that fast. Not only did I escape a bloody, gory scene similar to a horror movie but I also unofficially broke my high school record in sprint!
And that’s it for today my awesome friends. There are a couple more things to do in the area such as the Telecommunication Tower or the honey farm (when it’s open obviously) so you can certainly fill up your getaway weekend in Kedah with plenty to do. Hopefully you got at least a bit inspired to plan your next mini trip somewhere cute like Alor Setar.
Thanks for reading folks and till next time!