The capital of the strictly Muslim state of Perlis, Kangar isn't the bustling city most would expect of a state capital but instead has a countryside town feel to it, and is surrounded by fields and farms. The province is Malaysia's tiniest and is home to a variety of natural attractions as well as being culturally intriguing thanks to its location bordering Buddhist-majority Thailand to its north, Malaysia's Kedah state to its south and a small stretch of the Andaman coastline to its west.
The state makes an interesting little stop as you either head into or out of Malaysia, though most travellers tend to only see it as a transit point either to Pulau Langkawi or Thailand. It's easy to get around and is also cheaper than many other parts of Malaysia.
While Kangar may be the state's little capital, the royal family and Sultan have their residences in Arau, some 10km away. KTM's railway line runs through the state and eventually crosses into Thailand at Padang Besar, a small international border crossing south of the major Thai transport hub of Hat Yai.
Spectacular limestone outcroppings similar to those in Thailand rise from the flat rice paddies that stretch across much of Perlis' landscape. These outcroppings are part of the longest continuous limestone range in Southeast Asia, the Nakawan, which extends along the national border like a great wall.
Due to its close proximity to and historical relations with Siam, Thai culture is still very noticeable in Perlis, including in the architecture, local cuisine, the people's relaxed attitude to life, and even the language – most locals speak some Thai. People who live along the border often just walk past the immigration lines to visit family members on the other side -- formalities seem too much trouble.
Once you're in the capital, you'll see the town centre is spread out along Perlis River and its tributaries bubbling down from the mountains in the north. A couple of shophouse-lined crisscrossing streets and lanes compromise the town centre. The small town square together with Pasar Raya shopping complex is the most happening area, with banks, a post office, small roadside restaurants and a crowded KFC that's open 24/7.
Unlike Kedah state, where the working days are Sunday to Thursday, Perlis operates on a regular Monday to Friday system like Kuala Lumpur. Around lunch time, workers, shoppers and commuters often retreat from the midday sun to roadside stalls for a quick bite to eat and a gossip.
Travellers arriving on the Langkawi ferry at night will find Kangar town centre pretty deserted unless it's festival season, due to the majority of people here being Muslim and alcohol practically nonexistent. The only really busy-by-night area is near the express bus station, where shops and a handful of food stalls stay open until late.
By Marc Modin.