Lembah Bujang: The Cradle of Southeast Asian Civilisation
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Attractions and Food in Lembah Bujang, the Cradle of Southeast Asian Civilisation

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.

Ruins of iron smelting plant unearthed in Sungai Batu Archaeological Site. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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.

Iron byproduct that dates back thousands of years. Hundreds of these are discovered almost on a daily basis in Sungai Batu. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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.

Hasfarisham says the circular monument at the bottom of the square-shaped candi was built two centuries before the arrival of Hindu-Buddhist influence. The ritualistic structure may indicate the practice of animism. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
The structure look less than pristine because of natural elements and destroyed by religious influences that came over the years. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

“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.

Fewer Crowds    

The Sungai Batu Archeological Site is surrounded by an oil palm plantation. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
One of the reasons why this archeological wonder doesn’t get a lot of tourists is because it is still an active research site. However, they still welcome visitors and offer various tour packages. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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.

Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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.

Visitors can volunteer in excavation activities. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
A student researcher filtering sand in search of artefacts. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
A Universiti Sains Malaysia researcher explains the functions of this MYR250,000 ground penetrating radar which helps archeologists pinpoint locations to dig up for potential artefacts. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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 

A local cruising along Sungai Merbok. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Surrounded by lush mangrove forest, Sungai Merbok is a photography heaven. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
The tour starts at Semeling Jetty. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Boats docked at Semeling Jetty. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Wooden walkway only accessible to local fishermen. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
A man relaxing on his boat at Semeling Jetty. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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.

Volunteer Syadzwan Nasruddin, 34, showing an oyster farmed at Bajau Hijau. He has been working and studying at the oyster farm since 2015. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
The farm produces over 10,000 oysters annually. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Just look at this giant oyster! Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Farm co-owner Hamidah Abdul Rahman, 49, shucking fresh oysters for visitors. Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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.  

Gunung Jerai 

Visitors enjoying the views atop Gunung Jerai. You can either venture on a hiking trail or drive up the peak towards Jerai Hill Resort. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Jerai Hill Resort. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Various attractions near the peak of Gunung Jerai. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Massive pakis tanduk rusa or staghorn fern at Jerai Hill Resort’s botanical park. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
The botanical park is home to 30 orchid species of the world. The park has been working with researchers from around the world including Spain and Singapore to ensure sustainability of the species. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Pitcher plant. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Park officer Mohd Rosli Hassan, 47, said he used to earn a living chopping down the endangered agarwood. It didn’t take long for him to realise the industry causes more harm than good. Today, he spends his efforts and jungle skills protecting every plant species in Gunung Jerai. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Rosli shows the large rare bunga bangkai or titan arum at the botanical park. Native to Sumateran rainforest, the plant requires seven to 10 years of vegetative growth before blooming for the first time, which only lasts between 24 and 48 hours. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
The lonely Tok Sheikh Well on Gunung Jerai. Locals say this place is frequented by people seeking spiritual healing or a meditation site to gain supernatural power. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
A flock of jungle fowl roaming around the Tok Sheikh Well. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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

A motorcyclist rides past the tsunami monument in Kota Kuala Muda, Kedah. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Aftermath of the devastating 2004 tsunami. Visitors can walk through the ruins at the Tsunami Gallery in Kampung Kepala Jalan. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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.

Also read: Life After Tsunami: Kedah Family Recall Narrow Escape and Rebuilding Life

Homestay Kampung Raga

Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Kampung Raga is filled with small orchards growing a plethora of Malaysian favourite fruits including the durian. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
The homestay programme includes cooking demonstration like this step-by-step guide to making this traditional northern Malaysian kuih karas. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Kampung Raga is also home to Ultimate Horse Training and Stud farm. Beautiful horses, stunning backdrop of Gunung Jerai…perfection. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
One of many international and local horse breeds at the stable in Kampung Raga. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
The stable also polishes young talents to join equestrian and endurance competitions. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Stingless Bee Farm in Kampung Raga. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
This is how you extract honey from the stingless bee hive. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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

Cafe chef Ammar showing the traditional northern Malaysian dish called emping. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Tour guide nicknamed AJ explaining the function of kiln (near the cafe) in the charcoal-making industry as part of Sungai Merbok’s past. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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

Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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

Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
A stick of satay here is priced as low as 50 sen here! Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Lip-smacking ‘ayam bakar’ on the grill. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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 

Napiah started his nira nipah business a decade ago. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
This is how you extract nipah juice. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com
Sweeping views of paddy fields beckons visitors at Ladang Nira Nipah Napiah. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin/travel360.com

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.

travel360.com wishes to thank Tourism Malaysia for its invaluable support in producing this story.

Asyraf believes there’s a story anywhere you turn that could inspire readers around the world. With a penchant for high-powered motorcycles, he hopes to one day get back in the saddle and cover the globe on two wheels.

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