I’ve passed through Alor Setar many times over the years, but I was usually en route to somewhere else. It took a pandemic (and travel limitations) for me to discover what a true gem this Malaysian city is. Beyond, of course, the ferry terminal, bus and train stations. With their home state of Kedah’s tagline of “Where it all began.” I can now believe it. The diversity and historic significance of the entire Kedah region is impressive. But Alor Setar itself? A pleasant surprise for anyone exploring northern Malaysia. History, culture, food, shopping and even street art; you name it and Alor Setar probably has it. There are so many things to do in Alor Setar you will need several days just to cover the bulk of it.
But for newbies to this eclectic city, here’s a little background info and mini guide for first time visitors. Although I’m no expert on Alor Setar, hopefully I can at least help you cut to the chase a bit and make the most of your time there. *Do note that this mini guide was created between pandemic era ‘lockdowns’ and regular hours of operation (or access), for some listings, are likely to be affected.
Where is Alor Setar?
Alor Setar is located in the Kota Setar district of the state of Kedah in Northwestern Peninsular Malaysia. The city is about 257 square miles in size. It’s the second largest city in Kedah after Sungai Petani. Alor Setar is also the state capital of Kedah. The capital city is about 48 kilometers from the Malaysia-Thailand border and about 12 kilometers from Kuala Kedah and the mouth of the Kedah River where it connects with the Straits of Melaka.
Here’s a map, to help you find your way.
Some Alor Setar History
Kedah’s own history is unique, vast and complicated. Knowing any part (or version) of it may give visitors a greater appreciation for what this region of Northern Malaysia has to offer. Archaeological evidence discovered in Kedah’s Bujang Valley show that a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom ruled Kedah as early as 110 A.D. proving ancient Kedah to be one of the oldest (if not the oldest) civilizations in Southeast Asia. Kedah was once also part of the Kingdom of Setul Mambang Segara from 1808 to 1916. This kingdom included the Province of Satun, Thailand.
The kingdom was created due to the partitions between the rulers of the Royal House of Kedah, after the King of Siam (Ayutthaya Kingdom) decided to replace Sultan Dziaddin Mukarram Shah II (the 21st Sultan of Kedah; 1797 to 1803) with his nephew, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin II as the ruler of Kedah. That didn’t go over too well with the rightful heir to the throne, so the King of Siam put him (Shah II) in charge of the newly created Kingdom of Setul. Sounds considerate, right? Except the Siamese (Thai) military eventually invaded Kedah in 1821 and basically took over everything for a while anyway.
By 1909, the British Empire got involved and as part of the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 the Kingdom of Setul Mambang Segara was divided once again. The area of present day Satun Province went to Siam and the remaining area became part of British Malaya. Of course, during World War II, when the Japanese military invaded Malaya in 1941, they decided to return Kedah to Thailand. Thankfully that didn’t last too long, but it did last long enough just to help make Kedah’s history a real mish-mash of a complicated turn of events.
Presently there are 12 districts in Kedah and 28 mukims (townships). The Kota Setar district includes namesake mukim Kota Setar, whose capital city is Alor Setar. Alor Setar was founded in 1735, by Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin II (19th Sultan of Kedah; 1710 to 1778) as the state’s eighth administrative center. But (according to Wikipedia) it wasn’t until December 2003, that Alor Setar officially became a capital city. At that time, the powers that be changed the city’s name to Alor Star, for some reason. But in January 2009, the powers that be decided to rename Kedah’s capital city Alor Setar again. Alor Setar, by the way, comes from ‘Alor’, which mean small stream or river and ‘Setar’ which refers to the Gandaria or Plum Mango tree (“Bouea macrophylla Griff”).
Things To Do In Alor Setar
Although this mini guide is focused on Alor Setar city, a few other see and do options are just a short drive away and well worth the small effort to get to them. But the bulk of the city sights are in the center of town, within a reasonable walking distance from each other; making sightseeing in Alor Setar a breeze.
