The town of Kuala Kangsar may not be as developed or well-known as the other cities in the Perak state like Ipoh or Taiping — but it is the town where the Sultan of Perak resides, and the site of many important events in the history of Malaysia. This royal town may be small, but it is so steeped in history that is apparent in the colonial buildings and traditional houses found around town. I have only ever read about Kuala Kangsar in my local school textbooks, so I was excited to visit the town — and step into the country’s bygone days.
It was an early start to the day as there were a lot of things to see, do and eat! I was visiting with my friend Mei Ling, and we were actually in town for a filming project — but we made some time to see what Kuala Kangsar has to offer. Some of its famous landmarks are situated slightly out of town, so we spent the morning on a short road trip north to see these sights; and came back to Kuala Kangsar in the afternoon to explore the heritage sites in the town itself.
Laksa Pak Ngah
Mention laksa, and everyone in Kuala Kangsar will tell you to go to Pak Ngah’s Laksa. The version of laksa here (along with most cities on the North of Peninsular Malaysia) is the ‘Asam Laksa‘. Opened since 1955, Pak Ngah has been serving up delicious bowls of this fish-based rice noodles soup for years. Their soup is not as thick as most places, but it still has that salty tangy taste of this popular Malaysian dish. Unfortunately we were in town on a Wednesday, the only day the stall closes. However, we managed to track down one of their many laksa trucks around town (found it near the riverfront market) and I got my two delicious bowls of laksa for breakfast. And some chendol too! A bowl costs RM3.50 (~US$0.8).
Location: Behind Sekolah Menengah Tsung Wah, Jalan Dato Sagor, 33000 Kuala Kangsar, Perak.
Opening Time: 9.00am – 7.00pm daily, closed Wednesdays.
Malaysia’s First Rubber Tree
After breakfast, we decided to make a quick stop to see Malaysia’s First Rubber Tree. The state of Perak is known as one of Malaysia’s biggest rubber exporters. Rubber seeds were first brought in from London; and 7 rubber trees were planted in Kuala Kangsar in 1877. Only one has survived to this day, and is gated up in front of the Kuala Kangsar District Office — commemorating the city’s rubber history. It is, well, a very old healthy-looking tree.
Rubber Estates in Perak
We then left Kuala Kangsar town to enjoy some of the landscape of the district. This part of Malaysia is blessed with lots of hills and greens; farms and plantations. Heading north towards the small sleepy town of Sauk, we turned into Kampung Biong to see some of the rubber plantations that dot the area. My filming team was using one of the estates as a film location set — so we were given permission to have a look see at how an actual rubber plantation looked like. We didn’t stay long though — I got attacked by a leech and was out of there in a jiffy!
Lunch in Sauk
After visiting the rubber estates, we made our way to the New Lau Kai Restaurant in the obscure town of Sauk for lunch. The town is a popular spot for some fresh river fish, but was pretty much devoid of people during our visit. I have been here once before to sample the exquisite (and expensive) Sultan Fish, or ‘Hoven’s Carp’, which was only served to sultans and royals back in the time of Malaya; and became popular during the 70’s and 80’s. We didn’t have Sultan Fish this time around; but we ordered the equally popular dish of local Sauk Fishballs. Smooth, fishy and bouncy — I have to say it is the best kind of fishballs.
Location: Kampung Baharu, 33500 Sauk, Perak.
From Sauk, we travelled back towards Kuala Kangsar, and stopped by the small village of Karai. This is the location of Malaysia’s oldest and most remarkable bridge — the Victoria Bridge. Built in 1897 to aid Perak’s tin mining industry, the single track railway bridge spans about 1000 feet long across the Perak River. It is no longer used for rail traffic (there’s a new concrete railway bridge beside it), but the footbridge is still open to public. The bridge is beautiful, and classically old, and it was scary as hell when I looked between the wide gaps of its wooden tracks at the river below.
Town of Kuala Kangsar
In the afternoon, it was back to Kuala Kangsar to take in the sights of the royal town. We passed by the old colonial shophouses in the center of town, the clock tower at the central roundabout and the warplane displays that seemed pretty out-of-place in this small town; before making our first stop in town at the Kuala Kangsar Malay College.
Kuala Kangsar Malay College
Though we didn’t enter the college (I doubt we’d be allowed to anyway), we made it a point to stop in front of the Kuala Kangsar Malay College. It is exactly like the picture I’ve seen in my school textbook — of the huge, white Greco-Roman building fronted by a spacious rugby field. This all-boys all-Malay college is one of Malaysia’s only premier residential schools under royal patronage.
