Ipoh

Nestled within steep limestone hills on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, Ipoh has the proud heritage of a former tin mining boom town. While the current state capital of Perak had bigger heydays during the early 20th century, it is now better known amongst Malaysians for its excellent restaurants, hawkers, and famous local dishes. Old residents are returning to their beloved hometown, eager to remake Ipoh into the "City of Millionaires" yet again. The country's fourth largest city is also a gateway to the Cameron Highlands and Pangkor Island.

Understand

View overlooking Ipoh town

Ipoh was the city that tin built, developing into one of Malaysia's major cities after rich alluvial tin deposits were discovered in the Kinta Valley in 1876. Its location as the furthest navigable point on the Kinta River at that time made it a prime spot for the centre of all trading activities, an upstart little village bypassing the already established towns at nearby Gopeng and Papan. Waves of starry-eyed prospectors, many of them Chinese immigrants, came to find their fortunes working the mines and providing support services to the industry. It rapidly grew into Malaya's second commercial and administrative centre after Kuala Lumpur (the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang and Malacca were administered separately during the British colonial era), overtaking Taiping, the then state capital.

World War II hit Ipoh hard, with all mines shut down and left to flood. Even after their reopening, demand for tin continued to drop steadily over the years and production costs rose. It culminated in the debilitating crash of tin prices in October 1985 from cartel meddling which then became the final nail in the coffin for the mines, just slightly over one hundred years after the very first tin rush. Many residents of Ipoh finally left for greener pastures elsewhere, as their forefathers did before them, though the city has been slowly reclaiming its stature since. Food, and not tin, is now the word most synonymous with Ipoh.

The post-independence economic decline let the city escape the Brutalist towers of concrete that represent 1970s ideas of progress and its colonial importance still shines in the grand old buildings, such as the railway station and the town hall, which complement the rows of shophouses. There are surprisingly few tall buildings for a city of its size due to height restrictions for the local airport, hence inadvertently maintaining its sleepy old town charm. However, this is soon to change after a push by the state government for more development projects.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 33 34 34 34 33 33 33 33 32 32 32 32
Nightly lows (°C) 23 23 24 24 24 24 23 23 23 23 23 23
Precipitation (mm) 132 150 170 260 210 150 150 160 220 300 280 250

Check Ipoh's 7 day forecast at MET.gov.my

As with the rest of Malaysia, Ipoh has a typical tropical climate. Temperatures are generally constant year round, with daily highs of around 30-32°C (86-90°F) and nightly lows around 22-24°C (71-75°F). Rain and thunderstorms can also be expected fairly often, along with high humidity. The wettest months of the year are from October to November, while the least amount of rain is seen in January and February.

Visitor centre

Get in

By plane

Ipoh is served by the   Sultan Azlan Shah Airport (IATA: IPH). There's a twice daily flight by Firefly, daily flights by Malindo Air and four flights a week by Tigerair from Singapore. In addition, Malindo Air flies domestically to Subang Jaya near KL, Senai Airport in Johor Bahru and Kota Bharu on the East Coast, and internationally to Medan in Indonesia.

For most visitors from elsewhere, the most practical option for getting to Ipoh would be to fly into either Kuala Lumpur or Penang, which have larger and better served airports, and make your way to Ipoh by road.

By train

Ipoh's second concrete building, the railway station, was built in 1935. An open plaza with Ipoh's namesake tree in the middle is found outside the station.

From   Ipoh Railway Station, trains head as far north as Padang Besar (4h) and as far south as Singapore via Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru. Kuala Lumpur is predictably well served by several trains per day. To KL, prices for the old diesel trains (3h) range from RM12 to RM30 depending on class. New electric trains (2h) cost from RM25 (stopping service) to RM45 (express non-stop). ETS service to Butterworth (2h) started in July 2015 and is in the process of ramping up train schedules, with ticket prices of RM22-33. The train station can get crowded at times and there can be barely any space to sit or stand, particularly so on weekends when the roads around the station are also very jammed.

