Revisit the fourth largest city in Malaysia for some new surprises (and amazing food)!
In the ebb and flow of history, Ipoh has undergone several transitions. From its origins as a village to a mining boom town in the 1880s; back to a sleepy town for retirees in the 1970s and in recent years seeing a renewed interest among investors and holidaymakers. At a glance, downtown Ipoh, especially the “old” town area, is not big and can easily be explored on foot.This is where you will find century-old heritage shophouses and architecture with colonial influence like the Birch Memorial Clock Tower and the Ipoh Railway Station.
Thanks to its geographic location in the Kinta Valley, Ipoh is blessed with scenic limestone hills, mysterious caves, crisp mountain air and clear spring water, earning it the nickname “Little Guilin”. The city is also famous for its inexpensive street foods, pomelos, beansprouts and ground nuts. Here we present you a list of must-see attractions and good eating places to get you started.
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO
1. Explore Kong Heng and Concubine Lane
The iconic Kong Heng restaurant is well-known in Ipoh for many things. Firstly, the restaurant is famous for its gai si hor fun (flat noodle soup with shredded chicken), popiah (vegetable spring rolls) which comes in fried and wet versions, local white coffee, caramel egg custard, fried kuay teow (wok fried flat noodles) and satay, among others. If this restaurant is packed, which is often the case, Thean Chun coffee shop right beside it, offers the same variety and tastes just as good.
When you are done with food, cross the street to explore Concubine Lane. For many years, the lane was just a quiet sidewalk notorious for its shady history of being the quarters for mistresses, hence the name. Today, the lane has been spruced up and turned into a tourist attraction lined with souvenir shops.
Along the lane, you may want to satisfy your child-like curiosity by stepping into Dream Big World which features a collection of model cars and miniature toys (7 Lorong Panglima) or relive history at Koo Kee Gallery (23 Jalan Panglima) which showcases antiques and memorabilia from the 1940s and 1950s.
If you are a movie buff, drop by Yasmin at Kong Heng, a small museum set up as a tribute to the late Yasmin Ahmad, Malaysia’s most famous film director. If you need to hang around longer in this area to experience the old-world charm when the tourist crowds are gone, you're in luck. Sekeping Kong Heng, a rustic boutique hotel located at the back of the Kong Heng restaurant offers accommodation at reasonable prices. About 100 metres away, Dong Cafe (22 Hale Street), housed within a heritage gallery, is worth a visit to cool down in air-con comfort, enjoy a cup of coffee while admiring the surrounding antiques.
2. Ipoh World at Han Chin Pet Soo
If you are interested in Ipoh’s history, Ipoh World (www.ipohworld.org) offers you a fascinating overview. The museum is housed in a three-storey building which used to be the premises for the Hakka Miners’ Club.
3. Perak Cave Temple
First built in 1926, Perak Cave Temple is located about seven kilometres north of the city. The temple's limestone cave interior filled with murals, Chinese calligraphy and statues, provides a cool relief from the hot weather. Visitors will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city if they climb the 400 steps to the viewing deck on top of the hill. The temple is located seven kilometres north of the city.
4. Sam Poh Tong Temple
Sam Poh Tong is a magnificent temple built on the side of a limestone mountain. At the inner chamber, you will see a gold statue of Buddha on one side and Guanyin on the other side, flanked by the 18 luohans. The cave temple is located about seven kilometres east of the city.
5. Kek Lok Tong Cave Temple
After visiting Sam Poh Tong, you may want to visit the other the nearby Kek Lok Tong cave temple. It has a huge cave entrance leading to a beautiful garden surrounding a lake filled with lotus plants and koi fish. It is worth spending an hour or more to unwind and relax amid this wonder of nature. The cave temple is located 10 kilometres east of the city.
