Beyond Langkawi: Five exquisite places in Kedah you can't miss
SHAH ALAM - If there is one pet-peeve that most Kedahans have had to endure with much chagrin and annoyance is -- without a shadow of a doubt -- the prevailing presumption that the padi-rich state has little to offer to tourists.
What about Langkawi you asked? Well, as a true blue Kedahan, I can attest that there were; probably still are, Malaysians who were still somehow blithely unaware that Langkawi is actually a part of Kedah.
Hence the reason why Langkawi tends to not be associated with Kedah in terms of tourism.
However, as vexing as this can be, such a scenario is hardly surprising because unlike Langkawi, the mainland of Kedah rarely gets any touristy limelight at all.
Frankly, it’s a missed opportunity because, apart from Langkawi, the state of Kedah has a number of worthwhile gems to visit.
Ulu Legong Hot Springs
Nestled on the fringe of the mountain range of the Ulu Muda Forest, lies the Ulu Legong hot springs.
These geothermal springs, which is just a 22 kilometres drive from the town of Baling, offers a therapeutic treat for weary travellers seeking a rejuvenating retreat amidst a lush arboreal backdrop.
A natural marvel, Ulu Legong's hot springs form as rainwater seeps through the earth's fissures, dissolving minerals as it descends, only to resurface as bubbling hot springs once heated by subterranean forces.
The history of this hot springs was that in the late 1800s, the late Sultan Abdul Hamid of Kedah paid a visit to the area to experience the healing properties of its waters. In honoring the Sultan's visit, villagers came together to build a 100-square-foot cement pond in his honor.
They even tamed elephants to help haul construction materials. This was the village's first step toward becoming an eco-tourism spot, but the Japanese occupation and communism got in the way.
For those looking for an extended stay, fret not as the place offers comfortable chalets for rent.
Seberang Kota Fishermen’s Market
Those who have been to Kedah, would have surely noticed that we have an obsession with curry, particularly mackerel curry or as Kedahans affectionally calls it, ‘Gulai Termenung.’
Seriously, if there was to ever be a competition to vote for an official Kedah state dish, then it would be a sin not to nominate ‘Gulai Termenung’; treason for Kedahans who do not vote for it.
With so many eateries offering it, one would be spoilt for choice but ask any locals in Alor Setar and they will likely point you towards the joints at the Seberang Kota Fishermen Market.
My personal recommendation is either the ‘Kak Yang Gulai Termenung’ which sits right smack within the vicinity of the market where you can see fishermen hauling up their freshest catch of the day or take a short ride over the nearby bridge to the ‘Gulai Ikan Meletop’ restaurant.
No matter the choice, your tastebuds will be pleasantly delighted and tickled by a harmonious explosion of savoury spices, creamy coconut milk, tangy tamarind juice and the sweet flesh of fresh mackerels.
And the best part about the Seberang Kota Fishermen’s Market is that you can sample other delectable local delicacies as well, such as the coconutty ‘Apom Lenggang’, the sticky and sugary ‘Pulut Inti’ and the addictive ‘Paneram’ a deep-fried molasses fritter.
Fancy a short hike that will reward you with a breathtaking vista of the surrounding seas of padi fields at the end of your journey?
Head over to the Keriang Hill, a remarkable geological wonder dating back 250 million years.
This ancient limestone giant stands tall at 218 meters with a one-way trek to the peak that would only take about 45 minutes tops or one can opt to explore the caverns in the hill and if you're lucky you might get a chance to extract a crystal geode lodged within the walls of the caverns.
Rich in history and draped folklore, the Keriang Hill is the centerpiece of the myth of giantess Sang Kelembai and its cursed speech.
One version of the legend has it that the hill was a collosal ship carrying a newlywed. Consumed by jealousy over the couple’s matrimonial happiness, Sang Kelembai cursed the ship and those boarding it into stone.
Whether the legend holds any truth is uncertain, but within the hill, one can find a cavern featuring a curtain-like rock formation, standing sentinel before a massive boulder resembling a bed.
The other version of the tale suggests that the hill was once a Kedahan princess known for her gentle nature. However, her demeanour irked Sang Kelembai, who let out a Freudian slip, comparing the princess's soft gait to that of a Siamese pygmy elephant.
Stricken by the creature’s cursed tongue, the princess morphed into the very creature she was likened to before turning into stone.
Remarkably, this myth has a ring of truth to it, as not only does Keriang Hill bear a striking resemblance to an elephant, but it's officially known as the 'Elephant Hill.'
Coincidence? Perhaps not.
Another hill worth frequenting in Kedah, is the Jerai Hill -- an idyllic choice for travellers with panoramic view from the summit is something out of a postcard, with paddy fields stretching as far as the eye can see and the mesmerizing Strait of Malacca on full display.
Unlike the Keriang Hill, the pristine trails of the Jerai Hill is a popular destination for jungle trekkers and wildlife watchers who seek to connect with nature in its purest form.
The hill also has an air of mystique to it, with a flat stone with historical significance the locals dubbed as the “prayer rug of Tok Sheikh” adorning the path to the summit. There is also the infamous “Cave of Tok Sheikh”, which gained notoriety due to being a site for sacrilegious prayers.
Perched at a cool 1,200 meters above sea level, The Regency Jerai Hill Resort is the crown jewel of this mountain escape. It's the only place to lay your head at Gunung Jerai, sprawled over five acres of scenic landscapes.
Getting to Jerai Hill is a breeze. It's right off the North-South Expressway, sandwiched between the Old and New Town in Yan.
The Four Jerai Geopark Islands
If you’re all about water adventures and you’re kinda bored with Langkawi; then you might want to consider quenching your thirst for aquatic treats at one of the four Jerai Geopark Islands.
These quartet isles sitting next to one another are called: ‘Pulau Bunting’, ‘Pulau Songsong’, ‘Pulau Bidan’ and ‘Pulau Telor.’
Admittingly, the facilities at these islands are not as developed as the ones in Langkawi, as none of them have chalets or hotels there but these four little wonders off the western Kedah coasts aren’t just a bunch of run-of-the-mill islands; they're unique and bursting with diverse beauty.
The best thing about enjoying the turquoise waters of these islands is that the journey is much quicker than going to Langkawi by ferry as in getting there is only a 20-minute boat ride from the Sungai Udang jetty at the town of Yan, which means you'll have more time to splash and frolic on the beach.
And of the four, ‘Pulau Songsong’ has the most to offer as certain stretch of the island's beach is blanketed by hundreds of red pebbles which make for a picturesque Instagram post.