In this first-ever edition of Jetsetting Journals, aspiring explorer Asyraf Naqiuddin explores a harvest festival in a place you’d least expected.
You might have heard of the Gawai festival in Sarawak with ngajat and tuak, or Kaamatan in Sabah synonymous with Unduk Ngadau and butod (sago grub). Now get ready for…a similar harvest festival in Perlis but with a tractor race and a kapcai dirt track!
If you’ve ever wondered ‘what to do in Perlis?’ this is the event you should mark in your calendar.
With the promise of unique kampung games amid jaw-dropping natural landscape still safe from the grip of mass development, I knew I couldn’t afford to miss the peninsula’s version of harvest celebrations, the East Wind Festival.
Either I hadn’t been going outside of my room (which is true) in the last few years or the festival organised by the state Arts and Culture Department and Tourism Ministry had not been getting the promotion it deserves, but this year marked its seventh edition.
To quote one of the loud passengers, who constantly shared her amazement with ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ in the cabin during my five-hour train ride from Kuala Lumpur to Arau: “Perlis is filled paddy fields as far as the eye can see that you instantly forget about the rat race back in the city.”
Getting Around Perlis, from Paddy Fields to a Farmer’s Home
Getting from point A to point B in the laid-back town can take a bit of time if you rely on public transport, so renting a car in Perlis would make life easier.
Playing tourist around Arau was an adventure in itself. Following Waze, I found myself driving on a narrow gravel road surrounded by paddy fields and the locals were so warm, they provided respite from the sun’s blazing heat.
A kind farmer even invited me to his home when I only wanted to ask for directions. Check out the story: Road Less Taken: Random Breakfast Adventure in Kangar
Despite getting lost a couple of times, being able to chat with farmers allowed me to learn a bit about growing the crop that is our national staple. So I was assured that if this writing gig didn’t work, I’d have a backup.
A paddy planting cycle lasts about 100 days, so farmers would toil the field for at least three cycles a year. While big companies are blessed with land ownership, seeds, pesticides and machinery, small farmers have to foot the bill for almost everything including renting the plot of land.
The Malay proverb “Sebutir beras ibarat setitik peluh petani” (translated as ‘A grain of rice represents a drop of a farmer’s sweat’) rang true when the farmers told me they hardly make a profit for each paddy cycle.
Md Noor Mahmud earns a profit of RM2,000 each cycle on his 12-acre field. That’s RM2,000 for three months’ work. Asked why he kept on farming despite the low profit, the answer from this 69-year-old man humbled me.
“Working the land is the only thing I know. If us farmers don’t do it, how would the people enjoy their daily plate of rice?”
Racing Tractors Plow on the Field
Going back to the East Wind Festival, it highlights activities enjoyed by farmers while waiting for the next cycle. One event that captured the crowd’s attention was tractor racing. Fun fact: The participants were all farmers!
Dangau Racing Team crew member Syazwan Asyraf, 18, said preparing for the race doesn’t require a massive budget.
“We only spent about RM800 on modifications like performance exhaust, welding job to strengthen the wheels and removing unnecessary parts for weight reduction,” Syazwan said.
“There are no rules set in the race, and that gives us space to be as creative as we can to ensure the tractors can perform their best.”
When the flag went down, the machines roared, black smoke billowed from the handmade exhausts and the tractors set off on one of the most unique races you’d ever see in Malaysia.
Fun ‘Kampung’ Games
Set at the back of the tractor race course was a large pool for several games like catching ducks and eels by hand, riding a bicycle across a narrow plank bridge.
Exploring Further into the Festival
The Festival’s Biggest Draw: Cupcross
Thanks to the warm organisers, despite being armed with only a compact camera, I was allowed to stand in the middle of the dirt track for a closer look into one of the biggest crowd pullers throughout the festival — cupcross — where participants modify their underbone bikes, or kapcai, to perform like those powerful dirt bikes you see in X-Games.
Although the jumps were a lot smaller, the venue was filled with visitors, from families to the eager mat rempit. By the time they waved the chequered flag, I was covered in dust, but the race was just simply entertaining, you had to be here.
There you go, Peninsular Malaysia has a harvest festival, too. This free-of-charge festival is something you seriously need to visit. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
There is no airport in Perlis, but you can still take a high-speed ETS train (it cruises at 150 kilometres per hour) from KL Sentral. There are just so many interesting attractions and stories waiting to be found.
Although there aren’t many hotels in Perlis, you can find plenty of accommodation options available via Airbnb to cater from solo travellers to big groups.