KUALA KEDAH FORT & MUSEUM (Muzium Kota Kuala Kedah)
Despite having taken the ferry from Langkawi Island to Kuala Kedah so many times over the years, imagine my surprise to realize that there’s a fort perched seaside, across from the Kuala Kedah Ferry Terminal. I honestly never knew! Just look across the water at the fort’s lighthouse landmark and you will see just how close it is (as the crow flies). In reality the fort is about a 15-minute drive from the ferry terminal (or RM5 taxi ride). From Alor Setar, it’s only about 13 kilometers.
Fort Kuala Kedah (also known as Fort Kuala Bahang) is considered one of the oldest Malay forts in northern Malaysia. It’s seen a lot of history since its original completion in the 1600s. It was originally built of clay, bakau timber and bamboo by then ruler Sultan Sulaiman Shah (the 12th Sultan of Kedah; 1602 to 1626), and Portuguese allies. The fort was initially built to help fight off the Ache Sultanate, who at the time had been destroying pepper plantations in Langkawi in order to monopolize the region’s pepper industry. The Ache Armada eventually attacked the fort in 1619 and took Sultan Sulaiman Shah prisoner.
In 1770, the Bugis Armada also attacked the fort, and despite being repaired numerous times over its lifetime, the fort suffered further damages when the Siamese army attacked in 1821. However, in 1909 when Kedah came under British rule, new government offices were built on the premises, a lighthouse was added, and a new archway was installed to replace the old Kacapuri Archway. That archway, by the way, collapsed in 1970 and was rebuilt in 2000 by the Department of Museums.
Today Fort Kuala Kedah and Museum remains an important Kedah historic site with plenty of information to share. In the center of the waterfront grounds, the old palace turned court house now houses a collection of over 60 artifacts, including archeological findings, ceramics, and old cannons. Display information is provided in English and Bahasa. The grounds are surrounded by old and new brick wall with peep hole windows for a few sea facing cannons. All in all, it’s quite an interesting museum and would likely appeal to fort-loving, children as well as adults. Open daily: 0900-1700/ Entry: Free
KEDAH PADDY MUSEUM (Muzium Padi)
The Kedah Paddy Museum is located near Gunung Keriang, about 10 kilometers from both Alor Setar city center and the Kuala Kedah Ferry Terminal. The Kedah Paddy Museum is surrounded by padi fields and is fittingly modeled after ‘gemai padi’ and cleverly resembles bundles of paddy stalks. There is one main building ‘bundle’ and six smaller bundle buildings surrounding it; totaling about 2,000 square meters.
There are three levels to the museum, with the third (top) level being the biggest scene stealer. Level 3 has a massive 360-degree mural depicting bird’s eye views of the surrounding Gunung Keriang and Alor Setar landscape. The mural includes vignettes of community life painted throughout the picturesque 360-degree masterpiece. It’s the work of 60 North Korean artists who spent two years living in nearby villages, as part of their pre-mural research. The third level viewing deck also rotates, so visitors can simply gaze out at the horizon and be one with the passing landscape. It’s quite an amazing view.
Level 2 (also the main entrance level) continues the rice journey with six galleries tucked into the ecliptic interior walls of the six gemai ‘bundle’ buildings. The galleries display paintings, illustrations and dioramas of the rice industry both locally and internationally. The cultivation styles of padi farming are also explained. Level 1 is a continuation of rice cultivating, with displays of rice products, traditional rice baskets, tools and various by products. The information provided is in English as well as Bahasa.
The Kedah Paddy Museum is the bomb when it comes to rice museums. It has everything you ever wanted to know about the Malaysia rice industry. I was so excited to have finally had the chance to visit that I even wrote a full ‘review’, which you can read HERE But you really need to see it for yourself to truly appreciate how cool it is. And be sure to give yourself at least one full hour for your visit. Open daily: 0900-1700/ Entry: RM5
MOUNT KERIANG RECREATIONAL PARK (Gunung Keriang Recreational Park)
From a distance Gunung Keriang does indeed look like the island it is purported to have once been, only now the surrounding sea is padi fields and kampung houses. And like the Hollywood beacon, the Gunung Keriang sign welcomes visitors to this magnificent nature destination. Despite the slightly askew lettering, the sign and mysterious limestone mountain definitely worked its magic on me. I beelined it there, on my last trip to Alor Setar, with high hopes of doing some exploring. A mere 8 kilometers from town also makes it an easy day trip.
