Northern Seberang Perai

Explore the hidden jewels of Penang’s charming countryside district

Northern Seberang Perai © Adrian Cheah

Covering a vast land expanse of more than 200 square kilometres, northern Seberang Perai on mainland Penang encompasses a sprawling terrain, almost three quarters the size of the much better known and heavily populated Penang island. Despite its enormity, this rural geographical district – comprising the mostly pastoral constituencies of Kepala Batas and Tasek Gelugor – is still unfamiliar to the outside world for its various cultural and environmental treasures.

Not many are aware of the prehistoric archaeological discoveries that have been made here and the intriguing cultural habits that continue to survive over countless generations. Certainly, few Malaysians or even Penangites have ever been to the age-old coastal fish market where bidding is done only in whispers. Fewer still have seen the last surviving traditional ironsmiths who still forge blades, tools and weapons like the revered keris, or Malay dagger, as their predecessors did centuries ago.

Even as such fascinating living cultures and traditional trades continue to thrive, northern Seberang Perai also conceals and preserves some very significant historical relics related to wars and conquests of the past that belie the placid and idyllic appearance of its landscape.     

Indeed, the numerous villages and small towns that dot the district teem with legends and historical stories, while the natural vistas and seemingly endless acres of green fields resonate with community bonds and shared memories. Northern Seberang Perai is truly a place where the spirit of the people is forever intertwined with the wonder of the landscape.

Traditional Malay homes of northern Seberang Perai

Appreciating the endangered beauty, charm and functionality of vernacular Malay architecture 

Seberang Perai Utara - rural and traditional architecture

When one thinks of a traditional Malay ‘kampung’ or village, the idyllic picture that usually comes to mind is something like that of carefree children playing around a charming wooden house, contented grandmother weaving mengkuang mats on the raised porch, friendly neighbours gossiping away, and rustic birds, hens and chicks scuttling freely about.

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The ironsmiths of Pekan Darat

Preserving an amazing apprenticeship culture of more than 150 years 

Somewhere off a quiet rural road in a secluded area known as Pekan Darat (literally translated, “the town on land”) is an unassuming little village unheard of by the outside world. Nothing much really seems to stand out as one enters Permatang Benuan among the small houses and huts that lie scattered around. One sees chickens scuttling about and children playing in the neighbourhood. 

Pekan Darat ironsmiths

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Kuala Muda Tsunami Gallery and Memorial

In memory of one of the most tragic natural disasters to hit Asia

Kuala Muda Tsunami Gallery and Memorial © Adrian Cheah

The coastal fishing settlement of Kuala Muda was among the worst places to be hit in Malaysia when the dreadful and infamous tsunami disaster affected the Indian Ocean and its surroundings on December 26, 2004.

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The military pillbox of Bumbong Lima

A forgotten relic whose serenity belies a wartime crisis of the past 

British war pillbox © Adrian Cheah

The sleepy hinterland of Bumbong Lima in Seberang Perai is better known for its iconic Merdeka Bridge which spans across the great Sungai Muda river, bisecting the state of Penang on this side from neighbouring Kedah in the north.

While people crossing the bridge are generally aware that there is some historical significance attached to this monument, they invariably fail to notice another object of equal historical import lying nigh around.

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Pinang Tunggal railway bridge

Triumph of modern British engineering in a remote corner of Seberang Perai

Pinang Tunggal railway bridge © Adrian Cheah

For almost an entire century folks at a rural northeastern quarter of Seberang Perai called Pinang Tunggal were familiar with a solid black-coloured wrought iron bridge that hulked over the Muda River. 

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Kuala Muda’s old man and the sea

A native of Kuala Muda remembers the simple yet meaningful life amid the rigours and beauty of nature

Aman Din

The space farthest north in Penang, the absolute northernmost contour of the state, is defined by a river. This is the mighty yet gentle Sungai Muda. 

The undulating waterway is not just a geographical marvel – it snakes along some 180 kilometres of natural terrain upon springing from a source deep within the interior of peninsular Malaysia’s Ulu Muda rainforest – but is also a focal political landmark. Regarded as a convenient natural boundary Sungai Muda has for some centuries now been deemed as the official border between Penang and its northern neighbouring state of Kedah.

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Kuala Muda fishing village and whispering market

Where fisher folk keep alive a most quaint and unusual tradition of bidding

Pasar Bisik © Adrian Cheah

The political boundary between the states of Penang and Kedah is partly defined by a majestic age-old gift of nature. This is the magnificent Sungai Muda river which meanders quietly but imposingly from the Ulu Muda rainforests deep in the interior of peninsular Malaysia towards the Straits of Malacca. 

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Merdeka Bridge

A historic link across the Muda River memorable for its bowstring design

Merdeka Bridge © Adrian Cheah

This is quite likely the oldest road connection across the natural water boundary separating Penang and its neighbouring state of Kedah. It is also one of the most historic inter-state links in Malaysia. 

The Merdeka Bridge was so named as it was intentionally launched in 1957, the very year Malaysia attained independence from the British. The structure had already been completed and opened in 1955.

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Guar Kepah prehistoric finds

Tracing a lost people who once inhabited Seberang Perai thousands of years ago

Guar Kepah prehistoric finds

Sometime in the early 1800s, settlers living around three adjacent pastures in northern Seberang Perai kept coming across giant protuberances on the earth in the vicinities. What made the hilly knolls peculiar was that they were found to be filled with thousands upon thousands of seashells.

The villagers and farmers called the area Guar Kepah. Literally, it meant ‘mound of clam shells’ in the native Malay dialect. 

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British-Siam boundary stone

A forlorn and fascinating remnant of Penang’s age-old border intrigue

Siam-British boundary stone © Adrian Cheah

Who would have thought that one of the oldest and most significant relics of Penang’s ancient border politics would lie quietly, undisturbed in the open, at a far-flung and unknown corner of the state for more than a hundred years?

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Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest, Tasek Gelugor

Ecological haven within a fertile riverside mangrove swamp

Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest

Who would have thought that somewhere on mainland Penang lies a little world just the size of three football fields but has sheltered more than a hundred species of birds, and scores upon scores of reptiles, insects and mammals? Sited just twenty kilometres from the Penang Bridge nestles Air Hitam Dalam, a secret forest of surprises, a dense mangrove wetland that houses a rich ecological realm waiting to be explored.

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