Imagine riding on a train chugging along the seemingly endless railway track. Looking out the window, you see stretches and stretches of paddy fields, plantations and even dilapidated village houses. Bedazzled by the change of scenery, suddenly, travelling brings on a whole new meaning when you just allow the train to take you to your next destination, without worrying about arriving in the shortest time possible.
With the introduction of the Electric Train Service (ETS) linking Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur to the town of Padang Besar at the Thai border in the north, travelling by train is no longer such a hassle as you had imagined.
The Malaysian national railway operator, Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) currently serves this route regularly throughout the day.
Taking a flight in to Ipoh, Malaysia from Singapore, you may or may not want to spend some time in Ipoh first. If you are new to the city, by all means enjoy yourself. Otherwise, you could just hop on the next available train up north.
The first recommended stop would be Sungai Siput. It is a small town about 25km from Ipoh. Used to be famous for groundnuts, this sleepy town is beginning to pick up economically. There are two worthy attractions here:
1) Ladang Infoternak
A unique agro-tourism experience is to be had at the Ladang Infoternak (Infoternak Farm) in Sungai Siput. The vast grassland of some 200 hectares is an awesome opportunity to get close to nature and farm animals, such as goats, ostriches and deer.
During a trip here, visitors have the opportunity to be educated on the breeding of livestock and the process of goat milk, among other related lessons on the animals.
This farm is an ideal getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. Accommodation facilities make an overnight stay here comfortable and convenient.
Souvenirs to take home include meat and goat milk products.
2) Lubuk Klah Adventure Park
Sungai Siput’s very own hidden natural treasure, Lubuk Klah Adventure Park in Felda Lasah, is an outdoor adventurer’s haven. Besides offering a natural environment, visitors can indulge in various invigorating activities from rafting to abseiling and repelling.
Outdoor courses are offered for team-building participants where the programmes are tailored to nurture the team spirit among them. Going through this programme, participants naturally develop the three main domains of learning – cognitive, affective and psychomotor.
Known as Perak’s Royal Town, Kuala Kangsar is the town of the Perak Sultanate. Located at the crook of Perak River, this town is rich in history and offers plenty of places to explore for the wide-eyed tourists.
Ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful mosques, this Royal Mosque features a golden dome and minarets that catch the eye from afar. Built in 1913 and completed in 1917, it stands majestically atop a hill, Bukit Chandan, next to the Royal Mausoleum.
Designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, the same government architect for the Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur railway stations, anyone who visits Kuala Kangsar is highly recommended to take a photo of the picture-perfect mosque. One could never go wrong with such imposing elegance.
Sultan Azlan Shah Gallery
Also located on Bukit Chandan, a stone’s throw away from Ubudiah Mosque is Istana Ulu, also known as Istana Kota. Built in 1898 and completed in 1903, this magnificent palace was originally the residence of the 28th Sultan of Perak, Sultan Idris Murshidul Al-Adzam Shah, who reigned from 1887 to 1916.
The building was converted into the Sultan Azlan Shah Gallery and officiated on December 9, 2003 by the Sultan himself.
The grand gallery showcases personal belongings and memorabilia of the late Sultan Azlan. It makes a meaningful visit for those who are interested in the Perak Sultanate.
Standing tall just outside the Kuala Kangsar District Office, this rubber tree is believed to be the first and oldest rubber tree planted in Malaysia. It is also the only surviving rubber tree out of the nine that were originally planted.
At 140 years old, this tree is a living testimony of British’s past colonisation of Malaya. The British were responsible in turning rubber into an important source of revenue for Malaya, when Sir Hugh Low, the British Resident of Perak, encouraged the growth of rubber trees, seeing the rapid expansion of the automotive industry in the West.
Ulu Kenas Recreational Forest
Rich in flora and fauna, this tropical rainforest is about 15km from Kuala Kangsar. It is popular among mountain climbers who trek up Mount Bubu (5437ft) which faces the Titiwangsa range, as the forest is situated in the heart of Bubu Forest Reserve.
