Kuala river tales

Raja Chulan Raja Ahmad Tajuddin returns with more tales of Kuala of the past. This post details his love of the rivers that run by this historic Perak town.


When one reminisces or writes about Kuala Kangsar it would not be complete without mentioning Kuala’s own ‘Riviera’, perched on the bank of Sungai Kangsar (or Kangsor to you and I), just before the gerotak (bridge). To courting couples, this part of Kuala was seen to be the restaurant de l’amour, and for it was here that Malay College boys would strut in their all-whites and long socks, showing off to the lasses of GEGS (Government English Girl School, now Sekolah Menengah Raja Perempuan Kelsom) much, of course, to the ire of us Cliffordians! Originally it was just Restoran Pak Kassim with its famous mee rebus, laksa Pak Ngah and ais kacang. The ‘Riviera’ itself was ideally located because it was next to the bazaar, the prime shopping centre of Kuala Kangsar then, before it was demolished.

Admittedly, the riverside ambience was really romantic. It was well shaded by some cherry trees with their umbrella-like foliage and you can hear the rumble of the Kangsar river, its clear water rushing over the boulders and rubbles of the remnants of the older bridge (blown up by the British in their hasty retreat during the Japanese invasion of 1941). How I loved standing on the railings of this bridge watching the river flowed.

SembangKuala's impression of an A. Ramlie-wannabe on the gerotak. Note the sikat in the poket belakang of the drainpipe jeans.

This bridge was the favorite reconnoitre of the town boys. Come evening, they will park their Raleighs against the bridge’s railings and took position to watch the girls go by. This was the only link for the town lasses to reach the Padang Kanak Kanak for their evening leisure, and likewise too, for the ladies of Bukit Chandan and Bukit Kerajaan. The bridge would parade the P Ramlee-wannabes with the trademark curled twisting hair and Panca Sitara dark glasses. Having a long comb protruding from your back pocket was the in thing. In fact, if you looked carefully, ‘Jeffrydin’, ‘L Ramli’ and ‘A Ramlie’ were all there too!

It would be a little crowded here when the hero kampung from across the river joined the bridge-walk, especially when both the Rex and Cathay theatres were showing Hindi films. Amongst the rabble, you can hear tunes of whistling and hoots of “Jom tengok wayang? Teman belanje!

Sungai Kangsor was kind to the apek beca (trishaw puller). On the town side of the river, not far from its estuary, were a few big trees along the river bank which were ‘home’ to the apeks. There were not many of them but each had their regular customers, of which I was one. I was then studying at the Clifford Primary School along Jalan Station. My apek would ferry me to school from Talang which was quite a distant but he was always punctual, come rain or shine. Every morning I would be awaken by the loud ringing of his beca’s bell, which beat the alarm clock anytime!

When the sun sets, these apeks would return to their riverside ‘homes’. With their becas parked under the huge trees, they would bathe in the river to cool off after a hectic day. With the hood of their trishaws lowered, they were a sight of contented folk, smoking their rolled-tobacco cigarettes laced with opium (the sale of opium then was licensed only to a few sundry shops). One could distinctively hear them talking and laughing from the other side of the bridge.

Further down the river bank was the low-lying area around the confluence of the Kangsar and Perak rivers, which was not as it is today. There were a small number of shops selling local produce which included items like the keris, parangs, assortment of knives, tudung saji and pulicats. There were no food court and no tempoyak fresh water fish restaurant. For here was the original jetty for the sampans and motorised small boats plying the Perak river, ferrying the kampung folks from Sayong to Kuala town. As I love the river, it was here that I first learnt the art of menggalah1, much to the consternation of my parents. I was barely ten and taking on the Perak river!

I was caught out in my first ‘Indiana Jones’ adventure by this makcik from Lembah Sayong (Sayong is divided into Sayong Darat and Lembah Sayong, the latter being a kampung fringing the bank of Sungai Perak). She took the trouble to cross over to Kuala and reported to my mother who was actually looking for me when I was long overdue home from school. As I remembered my mother relating the incident, she quoted the mak cik, “Engku! Payong udah ke sungei!2 Well, it started as an exciting adventure but ended up a sob story as another of my dad’s belts was put to good use.

The segment of Sungai Perak at Kuala is not without its own folklore, though not the equivalent of the Loch Ness monster. One lore which was passed down through the generations by words of mouth was the Lubok Mat Anjen (anjen – Perak dialect for dog). Known for being the deepest part of the river, it is located at a bend in the road leading to Bukit Chandan, directly below the Kuala Kangsar Rest House. As we sit on the balcony of the rest house overlooking Sungai Perak, we can clearly see how the river directly flows towards the rest house. And directly below, down the slope, still covered with underbrush, is the Lubok Mat Anjen.

This fearsome lubok derived its name from an incident involving a boy (obviously named Mat) and his dog. He went for a swim at the spot and was caught in the strong undercurrent. He shouted for help but to no avail because this was the most deserted spot of the river. Seeing this, his faithful dog jumped into the river to help his master but they both drowned. The lore has it that their bodies were never found. To add to the mystique of Lubok Mat Anjen, it was said that they were sucked into a subriverine cavern deep below the big boulders. And it was also said that lurking below the lubok was the legendary and gigantic buaya tembaga. Buaya Tembaga aside, it was here that this ‘Indiana Jones’ in the making found it most tantalising for a swim or two!

  1. Menggalah is when one uses a very long bamboo pole to push and steer a small sampan on the river. This was somewhat dangerous as Sungai Perak then was much wider than it is today. Its undercurrent was much feared, even by the experienced boatman. It was said that every year the river would claim a victim, for the river would swell and flood its bank even when it rained for a few hours.
  2. Payong is a respectful term of endearment used by non-royals, usually of older age, in reference to young members of the Perak royal house. An excellent treatise of this term can be found here.


