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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.
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.
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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.
- Ipoh City Tourist Information Centre, Jln Bandar (near the Padang). 9PM-6PM except on public holidays. The visitor centre has newly reopened, sporting a spacious hall with tourist brochures, photographs of historic landmarks and goodies from the local cottage industries. Staff are on hand to help with attraction and accommodation enquiries.
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.
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.
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.
- Sri Maju 2, 4 & 6 Jalan Bendahara, +60 5 253 5367, fairly decent selection of destinations, including Hat Yai in Thailand.
- Lapan Lapan (88 brand), +65 6392 2188 (Singapore number) has services from Jalan Bendahara to Singapore (RM55).
- Grassland Express, Singapore based company, also serves Jalan Bendahara.
Starshuttle runs to Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Jalan Bercham (about RM40 one way).
Ipoh is well connected to the North-South Expressway. You can get into Ipoh via Exit 137: Simpang Pulai or Exit 139: Ipoh Selatan.
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.
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.
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.
Most roads have pavements and marked crossings, which makes strolling around the old streets a pleasant experience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Birch Memorial Clocktower, Jalan Dato Segor. Dedicated to the first British Resident Minister of Perak who was murdered by a local Malay chief. The chief's profitable trade in Orang Asli, indigenous tribal folk, was curtailed by the British abolition of slavery. By all accounts he wasn't well-liked personally and the road passing the tower's north side is now named in the killer's honour. It hosts friezes representing the progress of civilization and depicts various religious and secular worthies but the Prophet Muhammed was painted out as a respect to local sensitivities.
- Ipoh Railway Station, Jalan Sultan Iskandar. One of the three grand British-built stations on the former Malayan network. ETS trains connect this station, fondly dubbed "Taj Mahal of Ipoh", to KL's colonial beauty, Kuala Lumpur Railway Station (one stop before KL Sentral). Singapore's now disused Tanjong Pagar station is the third instalment of the trilogy.
- Ipoh Town Hall and Law Courts. The two buildings opposite the Railway Station, in neoclassical style.
- Muzium Darul Ridzuan, Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang. An interesting historical museum of Perak, located in a former tin-mining tycoon's pretty mansion.
- Padang Ipoh ( Ipoh Green). The only thing missing is a cricket match on this immaculate lawn near Jalan S.P. Seenivasagam. The surrounding historic buildings include the mock-Tudor style Ipoh Club, FMS Bar, HSBC Building and the magnificent St Michael's Institution secondary school.
- Han Chin Pet Soo ( Ipoh World), 3 Jalan Bijih Timah. Appointment only, closed M. A painstakingly restored Hakka Miners' Club that documents the activities of tin miners far away from home with cash to spend. Opium smoking, gambling and prostitution were some favourite vices and are shown in all their glory through the use of carefully curated antique items. The history of tin mining in Perak is also exhibited with old mining equipment and photographs of the big towkays (bosses). Free but donations welcome.
- Kinta Riverfront Walk. Come here at night, as trees are beautifully lighted up, making it a romantic riverside walk. There's a small hut with an interesting exhibit depicting the rise and fall of Ipoh's tin mining industry. It's also possible to hire bicycles for a more vigorous workout.
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.
- Perak Tong ( Perak Cave), Gunung Tasek. 8AM-5PM. Houses over 40 Buddha statues and many murals. There is a steep, tall staircase in the interior of the cave rising up to the top of its hill, where one is greeted by a beautiful and panoramic view of Ipoh and its surroundings. The statue of Buddha in Perak Tong is the tallest and largest of its kind in Malaysia. Perak Tong was built in 1926 by a Buddhist priest from China.
- Sam Poh Tong ( Cavern of Triple Gems). Actually a cluster of three Chinese temples in Gunung Rapat. The first temple, Ling Sen Tong is shrouded in the smokey haze of hundreds of joss sticks. Its neighbour, Nam Thean Tong, has hundreds of stairs that climb right through the mountain to high up on the other side, providing great views. Sam Poh Tong itself is the third of the row, just after the small coffee shop, where you should relax after climbing all the stairs of Nam Thean Tong. By this temple's entrance is a charming landscaped bonsai garden and fish pond; inside, a tunnel leads right through the rocks to the sanctuary of the temple and its tortoise pond. On the road leading to the temples are stalls selling pomelos, a local speciality. Local bus 94 continues to right next to these temples after passing the former Medan Gopeng Bus Terminal. RM10 in a taxi from the city should be enough, and regional buses will also get you there quickly from the centre of town.
- Kek Lok Tong ( Cavern of Ultimate Bliss). Calm Chinese cave temple with good views on the other side of the same limestone hill as Sam Poh Tong. Being newer and a little richer than the other cave temples, the place feels much airier and cleaner. Monkeys can be found here. Accessible through Gunung Rapat housing area. Taxi from Ipoh town should cost RM10.
- Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, Jalan Sungai Pari, Buntong (just before the bridge on the river). An old Tamil temple. Not only is it religious in nature but also a place for discourses, and on Sundays, children are given an introduction to verses in Tamil.