For tourists who are less adventurous, to enjoy Mother Nature they can have a waterfall picnic here, but remember to bring along food unless it is during the weekend when stalls selling snacks and drinks are open.
Constructed in 1897 by the Perak State Railway and officially opened in 1900 by Sultan Idris Murshidul Al-Adzam Shah, Victoria Bridge in Karai, a small town about 30 minutes’ drive from Kuala Kangsar, is a single-track railway bridge that crosses the Perak River. Also known as Enggor Bridge because it is situated in the District of Enggor, it is one of the oldest railway bridges of this type in the country.
Victoria Bridge played an important role during Kinta Valley’s tin mining boom as trains were used to transport tin ore to the port of Penang.
This bridge has been closed to rail traffic since 2002 as a new concrete bridge to handle transportation was erected nearby, parallel to Victoria Bridge.
Souvenirs – gold thread embroidery / labu sayong / keris
For a small town like Kuala Kangsar, it surprisingly offers plenty of souvenirs for visitors. Whether they are gold embroidered items such as throw pillows, slippers, clothes and bed sets or clay pitchers (labu sayong) and daggers (keris), these hand-crafted items are a good reminder of a trip here.
The embroidery of gold thread on velvet cloth is a dying art form. Nature-inspired floral motifs are painstakingly embroidered by skilled craftswomen.
Meanwhile, clay pitchers are glossy, black, gourd-shaped pitchers carbonised using hot rice husk. This is the state icon for Perak, therefore it’s the most appropriate souvenir or gift.
On the other hand, keris (dagger or sharp-bladed Malay knife), which is a traditional weapon, serves as a symbol of status for the Sultans of Malaysia.
Kuala Kangsar Pau from Yut Loy
A visit to Kuala Kangsar is never complete without a taste of its hometown signature pau (dumpling) from Yut Loy coffee shop. The eatery is an easy find as it is situated along the main road called Jalan Kuala Kangsar. Only sold from 2.30pm onwards and while stocks last, these dumplings come in two mouth-watering variants: chicken and beef. Kuala Kangsar being the Royal Town, it is no surprise that these dumplings are a favourite of the Royal family, too!
The largest town in Perak after Ipoh, Taiping was the state capital from 1876 to 1937 before the administration was relocated to Ipoh. Due to that, development in Taiping slowed significantly. However, the economy in this town, notorious for the amount of rainfall and so is known as the wettest town in Peninsular Malaysia, picked up recently mainly due to tourism.
Taiping Lake Gardens
Established in 1880, picturesque Taiping Lake Gardens, the first public garden to be established in the country, was originally a tin mining ground. The site was donated to be used as a recreation park by a wealthy tin miner, the late Chung Thye Phin.
Throughout the 160-acre gardens are about ten scenic man-made lakes and ponds. Shaded by rows of golden rain trees, Taiping Lake Gardens attracts many holidaymakers, either for a picnic, an evening stroll or photography.
Taiping Zoo & Night Safari
Animals may not interest everyone but Taiping Zoo and its Night Safari are not something that should be missed. In fact, Taiping Zoo is the pioneer zoo in the country to have successfully introduced the Night Safari. What an achievement!
Take your time to check out the wild animals up close without endangering their natural habitat. Taiping Zoo, in particular its Night Safari, is highly recommended as it is a delightful experience.
One of Taiping’s latest attractions, Spritzer EcoPark was officially opened to the public in July of 2015. Owned by Malaysia’s largest bottled water manufacturer, Spritzer, the objective of this eco park is to preserve the nation’s heritage.
The family-oriented park boasts a combination of recreational facilities and activities, alongside historical and educational attractions.
The main features here are the Signature Hole Golf, the 18-hole mini golf course, the Cactus Rock and the Heart Lock Corner, among others.
Excursionists may also opt for a visit to Spritzer’s bottled water plant for an educational tour.
The first, meaning the oldest, museum in Malaysia, Perak Museum in Taiping was established in 1883 and completed only in 1886. It was the brainchild of Sir Hugh Low, the fourth British Resident of Perak (1877 to 1889).
