Guide to Kuala Muda

11 July 2017

Kuala Muda has seen a royal battle between brothers, a natural disaster, and a propensity to keep calm in the face of it all. Get under the skin of this district by paying a visit to a few of its key spots.

There are no true ‘tourist attractions’ in Kuala Muda. If one comes with the expectation of experiencing the regular thrills and delights of a conventional holiday, disappointment is sure to follow. Kuala Muda’s story unfolds in understated places that, with a little studying, reveal its steely resilience and uncomplicated charm.

Pintu Gerbang Kota Kuala Muda
In the town square of Kota Kuala Muda, next to a rather ramshackle house, facing an insurance office stands a crumbling arched gateway. Purported to have been built before the 18th century, Pintu Gerbang Kota Kuala Muda stands like a portal that may just allow time travel to Kedah’s ancient past. Once the centre of trade and government, Kota Kuala Muda teemed with Chinese, Indian, Portugese, Dutch and British traders drawn to its shores because of dealings in tin and spice.

This town was also the stage for a blue blood sibling rivalry – one between Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin and his younger brother Tengku Yaakob. According to the inscription at the gateway, Tengku Yaakob captured Kota Kuala Muda with the help of the Siamese troops in 1821. After attempts to defeat them failed, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin eventually moved the central government to Alor Setar instead where it has stayed ever since.

Pasar Bisik
Present day Kota Kuala Muda is a world away from its past. It is a coastal town with straight, single lane roads leading in and out of it, often flanked by vast expanses of paddy fields. The district of Kuala Muda is best known today for its quaint-sounding Pasar Bisik (Whispering Market), a seafood market where a unique bidding system is used to conduct business.

Fishermen haul their catch straight from their boats and accept bids from customers. Interested customers would then need to whisper their price into the fisherman’s ear. After he considers all the bids, he gets to decide who he wants to sell his catch to. The whole process is swift and eliminates the need for a middleman.

The Whispering Market is also known as Kompleks Pasar Bisik Ikan Kuala Muda. Open daily, 8am-3pm.

Mak Su’s Bakery & Ikan Kering
For pineapple tarts and dried fish, visit Mak Su’s Bakery & Ikan Kering. Mak Su operates out of her own home; she and six other women from the same village work on de-boning, seasoning and drying 200kg worth of fresh fish from the nearby Pasar Bisik every day.

In her kitchen, a team of four mothers fill lines of pastry up with homemade pineapple jam, rolling them into bite-sized tarts that crumble satisfyingly once popped into mouths.
Mak Su takes orders for dried fish and cookies. Call 013 596 7032 for orders and pick-up instructions.

Pulau Sayak
Pulau Sayak might not be the popular beach spot that is Pantai Merdeka but it is far more peaceful. The road leading towards it is a narrow one, opening up to a view of a tiny fishing community. Do not expect fine white sand but red rocky terrain here. Men lie in hammocks as the sound of lapping waves cast a lulling spell over the day. Pick up some nira nipah (juice-like sap from a nipah frond) from a roadside stall on the way here and enjoy it under the shade of the trees lining the shore.

The steady, calm pace of the town was disrupted in 2004 by the Indian Ocean tsunami. Claiming more than 230,000 lives across 14 different countries, the tsunami left its tragic mark on Kuala Muda as well, destroying houses, fishing boats and taking ten lives.  A tall pile of fishing boats serves as a reminder of it today, erected as a monument next to remains of houses wrecked by waves more than a decade ago. All these form part of what is the Tsunami Gallery, a sombre reminder of the unexpected tragedy that struck this small town so many years ago.

Text and photos by Adeline Chua



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