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. The deserted mansion of an eccentric Scottish planter, located in Batu Gajah, is half an hour's drive from Ipoh city centre. Its main appeal lies in the belief that it is haunted and that secret passages leading to hidden chambers exist. A taxi will cost you around RM50-60 and they will usually wait for an hour (which is long enough to look around). MYR5 for adults, MYR3 for kids 3-12.
- Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge Ship, 9th Km, Jalan Tanjung Tualang, Batu Gajah. The last tin dredge that has not been dismantled from its old workspace is an example of how easy it was to extract alluvial deposits from the river by merely scooping up tin-bearing soil on an industrial scale and filtering out the ore. There is a small museum and tours are available for both the outside and inside of the dredge depending on pricing. MYR5-15.
- Papan. A century-old half-deserted mining town built on a rich deposit of tin that was due to be dug up before the price of the metallic ore halved in the 1980s. In the war years, resistance fighters based themselves here as the last outpost before the inhospitable jungle terrain, even setting up an invaluable free clinic and dispensary. Nowadays nature is slowly taking its own course, with caved-in roofs and overgrown houses, though the odd elderly resident seems content in their familiar surroundings.
- Caving at Gua Tempurung. Gua Tempurung is the largest limestone cave in Peninsular Malaysia. Located close to the North South Highway's Gopeng Exit, it provides the opportunity to explore in detail the insides of a limestone cave. You can choose to experience a short tour of the cave or adventure into the far end of the cave by walking off the walkways and in the cave river. The wet adventures have you wading in the cold underground water, squeezing through holes and sliding over smooth rocks, but require at least 8 people to start. MYR6-22.
- White Water Rafting. Get up close and personal with nature, experience an exotic and mystifying rainforest where the fastest butterflies swarm by the riverbank while you enjoy swimming in the river or jump from trees or just glide down the river on a raft.
- Bukit Kledang, Menglembu. Trek up one of the many trails up the Menglembu-Kledang Hills (these are the hills you can see to the west of Ipoh with the radio-TV masts on the top) to enjoy the awe-inspiring view of the limestone outcrops that surround Ipoh. If unsure of how to get to these trails, just ask the many locals who trek up daily in the early mornings and late evenings. If you have a GPS, hikes can either start from 101° 1.813'E/4° 34.577'N or at 101° 1.638'E/ 4° 34.312'N where the paved road to the summit begins. Most trails are open and hot (take a hat and water) but much of Trail 4.9 is through shady forest. There are interesting plants and some wildlife (long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques, leaf monkeys, and siamang) to be seen if you are lucky.
- Ulu Geroh. Be an ecotourist and experience the rainforest here. This is an Orang Asli kampung about one hour's drive into the hills east of Gopeng. The last half of the ride is along a rough road (4x4 preferred) through rubber, durian and oil palm plantations to the village on the edge of the rainforest. Guides from the Orang Asli community take visitors to see the parasitic Rafflesia flower (the largest flower in the world) and the Raja Brooke's Birdwing butterfly as well as other forest bugs, plants, etc. There's also a small but beautiful waterfall. You will need your IC or passport number for the visitor log book. Basic accommodation is available at Ulu Geroh itself or in a rural setting at three nearby eco-resorts: (My Gopeng Resort, Rumah Rehat Adeline and Gopeng Rainforest Resort).
Parks and recreation
- The Lost World of Tambun. Ipoh's only water theme park provides great rides and entertainment for families and also organizes tours into the nearby limestone caves for those interested in eco-tourism. It recently opened a Petting Zoo that allows children the opportunity to feed and pet a variety of animals. Tambun has been traditionally known for its juicy pomelo fruit and the Tambun Hot Springs (now known as the Lost World Hot Springs and Spa). Soaking in these hot springs is said to bring health benefits to the body because of the high sulphur content in the water. MYR40-50.
- Gunung Lang. A general recreational park with a man-made waterfall and a long waterfront boardwalk. The serene 80 foot deep lake, like many others in the region, hides the deep scars tin mining made on the landscape. There's a mini zoo and playground for the kids and campsites for overnight stays. A boat ride is required to get across the lake to the park. MYR3.
- Golf. The Perak Royal Golf Club is the oldest of the golf courses located close to the city centre but there are also great golf courses at Clearwater Sanctuary in Batu Gajah and Meru Valley in Jelapang. Both Clearwater Sanctuary and Meru Valley provide accommodation that make a golfing holiday all the more convenient.
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.
- Seng Kee Food Trading, 177 Lorong Gunung Rapat 3, ☎ . Still making heong pang in the traditional manner in the backyard of their house, and worth a look just to see the masters at work. The biscuits are broiled to a crisp in giant clay jars over a carefully managed coconut husk fire, then cooled and packed into pink translucent bags tied off with a rubber band. They usually last a week before going soft. There's another cottage factory called 189 Heong Peah the next road over on Lorong Gunung Rapat 5 too. RM7 for a packet of ten.