By bus

The main bus terminal is at   Terminal Amanjaya, from where buses run to most of Peninsular Malaysia. Taxi fare will be at least RM20. Most frequent routes are to and from Kuala Lumpur (Pudu Sentral), Singapore and Penang. Larger bus companies like Transnational, Plusliner, Konsortium and Sri Maju provide the most frequent, reliable and safe services. For Taiping and the Cameron Highlands, the local bus station (see Get around) is more convenient.

Some bus companies also operate from more convenient locations in the town: mainly   Jalan Bendahara. Choice is limited but for KL, Singapore, Penang or Butterworth, they represent a better option than a trip out of town.

Starshuttle runs to Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Jalan Bercham (about RM40 one way).

By car

Ipoh is well connected to the North-South Expressway. You can get into Ipoh via Exit 137: Simpang Pulai or Exit 139: Ipoh Selatan.

Get around

Ipoh is split into half by the River Kinta: Old Town on the west side and New Town on the east. Old Town is walkable, New Town less so. City outskirts are reachable by taxis or public buses in a pinch, and your own wheels are best for further outlying areas. Streets were renamed in the 1980s. This can still be confusing as many locals still refer to the former colonial road names. The following list showing the old and new names is useful: Ipoh road names - old and new. Jalan Bijih Timah, for example, used to be known as Treacher Street.

By car

The city centre grid layout contains mainly one-way streets. Road maps are available in bookstores, tourist centres and online. Traffic is not as heavy as in other cities such as Kuala Lumpur but the rush hours are usually congested. There is adequate parking but finding a space may require some patience. Car rentals are available.

By bus

Local buses run around the city and its suburbs and have a hub called   Ipoh Bus Terminal, Medan Kidd (or also bas stesen), which is on Jalan Tun Abdul Razak in the old town (follow the road south from the railway station and past the post office, the bus station is on the right of the first big junction). This is not to be confused with Jalan Bendahara which is in the new town and has long distance services by some bus companies.

Local bus information is not well published but there is a helpful information desk at the bus station. Visitors may find this bus station useful for its services to the Cameron Highlands and Taiping. Useful to look out for is local bus number 94, which heads from the bus station (bas stesen) through the old and new towns to the Sam Poh Tong Cave Temples. It calls at the following bus stops in the new town: Tingat Pasar, on the south side of Pasar Besar; at the junction of Jalan Raja Musa Aziz and Jalan Theatre; and on Jalan CM Yusuf, near the Grand Park Hotel and Sri Maju Bus Terminal.

On foot

Most roads have pavements and marked crossings, which makes strolling around the old streets a pleasant experience.

By bicycle

There are no hard and fast rules for cyclists, but you are expected to observe road rules at all times. Cyclists are forbidden from riding on the sidewalk but often do. Helmets are optional but not common.

By taxi

Prices are by negotiation. It is possible to take the taxi all the way up to Pengkelan Hulu (near the Thailand border, c. RM170 one way, c. RM300 return). Rides within the city should cost around RM5 to RM10.

Talk

As in the rest of Malaysia, Malay is the lingua franca, However, most of the ethnic Chinese, who form the majority in Ipoh, speak Cantonese as their first language, and many are also able to speak Mandarin. Most of the Indians speak Tamil as their first language, and quite a few others speak Urdu. While English is not as widespread as in Kuala Lumpur or Penang, tourists should still not have any major problems getting by with English. Most locals would be able to communicate in broken English, supplemented by non-verbal forms of communication such as pointing and gesturing.

See

Old Town

The heart of Ipoh Old Town lies on the west banks of the Kinta River and is vaguely bounded by the train tracks. A two to three hour guided tour of the Ipoh heritage trail starts at the Railway Station at 8AM every Saturday (as of 2015, RM30 per person). Rejuvenated Kong Heng Square on Jalan Sultan Yussuf houses buzzing small cafes and shops. Seven wall murals have also been painted by Ernest Zacharevic, the same Lithuanian artist that took George Town by storm. The one on Jalan Bijih Timah (literally Tin Ore Road) proudly showcases the once-important tin mining industry that made Ipoh. Pick up a map from the Ipoh Padang Old Town White Coffee branch, or just wander around the old town streets.

