Ipoh

Ipoh is a gourmet paradise and also a playground for adventure sports enthusiasts thanks to its numerous limestone caves. 

Ipoh's fame rests primarily on its status as a gourmet paradise. In between meals, visitors check out the city's numerous limestone cave temples. However, passionate conservationists have brought something different to the fore: history. Heritage trails and maps are drawing tourists to the gems that are the Old Town and New Town. Together, these zones make up one of the country's most intact colonial-era city centres.

The Town that Tin Built experienced a boom that attracted Chinese migrants, colonialists and brought political status. Since the collapse of global tin prices in the 1980s, Ipoh has assumed a small-town feel, but it retains an impressive architectural heritage and an indelible Chinese flavour. The integrity of its traditional small businesses is largely untainted by mass commercialisation.

It would appear that quarrying is a necessary evil in the limestone hills that surround Ipoh, although the picturesque cave temples buried in these hills offer some compensation: the massif has become a great playground for cavers and other adventure sports enthusiasts. Further attractions include theme parks and  resorts built around the natural hot springs found here. In fact, it is thought that the purity of the water that flows through this ancient rock is one of the reasons why Ipoh cuisine is so tasty.

 

When to go

Ipoh is hot and sunny all year round. The wettest months are usually from March to April and October to November, while February is usually the hottest.

Visa requirements

Passports must be valid for at least six months at the time of entry. Generally, visas are not required for citizens of Commonwealth countries for stays of up to three months, nor for citizens of ASEAN countries for stays of up to a month. Check the Immigration Department website (www.imi.gov.my) for details.

Money

The Malaysian Ringgit (RM) is divided into 100 sen. Bank notes come in units of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100. Coins are 5, 10, 20 and 50 sen. Money changers are plentiful and credit cards widely accepted. For ATM withdrawals, banking networks include MEPS, Maestro, Cirrus and Bankcard.

Transport

The Sultan Azlan Shah Airport is about 6km from the city centre. Taxis will take you to town or you can hire a car at the airport. There are also buses that go to Ipoh from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). The journey takes about 3.5 hours. To get around the city, eschew Ipoh's chaotic local bus system in favour of the plentiful taxis. Negotiate the price with the driver before getting in.

Health and safety tips

Ipoh has high health standards with well-stocked pharmacies and good hospitals. However, be sure to buy medical insurance and get hepatitis and tetanus shots. Dengue fever occurs occasionally and visitors suffering from respiratory illnesses should avoid visiting during the haze period during August and September. Always ensure your belongings are secure as snatch thefts are prevalent and pickpockets operate in crowded areas such as trains and buses. Exercise common sense when walking at night and when approached by strangers.

Emergency details

The nearest Singapore embassy is in Kuala Lumpur at 209 Jalan Tun Razak (tel: (603) 2161 6277).
 

For police, ambulance or fire brigade, dial 999 (112 from a mobile phone)

Basic greetings
English Malay
Hello Helo
How are you? Apa khabar?
Fine, thanks Khabar baik
Goodbye Selamat tinggal
Excuse-me! (to get attention) Maafkan Saya!
Thank you Terima kasih
Yes Ya
No Tidak
OK Baik
What's your name? Apakah nama anda?
My name is… Nama saya ialah…
Pleased to meet you Gembira berjumpa anda
Are you on Facebook/Twitter? Awak ada Facebook/Twitter?
Where’s an internet café? Di manakah kafe internet?
Where can I get a taxi? Di manakah saya boleh mendapatkan teksi?
Where is the bus/train station? Di manakah stesen bas/keretapi?
A one-way/return ticket to… Tiket sehala/ulang-alik ke…
Do you have a room for one/two? Ada bilik untuk seorang/dua orang?
When's check out? Bilakah untuk mendaftar keluar?
Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar? Bolehkah anda mencadangkan sebuah restoran/bar?
A table for two, please Sila berikan meja untuk dua orang
A menu, please Sila berikan menu
The bill, please Sila berikan bil
Where's the toilet? Di manakah bilik air?
Help! Tolong!