Mount Keriang is said to be about 250 million years old. Yup, you heard that right, 250 million! The mountain itself has a vast number of mini caves dotting its exterior and obviously popular with Edible Nest Swiftlets, but the grand finale is the not so diminutive Gua Keriang (cave), which is open to the adventuring public who are willing to hike 30-minutes or so to the top of the mountain. This cave is famous for having crystals, which were much more abundant during pre-tourism days. For the less adventurous, there is a recreational park adjacent to the mountain, with a children’s playground, a couple of gazebos, benches and a duck pond. The park also has a small river running through it, with bridges crossing into the nearby kampung.
During the mid-week, when I visited, it was a ghost town. Besides a small group of elderly men, I saw few people, nor were any shops open. Lots of monkeys though! Being as I was alone, I kept to the main road and stayed visible rather than wander off into unknown terrain. I would advise the same for other single visitors as well; especially the ladies.
The park does have walking trails with railings, but do be aware that there are many monkeys just waiting to make new friends, so watch your bags. The main park road skirts the mountain and leads to a non-working elevator and (presently) weed strewn parking lot. It’s unknown to me if this closed area is pandemic related or just planned obsolescence, where popular spots simply fall apart from lack of maintenance.
Either way, the park is a bit rustic but worth a visit. You can call Mr. Abdull Rahman Bin Hussin to enquire about guided tours to the cave; his number is 017-445 5059/ 019-492 2508. He also has an office on the premises. Open daily/ Entry: Free
PEKAN RABU (Wednesday Market)
As a newbie to Alor Setar, I had only seen a few online photos of Pekan Rabu (Wednesday Market). It was generally touted as a traditional market yet the online photos I’d seen didn’t quite fit the bill. In person it wasn’t the bells and whistles of traditional goods shopping I’d hoped for either… however, timing is everything. My initial visit unfortunately fell late afternoon on a Friday or a holiday and many shop doors were closed.
But a mid-week return visit rewarded me with the potential shopping spree of my dreams. Right off the bat I regretted that there was only one of me (with just two hands) and I was relying on public transportation to boot. It would have been a great challenge to juggle all the goods I wanted. So, a word to the wise, if you are heading to Pekan Rabu to shop, be prepared with extra heavy duty shopping bags or a few extra hands.
But Pekan Rabu is more than just a shopping complex. It’s another one of Alor Setar’s historic gems, with a history which began back during World War I! Tunku Yaacob Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid (the 18th Prince of the 26th Sultan of Kedah) wanted to show Malays that they could prosper in business, beyond just farming and agriculture, and encouraged them to get directly involved with trading and other commercial activities. His training ground was a Wednesday market (which he started in 1920) near Tanjung Chali. It was named Pekan Nat and later Pekan Rabu.
In 1931, Pekan Rabu was relocated to its present location on Jalan Tunku Ibrahim. By December 1941, the Japanese military invaded Malaya and descended upon Alor Setar. It was during this time that another famous Malaysian was forced to drop his school studies and he went into trading at Pekan Rabu; Alor Setar hometown hero, Tun Dr. Mahathir; the 4th and 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia. He sold fruit and handicrafts at Pekan Rabu until the end of World War II.
