Ipoh may not be as hot as other Malaysian destinations in terms of tourism, but its quiet reputation belies scrumptious cuisine, historical icons, and peaceful surroundings. Sharuna Segaren provides a peek into some of what the charismatic city has to offer.
Ipoh is the capital city of the state of Perak and is located approximately 200 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur and 130 kilometres south of Penang, accessible by the North-South Expressway. It is a familiar city to locals in Malaysia, being the third-largest after Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
However, it’s not very well-known as a popular tourist destination compared to other cities, even though the quaint place has a rich history as a wealthy tin town in the past, and is only a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. Besides colonial buildings, limestone hills surrounding the city, and the relaxing small-town vibe, Ipoh is also famous for its gastronomic delights. It’s not uncommon for locals to take a day trip there just to enjoy some of the local fare. In addition to the local coffee shops and stalls, there are also numerous quirky cafes and restaurants that have been recently cropping up all over Ipoh.
Ipoh White Coffee
You may have noticed that there are many kopitiams (Chinese coffee shops) around Malaysia that serve famous ‘Ipoh Chicken Rice’ and ‘Ipoh Old-Town White Coffee.’ The Ipoh locals would be quick to argue that none of that compare to the original goodies in the city itself, and at a lower price, too.
You’ll never go hungry or run out of options with the many famous eateries serving local delights, desserts, coffee, and teatime snacks in Ipoh. Some of the local specialties you can find is salted chicken, yong tau foo (stuffed bean curd), smooth white coffee, kaya puffs (coconut jam), chee chong fun (rice noodle roll) and tau foo fuh (soybean pudding), to name a few.
While those are primarily Chinese-influenced fare, as Ipoh consists of a majority population of Chinese mainly of Cantonese and Hakka descent, there also excellent choices for Malay and Indian food such as the famous Nasi Kandar eateries which have been operating since the 1950s. Nasi Kandar is a meal consisting of steamed rice and various curries, meats, and vegetables. One particular restaurant called Yong Suan Restaurant is so famous for their nasi kandar that it is widely known as ‘nasi ganja’ among locals for being so addictive.
After your stomach is filled to the brim with Ipoh’s delicious delights, a good way to burn off the calories is to visit the limestone caves and temples that Ipoh is popular for. Gua Tempurung, about 24km south of Ipoh, is the largest limestone cave in Peninsular Malaysia. Relatively easy to explore, it is made up of five large domes and believed to have existed since 8,000 BCE. Intricate and beautiful Buddhist cave temples are also a popular attraction in Ipoh. The Perak Cave Temple which is along Jalan Kuala Kangsar is among the top 5 most visited temple caves and holds shrines and statues, encased in the cooling cave climate, making it an ideal spot to visit during the hot afternoons. For visitors who prefer more of a challenge, there are adventure cave tours which can be arranged which would require torchlights, change of clothes and proper gear, for those so inclined.
A trip to Ipoh would not be complete without a visit to the legendary Kellie’s Castle. Somewhat of a mystery, the mansion’s construction was begun by a wealthy Scottish planter, William Kellie Smith, in the early 20th century, modelled after the castles back in Scotland. After his sudden death, it remained unfinished and is now partially in ruins from damage sustained during the Second World War. The Perak State Government has recently made attempts to preserve and protect this amazing structure from rampant foliage. Widely rumoured to be ‘haunted’, the castle is also believed to hold underground tunnels, secret entryways, and hidden rooms, making it a great mysterious attraction to children and adults alike. About a 20-minute drive from Ipoh, located near Batu Gajah, the maze-like road leading to it has not changed since the olden days. You can also take a short walk to the Hindu temple, also built by Smith, who employed many Hindu workers and was fascinated by Indian culture, which is also reflected in the architecture of the castle.
Ipoh Railway Station
If you are fascinated by heritage and historical buildings, you won’t be disappointed in Ipoh. There are still many structures influenced by the colonization of the British that remain standing, such as the Ipoh Railway Station, Royal Ipoh Club, Birch Memorial Clock Tower, Majestic Station Hotel, St John’s Anglican Church and Ipoh Town Hall. The 6 km-long Ipoh Heritage Walk offers a leisurely glimpse around the historic old town area in Ipoh. You can also visit the Darul Ridzuan Museum at no cost, as it only charges a fee for special exhibitions.
There are also a few modern recreational attractions in Ipoh, such as the Lost World of Tambun. A premier adventure park with hot springs, animals, roller coasters, water park and a resort hotel, it is sure fun for the whole family.
You can also explore the Dr. Seenivasagam Park, which is a huge expanse of land at the heart of the city. It has has been developed to include a playground, Japanese garden, artificial lake which offers boat rides, a nursery, and the famous Ipoh tree which gave Ipoh its name.
Another relatively new icon in Ipoh is the Kinta Riverfront Walk. The area in front of the Riverfront Hotel has been decorated with colourful trees illuminated by LED lights, providing a picturesque view at night. The walkway is also lined with cafes and bars that feature live music, lending a romantic and scenic atmosphere. You can also find a tin mining museum and souvenir stores there, as well as enjoy a bike ride during the daytime.
So next time you’re in the mood to break away from the bustling atmosphere of KL or Penang, consider Ipoh for a short getaway holiday destination, and sample the tasty fare while drinking in some of Ipoh’s rich historical landmarks and lush natural surroundings. See what the seemingly quiet town has to offer, talk to the friendly locals, and leave refreshed from one of Malaysia’s popular heritage cities.
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Source: The Expat Magazine April 2015
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