The museum now has four galleries; temporary gallery where items exhibited are rotated regularly, natural gallery, cultural gallery and earthenware-cum-aboriginal gallery.
Although a museum visit may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Perak Museum is worth checking out to learn about the ‘Old World’ via the various artefacts and exhibits.
Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve
This is the oldest mangrove forest in Malaysia and has been acknowledged as the best managed in the world. Gazetted as a Permanent Forest Reserve in 1906, this 40,000-hectare forest is undoubtedly an important site for coastal migratory waterbirds.
A visit to Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve should include dolphin-spotting and bird-watching, where more than fifty species of migratory birds make their annual migration from the northern to southern hemisphere from August to April.
Traditional Charcoal Production
Setting foot into a charcoal factory in Kuala Sepetang is an eye-opener. Using the traditional method of producing charcoal, or known colloquially as black gold, visitors get to see the step-by-step process of how it is done.
The mangrove logs procured are cut into lengths of 1.6m. After debarking, these logs, which now weigh some 20kg each, are moved to the charcoal kiln. Inside it, 1,500 logs are neatly arranged along the wall of the igloo-shaped kiln which has a height of 7 metres.
With only a small opening, a fire is lighted by burning some other logs of wood. As the days pass, the opening of the kiln is closed little by little until it is totally sealed, except for four small windows around the side of the kiln.
That is not the end of the story, obviously! To know more, it calls for a trip there personally. There’s nothing like getting soot on your clothes and shoes.
Kamunting is the next stop for the train heading north from Taiping. It is just a short five-minute ride. Although Kamunting is the biggest industrial town in Taiping’s District of Larut and Matang, there is nothing much to do for vacationers.
Bukit Jana Waterfall
However, the touristic gem here would be the Bukit Jana Waterfall. Albeit small in size, it is easy to access. A relaxing time could be enjoyed here from a refreshing dip in the clean and cool water, without facing too many challenges that are associated with waterfalls.
Do take note that as with all water activities, precautions have to be taken.
Firefly-watching in Kampung Dew
Although there is no train to Semanggol where Kampung Dew is located, it is just a short drive from Bukit Jana Waterfall in Kamunting. The main attractions here are the firefly colonies. Firefly-watching can only be done in the evening from around 7.30pm until 9pm. The peak season is from May to July.
Kampung Dew, where fireflies are abundant at the mangrove swamps, was named as one of the top three successful firefly conservation sanctuaries in the world.
The glow of the fireflies, or lightning bugs, as they flicker seemingly in synchronisation is impressive even to seasoned travellers. This spectacular natural light show by the hundreds of thousands of fireflies (during peak season) is definitely not to be missed.
Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation
About 15 minutes’ drive up north from Kampung Dew is Bukit Merah Laketown Resort. This is the gateway to Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation, which runs Orang Utan conservation, infant care, education and research programmes here on this island.
The Orang Utan is a primate closest to humans, therefore, in the Malay language, it means “Man of the Forest”.
At Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation, the only ex-situ orang utan conservatory of this kind in the country, primates are conserved, cared for and rehabilitated. They are subsequently released to their natural habitat.
Visitors to Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation are able to learn the important programmes that are being run here and are also allowed visual contact with the animals, making this an exceptionally educational trip.
Two train stops away from Kamunting is Parit Buntar. This quiet town is situated in the north of Kerian District. It is a crucial commercial centre in the northern region, more so because of its strategic location – across the river is Bandar Baharu, Kedah while north across the boundary road is Penang. That is the uniqueness of Parit Buntar in Kerian District, where its river, Kerian, marks the boundary of three states; Perak, Kedah and Penang.
Parit Buntar Night Market
There is not much to see or do for sightseers in Parit Buntar. However, if you do make a stop here, you need to plan it on a Friday. This is because there is the night market (pasar malam) where local traders offer for sale an extensive range of items from food to clothing, hardware, kitchenware and plenty more.
