Day 9 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020 | Travels with my wife

Travels With My Wife

Still talking after all these years!

Day 9 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020

Allo Allo Alor Se… Sirrtar… star! Just when you think you have got an angle on pronouncing Terengganu correctly, i.e. Tringanoo, along comes Alor Setar and not only does one find it spelt Star on roadsigns, one also finds that it is also spelt Setar on other signs… Malay words transliterated from the original Jawi script all get an extra unpronounced vowel now and then.


Alor Setar, the capital of Kedah, was one of our favourite cities in Malaysia, if for no other reason than we could find a cocktail bar that served margaritas. Well, that is, it served them eventually! For reasons as yet unfathomed, all restaurants in Malaysia serve drinks slowly, if at all. In such a hot climate one would imagine that slipping a bottle of expensive ice cold bottled water in front of a customer would be a good way of earning easy money but that does not seem to have become a thing here. Even less likely are you to find alcohol at all, so Alor Setar immediately jumped to the top of our list of favourite cities for the Margarita's alone.

There is a fair old amount of history in Kedah. There is a curious semi mythical story of the first king of Kedah, Mahawangsa. Now, his story was written down in the 18th Century when Kedah was at it height of power, with its borders stretching well up into modern day Thailand, so a certain grandiosity penetrated its foundation myth. But going one better than its rival states down south who merely claimed descent from Alexander The Great, Mahawangsa also was related to The King Of Rome!

The story is roughly that Mahawangsa was accompanying some Roman delegation to China, and stopped off at Kedah to await the rest of his fleet to catch up with him. And as one does when bored and armed to the teeth, he founded the state of Langasuka, then set his son on the throne and went off back to Rome. Eventually Langasuka split into Siam, Perak, Pattani, and Kedah, divided up between sons of later Rajas.

Somewhere in the murky history, one finds the area dominated by the Srivajaya empire based in Palembang, in Sumatra, which left only stone inscriptions around the region, but there were plenty of mentions in Indian and Chinese texts of some power vaguely of that name, and the area around the Bujang Valley seems to have been one of the centres of activity.

All that history was lost to the world until the 1920's when the story of the Buddhist kingdom of Srivajaya was pieced together. Though, given the literate nature of other Buddhists states around the area, it is all a little mysterious that more written evidence was not found. The remains so far dug up though, give us a mix of Hindu and Buddhist artifacts from the 3rd to the 14th Century, which does cover quite a bit of history indicating plenty of activity that we know little about. Population levels around the peninsular seem to have been very low, especially compared to the massive population one finds around Angkor Wat midway through that time period. So perhaps these early settlements on the Peninsular were minor colonies devoted to a narrow range of activity. For instance, Iron Smelting! There is plenty of evidence of this taking place in the region so maybe this was less a major cultural centre and more an Iron age industrial area.

What we do know for certain is that the Tamil Chola kings, from an Empire that spread from Sri Lanka up the East coast of India to Bengal, got into a dispute with the powers in control of the trade routes to China, and launched an invasion trapping the Srivajayan fleet in the straits of Melaka and destroying it. And rather surprisingly, the Chola used a weapon that seemed to be similar to the Byzantine Greek Fire, which might have originally come to them via that route.

Which brings me back to Mahawangsa, who's fleet was attacked by a fire breathing Eagle. Which, I assume might be an echo of that Chola weaponry! But who knows?

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