History of Southeast Asia
Sungai Batu Archaeological Site: Oldest Civilization in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia’s oldest ancient civilizations were made up of Buddhists and Hindus, and Sungai Batu is here to prove it.

Sungai Batu is an archaeological site in northern Malaysia, and it holds the ruins of several Hindu-Buddhist temples dating back to the 8th and 11th century. The site, which is located in Merbok of the Kedah state, is believed to have existed since 535 BC. It was a former thriving international entrepot, an iron smelting hub, as well as a religious center.

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Entrance to the Sungai Batu Archaeological Site in Bedong, Kedah
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One of the many smelting centers found at the Sungai Batu Archaeological Site
tapak Arkeologi Sungai Batu di Lembah Bujang
A glimpse of the Sungai Batu Archaeological Site

Sungai Batu Archaeological Site in Kedah, Malaysia

Due to Sungai Batu’s involvement in the global exports of iron, archaeologists have unearthed merchant ships believed to have been buried for approximately 4000 years. In total, the site holds 17 smelting plants, 13 administrative centers, numerous ritual sites, and 10 jetties. During a mapping carried out in 2007, 17 candi were found intact while 33 candi that were previously recorded by early British explorers have unfortunately vanished due to natural reasons.

Candi is a term describing ancient temples and ritual sites which have evolved into being today's historical monuments.

An ancient temple found at Sungai Batu.
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Smelting plants found at Sungai Batu in Kedah
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Ruins and bricks found at Sungai Batu in Kedah
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Ancient monuments made of bricks found at Sungai Batu

The ancient Kedah Tua Civilization went by many names in the past: Queda, Kalah Bar, Kalaha, Cheh-Cha, Ka-Cha and Qalha.

Local archaeologists claimed that the Kedah Tua Civilization was one of the world’s oldest civilizations, surpassing the ancient Rome and Greece civilizations. In 2016, world-renowned archaeologists confirmed that the sites found in Lembah Bujang were over 2,000 years old - putting them way ahead of Cambodia's Angkor Wat and Indonesia's Borobudur in the history timeline.

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Excavation work being carried out at the Sungai Batu Archaeological Complex in Merbok.
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Thousands of iron ores are still being unearthed at Sungai Batu each day.

Activities at Sungai Batu Archaeological Site

It is recommended to spend half a day at the historic archaeological site at Sungai Batu in Merbok. There are several activities and educational attractions tailored specifically for those with an interest in archaeology and anthropology, such as the following:

Go on a Candi tour

Lembah Bujang or the Bujang Valley is a sprawling historical complex covering over 224 suare feet. Being the richest archaeological site in Malaysia, this site also houses the oldest manmade structure recorded in the whole of Southeast Asia, which is made out of clay bricks known as Candi 11. You can visit all 17 registered candi here.

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Ancient monument in the Bujang Valley Archaeological Park in Kedah, Malaysia.
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Candi Bukit Batu Pahat, Lembah Bujang
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Candi at the ancient Bujang Valley of Kedah
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Candi Bukit Batu Pahat is a popular ancient Hindu temple discovered in Bujang Valley, Kedah
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Candi Bukit Batu Pahat was erected in the 6th century A.D., and has become the most popular ancient Hindu temple in Lembah Bujang.

See ancient artifacts at the Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum

Ancient relics are on display at this dedicated museum, including inscribed stone caskets and tablets, metal tools, ceramics, beads that were once traded, and other Hindu ornaments.

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See ancient artifacts of the Bujang Valley
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Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum
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An ancient statue of Lord Ganesha are among the items on display at the Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum

Observe the ongoing excavation or join as a volunteer!

Excavation work is currently being carried out at Sungai Batu, and you can be a part of this significant event by participating as a volunteer.

Tapak Arkeologi Sungai Batu, Lembah Bujang
Excavation work at the Sungai Dua Archaeological Site

Hands-on ancient brick making and iron smelting experience

Curious to learn about the methods used by the region's oldest civilization in the making of bricks and melting ores? Find out how here!

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Learn brick making and iron smelting at Sungai Batu
Tapak Arkeologi Sungai Batu, Lembah Bujang
Archaeologists demonstrating and explaining ancient methods of making bricks and iron in Sungai Batu.

UNESCO World Heritage Site Status

Despite all the excavation efforts, scientific evidences and its potential to become the next international heritage tourism attraction, Sungai Batu is still not recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sungai Batu Travel Tips

As the Sungai Batu archaeological site has not been properly developed into a tourist attraction, here are a few things to look out for during your visit:
  1. Lack of information. While walking paths are available, there isn't any signage and direction being put up.
  2. Lack of tour guide. However, on certain days, visitors might be able to find volunteers or students for a free and casual guided tour around the site. Otherwise, one will have to rely on Google for information. The experience here is a far cry from that of Angkor Wat.
  3. Disintegrated ruins. While several candi are still intact, most of the major discoveries are left with scattered ruins that will not impress a visitor who does not have prior knowledge of the place.

How to Get to Sungai Batu Archaeological Site at Bedong, Kedah

Start your journey from Sungai Petani and take a shuttle bus to Sungai Merbok from the Sungai Petani bus terminal. The Sungai Batu Archaeological Site is located approximately 70 kilometers south of Alor Setar - the capital of Kedah and is easily accessible by car or taxi.

Sungai Batu Archaeological Site Ticket Price

Entrance to the Sungai Batu Archaeological Site is free. The recommended visit duration is half a day to complete the walking tour around the site.

Sungai Batu Archaeological Site (Tapak Arkeologi Sungai Batu)

Address: Lembah Bujang, Kampung Permatang Samak, Bedong 08100, Malaysia
Opening hours: 9am–3pm (Closed on Saturday)
Contact number: +6019-753 7327

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