Baling, A Mystical Town (Part 1 Of 3)

Have you wondered what kind of setting will be suitable for a Malaysia version of Count Dracula novel? What could be more perfect than a mountainous area surrounded by forest and a place known for its infamous past?… Baling town in Kedah. It is known for its natural resources, historic past and most importantly, for its mystical stories… Are you ready?

Fang-like structure on the road in Baling
I spotted this fang-like structure on the way to the Ulu Lengong Hot Spring. It reminded me of the Malaysia version of Count Dracula story – The legend of Raja Bersiong.
Photo by Shaalni Param

How Baling Got Its Name…

Baling means “throw” in Malay language. But, have you ever wondered how the town got its name? It is pretty unusual for a town to be named after a verb “throw” right? Well, it goes back to the infamous tale of a fanged king who was known as Raja Bersiong. According to the legend, Raja Bersiong was a powerful and fearsome king. He ruled over the kingdom of Langkasuka in the 16th century. It seems back then, he had an unusual appetite as he loved having fresh human blood in his meal. Consequently, fangs started to grow and that was how he earned the nickname Raja Bersiong which means Fanged-King.

As years passed, he started killing innocent people to quench his thirst for human blood and to satisfy his greed. Having had enough of his autocracy, his advocates planned a coup. Fearing for his life, he fled from his castle to protect himself. During the runaway, he repented of his mistakes and decided to pull and throw away his fangs. Hence, the place that he made that decision is named Baling due to his action of “throwing”. I don’t know how true this is but it is an interesting story on how Baling got its name from. At least, that’s what the locals claim.

The Wonderful Trio’s Outing To Baling

I always have a friend accompanying me for travels in Malaysia. Remember Li from my previous travel story? My beloved travel partner. Besides Li, I have another close friend, Wong, who introduced me to his friend, Su. Su created a WhatsApp group adding the three of us. And she named our group the “Wonderful Gang”. Although I have only met Su for a short period of time, I find her bubbly and super friendly. On the other hand, Wong is more serious and very meticulous. To me, the most important trait is that they are not fussy.

Wonderful trio gang members
From left; Su, Wong and I. We took this picture during our first trip together to Balik Pulau in Penang, six months before our Baling trip. We had fun visiting Saanen Dairy Goat Farm in Balik Pulau.
Photo by Shaalni Param

On October 2019, Su invited both of us to visit her hometown – Baling. And, that was how our mini road trip to Baling began. We started our journey from Penang and it took us about two hours to reach Baling. During our drive, Su shared about the local folklore – Raja Bersiong and this small village. Two Malay names are associated with Baling: Dua Gigi and Pulas. Dua Gigi means two teeth whilst Pulas means twisting

Tricky Car Park At Paddy Field In Baling

I literally fell in love at the first sight of Baling. The welcoming lavish greenish-yellow paddy fields and the huge hill behind them simply captivated me. It was a beautiful sight, I mean who doesn’t love the scenery of paddy fields? A gentle breeze caressing through the paddy fields, the rice paddy swaying just like sea waves. I felt lucky to be able to witness that. However, we faced a major challenge – car park.

The view of paddy field in Baling
The road leading to the hill was narrow. Only one vehicle could drive through. And, we can’t park in the middle of it as it will hamper the movement of other vehicles.
Photo by Shaalni Param

It is better to use motorcycles in this area. We could simply park by the road side and admire the beauty of the paddy fields. Luckily, we managed to park our car near a housing area next to a paddy field. And, we snapped some photos before heading towards the town centre.

Facing The Fear Of Darkness

Few kilometres away from the paddy fields, lies the Guan Yin Hill Temple. It is not an ordinary temple because it is located inside a cave. We stopped by the temple on our way to the town centre. It was my first time visiting a cave temple. A friendly elderly man in his 50’s greeted us in Hokkien. He is the temple caretaker, Mr Yau. Luckily for us, he is a family friend of Su. Hence, we had an exclusive tour inside the forbidden place in the temple where outsiders were not allowed to enter. It was located at the end of the shrine. We stopped in front of a rusty door that leads into the depth of the cave. He opened the locked door for us to enter. Creak! the door opened.

