With research dating back 170 years since the colonial times, archeological sites in Merbok, Kedah revealed an ancient civilisation that existed about 2,500 years ago, on par with the Roman and Greek eras.
The more familiar Lembah Bujang holds history that harks back between 8th and 13th centuries. But in 2005, researchers broadened their focus to Sungai Batu 13 kilometres away from Lembah Bujang when a villager unearthed some curious artefacts.
The civilisation in Sungai Batu flourished from iron smelting trade. The area served as the central port for traders from eastern and western countries like China, India, the Middle East and the Malay archipelago.
Surrounded with palm oil plantation today, the idea that this site is Sungai Batu used be a port may seem impossible. However, archeologist Mohd Hasfarisham Abd Halim said during 1AD, the sea was eight kilometres closer to the area compared to today, which is 20 kilometres to Tanjung Dawai.
With carbon dating methods, Malaysian researchers found evidence the iron smelters in Sungai Batu had been around since 535BC. This means trading activities here was much older compared to the emergence of Melaka, which only started in 15AD.
This site is so old that it took 1,000 years before the earliest sultanates shaped the peninsula territories that resulted in the states today.
Excavations in Sungai Batu also unearthed religious sites with one of them believed to have existed two centuries before the arrival of Hindu-Buddhist influences.
One of the sites feature a circular clay brick monument that represented the moon, sun or earth. The north side faces the nearby Gunung Jerai, which the devotees believed to be the home of the gods. The ritualistic structure may indicate the practice of animism.
Hasfarisham said the square-shaped candi built on top of the circular monument may have been built by the Hindus during the fourth century.
“Most of the artefacts involving religious structures here doesn’t look pristine because they may have been destroyed by a Chola King in the 11th century. There’s also a theory that Muslim leaders also ordered such structures to be brought down. The Islamic influence arrived in 9AD based on an Aceh headstone found from a nearby tomb,” said the archeologist who has been studying Kedah Tua’s ancient port and jetty structures since 2010.
The commercially driven Borobudur in Indonesia was founded in 8AD and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat in 12AD. The relics in Sungai Batu are much older but they don’t see tourists coming in droves for that ancient adventure selfie. Why?
Sungai Batu doesn’t see many tourists because the area is still an active archeological site. Researchers believe the ancient civilisation covers a much bigger area but excavating efforts take a lot of time. Those not in the field may argue we can invite foreign researchers to help out. But just like the Indiana Jones films, it’s an open secret that foreign researchers would keep artefacts they found as their own, even if it makes more sense to keep the artefacts here in Malaysia.
Archeologist Naizatul Akma Mohd Mokhtar, who studies ancient Kedah iron technology, said an excavation site takes six months to a year to clear. With so much history yet to be discovered, it would take decades before everything’s cleared and dusted.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t join in the fun.
Other than the historical tour at the Lembah Bujang Archeological Museum that houses a plethora of artefacts as well as 17 candi reconstructed and relocated to the museum, you can also volunteer for excavation activities at the Sungai Batu site with the help of archeologists. You can also learn how to make ancient bricks using clay and sand.
Seriously, this place has so much history, every fact will blow your mind.
For details or to book a tour, visit arkeologi.usm.my.
Other Attractions in Lembah Bujang
Merbok River Cruise
Enjoy the best of nature detox with a relaxing cruise along the Merbok River. From the starting point at Semeling Jetty, the river is flanked by mangrove forest so lush that it comprises 42 out of 60 species of mangrove in the world, including the critically endangered Bruguiera Hainesii. Other than Malaysia, this species has only been found in Singapore and Papua New Guinea. This place is also teeming in wildlife from mangrove snakes to bottlenose dolphins. For photography enthusiasts, this cruise will not disappoint. Compact cameras or phones can easily capture some amazing landscape shots but if you want to get a sharp photos of the wildlife including birds like white-bellied sea eagle and brahminy kite, long lens is your best friend.
The cruise will also take you to a family-run Bakau Hijau Oyster Farm. You read that right, an oyster farm in Kedah! With cooperation from Universiti Sains Malaysia where students conduct studies about oyster farming, the farm produces over 10,000 oysters a year. While a plateful of oysters in the city costs a bomb, here you’ll hardly break your wallet. Super fresh, too.
Standing at 1,217 metres, Gunung Jerai is the second tallest mountain in Kedah after Gunung Bintang (8,862 metres). You have two options to reach the peak – hike or drive. There’s a 13-kilometre-long road that takes you to the Forestry Museum, the Jerai Hill Resort and a few other attractions. Although the road is well-maintained, it is steep, narrow and filled with sharp hairpin corners. The resort provides shuttle service using high-powered vans, but any vehicle should be able to make it to the peak.
Kota Kuala Muda Tsunami Memorial
Although 15 years have passed since a tsunami hit Kedah on 26 December 2004, the aftermath of the disaster was so vivid that visitors today can still see homes left in ruins. The disaster claimed 11 lives in Kedah, and nine of those who perished were villagers of Kota Kuala Muda. The tsunami that swept several villages in Kota Kuala Muda, was triggered by a massive underwater earthquake off Aceh, Indonesia at 8.58am the same day. The memorial exhibits boats washed onto streets following the disaster and a museum detailing every second of D-Day.
Homestay Kampung Raga
Fresh air, starry nights, winding river, endless fruits, Kampung Raga in Yan has it all. Get a taste of village life by staying at one of many homestays provided here. You’ll be living with the villagers and learn the traditional way of life. Rest assured, the warm families will feed you almost round-the-clock with mouth-watering Kedahan dishes.
Food in Lembah Bujang
DSA Cafe, Semeling Jetty
Before getting on the cruise of Merbok River, enjoy a plateful of Malay cuisine at this café. The compound also features a Tourism Interpretation Centre for those who want a detailed guide about attractions and history of the surrounding area.
Batas Ubi Deer Farm
This massive compound filled with free-roaming deer also serves a fulfilling meat platter which you can grill to your liking. A platter, which serves a minimum of four people, comprises meats like chicken, lamb and deer with a side of rice and salad.
At Satay Semeling
Let’s face it, prices of satay in the Klang Valley has gone up so high it’s downright criminal. Imagine paying over MYR2.50 for a measly stick of satay. So, when in Semeling, be sure to give this place a visit because everything is still under MYR1. The price may be low, but the quality is on par, if not better than the overpriced ones in the city.
Ladang Nira Nipah Napiah
Nipah (sugar palm) is also known as mangrove palm. The nira (juice) trickles bit by bit when the farmer taps the nipah palms. Sampling nira nipah here is a must considering they are hardly available in the city. Farm owner Napiah Yahya, 48, started planting the palms 10 years ago on the same land after a failed fish farm project. The rest, as they say, is history. Assisted by three of his 10 children, they collect the juice from the palms four times a day – morning, noon, evening and midnight. The best part is, all palms here are grown organically without the use of any pesticides. A jug of this sweet drink only costs MYR12.