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Sam Poh Tong

off Jalan Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, Gunung Rapat

Sam Poh Tong is arguably the most famous of Ipoh's cave temples. The innermost of three temples built in adjacent caves, it is elaborately decorated and is full of statues of Buddha. A stiff climb up 264 steps leads to a panorama of Ipoh and its surroundings. On the eastern side of the same limestone massif is the more serene and beautiful Kek Look Tong.

Gua Tambun

Jalan Kuala Kangsar, 15km north of Ipoh

Relatively unknown, the peninsula’s largest rock art site at Gua Tambun has over 600 Neolithic rock paintings on an exposed cliff face. It requires a bit of a scramble to reach but is well worth the climb. The motifs are human and animal and the red pigment used is haematite, an iron oxide extracted from the surrounding hills.

Ipoh Railway Station

Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab, Old Town

The silver dome, graceful arches and interminable colonnades of Ipoh Railway Station mark it out as one of the city's foremost colonial-era buildings. A beautiful blend of Moorish and Victorian architecture, it is one of the three grand old ladies of British Malaya railway stations; its sisters are in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Chinese shophouses

Old Town and New Town

The late 19th and early 20th century Chinese shophouses found in the Old Town and New Town are testament to the Chinese origins of the city. These edifices were built on tin money and once housed many prominent businesses and families. The Kinta Heritage Society's maps and trails are the perfect guide and their online archive of images and stories from that era, Ipohworld, provides a fascinating insight into Ipoh's past.

Darul Ridzuan Museum

Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab, Old Town

The Darul Ridzuan Museum lays out the history of Ipoh and Perak state, charting the city’s development and the story of tin mining. The artefacts are housed in a mansion which was built in 1926 by a wealthy tin miner. Later, it became the official residence of Malay dignitaries of the Kinta district. Check out its underground air raid shelter, built in anticipation of World War II.

Shop

Central Market

Jalan Dato Onn Jaafar

It is worth waking up early to experience the bustle and visual feast that is Ipoh's Central Market. The sounds of bargaining, the smells of fresh produce and the wetness of the floor, make for an experience that is becoming scarce in modern-day Malaysia. Spanning five floors, the ground floor traders sell meat, seafood, vegetables and other 'wet' produce. The next three floors are dedicated to 'dry' produce, including herbs, spices and eggs. The top floor is occupied by a small food court.

Budget $

Ching Han Guan Biscuit Shop

Jalan Sultan Iskandar

Sticking to family recipes is one reason the traditional Teochew pastries made by the Ching Han Guan Biscuit Shop remain popular. All the pastries are handmade and preservative-free; traditional and modern, sweet and savoury –  you'll be spoilt for choice. The flaky pastry filled with molasses or lotus paste (also known as mooncakes) are always popular, as are the shop's signature bakes containing pork floss.

Budget $$

Ipoh Parade

105, Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil

Ipoh Parade's sprawling mall is right in the middle of town. Good for clothes and shoes, it is anchored by a Parkson department store. This family-oriented mall has fast-food outlets, a cinema and a large bowling centre. Sales in the period leading up to Chinese New Year, as well as the mid-year sales, offer some great bargains.

Budget $$$

Kinta City Shopping Centre

2, Jalan Teh Lean Swee, Off Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah Utara

Serving the northern suburbs, Kinta City Shopping Centre is a popular meeting place where weekends can get really busy. Spacious and well-designed, it has many of the brands found in Kuala Lumpur, but often at lower prices. It's not just shops: there is a cinema and bowling alley as well as a large variety of restaurants and fast-food outlets.

Budget $$$

Tambun pomelo stalls

Jalan Tambun

Ipoh's most famous fruit, the pomelo, has been sold on Jalan Tambun for decades. Opportunistically located on the old trunk road to Kuala Lumpur, the street is named after the area where the pomelos are grown. Tambun pomelos gained fame purportedly because of the soil they grew in, making for the juiciest fruit in the country. The stalls are virtually indistinguishable from one another except for other goodies on sale such as various fruits and biscuits. There are two kinds of pomelo, sweet and sour. Be sure to bargain.

Budget $


Dine

Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong

A15, Jalan Bandar Bijih Timah, Old Town

Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong is the original white coffee shop, where the fragrant local coffee has been brewed since 1937. Its white coffee purportedly tastes better than its rival, Nam Heong, whose Old Town White Coffee franchise has made 'Ipoh White Coffee' famous. At Sin Yoon Loong, a hot or iced coffee goes well with its excellent home-made coconut jam (kaya) and toast. For a bigger meal, order a noodle dish from any stall down the same shophouse row.