14 thoughts on “Kuala river tales

  1. In the 70s.., when we were having the Easy-Rider craze of modified Triumph motorbikes with the extended forks… I had a Triumph 500 Speed Twin which I modified in Bruas (of all places)… and Sg Kangsor would be our Rio-Grande, and we would park all the bikes on the Bukit Residen side of the bridge… We seem to have immunity from the police summonses even having no RoadTax… Sometimes we’d cruise into town, with our late Raja Muda KuTam as the leader… much to the chargrin of my father.., Sotan Derih… hehehe…

  2. I still remember in mid 70s Majlis Daerah Kuala Kangsar used to have Sukan Air at the river, the exact spot somewehere near “lembah”. My late father was in the organising committee and we still keep a momento from the Sukan Air. If memory serves me right, the Sukan Air was officiated by Almarhum Sultan Idris. Do they still have this Sukan Air there ? I wonder.

    • Salam, Pak Teh. Oh yes, the Sukan Ayor was happening then, an annual event that all teenagers around Kuala looked forward to. As a matter of fact they come from as far as Taiping and Manong (those years these places were deemed ‘jaoh sangat dah!) and the most enthusiastic would cycle to Kuala!. Just as the monsoon floods in Kelantan became the ‘mating’ season there, it was the same here at the Sukan Ayor. We were blessed, alhamdulillah, because Almarhum Tuanku Sultan Idris and his royal siblings were sports enthusiasts – polo, motorcycling and watersports. Among the interesting events were the crossing of the Perak River from Sayong to Kuala, the pillow fight on a piece of oil-slicked log in the river and of course the speed boat race which was always a close tussle between Allahyarham YAM Ayah Ku Tam and Allahyarham YM Raja Mohamed (Ku Yam’s father). Indeed, it was a colorful event!!

  3. wahhh … best story… and that apek very otai.. smoke with opium..haha… sadly now days so many mat rempit around royal town. i think they also dont know how to fishing now days…

  4. Dear Azam – The face of Kuala has changed so much but actually it was the people of Kuala that made Kuala interesting as it were. The apeks, the P Ramlee look-alikes, the mamak cendol and apek beca were all the ‘stars’ of Kuala. For all i know, our film legend, P Ramlee could have been inspired by these unforgettable characters!!

  5. Salams all,

    I echo Azam …best story! Really! And oh, nice drawing too! Wonder who the artist was.

    Happily, I note that RC (YM Engku Chulan) now has his own ‘desk’ here at SembangKuala to pen his musings, and with that, we shall become privy to reading more of his vivid recollections and entertaining writing about Kuala Kangsar & Bukit Chandan.

    I too fear that the memories of Kuala Kangsar & Bukit Chandan will soon disappear from people’s minds, just as its landscape is slowly but surely disappearing with each passing day in the name of development. The more reason we dearly need writings such as RC’s.

    Memories aside, RC’s style of writing is a joy in itself to read. If its a book, then its a definite page turner.

    Thank you.

    P/S RC, thanks for mentioning my late dad… sounds like he played quite a mean role in colouring Bukit Chandan 🙂

  6. Salam,
    Since your father is Raja Dato’ Ahmad Tajuddin and my grandfather is Raja Ahmad Tajuddin, are we related somehow or rather?

  7. Salam. Permit me to reply on behalf of Engku Chulan.
    His dad is Raja Dato Ahmad Tajuddin bin Raja Razman from the patrilineal line of Sultan Idris I, whilst your granddad is Raja Ahmad Tajuddin ibni Sultan Abdullah, and if I am correct (from looking at the salasilah compiled by Raja Nur Jannah), the elder brother of Raja Khairul Kamariah binti Sultan Abdullah (the last surviving daughter of Almarhum, died 2006) of the same mother.

    Hope I haven’t confused you yet.

    Nevertheless, if you read my reply to your comment in the war memorial post, Engku Chulan is related to the Sultan Abdullah line, tapi belah Engku Chulan’s mom, Raja Datin Noor Zaharah binti Raja Badiozaman (bin Raja Mansur ibni Sultan Abdullah). Engku Chulan is therefore your third cousin once removed, or in Melayu terms, nephew la kira!

    And… 😀

    If you see the name of one of our regular commentors (and sometime contributor) above, you’ll see a Raja Mariam (binti Raja Mohamed, or Ku Yam). She is the granddaughter of Raja Khairul Kamariah (belah Ku Yam’s mom, Tengku Khillah). Ku Yam is in fact your second cousin!


    • Assalammualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

      Would like to enquire as to the recent passing of a relative of ours, could anyone clarify?

      Would there be a reunion of the families in the near future?

  8. Salam to all tengku, engku and raja,

    Just drop by to say hai to all….so raja munawar you have found your family in here…..all the best to you……

    p/s*have all of you registered in geni.com……our megat family have done this…..

    • Bro , Tun Md Gadafi – Thanks for the help. Recently i received a call from Raja Iskandar the son of my uncle Raja Malik.

  9. Dear Mahariz,

    Thank you and very kind of you to introduce me to another member of our very large family.

    And to my cousin Raja Munawar… my warm salam to you and family.

    ~ KuYam

  10. Oh Mahariz,

    Love your sketch … a budding cartoonist nampaknye … can give Datuk Lat a run for his money! 🙂

    And, believe it or not, the drainpipe jeans had been a regular attire of mine wayyyyy back then … Thinking back, I’m quite amazed just how on earth I had managed to get into those jeans! Mind you, the stretch-type material was non-existent at that time. Ouch ….

  11. Salam, nde Yam. Budding? Dah lama tak sentuh pensel (like 20 years). And Dato Lat nun di atas, I am not. Thanks for the compliment, nonetheless.


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