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How to Spend 48 Hours in Alor Setar, Malaysia

View of Gunung Keriang and paddy fields
View of Gunung Keriang and paddy fields | © Zaki Mohamed / Shutterstock
Picture paddy fields stretching towards the horizon. Imagine a central square with stunning architecture on all four sides. Throw in museums, a spaceship-like telecommunications tower with an observation deck and a colourful Chinatown. This is Alor Setar: Kedah’s capital and our recommended spot for a stopover between Penang and Langkawi.

The capital of Kedah sits between Langkawi and Penang. But few make the stopover, therefore missing out on the gorgeous architecture, free museums and paddy fields. Discover our budget-friendly 48 hours in Alor Setar itinerary for Instagram-worthy photos, culture and sunsets.

Day one

We recommend two nights at Sentosa Regency Hotel. The mid-range hotel has both comfortable rooms and a central location. The first day of the itinerary involves a self-guided walking tour, soaking up the city’s culture and going to Alor Setar Tower’s observation deck. Your evening includes a sunset over the paddy fields before drinks and dinner at a rooftop restaurant.

Morning: Self-guided walking tour of historical Alor Setar

The first part of our 48 hours takes in the city’s main attractions. Start at Rumah Merdeka (Independence House) near Sentosa Regency Hotel. This was the birthplace and family home of Tunku Abdul Rahman (Malaysia’s first Prime Minister). Next head to Dataran Alor Setar: Alor Setar’s central square, which features some of the city’s best architecture. Zahir Mosque and the Big Clock Tower line the eastern flank with the Royal Hall opposite. The yellow and white tiered Nobat Tower (Hall of Drums) once stored royal instruments used only when the Sultan came to town. Finally, head south into Chinatown and see the multi-coloured shophouses.

Dataran Alor Setar with Zahir Mosque in the background © Sam Bedford

Afternoon: Art galleries, museums and observation decks

Head to Chinatown’s Caffe Diem for a coffee inside the historic building. Walk to Kedah State Art Gallery on Dataran Alor Setar. The small museum inside the former High Court displays local artwork and handicrafts. Use Grab Car or a taxi to travel the two kilometres (1.25 miles) north to Kedah State Museum. Inside, you’ll find everything you could want to know about both Alor Setar and Kedah. Galleries cover the state’s almost 2,000-year-history, centuries-old royal families as well as cultural and ethnographic displays. Weather-permitting, rest your feet next to the lake inside Taman Merdeka (Independence Park). Walk south towards Alor Setar Tower, the giant alien-like structure. Pay RM6 ($1.50 USD) and go to the observation deck hovering 88 metres (289 feet) above the city.

Evening: Sunset over the paddy fields

Start the evening by making your way to the paddy fields in the suburbs. If you freshen up at your hotel, ask the receptionist to recommend where to go. Or use Google Maps. Hail a taxi or Grab Car to witness the sunset over Alor Setar’s paddy fields against a rural kampong-style backdrop. Snap photographs and savour the serenity. We recommend heading to some of the paddy fields to the east of Jalan Langgar.

Paddy fields and kampong-style houses © Sam Bedford

Night: Dinner and drinks at a rooftop restaurant

Sky Garden Restro Bar & Coffee is the go-to spot in the evening. The restaurant/bar features an outdoor terrace overlooking the city. Anticipate slightly higher prices, but a decent selection of both Western and Asian food. We recommend an after-dinner cocktail on the balcony on a clear night.

Day two: Day trips to Elephant Mountain, Paddy Museum and Kuala Kedah Fort

The second part of our 48 hours in Alor Setar will be more active. Start early and visit both Elephant Mountain and the Paddy Museum. Spend the afternoon at northern Malaysia’s oldest fort in nearby Kuala Kedah before ending with a street food meal. There’s a lot of travelling, and it might be better to hire a driver for the day (negotiate a rate with a taxi driver).

Morning: Elephant Mountain, and a rice museum

Start the second morning at Salam Nasi Kandar along Jalan Kampong Perak. Order a plate of fried rice and Nescafé ice (costs a handful of ringgits). Hail a taxi or get a Grab Car to Gunung Keriang (Elephant Mountain in English). The 218-metre (715-feet) limestone hill resembles a crouching elephant from a distance. Snap photographs, check out the caves and follow the trails to reach a viewing platform at the top. Next, make the short journey to the Kedah Paddy Museum located just two kilometres (1.25 miles) away. From outside, the museum looks like a giant paddy basket. Three floors cover Kedah’s history and relationship with rice as well as cultivation techniques. Pro tip: If you’re stuck for transport between Gunung Keriang and the Paddy Museum, ask one of the vendors in the car park to help you call a cab.

Learn about Kedah's relationship with rice at the Paddy Museum © Sam Bedford

Afternoon: Northern Malaysia’s oldest fort

Take a taxi or order a Grab Car from Kedah Paddy Museum to Kuala Kedah Fort. The late 18th century fortress defended against the invading Siamese (Thai) army. Stroll through the complex, photograph the colonial lighthouse and marvel at the intricate gateways. Head to the Museum Gallery inside the wooden bungalow to learn more about Kedah’s history and the Siamese wars. Admission to both the fort and museum are free. Pro tip: Stroll around the mouth of the Kedah River and see the local fishermen. The Marina and a handful of restaurants sit a few minutes north of the fort.

A colonial lighthouse inside Kuala Kedah Fort © Sam Bedford
Local fishermen in the mouth of the Kuala Kedah River © Sam Bedford

Evening and night: Alor Setar’s street food

To cap off an active 48 hours in Alor Setar, make your way to Chinatown Food Court on Jalan Putra. Order directly from the vendors and they’ll bring the dish over to your table. We recommend the fried kuay teow (fried flat noodles). Expect a meal and drink for one to cost less than RM15 ($3.70 USD). Before returning to your hotel, walk a few minutes to Dataran Alor Setar and marvel at the city’s square, dazzling under the artificial light.

Alor Setar at night © grass-lifeisgood / Shutterstock