But Tun Dr. Mahathir didn’t forget his days at Pekan Rabu. After the good doctor went into politics, he eventually turned the humble Pekan Rabu into a multi-story, shopping complex, which was officially opened in 1978 by then-Deputy Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir, himself. Pekan Rabu got another refurbishing in 2014. Definitely worth stopping in on your future visit to Alor Setar. Pekan Rabu also has an amazing food court, so be sure to save your appetite for some delicious traditional Malaysian cuisine. Open daily: 1000-2000
ALOR SETAR CITY TRAIL (Jerejak Bandar City Trail )
I’m not sure what the intention of this city trail map originally was, because it doesn’t list every visit-worthy spot in the immediate area. But for the directionally challenged you may find it helpful, so snap a photo and follow the trail! Look for the 250 year memorial tower at the corner of Jalan Tunku Ibrahim and Jalan Raja and the map is behind the tower. The following listings include the city trail map’s eight listings.
KEDAH STATE ART GALLERY (Balai Seni Negeri Kedah)
If not for the large paintings adorning the front of this building, its designation as the Kedah State Art Gallery might escape the average tourist. The building was initially used as a high court building and was one of the first modern government buildings in Alor Setar. The building was originally constructed in 1893 and completed in 1912, making its present closure for refurbishing a smart plan.
By 1931, the high court relocated and left the building to eventually (and unceremoniously) become the city’s Public Works and Sewage and Drainage Department’s home offices. Thankfully by 1983, the building’s beauty and historic value found renewed appreciation and it was converted to the Balai Seni Negeri Kedah (Kedah State Art Gallery). The gallery (when open) showcases art works of Kedah artists. *Presently closed for refurbishing
DATARAN MEDAN BANDAR (Park)
Medan Bandar basically means ‘city park’, but rather than grassy knolls this park is more like a slick cement carpark. A picturesque fountain centerpiece and surrounding historic buildings complete the community hangout, especially in the evenings when the place comes alive with family gatherings.
It’s located directly across from the Zahir Mosque and is also home to the Instagram famous Alor Setar sign. From the Menara (tower) you can get a bird’s eye view, which shows how sizable the park is. On the City Trail map, the fountain is earmarked for this listing (#2). Open daily
ROYAL HALL (Noble Hall) (Balai Besar)
Once known as the ‘Grand Audience Hall’, the Royal Hall is where Kedah’s most important events were held; such as royal weddings, coronations and the like. The gate was unfortunately locked when I visited, but the building itself is interesting to ponder from afar. The building’s design was created by Ahmad Lebai Tamby, an architect from the Alor Setar Public Works Department.
The sign at the front states that the original building was built of wood, in 1735, by Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin Muazzam Shah (the 19th Sultan of Kedah; 1710 to 1778) and was rebuilt, in 1896/1898, by the Sultan Abdul Halim Hamid Shah (the 26th Sultan of Kedah; 1881 to 1943) after destructive attacks by Bugis (in 1770) and Siam (in 1821). The original 42 main pillars that were made of hardwood are presently still intact. There are (or were) supposedly golden carvings and Chinese mirrors on the ceiling, which would be lovely to see if they are still there, so if you get the opportunity to go inside go for it! Opening hours: unknown
ZAHIR MOSQUE (Masjid Zahir)
Built in 1912, the stunning Zahir Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia. It was officially opened in 1915, by Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah (the 26th Sultan of Kedah; 1881 to 1943), to honor the Kedah warriors who lost their lives fighting the Siamese army in 1821. Zahir Mosque is also the state mosque of Kedah. The mosque’s design was inspired by the Azizi Mosque in Northern Sumatra. At night, the mosque is lit up making it look especially magical. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome to visit if properly attired; men and women should have arms and legs covered and women are advised to wear a head scarf. Open daily: 0700-1900/ Entrance: Free
BIG CLOCK TOWER (Menara Jam Besar)
Even though town clocks are typically souvenirs from the good (and not so good), colonial times, I really like them. Alor Setar’s Menara Jam Besar is especially interesting because it steers away from strictly colonial style and has additional Islamic as well as Hindu design elements included. The clock tower was built in 1912 to work in tandem with the Zahir Mosque (across the street) and the call to prayers. Do note that the building is actually leaning a bit and it’s not your imagination (or your camera’s fault). Open daily (outdoor viewing only)
SULTAN ABDUL HALIM GALLERY (Galeri Sultan Abdul Halim)
The Sultan Abdul Halim Gallery was built in 1922 and was originally used as a High Court. It was used as a High Court until 2005 and repurposed in 2007 to its present incarnation as a gallery. The gallery houses the extensive collection of memorabilia from the life of Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah (the 28th Sultan of Kedah; 1958 to 2017). I had no idea this building was a sightseeing option until someone told me about it later. But I did see it from outside, and have the photo to prove it! Open: Sunday–Thursday, 1000–1700/ Entry: RM5
HALL OF DRUMS (Balai Nobat Tower)
At a glance, the Balai Nobat may just looks like a decorative tower or something. But, oh no, it’s much more than that. Although not listed on the City Trail map, the Nobat tower is the official storage space for royal musical instruments. The three-story tower was originally built (of wood) in the mid 1700s. It has been rebuilt twice since, with the last remodel being in 1906 when it was rebuilt of concrete.
