The northernmost third of the west coast is filled by the states of Kedah and Perlis, the latter being Malaysia’s smallest state at just 800 square km. These are the country’s agricultural heartlands, the landscape dominated by lustrous, bright green paddy fields stretching off in all directions. That wealth has seen the region (ruled by Malay sultans since the fifteenth century) invaded over the centuries by the Thais, the British, the Thais again, and the Japanese in World War II. Indeed, Kedah only reluctantly joined the Federated Malay States in 1948.
Neither state’s capitals– Kedah’s Alor Star, or Kangar in Perlis – demands a trip in its own right, but the major resort island of Pulau Langkawi, with its fine beaches and forested interior, makes an attractive (if expensive) place to pull up for a few days, perhaps en route to the Thai border – which you can cross by boat from the island, or by road and rail through Perlis. Less visited local sights include Ulu Muda Eco Reserve, and the important archeological remains outside tiny Sungai Petani.