After exploring Kuala Lumpur for a few days, we decided to stop at the capital of Perak on our way to Cameron Highlands. Towering limestone cliffs and forested hills greeted us on our way to the city while rows of Chinese Shophouses and impressive colonial buildings in varying degrees of dilapidation welcomed us as we made our way from Old Town bus station to our hotel in New Town.
It wasn’t as popular as the rest of Malaysia’s tourist attractions on the “Banana Pancake” trail but we found ourselves staying here for two nights just for its excellent hawker food and old world charm.
Here are some of the things you can do in Ipoh.
1. Check out the Chinese Shophouses
Experience the nostalgia and the rich culture of the past before they completely vanish by exploring the cobblestone alleys and paved streets lined with a mixture of decrepit and restored Chinese Shophouses. Both Old Town and New Town offer an extensive collection of shophouse architecture.
A period movie being shot on one of its back alleys
2. Explore the Lost World of Tambun
This multi-million dollar waterpark is hugely popular among the locals and is usually packed on weekends. The theme park is located at the foot of a forested limestone cliff and landscaped with lush greenery trying to recreate the atmosphere of a lost civilization. Aside from exciting water activities, the park also offers natural hot springs, artificial ruins and a petting zoo.
3. Do the Ipoh Heritage Walk
Start at the train station (Ipoh’s version of Taj Mahal) in the Old Town and amble your way around its historic structures with the help of the trail map available from the tourist office and most hotels. About 6 kilometers of leisurely walking will reveal a medley of remarkable whitewash buildings in an atmosphere of old-world, colonial grandeur.
4. Explore Gua Tempurung
Caving enthusiasts can either book a short tour or an extensive cave exploration of different lengths and difficulties. Gua Tempurung is the largest natural limestone cave in Peninsular Malaysia and is situated about 25km south of Ipoh near Gopeng exit.
5. Visit Perak Cave Temples
Check out Perak Tong Temple just 6km north of the city along Jalan Kuala Kangsar. Perak Tong extends into a maze of small chambers and grottoes and houses over 40 Buddha statues, amazing murals on the interior walls and a 15-meter high image of Buddha fronting the cave entrance.
In the southern part of the city is Malaysia’s largest cave temple – Sam Poh Tong. The temple houses a small reclining Buddha inside, numerous Buddhist art works and a beautifully landscaped garden. Visitors can increase their good karma by releasing turtles in its turtle ponds.
Just on the other side of the same limestone hill is the more serene Kek Lok Tong. Its main attraction is a fat Chinese Buddha sitting in the company of other Bodhisattvas as well as an ornamental garden with ponds and pagodas.
6. Get Acquainted with Ipoh’s History
Drop by at Muzium Darul Ridzuan and check out the displays recounting the history of the once flourishing tin mining industry and forestry in Perak. The museum is housed in a 1926 villa constructed for an affluent Chinese tin miner and is situated north of Padang.
Rock enthusiasts can book a free-guided tour and lectures at the Geological Museum in Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah about 5km from the town center. It houses hundreds of mineral samples, impressive collection of fossils and rock specimens. Both museums are free of charge.
7. Explore the Local Wet Market
Weave your way into the largest wet market in Ipoh and observe how the locals go about their business. This massive market situated between Jalan Sultan Idris and Jalan Sultan Iskandar is spread over four floors of fresh produce, seafood and poultry, florist stalls, Ipoh delicacies as well as a food court on the top floor.
8. Shop for local Products
Ipoh’s fragrant biscuits, export quality pottery, juicy pomelo, and Ipoh’s famous white coffee are just some of the things you can take home. Night Markets set up in different parts of the city as well as the flea market along Jalan Lim Bo Seng are good places to find groceries, bric-a-brac, antiques, imitation goods, and other interesting souvenirs.
9. Eat While in Ipoh
Ipoh offers cheap and delectable dishes from its signature bean sprout chicken and Sar Hor Fun dish (flat rice noodles), Chinese favorites like Dim Sum, Hakka noodles, Hor Hee noodles and other Chinese food, as well as Malay/Indian dish like Laksa Perak and Banana Leaf Rice.
10. Visit Kellie’s Castle
Check out the deserted six-storey structure of William Kellie Smith at Batu Gajah. The wealthy Scottish rubber-plantation owner commissioned artisans and labourers all the way from India to build a mansion for his son but it was later abandoned after his death. Tales of secret chambers and ghost stories have added to its air of mystery.