Historical Places In Malaysia

Did you know that Malaysia is teeming with historical places? Now iconic landmarks of independence, the British and Dutch occupation left behind many treasured relics that form our historically rich landscape today.

There is rich heritage and interesting tales to explain the existence of these places too. And with the multi-cultural population, many places of worship offer their own beguiling stories from the past too.

So, history buffs, read on and discover these 15 historical places in Malaysia that are enthralling from the word GO!

1. Kellie’s Castle

Located in the Kinta District in Perak, Kellie’s Castle is an unfinished mansion built by William Kellie-Smith as a gift to his wife or son, according to differing sources.

Kellie's Castle
Kellie’s Castle at Batu Gajah

At the young age of 20 years old, William purchased 1,000 acres of jungle land and invested in rubber tree plantations as well as in the tin mining industry.

With the fortune earned, he built his first mansion known as Kellas House, part of which is still on site at Kellie’s Castle.

Rooftop of Kellie's Castle
Rooftop of Kellie’s Castle

But before completing the larger Kellie’s Castle, William Kellie-Smith passed away at 56 due to pneumonia during a trip to Lisbon. Devastated by her husband’s death, William’s wife moved back to Scotland. And so, the construction of the castle was never completed.

Today, Kellie’s Castle is a popular tourist attraction that many believe is haunted. It was also notably used as a shooting location for the movie, Anna and the King.

Read more on Kellie’s Castle in Perak.

2. TT5 Tin Dredge

While you’re in Ipoh, swing by the TT5 Tin Dredge located at Batu Gajah. This hidden gem is often bypassed for Ipoh’s culinary allure but it is actually the last remaining tin dredge in Perak (and Malaysia).

TT5 Tin Dredge
TT5 Tin Dredge – Photo by Ravindran John Smith

Boasting a majestic stature and weighing in at a whopping 4,500 tons, the tin dredge is supported by a floating dock measuring 75 meters in length and 35 meters in width.

The TT5 Tin Dredge was built in 1938 in England by a leading dredge engineering company called F.W. Payne & Son. Manufactured by a reputable company called The Southern Malayan Tin Dredging Ltd, they operated 6 dredges in Tanjung Tualang and Batu Gajah in 1926.

TT5’s glory days lasted 44 years when it was heavily utilized until the world’s tin price started tumbling in 1982. Further exacerbated by the scarcity of tin deposits and high operating costs, the dredge was put to rest due to water leakage.

Recognizing its historical significance, RM8.5million was spent to renovate and preserve its original structure.

These days, you can take guided tours to see the TT5 Tin Dredge up close. Visitors will get to dabble in panning too.

To further draw in the crowd, another new attraction has been added –the biggest maze park in Malaysia.

3. A’Famosa Fortress

A Famosa which means “The Famous” in Portuguese is one of the oldest remnants of European architecture still standing in Asia.

A’Famosa Fortress In Malacca
A’Famosa Fortress In Malacca – Photo by Ho Hong Yun

The fortress which once comprised of four major towers and long, connective architecture now consists of a tiny gate that time has fortunately spared!

It all began in 1511 when a Portuguese fleet under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque arrived in Melaka.

Upon defeating the Sultanate’s armies, Alfonso built the fortress around a natural hill close to the sea. He envisioned Melaka to serve as an important port linking Portugal to China for the spice trade.

Villages sprouted within the fortress walls. And as Melaka’s population outgrew the original fort, several extensions were built in 1586.

The fort changed hands in the early 19th century after the Dutch defeated the Portuguese and thereafter handed over the fortress to the British.

The English planned to relocate the population and demolish the fort. It nearly happened if not for Sir Stanford Raffles (the founder of Singapore) who persuaded the English to let the residents remain.

And he convinced the English to let one gate remain for history’s sake.

So if you go today, the remnants of A Famosa can be found at the base of St Paul Hill, alongside a few canons, the Santiago Bastion, and an old Portuguese church up the hill.

Moreover, a short hike at the back of the hill will reward you with a panoramic view overlooking Melaka town.

4. Malacca Sultanate Palace

Located at the foot of St Paul Hill and not far away from the A Famosa, the Malacca Sultanate Palace is a replica of the orginal structure built by Sultan Mansur Shah. The Sultanate was the ruler of the city before the Portuguese arrived in the 1500s.

The Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum
The Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum

A visit to the Malacca Sultanate Palace offers a historical glimpse of the ancient Malay kingdom during its glory days.

The palace plays host to the Cultural Museum which highlights the contribution of Malays to Malacca’s history. There are more than 1,300 items of Malacca’s historical past on display with photographs, drawings, weaponry, musical instruments, and gifts from foreign ambassadors too.

While you’re here, swing by the St Paul’s Church located on top of St Paul’s Hill. And on your hike up, check out the Architecture Museum Malacca and the Stamp Museum Malacca.

If there’s time, make another pit stop at the Islamic Museum of Malacca where you can learn how Islam came to Malacca and advanced throughout the country.

