Located in north-western Malaysia, Ipoh was once an overlooked destination used by travellers as a brief stop-off on the way to the Cameron Highlands. However, since the city’s heritage has been gradually restored it has become increasingly popular with visitors who want a taste of old-world Malaysia and has even featured on Lonely Planet’s ‘Best of Asia’ list.
Still largely considered off the beaten track Ipoh has retained its authentic charm and offers culture vultures a rich experience of historic architecture, atmospheric cave temples and fascinating museums.
Where to stay
One thing’s for sure, you certainly won’t be short of places to stay in Ipoh. Although the city is still popular with day-trippers, the recent surge of modern accommodation has made it more desirable for longer holidays. As part of the city’s regeneration, many of Ipoh’s heritage buildings and shop houses have been repurposed into plush hotels and spa resorts, while still managing to preserve the architecture’s original character.
Despite the abundance of luxury hotels that have popped up in the city, there’s also a selection of backpacker hostels and affordable B&Bs for those on a budget. Most accommodation is located in the heart of the city – ideal for exploring the main sights and attractions.
Where to eat and drink
When it comes to eating, you’ll find everything from fine dining to quaint cafés and hawker stalls. For a unique and unforgettable experience head to Jeff’s Cellar, which is built inside a limestone cave and serves an array of gourmet food and organic wines. Alternatively, visit one of the city’s vibrant markets for a taste of authentic Malaysia. The Ipoh Night Market, which changes its location every night, is particularly popular with visitors and offers a range of fresh local produce. Popular dishes include bean sprout chicken, Hong Kee (egg tarts) and the famous Ipoh white coffee.
End the evening with a sunset stroll along the Kinta Riverfront, with its multi-coloured lit trees, food stalls and terraces overlooking the water.
A great way to explore the city’s landmarks and learn about its history is with the Ipoh Heritage Walk. Grab your map from the Tourist Information centre and make your way down the winding alleys and bustling backstreets of the picturesque old town, passing unique murals and ramshackle shop houses along the way.
The walk takes you to many of the city’s most prominent places of interest, including the Ipoh Town Hall, the Law Court and the Birch Memorial Clock Tower, which was built in 1909 in tribute to Perak’s first British resident, James WW Birch. The railway station and hotel is one of the most notable buildings, and is often referred to as Ipoh’s Taj Mahal thanks to its domed roof and elegant architecture. There’s also many interesting religious sites to visit, including mosques, churches and Chinese temples.
No holiday to Ipoh would be complete without a trip to an atmospheric cave temple. A popular temple to visit is Kek Lok Tong in Gunung Rapat, which dates back to the 1920s and includes golden Buddhist statues surrounded by beautiful stalactite formations and a Zen garden. Nearby Sam Poh Tong is one of the area’s oldest cave temples and is thought to be the biggest of its kind in Malaysia.
The third and perhaps most spectacular of the bunch is Perak Tong. After climbing the steps and entering the cave through a passageway you’ll be blown away by a 40ft tall Buddha statue and the many stunning carvings, statues and murals of sacred Buddhist writings and mythological Chinese creatures.
Other cultural activities
If you want to brush up on your historical knowledge and be transported back to a bygone era, a visit to the scenic Qing Xin Ling Leisure and Cultural Village is a must. Also known as ‘The Serene Hill’, this unique attraction makes a great day out, where you can learn about the area’s culture and traditions while enjoying the views of the towering cliffs and tranquil lake setting. There are plenty of fun activities on offer, such as trekking, cycling and trishaw rides.
Ipoh is often referred to as the ‘city of millionaires’ due to its tin mining history. The Han Chin Pet Soo museum, which was once the Hakka Tin Miners Club, offers a fascinating behind the scenes look at this thriving and crucial period of time.
With so much to see and do, culture-enthusiasts shouldn’t struggle to make the most of their time in this eclectic and charismatic city.