Guan Yin Hill Temple in Baling
Guan Yin Hill Temple entrance, decorated with lanterns and flags. I was wondering what do those flags signify.
Photo by Shaalni Param

Before entering, he warned us about bats. He took the lead into the cave and I was trailing behind him. One step into the pitch black area, I panicked. Because I have Nyctophobia – the fear of darkness. I started trembling and hesitated to move any further into the cave. Quickly, I gripped onto Su’s hand and she immediately turned on her mobile phone light. I was shocked as I could see hundreds of cockroaches running away from the light under my feet! I was literally battling with the flesh eating scarab beetles like in The Mummy movie. Yikes! Luckily, I had no fear of cockroaches – Katsaridaphobia.

My encounter with the cockroaches inside the cave is almost similar to the scene of scarab beetles attack in The Mummy movie. Except that, I was much calmer than the characters in the movie. *wink*

Watch Out! Bats!

Mr Yau held a torchlight and pointed towards the cave walls. We could see an unusual shape on them. Despite the light, I was stretching my eyes and focusing my vision on the shape. Yes, I saw it. It looked like a dragon! He explained that monks used this part of the cave to meditate. Hence, it is closed to public. I was impressed because I don’t think I could bring myself to meditate in total darkness surrounded by bats and cockroaches. And, I saw four small bats flying in panic when the dim light touched their skin. But little did I know that there was a huge colony of bats resting right above us. They were hanging upside down, just one metre away to my left.

Bat inside a cave
Imagine a colony of bats hanging upside down from the ceiling of the cave, within reach of your shoulder. That’s exactly what I experienced inside the cave.
Photo by Tine Ivanič on Unsplash

He moved the torchlight to his left, there I saw it! Bats were agitated. They started moving and flying above us. And, some were dashing towards our direction. This time, Su panicked. We were facing bats attack! We snaked left and right to avoid the bats whilst Mr Yau laughed at us and said, “Bats will avoid us, don’t be afraid… Watch”. He went closer to one of the flying bats but it avoided him. Ah… I got it now, echolocation! Bats are blind and they produce ultrasonic sound to navigate their way through. However, Su couldn’t tolerate any longer. So she decided to leave the place and I followed her to exit the cave as she was “my source of light”.

The Apparition Of Mystical Creature – White Snake

A white cobra? Well that is something unique. Upon exiting the cave, Mr Yau shared about the myth of a white snake and its apparition at the temple. How spotting one would bring good fortune. I was so hyped up. I needed extra luck. So I grabbed the opportunity to explore outside the temple. But, too bad, not a single sight of a white snake. Nevertheless, it was an exciting visit to the temple. I didn’t expect that I would enjoyed it so much together with my friends. Have you ever experienced something similar? Do feel free to comment below. I would love to know!

The temple is a resting place for a long white cobra, if you spot it, it means you are going to have good luck.

Mr Yau, Guan YiN Hill temple caretaker

What’s For Lunch In Baling?

After the “vampire” attack in the cave, we were exhausted and craved for something to eat. So, Su suggested Som Tham. Wait, Som Tham? I wondered. Som Tham is a popular dish from our neighbouring country, Thailand but how did it become famous in Baling? Interested to know more? Stay tuned for my next post about a hidden Siamese village in Baling.

By the way, for mystical tale enthusiasts, I would highly encourage you to read Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa. It’s a famous Malay literary work which contains historical facts and tales related to the Kedah Sultanate. Just to let you know, Raja Bersiong tale is a part of that literary work as well. Hence, do read it before visiting the mystical town of Baling so that you will find it more relatable. Feel free to comment below if you have read it before.

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About Shaalni PARAM

A mechanical engineer, polyglot (she speaks English, Malay, Tamil, French and German), and a travel junkie, Shaalni is a self-professed introvert who loves meeting new friends. Highly ambitious, with many goals in life all neatly lined up, but most importantly, to have fun pursuing them.

4 Replies to “Baling, A Mystical Town (Part 1 Of 3)”

  1. hi,shaalni…i like your simple write up about my birth place…
    …may i know at which kampung does yr friend,su live?…who knows,i might know her parents if they live in kampungs near pekan baling!
    …thank you…

    • Hi Aminah, glad you like my story about Baling. I lost touch with Su after COVID-19. If I recall correctly, she stays in hilly area near Pekan Kulim. If you happen to meet her in Baling, send my regards to her 🙂

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