These special musical instruments are used to create what is referred to as Nobat Music; two small drums, two medium-sized drums, a trumpet and a gong are the usual ensemble. Nobat music is only played when requested by His Majesty the Sultan when ceremonial music is required. You can hear what Nobat music sounds like HERE Open daily (outdoor viewing only)
ROYAL MUSEUM (Muzium Diraja)
Many older historic museums in Malaysia tend to have originally been a royal family home (or palace) before becoming a government building. The Royal Museum is no exception and was originally the Kota Setar Palace. It was built in 1735/1736 by Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin Mu’adzam Shah II (the 19th Sultan of Kedah; 1710 to 1778), when Alor Setar became the 8th administrative center of Kedah.
The palace was renamed ‘Istana Pelamin’ in 1904 by Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah (the 26th Sultan of Kedah; 1881 to 1943). The Japanese military took over the palace during their World War II invasion and after a few more incarnations, the building was eventually abandoned. Renovations finally came in 1983 and the palace became the Kedah Royal Museum.
Expect to spend at least an hour here as it is jam packed with Royal Family memorabilia. Photography is not allowed beyond the front foyer, so don’t expect to be taking any photos or videos. However, you should bring a notepad because there are plenty of plaques to read (in both Bahasa and English) and you may want to jot down some interesting facts. Open daily: 0900-1700 (Closed 1230-1430)/ Entry: Free
ALOR SETAR TOWER (Menara Alor Setar)
An absolutely not-to-be-missed in Alor Setar, is a visit to the top of Menara Alor Setar. Not only is this tower your best visual landmark, for ground level navigation, it also offers a bird’s eye view of Alor Setar and beyond. You can even see Langkawi and Pulau Payar Island from the top!
The 165.5 meter futuristic-looking tower is the third tallest telecommunication tower in Malaysia. It has an (inside) observation deck at 88 meters, a revolving restaurant at 94 meters, a banquet hall at 100 meters, and the invigorating, icing on the tower experience cake, an open deck at 105 meters. There are also 2 glass boxes built on the open deck that fearless visitors can get an even better view from.
Although the tower looks very modern in comparison to the many surrounding historic sites, its design is apparently inspired by Kedah and symbolic of some old school specialties that non-locals will be clueless about; such as the tower representing tied rice clusters and the main supporting pillar symbolizing the strength of the people of Kedah. Sounds like a bit of a stretch, but whatever works.
The Alor Setar tower has two high speed elevators that can take you from ground level to the top in 48 seconds. It’s a smooth ride. Attentive (and very friendly) staff are available on all levels. Open daily: 0830-2230/ Entry: RM10
AMAN CENTRAL MALL
Shoppers rejoice! Alor Setar is blessed with the fabulous Aman Central Mall. Alor Setar actually has several decent malls, but Aman Central was a big hit with this tourist in desperate need of some retail therapy! In addition to Parkson department store, the five-story development offers many international fashion brands (including H&M and UniQlo). With 300 specialty stores and 65 smaller shops, you are sure to find most anything you want or need under the Aman Central roof.
