Lavish palaces and mosques have sprouted across the Kuala Kangsar district of Perak since the 18th century. Thanks to successive sultans, this sprawling royal town by the River Perak is a patchwork of regal opulence and faded colonial grandeur, enclosing a hectic town centre. The present sultan’s palace, Istana Iskandariah, marries classic Moorish style with the feel of a five-star holiday resort. Nearby stands another royal residence, Istana Kenangan — made entirely of delicately woven bamboo and painted bright yellow.
But the most immersive royal experience lies half-a-mile upstream: former palace Istana Kota is surrounded by manicured gardens and fountains. Now a gallery, Istana Kota honours Perak’s 34th Sultan, Azlan Shah, whose classic cars, jewels and ceremonial swords are reverently displayed. Opposite gleams Masjid Ubudiah, a royal mosque commissioned by Perak’s 28th sultan, Idris Shah, as an act of gratitude after his prayer to recover from illness was seemingly answered. Completed in 1917, the mosque’s enormous golden onion dome is encircled by white marble minarets inlaid with amethyst. Elsewhere, in central Kuala Kangsar, laksa vendors holler and traffic mills noisily around the clock tower. The jumble of splendour and shabbiness only heightens the intrigue of exploring this timeworn royal town.