A biodiverse region in Malaysia’s northernmost state, Kangar showcases traditional village life while offering irresistible outdoor adventures.
Kangar, the state capital of Perlis sits just 33km south of Thailand (entry via Padang Besar Check Point) and 50km from Alor Setar, the capital city of Kedah. Depending on who you talk to, the origin of the town’s name changes. It was named after a tree, where 16th century sea traders took respite from deal-making under its massive boughs. Not true! It was named after a unique type of hawk, found only in this part of the country. And so on.
But the one consistent theme in all the stories are their ties to nature. Located on the northernmost point of Malaysia, Perlis is a frequently overlooked outdoor holiday refuge, which is a shame as this is where you’ll be able to spot rare wildlife like the Robinson’s banded langur and the endangered Sunda slow loris, which live in the humid jungles of Perlis State Park. Within the 5,000-hectare state park, you’ll find majestic limestone caves and rock formations forged in the late Triassic era, approximately 250-200 million years ago.
The irony of planning a 24-hour itinerary in Kangar – where much of its traditional Malay village charm and pace is retained amidst modernisation – is that it’s too easy to forget time. The best mode of transport is by motorbike, for an easy hop on, hop off experience when checking out places in Kangar.
8am – Breakfast, and make it like the sixties
Kickstart your Kangar adventure with a step back in time at Ngulang Kopitiam, where ‘60s-era antiques – home and kitchen tools – line the wall shelves. Unlike most kopitiams, which have more of a Chinese influence, Ngulang sets itself apart by highlighting classic Malay cuisine, served inside a traditional northern-Malay house. The menu offers dishes unique to the region, such as roti gulai ikan kembong (toast with mackerel curry) and pulut hitam ikan masin atau sardin goreng (black sticky rice with salted fish or fried sardine).
Alternatively, while the rest of Malaysia eats nasi lemak for breakfast, head to Ida Pulut Ayam Titi Chai to experience a unique northern Malay breakfast – a plate of pulut ayam. Introduced by the Thais, the dish consists of fried chicken marinated in local spices and fragrant sticky rice topped with crispy shallots and Thai chilli sauce.
10am – Get the lay of the land
Wang Kelian is a small village that rests at the border of Thailand, 45 minutes from Kangar by motorbike. It also sits right outside the Perlis State Park, making it the perfect starting point to discover the rich flora and fauna of Perlis. Most visitors begin their adventures in nature at the Wang Kelian View Point, a lookout point that sits 304 metres above sea level. Past the entrance at the foot of the hill is a road leading up to a rainbow-coloured platform, where visitors are rewarded with a majestic bird’s eye view of Perlis, composed of Bukit Chabang, Timah Tasoh dam and a green-capped landscape.
12pm – Mountain? Cave? Or both?
Embrace the fresh air and the song of cicadas at Taman Negeri Perlis, located less than 10 minutes away from the Wang Kelian View Point. The park caters to outdoor enthusiasts of different levels. Join the challenging six-hour trek to Gunung Perlis where, according to state park manager Muhammad Fandi, “You’ll find unique plants and animals such as the endangered pokok Bogak (cycas clivicola) or beruk kentoi (stumped-tail macaque).” For budding spelunkers, he recommends the four-hour caving adventure at Wang Burma, a limestone cave within the park that’s filled with exotic fungi and endurance-challenging passageways. “Visitors love caving in Wang Burma to see the stalactites and stalagmites that were formed 500 years ago,” Muhammad Fandi adds.
However, if you’re conserving your energy for the rest of the day, take a leisurely stroll along the Denai Putera Denmark trail, which takes only an hour to complete. Unlike the other adventures at Perlis State Park, no guide or permit is required for this short trail.
2pm – Catfish galore
A restaurant loved by all walks of life – from locals to Malaysian royalty and TikTok influencers – Anjung Keli serves daily fresh-cooked, Malay kampung-style mixed rice. Here, you’ll find a wide variety of over 50 dishes, including fresh ulam (traditional Malay salad), a variety of coconut-based curries, free-range fried chicken, soups and sambals. Anjung Keli’s signature dish is the fried or grilled catfish and is an absolute must-try.
4pm – Sip your coffee slow
From oat milk lattes and frappes to slow drips and pour overs, Ahli Kopi Kangar will supply all the caffeine needs of a big city coffee-holic. The café is set within an unassuming shoplot with minimal outdoor seating along Jalan Penjara, so if you’re lucky, grab a seat, your choice of brew and enjoy a leisurely afternoon reprieve. Café culture is growing in Kangar – down the street from Ahli, D’Yunk Coffee and Café serves a mix of Western and local meals, in addition to a strong cuppa; meanwhile, Sorok Kafe went viral on Tik-Tok as the first in Perlis to introduce charcoal latte to locals.
6pm – Get lost in the rainbow village
About a 20-minute drive from Kangar is Kuala Perlis, a rustic sea-side town, parts of which underwent a village transformation programme. Explore Kampung Seberang Ramai, one of the weather-worn villages that received a sprucing up – you’ll be greeted by a community of traditional homes painted in rainbow colours. The streets, too, are decorated with wind-chimes and suspended umbrellas, and visitors can have fun spotting street art murals painted on certain houses around the village – but do be mindful of the residents’ privacy as these are family homes. For a nice photo op, keep an eye out for the sign that leads to the Tuanku Syed Putra Bridge to enjoy a lovely view of the Perlis River.
7-10pm – Dinner and a stroll by the estuary
After you’re done exploring the colourful villages of Kuala Perlis, it’s time to grab a bite for dinner. Sandwiched between the Bukit Kubu Forest and an estuary of the Perlis River is the famed Api Api Ikan Bakar Restaurant. Its menu is unique to Perlis – Ikan bakar bawal or pomfret fish, is grilled and laced with a moreish gravy made with turmeric, condensed milk and coconut milk among other spices, giving you that rich, slightly sweet flavour. What else to order? Sotong goreng tepung (fried squid) and the ulam set (mixed greens accompanied by sambal belacan and a small bowl of curry) are perennial crowd pleasers. Full from dinner? Walk it off by joining the locals at the Kuala Perlis Pier and enjoy the salty breeze as you people-watch. Just two minutes away, you’ll find the resplendent floating mosque, Masjid Al-Hussain.
7am – 2pm – Shopping in a rubber plantation
Before you leave Kangar, be sure to stop by the loud and lively Nat Pokok Getah. It’s regarded by locals as being the most iconic open-air market in Perlis due to its location within a rubber plantation in Kampung Kubang, 20 minutes from Kangar. (Nat is an old Malay word that loosely translates to day market). From local homemade snacks like tapai (sweet, fermented rice) and traditional herbs like serai gunung (mountain lemongrass) and mengkudu (noni), all the way to used electronics and preloved clothing, one can spend hours sifting through the goods at Nat Pokok Getah. Before leaving town, tuck into your snacks at the dining area located right in front of the market – you’ll be elbow-to-elbow with friendly locals, but that’s just part of the charm of experiencing life in Perlis.