The HSBC building in Old Town
St Michael's Institution

Around Ipoh

Sam Poh Tong Chinese Buddhist Temple - accessible only through a cave, the temple and its accompanying tortoise pond create a serene and peaceful atmosphere

Thousands of miles away from their motherlands, religion remained a touchstone for the Chinese and Indian communities. Cave temples abound in the karst limestone hills north and south of Ipoh, although only the richest and most famous are properly looked after and not forgotten.

Outside Ipoh

Peaceful Batu Gajah was initially the planned European centre for Kinta Valley in the Federated Malay States, but the rough and tumble Ipoh quickly stole its crown. The areas surrounding Ipoh were similarly diminished by the tin mining crash, and may yet be absorbed into Ipoh proper.

Kellie's Castle in Batu Gajah

Do

Adventure sports

Limestone caves at Gua Tempurung

Hiking

Parks and recreation

Boats across the lake from Gunung Lang

Buy

Ipoh is inexpensive by Malaysian standards. Most tourists will better appreciate the offerings of KL or Bangkok but Ipoh offers some interesting specialties, which predictably revolve around food.

Local specialities

Pastries like Ipoh fragrant biscuits (香饼 or heong pang), traditional flaky biscuits containing a sticky sweet malt paste, are always popular. Handmade examples are rare though the factory made ones are longer lasting and handily packed for souvenirs. Malaysia's best pomelos (柚), a citrus fruit with massive rind and mild taste, are reputedly from Tambun, about 10km north of the city centre. Pottery is also produced for export. If pots are your bag, try Jalan Kuala Kangsar. Coffee beans specially roasted with palm-oil margarine, better known as white coffee, originated from Ipoh; having said that, the packet versions are not particularly special and are sold throughout the country anyway.

A sweet and flaky heong pang or Ipoh Fragrant Biscuit

Traditional markets

The old Straits Trading Building, which sold tin to Penang and Singapore, houses an OCBC bank

Shopping malls

Eat

When tin mining died out, food sustained Ipoh and made the city bustle once more. Like everywhere in Malaysia, the local food is dirt cheap and sublime. Loads of people come from all over just to fill their bellies, creating a headache of congestion during weekends. Quite a few locals already avoid the most famous stalls, whether due to dropping standards or the unrelenting crowds. Some specialities to look out for include: chicken and beansprouts (芽菜雞), Ipoh kai see hor fun (怡保鸡丝河粉) and salt-baked chicken (盐锔鸡).

Budget

Early-rising Ipoh loves breakfast and brunch, and has scrumptious treats and coffee to match. Egg tarts are a popular Western-styled dim sum dish that made it off the cart and one can get white coffee (also see #Drink) or soybean milk to wash it down.

The rice noodles (sar hor fun or kueytiao) found in Ipoh kai see hor fun and other dishes are particularly light and silky smooth, said to benefit from their preparation in mineral-rich spring water that flows through the limestone hills. Add clear chicken and prawn soup with chicken shreds, prawns and spring onions, and kai see hor fun can be had for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Chu cheong fun is similarly springy and delicious. Popular noodle dishes like yong tau foo and hor hee are also worth a try.

Sar hor fun, or flat rice noodles, a versatile base for dishes

There are still many hidden delights outside of the city centre of course, and if you can't quite decide what to eat or want something outside of normal Malaysian fare, there're always food courts which are a little more organised than the traditional coffeeshops.

Mid-range

Ayam tauge, or chicken and bean sprouts, are a famous Ipoh twist on Hainanese poached chicken and can be paired with plain rice or the ever-popular sar hor fun in soup served with lightly blanched bean sprouts doused in soy sauce and sesame oil. Salt-baked chicken, on the other hand, is a Hakka delicacy which makes full use of free-range kampong chicken, wrapping them in paper and then baked in large woks filled with heated salt.

