The Ipoh Rundown
Take Ipoh for what it is and the capital of the state of Perak just may catch you by surprise. The implication, of course, is to dismiss the notion that the former second city of Malaysia will stack up in any way to Malacca City, George Town, Pulau Langkawi, Pulau Perhentian or Taman Negara, let alone Kuala Lumpur, Sabah or Sarawak.
If that seems derogatory, abandon the thought altogether. Ipoh is Ipoh after all, a lively city in the lush Kinta Valley with accents of British colonial architecture, Hokkien Chinese culture, shophouse charm, airy parkscapes and spicy, thoroughly humble and addictive eats. For those with time and a receptive, open mind, Ipoh can represent much more than a cursory transit stop on the way to Thailand, the Cameron Highlands, Penang or the Perak royal town of Kuala Kangsar. Stick around for a day or three; in even the most infamous, gritty enclaves of Ipoh, diamonds in the rough lay in wait.
So explore the Old Town at your leisure and enjoy photogenic points of interest like the Birch Memorial Clock Tower, Town Hall and Court House and Royal Ipoh Club. Get your cave on in spectacular style at Sam Poh Tong, Kek Lok Tong and Perak Tong and follow the tour groups to nearby Batu Gajah and Kellie’s Castle.
Ipoh’s Top 10
10. Muzium Darul Ridzuan, the former home of a rich miner, has a few worthwhile exhibits on the history of Ipoh and Perak.
5. Masjid India is a rather impressive early 20th century Mughal Revival monument.
9. Chinese Shophouses provide one good reason to pay Ipoh’s New Town a visit.
4. Royal Ipoh Club is the former swanky lair of British colonial bureaucrats. The club still has a snooker table.
8. Birch Memorial Clock Tower is an ironic symbol of the city, in that it was built to honour the highly unpopular first British envoy to Perak.
3. Sam Poh Tong is the biggest cave temple in Malaysia.
7. Geological Museum is open by appointment to amateur geologists and rock collectors.
2. Kek Lok Tong lives up to the name “Cavern of Ultimate Bliss”. A marvellous, scenic cave temple.
6. Town Hall and Court House provide a peek at Ipoh’s former colonial wealth and glory.
1. Perak Tong is a remarkable cave and grotto complex with exquisite Buddhist artwork and iconography.
- Muzium Darul Ridzuan – Former mansion of the Chinese tin-mining tycoon in the early 19th century.
- Ipoh Town Hall – Stunning gothic architectural features designed by A.B. Hubback.
- Ipoh Heritage Trail – Relax with a walking tour through whitewash buildings amid old-world, colonial opulence.
- Birch Memorial Clock Tower – Erected in memory of James W. W. Birch, the first British resident of Perak.
- Perak Tong (Perak Cave) – More than 40 Buddha statues, murals and a 40m high statue of Buddha—the tallest and largest in Malaysia—are housed in this temple.
Ipoh Art & Culture
- Kellie’s Castle – Unfinished, abandoned mansion of Scottish planter that contains secret passages to hidden chambers.
- Chinese Shophouses – Paved streets and cobblestone alleys lined with an assortment of frail and renovated buildings.
- Geological Museum – Hundreds of sampled of minerals and fossils for any rock aficionado. Phone ahead to arrange a visit.
- Sam Poh Tong – Malaysia’s biggest cave temple possesses impressive works of art and faith.
- Kek Lok Tong (Cavern of Ultimate Bliss) – Clean, quiet and calming surroundings in Ipoh with unsurpassed scenic views from the cave.
- Pottery Shops along Jalan Juala Kangsar – Stores offer handmade and machine-made pottery.
- Ipoh Parade – Large shopping complex that contains hundreds of small shops.
- Memory Lane – Open every Sunday, this flea market is the place to find local souvenirs alongside antiques and copied goods.
- Ipoh Garden South – Known as “Lady Street”, the area is lined with boutiques for any fashion enthusiasts.
- Pasar Malam (Night Markets) – Stall businesses that move to various locations through the week sell food, toys, clothes and household items.
Ipoh Gay & Lesbian
Islam, Malaysia’s state religion, has strict laws against homosexuality. The law applies only to Muslims, but non-Muslims should also exercise caution and refrain from displaying public acts of affection.
- DMAN Male Massage – This gay-owned massage parlour offers individual massage rooms with a quiet ambience.
- Ipoh Railway Station – Around the fountain offers opportunities for cruising after 8 pm.
- JUSCO Ipoh – This shopping centre sees some cruising activity on the weekends and holidays.
- Ipoh Stadium – Sometimes there are gay cruisers at the swimming pool here.
- Bandar Baru Medan – This area has a large number of festive and lively bars.
- Lost World of Tambum – Family water theme park with a mini zoo, natural hot springs and a large picnic area for family dining.
- Gunung Lang Recreational Park – Walk along a 2km boardwalk over swampland, with interesting flora and fauna and views of manmade waterfalls.
- Tambun Hot Springs – Known for its high sulphur content in the water, thought to bring health benefits to the body.
