The Malay word for rice, padi, Anglicized to “paddy,” is one of Kedah’s contributions to the Western lexicon. Due to its historic ties with Thailand, many local customs are Thai in origin, and many of its inhabitants have Thai ancestry. Kedah enjoys the distinction of being one of Malaysia’s oldest states, the “rice bowl” that supplies half the national rice output.
A favourite tourist destination in Kedah is Langkawi In the Andaman Sea, which has been of increasing importance to the state. This group of islands in western Kedah numbers almost a hundred, though only a few are above water at high tide.
Kedah was once a Hindu-Buddhist settlement, according to 5th century records recovered from Bujang Valley. This changed when the king converted to Islam in 1126. Kedah’s port at Kuala Muda was often visited by Indian and Chinese traders, with its highest peak, Gunung Jerai, serving as their guide in navigation. During World War II, the Japanese invaded the state and turned it over to Thailand, who renamed it SriBuri (with the variations Saiburi and Syburi). After the war, it was returned to British rule and became part of the Federation of Malaya.
In 1996 Malaysia’s first high-technology industrial park, Kulim Hi-Tech Park, opened in the Kulim district in southern Kedah. Its aim is to help realise the country’s goal of becoming a fully industrialised nation by 2020. The state now hosts almost 30 such parks, backed by modern infrastructure such as a wide railway system and reliable water and power supplies.
Kedah’s capital and royal seat, Alor Setar, is fairly developed. One of the region’s oldest cities, Alor Setar has a number of important and historic buildings, including the large and grand state mosque, the Masjid Zahir, several Thai temples, and the Balai Besar, or Great Hall, which is used by the Sultan for official functions.
Aside from tourism and agriculture, other industries that are big in the state include automotive and aerospace equipment manufacturing. The manufacturing sector has become the biggest contributor to the state’s GDP in recent years.
The archipelago of Langkawi Permata Kedah, the “Jewel of Kedah”, is 30 kilometres from the Malaysian mainland in the Strait of Malacca. It is dominated by its biggest island, Pulau Langkawi.
Langkawi’s incredible, 500-million-year-old sandstone and limestone and marble formations won it a UNESCO listing as Asia’s first World Geopark. Aside from the Cambrian-era Machinchang Mountain Range, Langkawi’s two other major Geopark sites are at Kilim and Dayang.
The big island has several tourist and recreation sites. The Oriental Village is a resort with a duty-free shopping centre. The base station of the Langkawi Cable Car is located here. The cable car will take passengers up to the top of the Machincang range, 708 metres above sea level. There are also a large and modern marine park and a wildlife park on the island.
Shoppers and sightseers can also check out the various pasar malam, or night markets, where cheap local goods and delicacies can be bought.
The archipelago enjoys fine tropical weather. The mainland’s mountains shelter it from the worst of the northeast winter monsoon rains, though the milder western monsoon affects Langkawi.
Around 50,000 Malaysians live in Pulau Langkawi or on the nearby island of Pulau Tuba. It has duty-free status, an international airport and world-class leisure resorts and hotels.