Budget $

Kim Bali

A11, Jalan Dato Tahwil Azhar

The mixed Asian decor of Kim Bali reflects the menu – a combination of Indonesian, Thai, Malay and Chinese fare. Sour and spicy dominate in dishes such as the Thai/Nonya kerabu salads and asam (tamarind) curries. The milder options include the eggy Guai Fei Tofu dish and Vietnamese Tau Eu Bak, pork cooked in a sweetish soya sauce.

Budget $$$

Pakeeza Restaurant and Catering

15–17 Jalan Dato Sri Ahmad Said, Greentown

An oldie but goodie, Pakeeza serves good North Indian food in an air-conditioned setting. Popular dishes include nasi briyani and fish-head curry. In addition, its naan (leavened flatbread) is soft and fluffy and comes in a variety of flavours. Have it with a mutton vindaloo or buttered boneless chicken washed down with Kashmiri tea.

Budget $$

Restoran Yum Yum

5 Persiaran Green Hill

Of the eateries on Ipoh’s gourmet lane perpendicular to Excelsior Hotel, Restoran Yum Yum stands out. It has a charming Chinese-Nonya ambience and a large menu. Must-tries include the grouper in basil, the Yum Yum fried chicken and chicken wrapped in pandan leaves, a Nonya speciality. The restaurant tends to be busy on weekday lunchtimes.

Budget $$

Thean Chun

73 Jalan Bandar Bijih Timah, Old Town

Theun Chun has long been a favourite amongst locals and visitors. Dubbed the Hall of Mirrors for the large framed mirrors on one wall, this kopitiam (coffee shop) is renowned for its Ipoh kway teow, chee cheong fun (rice noodle rolls), spring rolls and pork satay. Patrons can also sit at the Kong Heng kopitiam next door and order from the same stalls. However, the delectable creamy caramel custard is available only to Thean Chun customers. Be prepared for a long wait for tables at lunchtime.

Budget $


Stay

Hotel Station 18

2A-10, Medan Stesen 19/8

A well-run budget hotel, Hotel Station 18 is a little out of town but is clean and has good amenities. All rooms have Wi-fi and the bathrooms are equipped with luxurious rain-showers. The service is friendly and knowledgeable and the security is very good. Nearby are stores and eateries and the hotel also has cars, motorbikes and bicycles for rent.

Budget $

Indulgence Living

14 Jalan Raja Di Hilir

With only seven suites, the Indulgence Living boutique hotel is able to provide excellent personalised service. The suites are sumptious, with each one decorated in a different quirky theme. Part of a gracious colonial mansion with huge grounds, there are plenty of nooks to read a book. The accommodation shares space with a fine-dining restaurant, which was how the venture first began. The chef runs the whole concern.

Budget $$$

Ipoh French Hotel

60-62, Jalan Dato Onn Jaafar

The Ipoh French Hotel offers easy access to historic sites and tasty hawker fare. Fully non-smoking, its double-glazed windows keep the noise out and a solar-powered rain shower allows for luxurious showers. Cleanliness standards are high and staff are well-trained. The cafe is quirkily charming and serves excellent breakfasts as well as quality baked goods.

Budget $$

Regalodge Hotel

131 Jalan Raja Ekram

On the fringe of the town centre, the Regalodge Hotel has 86 rooms, a spa and reflexology centre as well as a restaurant. The rooms are in good condition and kept clean. Included in the room price are Wi-fi and a generous selection of complimentary drinks and snacks. The hotel is within walking distance of good places to eat.

Budget $$

The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat

1 Persiaran Lagun Sunway 3

About 15 minutes' drive from the city centre lies the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat. Set in the rainforest, beautifully-appointed villas are organised around a natural hot spring. The surrounding caves are made good use of, with one used as a thermal steam cave, a second for meditation and another as a natural wine cellar. Should you tire of the peaceful environment, the Lost World of Tambun theme park is right next door.