We then made our way to one of Kuala Kangsar’s most iconic landmarks — the Ubudiah Mosque. Commissioned by the 28th Sultan of Perak, the mosque was completed in 1917 and is an image of magnificence with its white facade and golden domes. It is one of the most beautiful mosques in Malaysia — and it was enough just admiring it from the outside against the bright blue sky.
Right next to the mosque is the traditional Malay mansion of Baitul Anur. Despite its crumbling exterior, we could still step inside and visit this former residence of the Perak Prince — and learn about its history from the posters and pictures on the walls. It really is a pity that this gorgeous work of architecture is now practically rundown — I can just imagine how remarkable it must have been during its heyday. It is one of the old houses in town that truly caught my attention.
After visiting Baitul Anur, we drove past the imposing Iskandariah Palace where the Sultan of Perak resides. Built in 1933, we could only catch glances of the palace from the outside, as it is hidden within the gated grounds.
Kampung Padang Changkat
Just down the road from the palace is Kampung Padang Changkat, home of the royal smiths — who make the garments and accessories for the royal family. Among them is the royal keris-maker, whose family has been honing this traditional craft for four generations. Visitors who are lucky enough to catch him hand-making one of these keris (a Malay asymmetrical dagger) can stay and watch — unfortunately his shop was closed during our visit.
Perak Royal Museum
We then stopped by the Perak Royal Museum just to see the building as it is currently permanently closed. Formerly a royal residence, the building was built in 1926. It looks absolutely grand when viewed from afar with its black and yellow patterned designs — but what’s more impressive is that it is built entirely without nails. I really wished I was allowed to enter the building to admire its interior, and visit the museum that showcases the history of Perak.
Yut Loy Kopitiam
After driving around and stopping by the many traditional houses and former palaces in town — it was time for a little snack! When in Kuala Kangsar, a stop at the old Chinese cafe, Yut Loy (or Yat Lai) is a must. The cafe is famous for its pau — white fluffy buns filled with either chicken, curry beef, peanuts or kaya. The pau are only served after 2.30pm, and it runs out fast! Thankfully, I called to reserve a few pau before heading to the cafe, so we managed to get our hands on these delicious buns (my favorite was the curry beef); and ordered myself a plate of their signature Chicken Chop too. The pau cost about RM2.30 (~US$0.5) per bun, and the Chicken Chop is RM19 (~US$4.50).
Location: 51 Jalan Besar, 30010 Kuala Kangsar, Perak.
Opening Times: 9.00am – 6.00pm daily, closed Sundays.
After satisfying our tummies, it was time to head to our last stop of the day — Kampung Sayong, located across the river from the old town of Kuala Kangsar. Kampung Sayong is the village where the Labu Sayong is made, which is a type of ceramic pottery commonly handcrafted in this part of Malaysia — it’s a clay jug in the shape of a gourd. Laby sayong was used back in the day (and in some villages, till today) to store water. Water stored in the labu sayong is usually left outside at night and is said to stay fresh and cool all day. After visiting one of the many workshops in the village — I bought one to bring home!
Chun Ji Restaurant
That night, we had dinner at Chun Ji Restaurant, one of the few Chinese restaurants that can be found in town. The food was pretty decent — we ordered the ‘Ying Yung’ pork ribs and the buttered mantis prawns; but if there was one dish that really made an impact, it was the Kung Fu Hor Fan. It was the most delicious version of this Chinese dish I have ever tasted. The flat rice noodles served in a vegetables and egg broth was fried to perfection — it just melted in my mouth. A definite must-eat-again if I ever return to Kuala Kangsar.
Location: Jalan Taiping, Taman Suria, 33000 Kuala Kangsar, Perak.
Opening Times: 5.30pm – 1.00am daily.
During our visit to Kuala Kangsar, we stayed at Sayong Resort — located along the river across from the Kuala Kangsar town center. Because the town is relatively small, and off the common tourist map; choices of accommodations are limited. However, Sayong Resort offered us a comfortable stay while we were there — the rooms are clean, the resort is spacious, and it is just a short drive away from all the sights in town. The chalets cost about RM150 (~US$35) a night. I was satisfied, and really enjoyed my short visit to this royal town of Kuala Kangsar.