Ipoh, Malaysia: Seriously Bad Ass.
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It’s easy to take a bus from Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands (4.5 hours), or Penang (about 4 hours) buzzing right past Ipoh like it was a solicitor on a sidewalk, but don’t underestimate the 4th largest city in Malaysia. I know, the name Ipoh looks like it’s an acronym for something boring — International Party of Humdrum or something, but it actually gets its name from a tree. Yes, trees are boring too, but this particular tree, the Pokok Ipoh, is notorious for killing people. It’s sap is highly poisonous and was used by indigenous people to coat the tips of their darts for general killing purposes. The Chinese have a saying about the tree that translates to: “Seven up, eight down, nine no life”. It means that if someone is poisoned by it they’ll only be able to take seven steps uphill, eight steps downhill, or nine steps on level ground before falling to their death. Yeah man, Ipoh is bad-ass.
If having a cool name isn’t enough for you, there is also a bunch of historical value to the city of Ipoh. The discovery of tin in the mountains, made the city what it is today. Yau Tet Shin, a Chinese immigrant started getting all Tony Montana on the area. He made a ton of money tin mining, opened grocery stores, pawn shops, theaters, hotels, brothels, gambling houses, and opium dens. Eventually, he had a whole area of town built. It was like the old town, but newer. People called it New Town. By 1937, Ipoh was such a cool place that the important people in charge of Malaysia said, “Screw Taiping! Ipoh is the new capital of Perak”. And all the people rejoiced.
We arrived at a massive bus station that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. After being reassured that it was Ipoh, we got off and ended up on the 116 city bus to downtown Ipoh. It costs 2.40RM, departs from the upper level of the station, and leaves about every 30 minutes. The bus goes right through the main part of town, so you should be able to find a stop that’s close to your hotel.
We stayed 2 nights at the Ipoh Boutique Hotel. It was nice. A decent price. Comfy bed. Friendly staff. A window. And conveniently located.
After a bit of rest, we set out to explore the city.
The Kinta River, a hugely important part of Ipoh. Taken from the Jalan Sultan Iskandar bridge.
One of the many very picturesque shops along Jalan Sultan Iskandar.
Like Penang, Ipoh has many street art murals that are worth a peak. This one incorporates a part of an old trishaw. For more, have a look at this site.
Yi Lai Hong or Concubine Lane was once a popular place for Chinese immigrants to gamble, smoke opium, and sleep with their mistresses.
Formerly, the Hakka’s Miner’s Club where tin miners used to go to relax. There is now a museum inside where you can learn about the industry. It’s also known as Han Chin Pet Soo.
“The oldest restaurant in Malaysia”. FMS (Federated Malay States) Bar and Restaurant. Built in 1906 and recently restored.
Ipoh Padang (Ipoh field) with the oldest bank in Ipoh in the background. It’s now an HSBC bank. The field was built in 1898 by the British as a cricket field.
A Moghul style Indian mosque built by Sheikh Adam, who was once the sole supplier of ice in Ipoh. It was completed in 1908.
Negeri Perak Mosque, or Perak State Mosque, right before it started raining. The mosque has 125 domes on its roof. It’s the largest mosque in Ipoh.
Titled, Old Uncle with Coffee Cup this wall mural is on the Ipoh Old Town White Coffee building, a great place to try one of Ipoh’s famous drinks.
The Ipoh railway station, complete with loitering skateboarders. Sometimes called the Taj Mahal of Ipoh, it was originally a hospital but was redesigned into a train station in 1935. Fun fact, scenes from the 1999 film Anna and the King were shot here.
This colorful apartment building is south of Little India. It was huge, and quite funky.
We had a lot of great food in Ipoh, but I can’t help but think that we missed out on a lot too. Ipoh is famous for many dishes: Ipoh Sar Hor Fun – a chicken noodle soup with shrimp, Hor Hee – a noodle soup with fishcakes, Nga Choi Kai – poached chicken with beansprouts, Hakka Mee – yellow Chinese noodles with ground pork and soy sauce, Ipoh white coffee – the beans are roasted with palm-oil margarine and the brewed coffee is served with sweet condensed milk. This list goes on and on. I think because we came from Penang, another amazing foodie-town where we stuffed ourselves stupid, we weren’t as serious about our meals here. Usually, we spend a ton of time researching what to eat, where to eat it, and how many times to chew each bite. If you want Indian food in Ipoh, Pakeeza was amazingly good. If you want Chinese, we can recommend Yum Yum Restaurant. There’s also a place on Jalan Raja Musa Aziz (see map below for all of these) that serves a very yummy Hainanese chicken rice.
For our second day in Ipoh, we headed to the Lost World of Tambun. That’s right, this 30-something year old couple went to a water park. We took a taxi the 30-something minutes to the park. No taxis in Ipoh run on a meter, so you’ll have to do some negotiating. I think we paid 15 RM (about $4).
I have to admit, at first the park was a bit confusing for us old-timers. There aren’t many signs to direct you where to go. We got a locker, which was opened via scanning a wristband, and headed to the water-slides. When we got there (after searching a bit) we realized that there was no place to put our shirts, sandals, etc. We hustled back to the locker and dropped all our stuff off, then back through the park (with our bare feet being scorched by the concrete) to the water slides. It was a bit frustrating, but when we entered that first tube slide and raced to the bottom, all those frustrations were left behind. It was a shit-load of fun. We giggled all the way down before splashing into the pool. All of the slides at the park are for tubes that fit two people. Perfect for us! There are only 5 slides — the best one being the dark tube slide that’s pitch black the whole way down.
Other attractions include:
- A giant wave pool – we didn’t spend much time in it. The waves were a bit tame for us.
- A lazy river – a very lazy river. They turn it on and off throughout the day. Make sure you go clockwise around it or you may end up making it halfway around only to have them turn it on and push you back the same way you came.
- A variety of hot springs – Even though it was hot out, I really enjoyed the hot springs. There’s a bunch of them and they all offer something different. You can’t sit in them for very long, but they sure are relaxing.
- Rides – Mostly lame ones. They have one of those swinging boats, the swings that spin around, a roller coaster that was closed when we were there, and some other rides for younger kids.
- A zoo – It’s dubbed a petting zoo, but I think there was only one or two animals that I would have pet. It was actually really nice though. There are a ton of different areas to explore and animals to see. Apparently, the star attraction is a raccoon named Ruby. Sara and I once had a family of raccoons living under our deck, so we weren’t all that impressed by Ruby.
- Tin Valley – where you learn all about tin mining. It was a great little walk with some interesting information and fun activities.
Probably the best part of the park is its setting. Giant limestone karsts tower over the park. The jungles that surround it are dense and apparently filled with wildlife. They actually have an area at the back where they do daily feedings to the wild animals. We did see some wild monkeys hanging around, but they may have been fugitives.
Lucky for us, there was hardly anyone visiting on the day we went. We didn’t have to wait in any lines, or listen to any ugly children. Also, we were the only adults there that didn’t have kids, so all the beer (purchased at the hut in front of the wave pool) was ours. Sadly, no beer is allowed on the lazy river.
At the end of the day, we wandered out of the park in a gleeful daze. In hindsight, we probably should have got someone to call us a taxi. We walked along the road for 5 minutes until we found a ride. We got in just as it started to pour heavy drops of rain. Perfect timing on an almost perfect day (beer on the lazy river would have made it perfect).
The next day we headed to the Ipoh bus station, the one that’s actually in Ipoh, and caught a bus to the Cameron Highlands (Kinta Omnibus – RM18.50 – about 2 hours – 8AM, 11AM, 3PM, and 6PM).