5. Christ Church Malacca

Flaunting a Dutch Colonial architectural style, Christ Church in Malaccais the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia.

Christ Church Malacca
Christ Church Malacca – Photo by 2nix

In fact, there are regular services in English and Chinese between 8.30am and 10.30am every Sunday.

Christ Church is instantly recognizable with its distinct brick-red building and a huge white cross plus bell at the top. And inside, a tranquil ambiance reverberates throughout its interior.

Builtby the Dutch when they conquered Malacca from the Portuguese, constructing the church was a historical feat that stretched over 12 years with no expense spared

Everything from the wooden ceiling beams to the intricate hand-carved frieze and pews of “The Last Suppers”, makes the building an architectural heritage to marvel upon.

6. St Paul’s Church, Malacca

Perched at the top of St Paul’s hill is St Paul’s Church, the oldest church in Malaysia.

St Paul’s Church, Malacca
St Paul’s Church, Malacca – Photo by nbriam

Situated 2-minutes’ walk from A Famosa, this ancient church no longer serves as a place of worship but it’s a bustling tourist attraction over the weekends.

Built by the Portuguese in 1521, St Paul’s church was first inaugurated for Roman Catholics and was subsequently used to store gunpowder during the British occupation.

Brief funeral rights were conducted for missionary St. Francis Xavier here too, while his remains were sent to Goa in India 3 weeks later. There is an open grave that marks the spot where he was buried, alongside several tombstones within the compound.

You’ll also find a statue of St Xavier and an old lighthouse located in front of the church.

7. Kampung Kling Mosque

See a unique blend of architectural styles like Sumatran, Chinese, Hindi, and Melaka Malay styles all in one place at the Kampung Kiling mosque.

Kampung Kling Mosque
Kampung Kling Mosque – Photo by Ravindran John Smith

Originally built with wood by Indian Muslim traders in 1748, it was reconstructed in 1872 using bricks.

This traditional mosque in Melaka defies the conventional structure of mosques in Malaysia, lending a refreshing aesthetic twist that makes it stand out:

For example, instead of the expected spherical dome is a triple-tiered green pyramidal roof that sits on top of its main building.

While a confluence of east-meets-west is evident in the pagoda-style structure that forms its minaret alongside some Moorish elements.

Furthermore, the mosque’s interior has Portuguese and English influence with glazed tiles, Corinthian columns, arches, together with a mix of Hindu, Chinese and Malay ornamental elements.

8. Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

Recognized by UNESCO for its outstanding architectural restoration, the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia.

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple
Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

Built in the 1640s, its elaborate decoration includes gorgeous ceramic sculptures on the roof, intricately carved woodwork, golden paintings, and Chinese sculptures.  

A tranquil rock garden takes center stage at the back of the temple. Here, there are multiple limestone sculptures of Taoists, Buddhists, and Confucius encircling the Goddess of Mercy.

Thus, the rock garden is a favorite hangout and scenic photo opportunity for tourists.

9. St George Church

Hailed as the first and oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia, the St George Church was built in the 19th century by the British.

St George Church, Penang
St George Church, Penang – Photo by Greenleaf123

This church was built based on the architectural plans developed by the Governor of Prince of Wales Island (referring to Penang then), William Petrie.

The church combines distinct Neo-Classical, Georgian and English Palladian styles, built entirely by a battalion of Indian convict labor.

In 2007, the Malaysian government declared the church as one of the 50 National Treasures of Malaysia, and it underwent a major restoration in 2009.

Visitors to Penang will see that St George Church remains well-maintained, majestically impeccable, and a popular spot for bridal photography.

10. Goddess Of Mercy (Kuan Yin) Temple

One of the oldest Chinese temples in Penang, the Goddess of Mercy temple is an elaborate Taoist temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, and a bodhisattva.

Goddess Of Mercy Temple (Kuan Yin Temple)
Goddess Of Mercy Temple (Kuan Yin Temple) – photo credits to food_ian0903 (Instagram)

An overpowering scent of burning sandalwood incense greets you as you enter, given the number of devotees offering prayers daily.

Built in 1728 by the Cantonese and Hokkien community, the temple is thronged by worshippers seeking to be blessed for a better year ahead.

Other times, devotes seek protection or calm away from unwanted spirits and troubled times.

Despite the perpetual crowd, a sense of peace abounds as you set foot in the temple.

And besides visiting for religious purposes, the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Penang is an opportunity for photographers with its myriad textures and paintings.

If that appeals to you, make a brief stop here while you’re in Penang!

11. Penang Snake Temple

The famous Penang Snake Template was built in 1805 to honor a Buddhist Monk, Master Qing Shui well-known for his healing capabilities and providing shelter to snakes.

Penang Snake Temple
Penang Snake Temple – Photo by Sitriel

Legend has it that when the temple was completed in 1800, snakes intuitively filled the premise without any human intervention.

A heady scent of burning incense fills the temple, alongside a variety of pit vipers. The slithery creatures can be spotted on the altar and in the garden at the back nearby the washroom too.

