When we think of Malaysia we think of three things mainly. Shopping instantly springs to mind, especially when it comes to major events like the 1Malaysia Year-End Sale. Formula One racing comes a close second, considering the popularity of the annual MotoGP. And third would have to be the natural attractions, be it in the form of orangutan-ogling in Sabah, or cave-exploring in Selangor.
But what about getting amid the thick of it all and intermingling with the locals? That’s where a place like Ipoh sits as a clever tourist destination, the British colonial city that has blossomed into a handsome cityscape marrying old-world charm with contemporary buzz.
Just this week, global travel authority Lonely Planet placed Ipoh amongst its top ten Asian destinations of the moment, and it’s not difficult to see why. Long regarded simply as a stopover on the way to Penang or the Cameron Highlands, Ipoh is is now emerging as a tourist destination in its own right. For foodies, there are tens of streets and laneways crammed with cafes, restaurants and hawker-style stalls, each serving up delicious local fare. Start with Concubine Lane (pictured above and below) and then just let your senses do the walking.
According to locals, one of the best places to try it is Restoran Onn Kee (48, Jalan Yau Tet Shin, Pusat Bandaraya). Grab a table on the pavement outside and watch the passing parade outside in this busy food strip while you chow down on some of the best Nga Choi Kai in town, as well as other local delicacies like hor-fan soup.
For the tourist on an historic tip, a visit to Ipoh Old Town is a must, where visitors can see pre-war architecture that dates back to the colonial era, blending Moorish, Islamic, Chinese as well as Hindu elements. Even the Ipoh Railway Station is a sight to behold, looking like a Taj Mahal with its Hindu-meets-Moorish aesthetics along with some modern touches.
Nature gets a good seeing to in and around Ipoh, and if you’re into those aforementioned caves, take a trek down the limestone caves that surround the city, many of which house Chinese temples built by miners who first came to work in Ipoh’s tin industry at the turn of the 19th Century.
And sports fanatics can enjoy anything from white water rafting to waterfall abseiling along the Kampar River, with activity packages to suit every budget and all levels of experience (www.riverbug.asia).
Or simply kick back and enjoy the full wellness experience at the Banjaran Hot Springs Retreat, situated just a quarter of an hour’s drive from the city centre.
One thing’s for certain, for a city with a little name that we’ve not heard much about up until now, Ipoh has got good – no, great things going for it. Antonino Tati
For more information and to start planning your Ipoh itinerary, visit www.malaysia.travel.