Perlis may be the smallest state in Malaysia, but holds its own when it comes to a rich historic past and charming attractions.
Perlis is located at the northern part of west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, south of Thailand and north of Kedah. With a population of close to 230,000 people in an area measuring close to 800 square kilometres, Perlis is known as the smallest state in Malaysia.
The capital of Perlis is Kangar and about 10km away is the state’s royal capital Arau. For most travellers, Perlis is a stopover on the way to other towns or tourist attractions. For example, Perlis’ Padang Besar is a border town that is part of a common route travellers take from Malaysia to Thailand. Perlis’ main port and ferry terminal at a small village of Kuala Perlis is also used to get to Langkawi Island, popular with foreign and local tourists.
Even though Perlis is seen as a transportation link to other popular destinations, it is ironic that there is no airport in the state. Rail or road are the only options for people to get into Perlis. The nearest airports are located in Alor Setar, Kedah, which is about 40 kilometres away from Kuala Perlis, and on Langkawi island, about 45 kilometres away from Perlis’ main port.
Originally, Perlis was part of Kedah and was ruled by the Siamese, which conquered Kedah in 1821. During Siamese rule, Perlis was called Palit. At that time the Siamese had signed an agreement with the British, where the latter acknowledged the Siamese claim over four northern states – Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu. This treaty, known as the Burney Treaty 1826, assured the British its claim on Penang and rights to trade in Terengganu and Kelantan without interference from the Siamese.
The exiled Kedah Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin and his followers fought for over 12 years to restore the Malaya Sultan to his throne, but finally the Malay ruler accepted the conditions set by the Siamese and resumed his Sultanate in Kedah. The Siamese then separated Perlis as a vassal state, where Sayyid Hussain Jamalulail became the first Raja Perlis or Perlis ruler.
In 1909, the Anglo-Siamese Treaty dissected the ownership of states again, leaving the Siamese’ southern Malay states to the British. While the British had installed a Resident in the state, Perlis was returned to the Siamese (or Thailand) during World War II for its alliance with Japan. But this was only done briefly as the annexation ended after the Japanese surrendered. Perlis became part of the Malayan Union, then the Federation of Malaya in 1957 and joined the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.
Kangar is the state capital of Perlis, with a population of about 50,000. The 3000 ha sized town is located by the Perlis river. In the centre of the town lies the Sena district or popularly called “Uptown Sena” by locals.
Most of Perlis’ residents are civil servants or farmers who work on the paddy fields in the outskirt areas. The town centre is made up of crisscrossing streets lined by shophouses, typically housing banks, sundry shops and fast food restaurants.
Some believe that the name Kangar came from a hawk species called Kangkok while a different version of its origin is cited in the Perlis state government’s website. The website states that under the rule of Sultan Muhyiddin Mansor Shah from 1652, Tok Peduka opened Kangar in 1653. A Kangar tree was found at the river and subsequently he renamed the area, Pelabuhan Pohon Kangar or Port of Kangar tree.
Perlis’ main economic activity is rice farming and visitors are able to admire the expansive views of paddy fields, wooden huts and farmers tending to their crop when they travel beyond Kangar. Similarly like Perak, magnificent limestone mountains rise from these flat paddy fields, which add to the charm of Perlis. These mountains or outcroppings as they are known, are part of a long limestone range in Southeast Asia called the Nakawan, which lies on the border of Perlis and Thailand.
This 500 million year old limestone is home to over 600 species of flora and fauna, including 68 mammal species, according to the state tourism department. Visitors can explore the wonders of this limestone environment by visiting the 370-metre long limestone cave called Gua Kelam at Kaki Bukit, all at the Perlis State Park. The only way into the cave is by walking on an eight-foot wide wooden suspension bridge, which links Kaki Bukit to the Wan Tangga Valley.
History buffs can enjoy the state museum, Kota Kayang Museum or visit the Syed Alwi State Mosque, the former state mosque which was built in 1910. Other popular sights are the quaint fishing town of Kuala Perlis, popular as a transit hub and also for its local cuisine. A snake and reptile farm is located near Sungai Batu Pahat and surrounded by the Bukit Bintang Forest Reserve, an attraction for nature lovers. At this farm, research is conducted to develop anti-venom medicine for snake bites. It houses over 20 species of snakes and reptiles, including crocodiles and monitor lizards.