Ancient Malaysian site off the radar

SUNGAI PETANI, Malaysia, 23 August 2018: Malaysia will restore what it claims is the oldest sites of human civilisation in Southeast Asia in a move to gain recognition as a World Heritage site.

Sungai Batu Archaeological Complex is relatively unknown outside of Malaysia, but the intention is to improve the site’s facilities  at a cost of MYR30 million.

Located around 30 km from Sungai Petani, the industrial hub of southern Kedah state, archaeologists have certified that it dates back to 582 BC making it by far the oldest recorded civilisation in Southeast Asia and one of the oldest in Asia.

The Sungai Batu dig site unearthed various artefacts such as sunken ships and the foundations of an early human settlement that predated other archaeological sites in the region, including Angkor Wat in Siam Reap, Cambodia and the Borobudur temple in central Java, Indonesia.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture confirmed this month it would apply for a budget of MYR13.5 million from the Economic Planning Unit to begin the project.

According to the Bernama newswire report, Deputy Minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik said the entire project would ultimately cost an estimated MYR30 million.

The objective is to turn the site into a full infrastructure complex to attract more domestic and international tourists with a museum and guided tours.

“This area has great potential as a historical tourism product. We want another product for the mainland so that when people mention Kedah they do not just think of Langkawi island and at the same time we will work to make this area a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” he said during a recent visit to the historical site.

However, recent reviews on TripAdvisor, feedback indicates the site is far from ready to be declared a renowned World Heritage site capable of attracting international tourists.

Reviewers said there was a lack of Information even though it was the most important historical site in Malaysia and an example of iron smelting civilisation that existed in 582 BC.

While recognising the site should be given a “five-star rating for its value as a site representing the earliest discovery of civilization in Malaysia,” there was a serious lack of information and reviewers concluded it was far from tourist friendly.

“The only way to get the most out of the visit, as there are no resident guides, is to check Google as your go,” one reviewer commented.

Currently just one site of eight was open for visitors to inspect.

Sungai Batu, located in Kedah’s Bujang valley, remains an important site for archaeologists and historians, but travellers lacking that kind of background are at a serious disadvantage. They have to rely on just one sign board for a description of the site’s features.

A museum remains to be built and the iron tools and utensils that reflected the ancient civilisation’s achievements are absent.

It’s a day outing from Alor Star and the recommended way to go is to book a tour that comes with a company guide. That should help to unlock some of the secrets of the excavation site that dates back 2,500 years.

(Source: BERNAMA)