The tiny town of Sungai Petani stretches along the railway tracks coming up from Butterworth and heading to Thailand. Save one attraction this is a town that features very rarely on a traveller's itinerary.
In the colonial days the town was mainly a centre for rice cultivation and rubber production. Not many buildings remain from those days but on Jalan Bank where the old bank building still stands, you can get a sense of how life might have been back then, when rich plantation owners made their weekly deposits here as street vendors, cobblers and merchants advertised their wares in the streets surrounding the clock tower.
Things to do in Sungai Petani are about as low key as it gets: visit the sleepy and worn railway station and spot the town's clock tower -- a testimony to a time when not everybody had a wrist watch (or mobile phone) -- browse the morning market on Jalan Besar and have a cup of tea in a wild west-looking Chinese area around Jalan Pengalan.
Some travellers do actually come here for a reason -- to make a trip to the fascinating Lembah Bujang Archaeology Museum set on the jungle-clad slopes of Gunung Jerai, where the site of an ancient Hindu civilisation has been unearthed.
The easiest way to get your bearings in Sungai Petani is to look out for the clock tower that stands right in the centre on Jalan Ibrahim, the main road, opposite HSBC Bank.
If you are taking a right from here you'll pass by Jalan Petri a couple of streets down, where the local bus station is, and another 300 metres down the main road will bring you to Centre Point shopping mall. Heading left instead ends out at an intersection next to a Malay shopping complex where there's not much to buy other than food and cheap knick-knacks.
Sungai Petani's train station is right in front of the clock tower, 50 metres in from the main road. Its ticket office is open daily, 11:00-16:00 and 18:00-19:00.
Backing up on Jalan Bank is HSBC Bank, where there's an ATM and the bank is open weekdays, 09:15-16:30. A small clinic and pharmacy is also located down the road along with local shops to snoop around in. If you could call an area here Chinatown, this would be it.
The town's second bus station lies on Jalan Basar, which runs parallel to the railway tracks. A morning wet market operates on this street, hence the name basar, meaning market. A couple of shophouses up from the market is Hotel Seri Malaysia, the only hotel within a kilometre of the town centre.
By Marc Modin.