- Gua Tempurung – Tour the largest natural limestone cave in Peninsular Malaysia with different lengths and difficult walkways.
- Padang Ipoh (Ipoh Field) – Classic colonial historical buildings spread about the maintained lush, green fields.
- See the rainforest and nature while white-water rafting.
- Experience the adventure of trekking through the uneven terrain on a caving tour.
- Enjoy the inspiring views that surround Ipoh while hiking through the jungle.
- Take a ride to see the parasitic Rafflesia flower in the rainforest with a guide.
- Practise your golf swing at a golf course in the city.
Ipoh is the capital of the state of Perak and with a population of over 700,000 people, the fourth largest city in Malaysia. Over 70% of the population is of Chinese descent.
Pekan Lama is the Old Town and main hub of tourist activity in the city. Most landmarks of interest reside here.
Bercham is a suburb with points of interest like Taman Mujur estate, Sukhavana Monastery and hillside wildlife.
Menglembu is a town/suburb that contains many old Chinese shophouses and notable hawker stalls.
Tambun, a town in Kinta district, is home to the Lost World of Tambun waterpark.
Ipoh Eat & Drink
Ipoh area restaurants proffer the very best of Malaysian cuisine - with decisively Chinese and Hokkien accents - and, at times, the very worst of Western cuisine. A simple hawker meal is usually the best course of action when hunger strikes.
F.M.S. Bar & Restaurant (2a Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, New Town) charges for napkins and peanuts but cooks up terrific Hainanese classics.
Funny Mountain Soya Bean (49 Jalan Theatre) has more than just a memorable name. The popular restaurant is soytastic.
Medan Selera Dato Tawhil Azar (Jalan Raja Musa Aziz) is a popular food court with locals.
Restoran M Salim (Jalan Che Tak & Jalan Yang Kalsom, New Town) whips up superb curry and roti at insanely affordable prices.
Monde Brasserie (3 Psn Greenhill, New Town) is one of the few Western restaurant standouts in Ipoh.
Old Town Kopitiam (2 Jalan Tun Sambathan, Old Town) is a fancy little coffeeshop with a convivial atmosphere.
Xin Quan Fang (174 Jalan Sultan Iskandar Shah) is curry noodle heaven.
Bonda (1 Psn Greenhill, New Town) has a menu that runs the gamut, from chicken rice to chicken and chips.
Restoran Onn Kee (51 Jalan Yau Tet Shin) is a bean-sprout chicken (ayam taugeh) institution in Malaysia.
Full Sun Fish Head Noodle (off Jalan Ng Weng Hup) gives it all away in the title but operates a brisk breakfast business nonetheless.
Ipoh is a minor festival city and boasts a diminutive calendar of events above and beyond national and religious holidays.
The Ipoh Heritage Trail is a nice, informative walk though the Old Town that takes place every Saturday at 8 a.m. from the central railway station.
The Royal Perak Golf Club is one of the best in Malaysia and Clearwater Sanctuary Golf Resort is a mere 22 km from Ipoh.
Day trips to nearby caves (Gua Tempurung), thermal resorts (Tambun) and jungle trails are requisite for visitors to Ipoh.
Nine Emperor Gods Festival is a Taoist celebration that takes place on the eve of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
A street food festival is held across Ipoh, Perak and, indeed, Malaysia, throughout the month of December. All in all, a good time to sample diverse takes on chicken rice.
When To Go
Ipoh has a tropical rainforest climate with clockwork equatorial equanimity from January to December. You can count on a daily temperature range, in other words, between 72°F (22°C) and 90°F (32°C).
While you cannot feasibly escape the heat in Ipoh, you can alleviate exposure to the elements. Rainfall distribution is somewhat even but not perfectly so, with the months of April, September, October, November, December and January the most pluvial. With 70 mm of rain on average, February is your best hope to stay dry. Overall, however, Ipoh receives a considerable 2,300 mm plus of rainfall every year.
What To Miss
If you have some measure of travel experience in Malaysia and Southeast Asia, the prevalent taxi scams in Ipoh will come as no big shock or surprise. Though some guides exhort travellers to avoid cabs altogether in Perak and the state capital, the best advice is to steel yourself to firmly negotiate with drivers in advance and have realistic expectation that, as a foreigner, you have a target on your forehead. Cab drivers will inevitably overcharge but if you haggle well, you can minimise the damage.
Touts, roadside merchants and freelance tour guides will, similarly and quite naturally, try to exact the best price possible for themselves. With that, adopt a level of healthy skepticism in all matters financial.
While Sultan Azlan Shah Airport has twice daily discount flights to and from Singapore Changi, the vast majority of visitors to Ipoh arrive via Kuala Lumpur or Butterworth, Penang by taxi, bus or train. The city is on the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur-Penang-Bangkok rail line, which facilitates access from the likes of KL Sentral. Travel time from the Malaysia capital is 2-3 hours.
Pedestrian-unfriendly Ipoh is not suitable for long walks and in order to get around, private taxi or car hire is the de facto transport method of choice. Some public bus routes allow visitors to explore the city and Perak at large but for the most part, a vehicle is a prerequisite to get the lay of the land.
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