Southeast Asia’s oldest ancient civilisations were made up of Buddhists and Hindus, and Sungai Batu is here to prove it.
Sungai Batu is an archaeological site in northern Malaysia, and it holds the ruins of several Hindu-Buddhist temples dating back to the eighth and eleventh century.
The site, which is located in Merbok in Kedah, is believed to have existed since 535 BC. It was once a thriving international entrepôt, an iron smelting hub, as well as a religious centre.
Due to Sungai Batu’s involvement in the global export of iron, archaeologists have unearthed merchant ships believed to have been buried for approximately 4,000 years.
In total, the site holds 17 smelting plants, 13 administrative centres, numerous ritual sites, and 10 jetties.
During a mapping carried out in 2007, 17 candi were found intact while 33 candi that were previously recorded by early British explorers have unfortunately vanished due to natural reasons.
Candi is a term describing ancient temples and ritual sites which have evolved into being today’s historical monuments.
The ancient Kedah Tua Civilisation went by many names in the past: Queda, Kalah Bar, Kalaha, Cheh-Cha, Ka-Cha and Qalha.
Local archaeologists have claimed the Kedah Tua Civilisation is one of the world’s oldest, surpassing even those of ancient Rome and Greece.
In 2016, world-renowned archaeologists confirmed that the sites found in Lembah Bujang were over 2,000 years old – putting them way ahead of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and Indonesia’s Borobudur in the history timeline.
Activities at the Sungai Batu archaeological site
It is recommended to spend half a day at the historic archaeological site at Sungai Batu in Merbok.
There are several activities and educational attractions tailored specifically for those with an interest in archaeology and anthropology, such as the following:
• Go on a candi tour
Lembah Bujang or the Bujang Valley is a sprawling historical complex covering over 20.8 square metres.
Being the richest archaeological site in Malaysia, it also houses the oldest manmade structure recorded in the whole of Southeast Asia. It is made of clay bricks known as Candi 11. You can visit all 17 registered candi here.
• See ancient artefacts at Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum
Ancient relics are on display at this dedicated museum, including inscribed stone caskets and tablets, metal tools, ceramics, beads that were once traded, and other Hindu ornaments.
• Observe ongoing excavation or join as a volunteer
Excavation work is still being carried out at Sungai Dua, and you can be a part of this significant event by participating as a volunteer.
• Experience hands-on ancient brick-making and iron-smelting
Curious to learn about the methods used by the region’s oldest civilisation in the making of bricks and melting iron ore? Find out how here…
Despite all the excavation efforts, scientific evidences and its potential to become the next international heritage tourism attraction, Sungai Batu is still not recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
As the Sungai Batu archaeological site has not been properly developed into a tourist attraction, the setbacks it faces are:
• Lack of information. While walking paths are available, there is no signage.
• No guide. However, on certain days, visitors may be able to find volunteers or students for a guided tour around the site. Otherwise, one will have to rely on Google for information.
• Disintegrated ruins. While there are candi still intact, most of the major discoveries are left with scattered ruins that will not impress a visitor who does not have prior knowledge of the place.
Sungai Batu Archaeological Site
Tapak Arkeologi Sungai Batu
Kampung Permatang Samak
Entrance Fee: Free
Recommended visit duration: Half-day
This article first appeared in rollinggrace.com
Grace Ng is a serial wanderluster, solo female traveler, award-winning recipe developer and travel writer.