Beansprouts, or tauge in local Malay parlance

One of the most well-known delights of Cantonese cuisine, dim sum for breakfast in Ipoh is not just tasty and reasonably priced, but is a long-held weekend tradition for generations of families here. Jln Leong Sin Nam has been coined "Dim Sum Street" because of the concentration of popular dim sum outlets.

Bamboo steamers for dim sum

There's an equally wide South Asian diaspora, evident in the assortment of eateries all specialising in different areas of the subcontinental cuisine, from the Indian Muslim mamaks who serve crispy roti canai and rich nasi kandar to the South Indian curry houses.

Splurge

Chinese banquet restaurants that serve seafood are a reliable shout for fancier dinners. If you travel out to see the tin dredge at Tanjung Tualang, it's also known for their large big-headed udang galah (freshwater prawns). There are at least ten seafood restaurants in this small township alone, earning it the name of Lobster Town.

A growing number of Western cafes and restaurants have been opened by Ipoh residents returning from KL or overseas, with clusters around Kong Heng Square and Bandar Baru Medan. Indulgence Restaurant remains the pioneer and the standard bearer.

Drink

Ipoh has a small and still growing night scene. Bandar Baru Medan (behind the Kinta City Shopping Centre) has been the usual haunt for supper for the last decade or so, albeit with a large turnover of pubs and bars. The newer nightlife area is around New Town and Greentown, and also the revitalised Lorong Panglima in Old Town, a narrow alley once notoriously known as Concubine Lane, where rich businessmen used to house their mistresses back when the tin mines were booming.

White coffee

Ipoh white coffee was invented here: to reduce the bitterness of coffee roasted in the European style without adding sugar (as during the roasting of Kopi-O), beans are roasted with palm-oil margarine, the result is a mild tasting kiddies' version of what westerners would call real coffee. A few genuine Chinese coffee shops that sell Ipoh white coffee are located opposite the Kinta Heights flats in the old town.

Ipoh white coffee, made famous by the ubiquitous OldTown coffee chain

Bars and pubs

For those more inclined to clubbing, Sensation of Sound on Jalan Yang Kalsom and House Music Club on Jalan Sultan Idris Shah are open for business, although a little quiet and empty on weekday nights.

Sleep

Hotels in Ipoh tend to be tidily kept yet long faded establishments, but the new energy in the city has sprung up a lot more choices. Bigger hotels will be found in Ipoh New Town, Greentown and also near the theme park in Tambun, while boutique hotels have set up shop in Old Town or big colonial bungalows. There is a cluster of budget hotels around Jalan Ali Pitchay in the new town area just off Jalan Sultan Iskandar.

Budget

Shophouses in Ipoh

Mid-range

Older hotels like Hotel Excelsior look their age on the outside, though they may or may not be newly refurbished
The Syeun Hotel was the grandest hotel in Ipoh twenty years ago, but has now been overtaken by newer challengers

Splurge

Stay safe

Ipoh is in general a very safe city, certainly by international standards. However, there are some irritants like beggars, especially at bus terminals. It is better not to attract any unwanted attention by giving money to the beggars as most of them are professional beggars operated by syndicates.

Perhaps not so much a safety thing per se, but at the Central Market in New Town, particularly if you are an orang putih (white person), don't let the traders rip you off (which they are likely to do, if you let them). If the prices are signed clearly, hold them to it! Furthermore, Ipoh is probably not as tourist-friendly as some publications make it out to be.

The city centre is relatively safe, but again, pickpockets do work in the stations. If you are carrying a bag make sure that it's secured (all zipped up). If you have a wallet in your pocket keep a hand near it while exiting the buses. It is not advisable to leave your handbag dangling on your shoulder while walking next to main roads, as motorcycle snatch thefts do happen.

Cope

Go next


Routes through Ipoh

Taiping Kuala Kangsar  N  S  Kuala Lumpur


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, February 17, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.