Due to the sacred smoke, it is believed that the vipers are rendered harmless. However, as a safety precaution, the snakes are also de-venomed while leaving their fangs intact.

And erring on the side of caution, guests are also forbidden from touching and picking up the snakes except for the two huge pythons trained for this purpose. There’s a breeding area amongst lush ciku trees that are teeming with many snakes too.

The Penang Snake Temple was once featured in the Amazing Race Season 16, further increasing its popularity.

12. Fort Cornwallis

As the mother of all forts in Malaysia, Fort Cornwallis is the largest and oldest fort to grace Penang and Malaysia.

Fort Cornwallis
Fort Cornwallis – Photo by Daniel Van Pelt

In proximity to The Esplanade, Fort Cornwallis was built by the British to protect Penang Island. You can take advantage of the panoramic vantage from the fort which overlooks the clock tower with several cruise ships meandering nearby.

This distinguished landmark in George Town features a statue of the founder of Penang Island, Captain Francis Light. The statue was erected within the fort to commemorate the spot where he first landed in 1786.

Note: There are interesting facts displayed around the fort about Sir Francis Light

However, Fort Cornwallis was named in honor of Charles Marquis Cornwallis, the then Governor-General of Bengal.

And when the Duke of Wellington reported Fort Cornwallis as incapable of defending the Penang, the idea of relocating the fort was eventually scrapped due to its exorbitant cost, and Fort Cornwallis was rebuilt between 1804 and 1810.

Of the 77 cannons originally installed along Fort Cornwallis though, only 17 remain to be seen today:

The most famous one being the Seri Rambai cannon which has been moved from Johor to Java, then Acheh and Kuala Selangor. In 1871, the canon was seized by the British and placed at the north-western corner of Fort Cornwallis.

Read more about Fort Cornwallis in Penang island.

13. Batu Caves

Visually captivating from afar with 272 multi-colored steps, Batu Caves is a sacred pilgrimage for Hindus in Malaysia.

Batu Caves
Batu Caves – Photo by Martina Birnbaum

Nestled within a complex limestone cave, Batu Caves was named after the Batu River that flows nearby. And it was William Temple Hornaday, an American naturalist who discovered the cave and placed it on the world map.

Shortly after, this inspired K. Thamboosamy Pillay, a leader within the Tamil Hindu community in Malaya to build the temple in 1891.

The highlight of the temple is none other than the majestic gold-painted statue of God Murugan. It stands at the base of the steps and measures 140 feet tall.

Batu Cave comprises several sections, with the largest area known as the Temple Cave, followed by the Dark Cave which is occasionally closed to the public.

Inside Batu Caves, there are dioramas depicting scenes from the epic poem Ramayana. To explore more paintings and statues, venture into the Cave Villa which includes an Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave.

14. Dataran Merdeka

While Merdeka Square may seem nothing more than a vast field with an immaculate green lawn featuring the tallest flagpole in the world (at 95m), its historical significance cannot be denied.

Dataran Merdeka
Dataran Merdeka – Photo by AsianDream

Located opposite the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and flanked by the Royal Selangor Club, Dataran Merdeka marks the spot where the British Union Flag was lowered. It was at this historical spot where the Malayan flag was hoisted for the very first time when the clock struck midnight on 31st August 1957.

Since then, Merdeka Square has been the venue for many Independence Day parades.

While you’re here, don’t miss the Victorian-era fountain near the flagpole. Go shutter crazy and capture the spectacular views of the KL skyline with iconic buildings like the Twin Towers, KL Tower, and the new Merdeka 118 in the backdrop.

15. Sri Mahamariamman Temple

Built in1873 by K. Thamboosamy Pillai, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest and richest Hindu temple In Kuala Lumpur.

Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur
Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur

During its early years, it served as a private shrine for the Pillai family. In the 1920s, the family opened the temple doors to the public and eventually handed the temple management to a board of trustees.

While its initial structure was modest and made of attap, it was demolished in 1887 to make way for the current architectural grandeur.

The temple’s arresting 5-tiered tower (or gopuram) is its signature feature. Standing at a dramatic height of 75ft, the pyramid-shaped gate tower is carved with sculptures of Hindu gods, painstakingly crafted by artisans from Southern India.

Within the premises, lies a silver chariot that’s used during the annual Thaipusam festival. The chariot serves to transport the statues of Lord Muruga along with his consorts as they traverse the streets of Batu Caves.

Making its debut in 1993, the highlight of the chariot is its stature at a whopping 6.5 meters tall with 240 bells adorned, led by a pair of horses.

Conclusion

With Penang and Melaka inscribed as Unesco World Heritage Sites, coupled with Malaysia’s melting pot of cultures, Malaysia is a treasure trove of historical sites!

So go on a blast to the past and visit these historical sites with this list of 15 sterling historical places in Malaysia!

As a bonus, many of these states (Ipoh, Penang and Malacca) are havens for Malaysian traditional food too.

Further reading:

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