3rd largest town in the state of Perak, Malaysia
Recently I decided to make a long trip up north to Alor Star, Kedah. A former college mate and incidentally a room mate of mine at the small St Joseph’s Training College in Pulau Tikus, Penang had suffered a 2nd heart attack and was admitted to the ICU of the Alor Star General Hospital.
St Joseph’s was then a La Salle college, accredited by the Malaysian government and meant to train those who wished to be fully fledged brothers of the De La Salle teaching order. This highly regarded teaching order was established almost 300 years ago in France.
This college also took in lay individuals who wished to be teachers. After having qualified as teachers these individuals would then support the work and philosophy of the La Salle brothers and serve in La Salle schools all over Malaysia.
A Major Undertaking
This was a major undertaking to travel by car to Alor Star in the northern state of Kedah. Kedah is one of the states in Malaysia that has a common border with Thailand.
In order not to over strain, I embarked on a two point strategy: i. persuade my wife, Patricia to be my companion on this driving odyssey and to share in the driving chores. She did one third of the driving and I undertook the rest; ii. break journey in two places i.e. Teluk Intan and then Taiping both in the state of Perak. A point of interest to note is that Teluk Intan is the 3rd biggest town and Taiping is the 2nd biggest town in Perak.
The First Leg of the Driving Odyssey
We started the drive from Petaling Jaya at 8.00 am and drove at a leisurely pace along the superb Malaysian highway until the turn off to Sungkai. Then we left the tolled highway for federal roads to Teluk Intan. These roads require the driver to be extra alert because these, narrow roads are mainly two lane, winding stretches. Some parts of it are quite good, others not too comfortable because of the pot holes etc.
Care and caution had also to be exercised due to traffic conditions on the federal roads…in addition to motor cyclists, we also had to look out for a number of heavy laden lorries belching smoke, unsteady senior citizen cyclists and occasionally cows crossing the roads. So there you go… never a dull moment. It took me back to the much earlier days of driving in the sixties!
We reached our hotel in Teluk Intan by about 11.00 am after having covered about 160 km
All About Teluk Intan
Teluk Intan was initially known as Teluk Anson. This town of roughly 120,000 inhabitants was named by the British authorities in honour of the last Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Major General Sir Archibald Anson.
In 1982 and during the centenary celebrations of the town, it was renamed as Teluk Intan by the Malaysian government.
Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan
The Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan is the pride and joy of its inhabitants. And rightly so! The tower strikes me as a magnificent structure even by today’s standards. It was erected in 1885 by a visionary Chinese builder, Mr. Leong Choon Cheong. Like its ‘ cousin ‘ in Italy, it too started to tilt barely four years after it was constructed.
The LTTI has a clock at the top which still chimes every 15 minutes. It also has a water tank meant to serve the needs of the population at that time. The tower in those days also served as a beacon to guide ships to Teluk Intan Port.
The tower is now surrounded by a large rectangular courtyard. In the evenings, small children can be seen riding their tricycles with their parents close by keeping a watchful eye. In the mornings and at noon people can be seen walking about the courtyard and admiring this tower. For the record, the grateful town has the main street named after the builder. This is a great honour indeed for the builder and his descendants.
One can also take the stairs up to the 3rd floor of the tower to get a glimpse of the town from that vantage point. Another point of interest is that this tower is slightly less than half the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is eight stories high.
Teluk Intan’s Unique Chee Cheong Fun
Heard and read a lot about this town’s famous chee cheong fun. While Hong Kong has an international reputation for its chee cheong fun, Teluk Intan too has a claim on a much smaller scale for its version of chee cheong fun.
The Hong Kong version of this dish is usually served with prawns or barbequed pork.
There are many restaurants in Malaysia that serve the Hong Kong version but none really can compare with the high standard Hong Kong version.
The Teluk Intan version however, is served with turnips and dried prawns! There is a tiny shop ( Liew Kee – Ah Lek ) almost hidden behind a bigger restaurant nearby that sells this dish only as a late night supper. Two slices cost RM 6.00 a packet. Most customers buy this dish as a take away because there are only two tables for customers. It is a unique version, quite tasty and well worth the effort trying to find this needle in a haystack.
Other Interesting Attractions
As far as other interesting attractions in Teluk Intan, there are a few worth mentioning. As a La Sallian, I found the St Anthony’s School a beautiful building to look at. The school is set in spacious grounds. It started off a school founded by the Catholic Church but it was later handed over to the La Salle Brothers.
This school has a very strong alumni association and the association is currently headed by a professor of high standing. I took the opportunity to visit the school and dropped by the office where I met the principal. He kindly invited me in for a brief chat when he knew that I was a La Sallian to the core. I took the opportunity to present him with a complimentary copy of my latest publication for the school library: Choosing to Raise the Bar – Reflections on Continuous Self Development.
Directly on the road opposite the school sits the small but impressive St Anthony’s Church in very spacious grounds. It reminded me of the past when buildings in Malaya…yes, Malaya were small to reflect the population they served. My wife and I dropped in to say a prayer before moving on to other sights.
Next we went to see and marvel at the sight of the small Old Court House built in the 1880’s. The building has since been handed over to the Malaysian Army. Some minor additions to the building, for sensible reasons, tend to mar the wholesome beauty of this lovely old building.
The Memorial Stone for the Fallen
This is listed as a tourist attraction but it has been placed in a most awkward site. It is situated near a traffic light where it will be most inconvenient for people to walk by because of the traffic.