Electronics, food, beauty supplies, books and much more. Aman Central also has the largest cinema in Kedah with 10 screens! Wow, right? There’s an Apple retail and repair shop there too. Can check Aman Central’s website HERE Open daily: 1000-2200
After a day of sightseeing or shopping, nothing beats a foot and leg massage. At least in my book. And nothing makes me happier than to walk through the front door of a spa or massage shop and get immediate attention either. So, for fans of a good rub down, your heaven awaits just outside of Aman Central Mall on Jalan Sekerat. Super affordable too! If you’re overwhelmed by the choices, then just go with ‘Sihat’ (in blue letters) or any place where staff are not visibly sleeping in chairs. Your feet will thank you later.
KEDAH STATE MUSEUM (Muzium Negeri Kedah Darul Aman)
If you want to learn about Kedah, Malaysia, the Kedah State Museum is the place to go. Originally known as the Kedah History Museum, the museum has grown, relocated and had a name change since its beginning back in 1957. The Kedah State Museum was (and still is) such a big hit with patrons that funding was allotted to build a new venue in 1997; spacious enough to properly exhibit all of its collections.
The new museum is five floors worth of spaciousness and contains an overwhelming amount of information. Fascinating, but it is a lot to absorb in one visit. There are 10 permanent galleries which cover everything from wedding attire and traditional games to Kedah’s diverse history and wartime activities.
Photography isn’t allowed, but if you have media credentials (or happen to be an award-winning blogger like yours truly) permission may be granted. As long as you don’t interrupt the museum experience of other visitors. The Kedah State Museum exhibits are top notch and the gallery layout is well thought out and easy to navigate. You will appreciate Kedah’s uniqueness even more after visiting this museum. Open daily: 0900-1700/ Entry: Free
ALOR SETAR STREET ART
Having already seen street art trending in 5 other Peninsular Malaysia cities, I was still surprised to discover Alor Setar had also jumped on the bandwagon. Many murals had already existed around Alor Setar, but in July 2020 (during the early days of the Covid pandemic situation), the Alor Setar City Council spearheaded the Alor Setar Art Corner project as part of the state’s RM528,000 city rejuvenation plan.
The area of Lorong Setar, near Jalan Tunku Yaakub and surrounding side streets, now features 18 murals highlighting Alor Setar’s history and heritage. Twenty-six artists were enlisted to tackle this challenge and from what I’ve seen I’d say they’ve been pretty successful. The artists are also members of three mural painting groups; Persatuan Pelukis Alor Setar, Angkatan Pelukis Kedah and Warison Taiping Malaysia.
Lorong Setar begins by Sungai Kedah (Kedah River) near Taman Pesisiran Tanjung Chali and the Pekan Melayu-Pekan Cina bridge. Murals can be seen along Lorong Setar and scattered side streets and alleys, in addition to a few sculptures and interactive 3D paintings. Open daily/ Entry: Free
CELINE TAN CLINIC
One might not typically add ‘get medical services’ to their sightseeing to-do list, but visiting Celine Tan Clinic is what got me to Alor Setar to begin with. I had needed to see a dermatologist and Alor Setar was my best option during Malaysia’s movement control orders, since I was in ‘lockdown’ in Kedah. But what a pleasant surprise. Not only did I get a clean bill of health skin-wise (no skin cancer), I was also introduced to non-invasive, skin enhancement treatments and the world of medical aesthetics.
Celine Tan Clinic’s various treatments are not just focused on aesthetics, they also provide treatments for chronic skin conditions, such as severe acne and eczema. The entire staff is compassionate as well as professional too, so you will feel more relaxed and less self-conscious. You can read more about my experience HERE Open: Wednesday-Monday, 0900-1700
There are, of course, lots more things to see and things to do in Alor Setar than what I have listed, but for the newbies it should be a good start. Kept me plenty busy that’s for sure! Unfortunately, some places, such as Rumah Merdeka and Istana Kuning, I have thus far been unable to actually look inside, but they are still interesting buildings to see from their grounds’ locked gates. One day those gates will be unlocked! Until then, Alor Setar is still a fascinating city to explore, for domestic as well as international tourists.
