Some of Malaysia’s cities feel a bit strange, especially in the northern part of the country. This strangeness was certainly present in Alor Setar, the capital of Kedah, where we stopped to experience something more authentic than Langkawi or Penang. Alor Setar is very authentic and not visited much by foreigners, boasting a unique old-world atmosphere. It’s gritty and on the dilapidated side, with a sultan palace and shophouses seemingly trapped in time. Yet the city is incongruous in that it’s also home to modern offerings, such as a state-of-the-art observation tower and an upscale mall of popular stores.
Our first look was at this plaza, postapocalyptic and deserted, with casual murder undertones.
A centerpiece of Alor Setar is the beautiful Masjid Zahir or Zahir Mosque.
There are many historical sites to visit, most of which are as interesting outside as they are in. These include: Balai Besar (The Royal Hall), Menara Jam Besar (Big Clock Tower), Nobat Tower (Hall of Drums), Kota Tengah Palace, Replica of the Royal Gate, the birthplace of Kedah (near Dataran Alor Setar), the Galeri Sultan Abdul Halim (Sultan Gallery), and Muzium Diraja Kedah.
The Menara Alor Setar (Alor Setar Tower) towers over the town, offering views far out to the surrounding rice paddies and a mountain that apparently looks like an elephant.
Everything is beautiful by night, when colorful lights illuminate the already-interesting architecture. It’s pretty quiet in the conservative town after dark, and although not unsafe I wouldn’t necessarily advise wandering.
A stroll down the side streets takes you through old shophouses still in operation and offering up a wide variety of dusty goods for sale. Desolate and dilapidated, yet vibrantly full of color and life, it feels like stepping back in time.
The buildings are often crumbling, spanning out in all directions from downtown.
There is even some super-modern street art to be found…if you wander far enough.
All in all, Alor Setar is probably the most interesting towns I visited in Malaysia.