It should be moved to a place where it will be easy for visitors to see the huge stone which serves as a War Memorial. This is part of our rich history and due recognition should thus be given to afford it a rightful place in the town square.
The huge stone seems to be covered in thick dirt and dust and needs an urgent deep clean to restore it to its rightful state. The moving inscription on the plaque reads: “ At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them “ – 1914 to 1918 and a later addition – 1939 to 1945.
Next Leg of the Driving Adventure
The next leg of the driving adventure from Teluk Intan to Taiping covered a total of almost 200 km. It was good to get off the federal roads and on to the super highway. Although it was a longer drive, it was pleasant with much less traffic on the highway.
A Few Well Known Taiping Sights
The name ‘ Taiping ‘ comes from two Chinese characters. Tai means great and Ping means peace. How very appropriate indeed. The town has a population of 245,00 as of 2013.
After we had checked into our hotel, we wasted no time in discovering a sight that has been much touted. I am referring here to the famous Taiping War Cemetery. This is a heartfelt tribute to the fallen by the British and still maintained by the British.
The cemetery which is sited within the Taiping Lake Gardens is on both sides of one of the roads. On one side are the graves of the fallen British soldiers of the Christian faith. On the opposite side of the road are the graves of Muslim and Gurkha soldiers.
This is a very well maintained grave site and the graves are neatly arranged in some splendid order. In between the graves are small flowering plants which lend a nice, poignant touch. On reading the inscriptions, one realises that these men lost their lives for a great cause at a very tender age… some were only 17 years old! The others were in their early twenties. On the other side, I did not notice any names but a general statement that they were known to God!
The Oldest and the Best Lake Gardens
In my opinion, the Lake Gardens in Taiping covering 160 acres is easily and by far the oldest and the best lake gardens in Malaysia. The sheer size and splendour of the Lake Gardens is a sight to behold. Early in the morning and in the evening, we could see the people of Taiping, youngsters and senior citizens alike, taking full advantage of this tranquil place to exercise, jog or simply walk about the Lake Gardens. One can also go for boat rides and/or rent a bicycle if one is so inclined. It is cherished for its beauty and serenity and is well maintained.
While talking to a resident who was exercising, I learned that the Lake Gardens has what appears to be many lakes! This is not so because it is all one big lake that to the uninitiated looks like many lakes. They are all inter-connected. An interesting fact is that this lake began initially as a tin mine!
The sight of so many majestic old Raintrees all over the lake is just wonderful. There are jogging / walking paths within the Lake Gardens. There are also sidewalks for people to walk or jog along side the roads fronting the Lake Gardens. I also noticed a number of park benches, a few gazebos and at one of the gazebos a photo shoot of a newly married couple was in full swing. The slightly humid weather did not seem to bother the couple.
All Saints Church
We decided to visit this historical site to view an old, quaint, timber church ( 1887 ) with an equally interesting history. It is a small Anglican church with a unique and lovely architecture. The Bell Tower is elegant as is the shingled roof and there are graveyards on both sides of the church. Buried here are the remains of the who’s who of that era in the 1800s.
Adjacent to this Little House of the Prairie type of church with its high ceilings, stained glass windows high above the altar and pipe organ, stands a newly built, small modern church. There is also a big, old two storey building of that era next to this church but within the vast church grounds.
Rustic Charms of Larut Hills
A visit to Taiping will not be complete unless you go on a 4 wheel drive up the Larut Hills. Larut Hills was formerly known as Maxwell Hills. It is a one of a kind, white knuckle, thrilling drive that you need to experience.
Taiping receives the highest rainfall in Malaysia and so you can imagine the wet, wild and muddy challenge of this drive.
There is only one way to go on this drive. You have to go to the base office and book a ride in a Land Rover. There are only a limited number of Land Rovers and also a small pool of trained and capable drivers.
As this service is run by the government, the charge is actually very reasonable. So get there early in the morning to book a ride. We managed to get lucky on our second attempt!
For more details on this unique adventure, please visit my earlier blog post titled: Rustic Charms of Larut Hills.
The Final Leg of the Driving Adventure
The final leg of the driving adventure covered a total of 205 km. It was a fairly easy and pleasant drive partly because it was on a lazy Sunday morning. There was hardly any traffic on the highway to Alor Star.
This town is the capital of the state of Kedah with an estimated population of only 116,00. It is, however not the biggest town in Kedah. That honour goes to the town of Sungei Petani.
Noteworthy Attractions in Alor Star
There are a few noteworthy attractions in Alor Star. Two interesting buildings do stand out. These two buildings have been recently lovingly restored to their former glory. One is the Kedah State Art Gallery also known as Balai Seni Negeri. Work on this lovely building began in 1893 and was only completed years later to serve as the high court building.
The other building i.e. Zahir Mosque is one of the grandest and oldest mosques in Malaysia and was built in 1912. The architectural style is simply breathtaking. Both buildings are next to each other.
There is also Rumah Merdeka which was the home of the first prime minister of Malaysia, YTM Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra. It is a two storey building. There is also a Kedah Padi Museum.
In Good Spirits
We did manage to visit my dear, old friend at the General Hospital in Alor Star. We spent about 30 minutes chatting with him. He seems to be taking his present medical condition in reasonably good spirits. He is hoping to slowly but surely regain his strength. His doctors have advised him to go for a heart bypass operation when he is good and ready.
We returned to Petaling Jaya the next day after making three brief comfort and rest stops along the way.