Where To Stay in Alor Setar
Here’s a tip. For first time visitors, focus on accommodation options in the area of Aman Central Mall; referred to as Kampung Lubok Peringgi if you want to be specific. Otherwise, it’s just ‘Alor Setar’. I stayed at three hotels in this area and two were exceptional. I’ll spare you the gory details of the third hotel, as it was a complete fail. I’m sure there are a few other winners in the area, but I can at least personally recommend two; Royale Signature Hotel and the Fuller Hotel.
ROYALE SIGNATURE HOTEL
The Royale Signature Hotel is about 3 city blocks from the Aman Central Mall. It isn’t considered a budget hotel, but I’d say their rates are extremely reasonable for what you get. My room had a plush bed, closet, desk, TV, fast internet, mini fridge, coffee/tea set and a glorious bath tub and rain shower. City views from the windows are also noteworthy.
The downside was the extra walking distance. Especially at night. Other than that, the Royale Signature Hotel is quiet, clean, comfortable, and they have very helpful front desk staff. You can check their rates and availability HERE
On the budget end, the Fuller Hotel is a great choice. The rooms are very basic, but clean and comfortable. Amenities include a desk, TV, fast internet, coffee/tea set, adequate floor space, and a good strong shower.
The Fuller Hotel’s buzzy location is just one block from Aman Central Mall and plenty of street food nearby in addition to a well-stocked, mini mart across the street. Front desk staff are available 24-7 and keep a sharp eye on the entrance as well. The area is well lit at night too. You can check their rates and availability HERE
Don’t like my hotel picks? Check Booking.com for more options!
Places To Eat in Alor Setar
Besides a lot of eateries within the Aman Central Mall itself, there are many local cafes and restaurants in the area. Street vendors are also plentiful as well as a 7-11 and a few more Mom and Pop style sundry shops. Across from The Royale Signature Hotel is Café Abang Viral, which looks very promising (but unfortunately, I couldn’t catch them open). And for sushi lovers, there’s Hoya Japanese Restaurant next door to the Fuller Hotel. Hoya serves up generous sized sushi, sashimi and pretty much all of your Japanese favorites. They’re the real deal.
The best grazing options I found, however, were across from the Fuller Hotel down Jalan Pintu Sepuluh, close to busy Jalan Putra. Kafe Rolex (Rolex Café) is a hawkers center that has loads of choices (including vegetarian). The Chicken Rice, is possibly the best I’ve ever tasted too. Beverages are also available (including beer). The vibe is relaxed and friendly for dining in and takeaway is available. I’ve eaten here more than 6 times and have never been disappointed. All good. Really!
Along the roadside near the Rolex Café are several vendors selling noodle dishes, kuih, baked goods and meat on sticks. Try to get there early (mid-afternoon on) because they close up just after sunset or when they sell out.
Another sure shot winner is Pekan Rabu. The food court area of Pekan Rabu is spacious and offer many tasty options throughout the day. Looking for a traditional Laksa Kedah or Laksam Utara? Make a bee line for Gerai Mak Teh. Prefer something more ‘western’? Mama Kami 2 offers hot off the grill burgers and hot dogs!
Down by the river, in Pekan Cina, is Restaurant Hai Choo, which is located inside the compound of the historic Tua Pek Kong Temple (built in 1862!) Hai Choo serves typical Asian dishes and have the quiet ambience of the river, which adds a bit of contemplative magic to their open-air dining experience. After sunset, the lights of the city and the warm glow of the temple’s lanterns are reflected on the waters of the river.
Getting Around Alor Setar
Besides walking, GRAB taxis are the way to go in Alor Setar. They have excellent rates and drivers can be found in some of the remotest of locations. I was even able to get a GRAB pick up from Gunung Keriang Recreational Park in the middle of the week! That ride cost about RM13, btw. You can easily download the GRAB App from Google Play Store too.
