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If You Haven’t Heard of Harvest Festival in Perlis, They Have Tractor Race and Dirt Track!

A participant warming up his tractor during the formation lap at the festival. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin

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!

Farmer Zaili Ahmad, 50, burning his paddy field in Sungai Bakung in Kangar to make way for the next planting cycle. Farmers burn the fields after harvesting to clear residue. The burning fields are a perfect hunting ground for birds looking for critters jumping away from the fire. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
Zaili, who also works as a full-time lorry driver, says he works on the field to fill his time. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin

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.

The farmers are so warm that after 10-minute conversation with Zaili, he offered the author a bagful of yam grown near his paddy field. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin

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!

A participant warming up his tractor during the formation lap at the festival. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
The racing tractors are still used on the fields. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
A participant from Dangau Team Racing plowing through the course with his pimped-up machine. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
Racers and their crew in high spirits before the race. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin

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.

A boy trying his luck crossing the narrow bridge. Will he make it…? Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
… SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR! Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
Children scouring the pool to catch eels with their bare hands. Try asking a city boy to do the same thing, pretty sure he’ll squeal and run! Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin

Exploring Further into the Festival

Tractors on display at one of the carnival booths. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
Visitors try their hands at angling for vegetables during the festival. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
Storyteller Ramli Awang Batil performs using an old language that dates back to the Kedah Tua era. What was once a crowd-puller in the last few centuries, he fears the art may die with him as he’s still looking for someone committed to take up the art. Ramli has not only performed at the state palace, but also the Philharmonic Hall in Kuala Lumpur and a number of countries around the world. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
A State Agriculture Department staff showing one of the processes to make a traditional snack in Perlis called ‘emping’. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
A referee taking his notes during a bird contest at the festival. The pageants, ‘merbah jambul’ or red-whiskered bulbul, are judged based on their tweets, and how active they are at skipping from one branch to another in the cage. Trainers would travel around the country to vie for the grand prize as it adds more value to their birds. Depending on the number of wins, each bird can fetch up to RM20,000. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin

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 festivalcupcross — 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.

Participants with their modified underbone bikes, or ‘kapcai’, rip around the dirt track. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
Vying for the lead at the start/finish line. Look at how close the crowd are. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
A rider catching some airtime with his ‘kapcai’. Set against such an amazing background, this simple race is very entertaining for the crowds, perhaps for the riders too. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
A rider zipping through the cloud of dust during the race. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin

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.

What do you think?

Written by Asyraf Naqiuddin

Asyraf believes there’s a story anywhere you turn that could inspire readers around the world. With a penchant for high-powered motorcycles, he hopes to one day get back in the saddle and cover the globe on two wheels.

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