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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|How are you?||Apa khabar?|
|Fine, thanks||Khabar baik|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Maafkan Saya!|
|Thank you||Terima kasih|
|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?|
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Sam Poh Tong
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.