Located only 45 kilometers south from Thai border, Alor Setar is often only a transit point for travellers en-route to Thailand or Langkawi, yet is worth lingering a day or two. The relatively recent city only became the new capital of the Sultanate of Kedah in 1735. However, as the centre of power since that time, they are a surprisingly high number of historical buildings to discover, most of them dating back from the British colonial period. Combined with a gentle easy way of life, the old-world architecture makes Alor Setar a charming destination to discover for a couple of days.
Read on for Alor Setar travel tips, itinerary ideas and a comprehensive guide to getting there.
The story of Alor Setar
Alor Setar is a relatively small city with a population of roughly 200,000 inhabitants. However, it plays an important role in the contemporary history of Malaysia. Unbelievably, two Prime Ministers of the country were actually born in the capital city of Kedah. The first is Tunku Abdul Rahman, the man who drove Malaysia into Independence and became the PM. The second one is Mahathir bin Mohamad. He was a first time Prime Minister between 1981 and 2033 and has just been re-elected Prime Minister again, but this time for the former opposition. More surprising, he is 92 years old, becoming the oldest serving Prime Minister in the world.
The city growth over the last decades has a lot to do with Mahathir. During his time as the head of the country, generous investments that were made into the city included the 165-m Telecom tower dominating its skyline (a good place to start a city tour), a couple of glitzy shopping malls, a fair share of museums as well as a good airport. Large avenues in the centre complete the impression of a true metropolis.
Top 3 things to do in Alor Setar
1. Admire the city’s fine colonial architecture
The city centre is indeed lined with some beautiful colonial buildings, the most impressive being the century old Zahir Mosque. Built in 1912 in Moorish style, it is considered one of the most beautiful mosques of Malaysia with its elaborate sculpted arches and five broad domes, representing the pillars of Islam.
Opposite the mosque is the Royal Audience Hall, Balai Besar. Built in 1896, it is an interesting mix of European, Moorish and even Thai architecture.
Part of the Royal Audience Hall is now open for travellers as the Royal Museum, which showcases the story of local sultans as well as presents received from all over the world. The square has been renovated with a huge illuminated sign displaying the name Alor Setar, turning into a favourite photo spot for selfies.
Opposite the Alor Setar sign and next to the Balai Besar is one of the city’s most interesting monument: an octagonal tower of 1906 built in a European classical style. The Balai Nobat was designated as the repository of classical music instruments of the Nobat (royal orchestra). It opens however only for special ceremonies.
Its pendant on the other side of the road is a typical Edwardian style clock tower, opened the same year as the mosque. Closing the square is the former Courthouse with its grand columned peristyle. Dating back to 1893, it has been transformed into the Kedah State Art Gallery.
2. Pay a visit to Mahathir
In the vicinity of Jalan Sultan Muhammad Jiwa are two impressive colonial structures: the Post Office with its classical façade and the Police Station, evocative of the art deco architecture with its geometric details. Take some time to stroll the neighbourhood’s typical shophouses with European influences . Do not miss the street art painting on one of them with a huge portrait of… Mahathir!
Of course, it would be difficult to be in Alor Setar without paying a visit to the birthplace of the city’s true hero. Mahathir Mohamad birth house (Rumah Kelahiran Mahathir) has been well preserved and kept in the same way it used to be in the 1940s. It provides an opportunity to learn about the childhood of Malaysia most incredible politician but also it is a great way to discover a traditional Malay house in the old days.
3. Enjoy shopping like the locals
After all that walking around, treat yourself with a visit to some of the city’s shopping malls. Aman Central Mall is Alor Setar’s largest and more popular shopping complex offering fine food, shops, and cinemas. It stands next to the Telecom Tower. Other notable malls are City Plaza, Star Parade and Alor Setar Mall. Don’t miss sampling local dishes at the food courts in the mall: try a laksa soup (rice noodle in fish gravy) or a traditional nasi lemak (coconut rice dish). A perfect gastronomy stop to finish a day!
Alor Setar travel tips
Don’t forget to change your local currencies prior to arriving in Alor Setar. Strangely, they are neither ATMs nor a money exchange outlet inside the train station or in its vicinity. And taxis will not necessarily accept to first stop at a bank.
How to get to Alor Setar?
Alor Setar’s Sultan Abdul Halim Airport (AOR) is located 10km from the city centre. The KTM Alor Setar Railway Station is located by the city centre just off Jalan Stesen, and is a more convenient point of arrival in the city compared to the bus station, located 5km away from the centre.
Baolau makes it easy to compare transportation options and make advance booking for plane, train and bus tickets. Find out more about traveling in Malaysia with our comprehensive transportation guides for flights and trains.
Flights to Alor Setar
Domestic flights within Malaysia:
Trains to Alor Setar
- Trains serving the Alor Setar route start from Kuala Lumpur and terminate at the Malaysia – Thailand border at Padang Besar, passing by Ipoh.
Book your plane, train and bus tickets to Alor Setar online
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