6. Ipoh Railway Station
Officially launched in 1917, the historic Ipoh Railway Station is affectionately called “Taj Mahal of Ipoh” by the local residents for its distintive white-coloured facade and an architectural style that draws inspiration from British-Indian colonial and Edwardian-Baroque designs. Outside the station is an ipoh tree that was planted in 1980, and the town is said to have been named after this tree. The station is worth a visit to check out its old architecture and for a local meal at the cafetaria while experience the old world charm of the storied building.
7. Kellie’s Castle
Located in Batu Gajah, about 20km south of Ipoh is Kellie’s Castle, an ambitious project by Scottish planter William Kellie-Smith in 1915 that was never completed due to his untimely death. By day, the building ruins is a popular tourist attraction among locals and wedding couples. By night, the crowd will disperse as the place is believed to be haunted.
8. Movie Animation Park Studios
Movie Animation Park Studios or MAPS (www.mapsperak.com) is a relatively new theme park for both young and old. At the park you can have a fun-filled day enjoying 15 different amusement rides, watch live shows featuring stunt cars and motorcycles, among other things.
9. Sunway Lost World of Tambun
Sunway Lost World of Tambun (sunwaylostworldoftambun.com) is another theme park located about 15 minutes’ drive outside the city. It operates day and night and even has its own hotel, restaurant, hot spring and spa. It would be good to check in at Lost World for the night in order to enjoy all the facilities.
10. Miniature Wonders Art Gallery
Miniature Wonders Art Gallery (49 Jalan Market) is the brainchild of a local resident with a passion for creating dough figurine sculptures depicting Chinese history, folklore and legend. Here you can see miniature figurines depicting a Song Dynasty banquet, a scene from the Monkey King legend and terracotta warriors and horses, for example, all with amazing attention to details.
TOP 3 FOOD EXPERIENCES
1. Eating dimsum for breakfast is both a local way to start the day as well as a tradition passed on through the generations. There are many dimsum restaurants spread across town but the two most famous ones are Foh San (51 Jalan Leong Sin Nam) which is now a tourist attraction and the more local-oriented Ming Court (32 Jalan Leong Sin Nam), which is located just across the road from Foh San.
2. You cannot claim to have experienced Ipoh if you have not tried their nga choy gai (chicken with beansprout) served with either rice or hor fun (flat noodles). Locals will invariably point you to Cowan Street Restaurant (44 Jalan Raja Ekram) for the best versions in town.
3. The famous claypot crab tang hoon (glass noodles) at Rasa Lain Restaurant (69 Persiaran Medan Bercham 2) in Bercham, about 12 kilometres north-east of the city, used to be a closely guarded secret among the locals. But with internet and social media, word soon got out and this restaurant now packs both locals and “outsiders” but you may have to wait in queue for a table during peak hours. Other signature dishes include their homemade saito fish balls, steamed clams in wine sauce and stir-fried sotong (squid) with chicken intestines.
WHERE TO STAY
There is no shortage of accommodation in town ranging from homestays and motels to business hotels and luxury stays. Around town, Weil Hotel (www.weilhotel.com) and M Boutique (ipoh.mboutiquehotels.com) are popular choices.
For an extraordinary experience in a pre-historic setting facing a lake and surrounded by limestone hills, you can book a stay at The Haven Resort Hotel (www.thehavenresorts.com) which is located just 15 minutes' drive outside town.
For the ultimate in luxury, indulge yourself with a stay at The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat (www.thebanjaran.com). The eco wellness retreat is built around a geothermal hot spring lake and surrounded by million-year-old limestone mountains.
WHEN TO GO
Ipoh is good to visit all year round but it gets very busy during weekends, public and school holidays. Locals start their day early with dimsum and coffee so you may want to join them and start your day early to avoid the afternoon sun.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
Carriers such as AirAsia, Batik Air Malaysia and Scoot fly from Singapore and Johor Bahru to the Sultan Azlan Shah Airport in Ipoh.
From Kuala Lumpur, you can travel there by bus or car. For a more relaxed pace, you can take the electric (ETS) train from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, a two-hour journey in cool comfort. Within the city, it is easy to get around by taxi or by using the Grab ride-hailing app.
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