Galleria Perdana may not be on any list of must-sees in Langkawi, but it plays host to a fascinating range of artefacts that anyone with an interest in politics and history won’t want to miss. The museum houses thousands of gifts that Malaysia’s famed Mahathir Mohamad received during his tenure as prime minister of Malaysia — from exquisite jewellery pieces to antique cars.
The idea for Galleria Perdana came from Mahathir himself, who wanted to give Malaysians access to the accumulated gifts he and his wife received while politically representing them. Mahathir spent 22 years in office and holds the record for longest-serving elected leader in Malaysia, so the collection, located six kilometres north of Kuah town on Jalan Ayer Hangat, is massive.
But the first thing that impresses about Galleria Perdana is the buildings themselves. The Japanese-style stone structures with a traditional Malay upper structure appears a statement of strength and durability, representative perhaps of Mahathir’s own political life.
The museum is divided into three sections each surrounding a central rotunda that opens to the second floor with magnificent hand-painted ceilings. There are sections devoted to silver, copper and brass, porcelain, glass and crystal, woodcarvings and tapestries to a large and impressive collection of ceremonial swords, daggers and knives.
The car collection alone includes a vintage Roadster as well as a 1950s Pontiac Catalina. One of the most popular exhibits is a nineteenth century carriage that was a gift from Argentina.
Once you’ve had your fill of objets d’art, classic automobiles and jewel-encrusted daggers and swords,
there is more explorable turf in the surrounding gardens.
Why is this museum in Langkawi you may wonder? Mahathir’s colourful life and career began in Langkawi’s home state of Kedah, and in the 1940s and 1950s the tropical island was considered a place of exile for non-conforming government employees. During his early career in medicine, a disagreement with a hospital director in Alor Setar landed Mahathir on the then-remote, undeveloped island as ‘punishment’. But Mahathir embraced the island and the rest is… well, history.