How To Get To Alor Setar
(Cars, Buses, Trains, Ferries, and Planes)
One of the beauties of Alor Setar is that you have several convenient choices for getting to and from there. No need for any four-wheel driving through a dense jungle, or using a private tour guide (who’s the only one who knows the way). If you have your own wheels, more power to you, but if you don’t no problem. Buses, trains, ferries and (even) airplanes all service the Kota Setar district making Alor Setar one big, fabulous transportation hub.
They say all roads lead to Rome? Well, the same could be said for Kedah, Malaysia too. Peninsular Malaysia’s North-South Expressway runs from Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kedah (the Malaysia-Thailand border) all the way to Kuala Lumpur and beyond. By car, Alor Setar is about a 7-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and a 1 to 2-hour drive from Penang.
Bus travel in Malaysia is rock solid, but it can be a bit confusing for newbies because many small towns are also listed. Thankfully Alor Setar is a major destination and has plenty of buses passing thru; North, South, East and West. If you are booking online, take a good look at the bus companies and what the ride looks like. Some are more comfortable than others, and you can check out the seating options as well. *I like to buy 2 seats (together) especially if it’s a night bus.
Train travel to and from Kedah is superb. And easy. The train station in Alor Setar is close enough to ‘downtown’ to walk to or you can easily call a GRAB taxi from the station. There is a track change in Butterworth, so don’t let that confuse you. ETS (Electric Train Service) operates from Gemas, Negeri Sembilan to Padang Besar, Perlis and has a stop in Alor Setar. KTM (Komuter Train) also provides service between Butterworth and Padang Besar. With a stop, of course, in Alor Setar. This option is part of Langkawi to Penang in 4 Easy (and Cheap) Steps
Ferry service to and from Langkawi and Kuala Kedah is daily, with several ferries available. For travel on weekends, holidays and during pandemic lockdowns, it would be wise to secure your tickets in advance. I also recommend purchasing roundtrip just in case, because sometimes tickets will sell out or a last-minute schedule change happens. You can check the latest ferry schedule updates HERE
This option is also part of Langkawi to Penang in 4 Easy (and Cheap) Steps
In a hurry to get to Alor Setar? The Sultan Abdul Halim Airport is just 11 kilometers north of the Kedah capital city. Air Asia and Malindo usually offer flights there, but that would presently depend on pandemic issues.
Need more information?
Kedah Tourism has an office on Jalan Sultan Badlishah at Wisma PKNK
Tel: 04-735 3664/ 0031 or email: [email protected]
There you have it. A quick guide look at Alor Setar, Kedah, Malaysia. A city (and region) with a fascinating history and well worth visiting more than a few times. And for those who are Alor Setar experts, please feel free to share your own tips or suggestions in the comments below!
Lisa Nazim says
Wonderful article! Well done! I know that Alor Setar doesn’t receive the large number of tourists that flock to Langkawi for the beaches, but in my opinion it is an elegant and proud city. I also love the museums and the historic buildings. Thanks for mentioning my father in law, Tunku Yaacob, who founded the market. FYI the fancy shopping mall Aman Central, was originally going to be Plaza Tunku Yaacob, and is on his land.
Vanessa Workman says
Thanks Lisa and wow, Aman Central founded by your father in law… wow. I love that mall too. Discovered it during the pandemic. In fact, I discovered Alor Setar during the pandemic because my travel was limited to Kedah state. Which turned out to be a silver lining because Alor Setar turned out to be a real hidden gem. Now I just pop over there for mini staycations when I need to ‘get away’. The people are lovely as well.
Thanks for introducing my hometown. Miss the laid back life style there and also the food. Currently working in singapore. Hard to find the similar food in Singapore. Enjoy reading your article.
Vanessa Workman says
Thank you! I know you must miss it a lot, because it’s quite a unique place. Love it.