Budget $$$

Chinese New Year

Date varies in January, February

The main Chinese festival celebrating the lunar new year sees frenzied shopping beforehand, traditional lion dances and the thronging of Taoist and Buddhist temples. Try festive food such as the yee sang and local cookies such as heong peng and 'chicken biscuit'.


New Year's Eve

31 December

An evening concert by local acts, fireworks and theme park rides till 1am are on offer at the Lost World of Tambun Theme Park. Alternatively, soak yourself in natural hot springs under the stars or treat yourself to a massage.


Perak Orchid Society Bi-Monthly Orchid Show

3rd Sun of the month Bi-monthly from January

This is a lovely show of orchids grown by passionate amateurs and professionals. Ranging from local and foreign species to new hybrids, the display is held on the island between Ipoh Parade and the Ipoh City Council building.


Thaipusam

End of the month January

This Hindu festival of penance in honour of Lord Murugan is celebrated in Gunung Ceroh, Ipoh's oldest Hindu cave shrine. As part of the ritual, devotees carry jugs of milk, some in large decorated structures called kavadi.


The Nine Emperor Gods' Festival

Early October

This Taoist festival honours the celestial stars of the Big Dipper over nine days with special rituals, including a cleansing fire-walking ritual, a street procession and free vegetarian meals. Temples to head to are the Tow Boh Keong in Jalan Tokong and the 


Veterans' Memorial Services

2nd weekend of June

This three-day and multiple-town memorial service begins on the Friday. The memorial services honour the various Commonwealth forces who fought in different wars in Malaya between 1914 and 1966. The towns are Ipoh, Taiping and Batu Gajah.t'.


Culture

To explore Ipoh's marvellous old city centre, don your walking shoes and equip yourself with one of the Kinta Heritage Society's excellent maps. Start in Old Town at the Old Railway Station and head east, taking in neoclassical administrative buildings such as the Town Hall and shophouses built in the 1920s. Look out for the alley of sin, Lorong Panglima, where brothels and opium dens once ruled. Take a break with a cup of the city's home-grown brew, Ipoh white coffee, at one of the atmospheric kopitiam (coffee shops) at the end of Jalan Bandar Bijih Timah.

 

To explore New Town, head southeast across the Kinta River. A worthwhile stop here is the domed Mughal-style Masjid Panglima Kinta (Panglima Kinta Mosque). Weave your way through the streets north of here to take in the inter-war shophouses, many of which display Art Deco features typical of this era.

 

Spend the afternoon exploring the panoramic limestone hills in which the city nestles. Many have been used by locals for centuries. North of New Town opposite the D.R. Seenivasagam Park is the Gunung Ceroh temple, Ipoh's oldest Hindu cave temple. Inside, a stalagmite is worshipped as a lingam, a symbol of the deity Siva. You will need a taxi or a car to head north on the road to Penang to visit the Perak Tong, an impressive Buddhist temple. Its large chambers are filled with over 200 paintings and calligraphic works.

Adventure

Lovers of nature and adventure will find plenty to do and see in the vicinity of Gopeng, 30km south of Ipoh. For a chance to witness rare species and support a community project, head to Ulu Geroh. This Semai Orang Asli indigenous village, 12km southeast of Gopeng, runs eco-tourism packages specialising in butterflies and Rafflesia, the world's largest flower. The tour begins with a four-wheel drive from Gopeng to the village through orchards and plantations. This is followed by moderate to tough jungle-trekking through tropical rainforest of between 30 minutes and two hours. The rewards are swarms of the magnificent Rajah Brooke's Birdwing (Trogonoptera brookiana). Each Rafflesia plant blooms for only a few days a year, so those who get to see one are truly lucky. Tours usually finish by 2.30pm, but the villagers also welcome overnight visitors. Book ahead (SMS: 6014 252 6669/6012 400 7564).

 

After this tour, head to the spectacular limestone cave of Gua Tempurung, 2km southwest of Gopeng, which is one of the longest caves in Peninsular Malaysia. A lit-up section with a boardwalk can be explored without a guide, while another section is only for guided adventure caving. Some caverns are enormous, and features to look out for include gigantic flowstones, columns and pools. The sound of a river flowing through the lower part of the cave enhances the atmospheric experience, while a strong wind blows right through one of the chambers. The cave has been used as a wartime hideout as well as for tin-mining.