From the Cameron Highlands we followed the windy road down off the hills and into the city of Ipoh, state capitol of Perak.
We didn’t know much about this city coming into it and the little we did know came from the hostel owner of where we stayed in Kuala Lumpur at the start of our adventure.
Although not developed as a tourist centre it turned out that there are many things to see and do in this ex tin-mining town – even if the tourist information centre was closed at the time of our visit.
How to get there
Situated on the main land of Malaysia and on main roads and railways it is very easy to get to from pretty much anywhere.
Coming from the Cameron Highlands we took a bus down which cost us 18RM each. The journey took about 3 hours, of which a good two-thirds was spent going around mountain roads, not too good if you get a little travel sick.
Where we stayed
We found a reasonably cheap hostel (30RM) just outside of the city, Bed & Bike Backpackers Studio. A tidy, clean, modern and open plan room housed all the beds and the common area. We were impressed by the owner of the hostel, Eva, who spoke very good English and gave us some very good ideas about where to go, what to see and what to eat. All excellent recommendations, try the chicken tikka just up the road from the hostel!
The only negative thing with the hostel is that it is just a little bit too far out of the centre of Ipoh and the public transport is quite bad. There is just one bus that gets to the hostel from the centre and the last bus is 7:30pm. After a couple of days this became quite tedious and so we decided to move on from the hostel.
Eva has told us that she intends to relocate the hostel right into the city centre. If she is able to do that and keep the look, feel and cost very similar to what she has now then I think she will have a great hostel!
After Eva’s place we moved to Abby by the river for a couple of nights, also costing 30RM. This is right in the city and within walking distance of the main attractions. The Abby lacked the character of Eva’s but it was right where we wanted to be.
Getting around in Ipoh
Public transport is something we tried and then gave up on in Ipoh. It’s not terrible, just quite unreliable. There’s no obvious bus stops, and in fact we saw most locals just flagging the bus down anywhere. I guess this works if you know the route, but as we didn’t then spent a long time trying to find where to get the bus. There’s no good maps of where the buses go, where the stops are, or the time table at each place. I know in England we say our public transport is terrible but I think Malaysia has a lot to catch up on outside of KL.
In the end we walked most of the places within the city itself and relied on locals we met in the hostel to show us around some places, we even rented a car for one day to see some of the sights further away from the centre.
What to do in Ipoh
Although not set up as a tourist town there is lots to do and see in Ipoh and the surrounding areas. We spent 5 days there in total and this is what we did.
Ipoh’s famous murals
Created by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, these murals dot the city centre. It’s your job to find them all! In total there are 7 “original” murals and many copy cats. We found all of them.
Han Chin Pet Soo
A surprise find, Serena had heard about this briefly but hadn’t mentioned it to me. We were walking around trying to find the murals and she spotted this museum about the history of Ipoh from the point of view of the Hakka Chinese that were the predominant people here a hundred years ago.
The building itself is an old private members club for those Hakka Chinese working in the tin mining industry when it was still a big industry in Ipoh. With the decline of the tin trade (and frankly the ageing of the members themselves) the club saw less and less use to the point where it was rented out to a private company which turned it into a museum.
I didn’t know what to expect coming into this museum but I found it fascinating. It told the history of tin mining in Ipoh as well as how the metal is actually mined. It also went into detail about the history of the building and how it was used during the various periods of its history, including the gambling, women and opium use that was rife at the time.
They have restored this building to an incredible level of detail and gone beyond, giving details about the history of Ipoh itself.
Very much worth a look!
A collection of old buildings built by a Scotsman, William Kellie Smith, that emigrated to Malaysia for his family. Now a historical site and gardens.
Definitely interesting if you like historical sites – there’s plenty of information on the history of the buildings and how they were used.
An interesting, short street containing lots traditional shops and accommodation. At the end of the road is a bar run by an Englishman built in the style of an English Pub, “Big John’s”.
Ex-tin mining cave formation, this is a huge and impressive collection of natural formations. Our guide pointed out interesting structures. After a nice gentle walk through the formations our guide took us off the path and deep into the caves. No lights, no walk way, no safety.
We made our way through flooded tunnels and tight holes. Sliding down sheer drops to follow the course of an underground river, eventually coming out where we originally came in. At no point did we have to put our heads underwater, for which I was grateful!
In total the trip took about 3.5 hours. If you’re scared of tight places then I wouldn’t do this tour, but if you’re not then I would give it a go. Very interesting.
We saw three temples in Ipoh, Sam poh tong, Kek lok tong and Perok tong. Impressive structures but all pretty much the same as each other.
I think my favourite was Kek lok tong, it has a very impressive garden at the back with a lake.
Next we are going to Penang, an Island off the west coast of Malaysia. Renowned for food and culture and a short bus trip away. Time to tantalise our taste buds with more spectacular Malaysian food.
Oh and during our stay in Ipoh we met a guy that owns a hostel in Penang, you just can’t beat a local to show you around give you all the top tips on where to eat and what to see…