This night market, which boasts as many as 800 hawkers, can be found right in the middle of the old town area, covering at least five streets from 4.30pm until about 9.30pm. It is huge by any standard. Therefore, be prepared to spend at least an hour or two here.
Mini Perak at Dataran Sungai Kerian
A favourite hangout spot for the locals is at the square on the riverbank of Kerian River along Jalan Sungai. Nearby is a “Mini Perak” where all districts of Perak are represented with miniature monuments.
What is there to do here but take plenty of photographs!
The next train stop after Parit Buntar in Perak is Nibong Tebal. It is a small, tranquil town located in Seberang Perai Selatan in Penang, Perak’s neighbouring state. Surrounded by endless acres of oil palm plantations, a train journey passing through Nibong Tebal offers a stunning scenery.
Ochee – black thorn durian / Nibong Tebal Durian Festival
If you make a trip here, it would be more memorable if it is during Nibong Tebal Durian Festival, that is, if you love the durian! Known as durian haven on this side of Penang, durian aficionados come here for black thorn durians, or in the local Hokkien dialect, Ochee.
The durian is a seasonal fruit so, it is quite difficult to be in Nibong Tebal just at the right time when the fruit is in season. Still, it is an awesome experience to join in the celebration of the crown jewel of the King of Fruits.
Fancy watching the glowing lights of thousands of fireflies as they dance around the mangrove trees? Yes, firefly-watching is also a favoured activity here in Nibong Tebal. Apart from that, another great attraction here is the sunset cruise, arranged by Amazing Planner.
During the cruise along Kerian River, passing by mangrove trees, the boat heads towards the largest sea cage fish farm where guests are able to indulge in fish-feeding. On the return trip, there are plenty of opportunities to watch the fireflies as they come out for their nightly activity.
The last train stop for our Northern Rail Adventure is Butterworth, as this is where travellers disembark to head to Penang Island by crossing the Selatan Strait (South Strait).
Butterworth, the principal town of Seberang Perai on the mainland side of Penang, was named after William John Butterworth, Governor of the Straits Settlements (1843 – 1855).
The local people know Butterworth as “Bagan”, which in Malay means “jetty”.
Penang Bird Park
A short distance away from the railway station is Penang Bird Park. Established in 1988, the 5-acre bird park is the first and largest bird park of its kind in the country. With a collection of more than 300 species of birds from all over the world, more than 3,000 birds call this bird park home.
The two gigantic walk-in aviaries give visitors pleasant memories as they get to hand-feed these birds. The neatly landscaped bird park presents an enchanting garden concept, making a visit here an enjoyable, wholesome activity.
Tow Boo Kong temple, Jalan Raja Uda
Best visited during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, this majestic Tow Boo Kong temple along Jalan Raja Uda in Butterworth, Seberang Perai is not difficult to spot. The first thing one would notice is its imposing arch, which was built at a cost of MYR1.5 million back in 2008.
The Tow Boo Kong temple was completed at a cost of MYR7 million in 2000. It took the hard work of fifty skilled craftsmen imported from China to build the temple.
The altars are very elaborate with separate prayer halls for different deities. Within the temple grounds is an inner courtyard where a huge stone carving stands. It has a total of nine dragons. The main one in the middle spews water from its mouth.
Opposite the fountain is a huge painting that features a hundred children which signifies the continuity of generation after generation.
…..and off to Penang Island
Travelling overland from Butterworth to Penang Island is a piece of cake, thanks to connectivity via Penang Bridge and Second Penang Bridge (Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah Bridge).
Therefore, it is possible to take a bus to Penang Island from Butterworth. However, which bus you take depends on where you intend to disembark on the island.
If you opt for the ferry, head to the Sultan Halim Ferry Terminal just next to the Butterworth train station. The trip across South Strait to Georgetown on the island takes about 20 minutes for the 3km distance.
Ferry intervals are about 20 minutes so there is never the hassle of waiting too long.
So, there you have it. Are you game to embark on this Northern railway adventure yet?
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