One of the most popular attractions in Alor Setar, the capital of Kedah, is its Pekan Rabu, which literally means Wednesday Market, a business complex selling every traditional stuff that Kedah is famous for. What makes Pekan Rabu more special to the Kedahans is because Malaysia’s fourth and currently seventh Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, born in Alor Setar, was once a trader there.
Yes, you heard it right! During the Japanese Occupation, Tun Dr. Mahathir’s studies were interrupted so he decided to return to his birthplace and become a trader at the old Pekan Rabu, selling fruits, banana fritters, coffee and handicrafts until the World War II ended.
When Tun Dr. Mahathir became a politician, he made it his personal mission to turn the traditional market into a commercial one. He made sure that the weekly market operating from an attap shack, became a multi-storey arcade selling a wide range of stuff from traditional delicacies like “dodol durian” to mengkuang mats and apparel.
The brick-and-mortar shopping complex was built on Jalan Tunku Ibrahim in 1975 and was officially opened in 1978 by Tun Dr. Mahathir himself, the then-Deputy Prime Minister. It had 347 stalls with a variety of businesses and became one of the important landmarks of Alor Setar. The Phase 2 of the shopping complex was built in 1990 and later, in 1995, the original building was renovated.
Pekan Rabu has always been a compulsory stop in Tun Dr. Mahathir’s annual Ramadan pilgrimage to Alor Setar. On his recent visit to Pekan Rabu after he became the Prime Minister for the second time, Tun Dr. Mahathir visited the stall selling the ‘Songkok Style Tun’ which has become his favourite and one he frequents regularly.
The history of Pekan Rabu actually goes as far back as World War I. A prince from the royal household of Kedah, the late Tunku Yaacob Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid, wanted to encourage more Malays to take an active role in commercial activities. So, in the early 1920s, he initiated a weekly market, open only on Wednesdays, along Sungai Kedah near Tanjung Chali. It became a training ground for the Malays to do business and it later evolved into a daily market when the business became prosperous. In 1932, Pekan Rabu was shifted to its present location in Jalan Tunku Ibrahim.
In 2014, Pekan Rabu was given a total makeover in an effort to make it more attractive to tourists. Even though the upgrading of the complex involved building a four-storey complex with a modern architecture, the original concept of Pekan Rabu, which made it unique, was maintained, including its traditional Islamic architecture.
The former Pekan Rabu used to have two separate buildings but the new building has everything under one roof to make shopping more comfortable for its visitors. It currently has 355 business lots, as well as 48 kiosks and 24 food stalls. There is also an exhibition area on the ground floor. It is open daily from 9 am to 9 pm.
Pekan Rabu offers a wide range of goods and services, including crockery, jewellery, textiles, traditional medicines, wedding and bridal items, local delicacies and handicrafts. For the locals, it is a complete shopping mall that fulfils all needs, while for tourists, it is glimpse into the daily lives of both traders and the local customers.
Let us throw a challenge to the would-be visitor to Pekan Rabu. Whenever you have an opportunity to visit the place, take the time to trace our Prime Minister’s favourite haunts or shops at Pekan Rabu. If you are lucky, the original traders there might share a story or two about the world’s oldest country leader, our Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir. Good luck!
By Car or Taxi
From the North-South Expressway (PLUS), take either the Alor Setar Selatan or Alor Setar Utara exit and follow the signboard heading to Alor Setar City Centre. From there you can see the signboard showing how to get to ‘Pekan Rabu’.
By Train (ETS)
From Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station to Alor Setar, Kedah will take approximately 5 1/2hours journey by KTM ETS
Who To Contact
Koperasi Pekan Rabu Alor Setar Berhad
Tel: +604-733 5929