- Chin Pomelo Farm ( Gerai Limau Tambun Chin), 158258A Jln Ampang, ☎ . There are two types of pomelo to try, sweet (pale cream flesh) or sour (pink flesh). They vary on ripeness, depending on whether they're meant to be eaten fresh or for prayers. Starfruits and guavas are also grown on the farm. Closer to town, a bunch of pomelo stalls open in front of Sam Poh Tong. About RM15 a pomelo.
- Yee Hup, 151 Jln Sultan Iskandar, ☎ . The family operated business started at home at 32 Lorong Gunung Rapat 3 thirty years ago, before morphing into a corporate company pumping out biscuits by the truckload from industrial sized electric ovens. The convenient branch in town usually has varieties not found elsewhere. RM9 for a packet of ten.
- Memory Lane ( Pasar Karat). A flea market along Jalan Lim Bo Seng that takes places every Sunday morning. It is a good place to find imitation goods, antiques and other interesting local souvenirs. Be ready to bargain for the best price and be conscious of the fact that some stuff being sold here is probably stolen goods.
- Pasar Malam - night markets, stalls selling a variety of food, groceries, toys, clothes and household items. They move to various locations throughout the week:
- Monday: Taman Menglembu, Taman Ipoh Jaya (near Gunung Rapat)
- Tuesday: Ipoh Garden East
- Wednesday: Ipoh Garden (near Perak stadium), Bercham (Taman Pakatan)
- Thursday: Taman SPPK
- Friday: Taman Pertama; Pekan Razaki (near Taman Ipoh Jaya)
- Saturday: Taman Rasi
- Sunday: Taman Cempaka (6PM-10PM only)
- The Kinta City Shopping Centre and Ipoh Parade are the two older malls in the city. Both have a fair range of branded stores, with good bargains during sale periods that could be of interest to keen shoppers. AEON has also opened up big shopping malls at AEON Station 18 and AEON Ipoh Klebang, the latter of which has the first Uniqlo and H&M stores in Perak.
- For a stretch of quaint boutiques, visit Ipoh Garden South.
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).
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.
- Choy Kee Confectionary & Bakery, Kampung Simee & 218 Lebuh 3, Kampung Simee. 5AM onwards. A little out of the way for most tourists, retaining their authenticity. They sell Chinese breakfast pastries like prawn fritters, pork buns. They are best known for their flaky custard egg tarts. Operates from a stall in the market from 5AM-11AM, after which, they operate from their bakery at Lebuh 3. About RM1 each.
- Funny Mountain Soybean and Traditional Tau Fu Fah, 49 Jln Theatre. 10:30AM onwards. A little stall that serves creamy soy milk and tau fu fah (silky soybean curd in sugar syrup). They will serve you curbside, so you don't even have to get out of your car. They usually run out by about 2PM. About RM1.20 for either product.
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.
- Kong Heng, 75 Jln Bandar Timah (Next to Thean Chun). 8AM-4.30PM, closed W. Classic Chinese coffee shop with a variety of hawkers. They're noted best for their Ipoh kai see hor fun. The popiah (spring roll) is made fresh on the spot to order. Located next to equally renowned Thean Chun, one can be seated in Kong Heng and still order food from hawkers in Thean Chun. Meals from RM4.
- Thean Chun, 73 Jln Bandar Timah (Next to Kong Heng), ☎ . 8AM-4.30PM, closed Th. Also known as the "hall of mirrors" for the large mirrors adorning the walls of the coffee shop, it is famous for its pork satay and Ipoh kai see hor fun. Their caramel egg custard is a perennial favourite, and can sometimes sell out by noon on weekends. The satay man might plonk a whole bunch of sticks on your table, but you're only obliged to pay for the ones you eat (he'll count the empty sticks), and the rest are returned back to the grill. Located next to Kong Heng, one can order food from any hawker in either coffee shop, except for hor fun. Meals from RM4.
- Dai Shu Geok ( Big Tree Foot), 652 Jln King, Pasir Pinji, ☎ . 8:30AM-5:30PM. Sells a variety of noodles accompanied by a large selection of yong tau foo, vegetables stuffed with fish paste. Soup base is also variable, from the normal clear chicken soup to the lemak coconut-based curry soup. The busy stall is set up underneath the shade of a few big trees, hence the name. RM3-RM5.
- Restoran Li Heng Fatt, 14 Jln Panglima. 11AM-10PM. Bouncy fishballs, springy fish cakes and chewy fish paste dumplings, all served in a light soup with noodles of your choice, altogether better known as hor hee. Add a dipping of soya sauce and tiny chilli padi for that extra bit of spice. RM3-4.
- Nam Chau Coffee Shop, 54 Jln Bandar Timah. 7AM-3PM, Closed Sa. Their dry curry noodles are topped with roast pork, chicken, prawns and a generous dousing of rich curry gravy. Twist a little lime into it, and the mix of spicy, sour, sweet and savoury makes the dish irresistible. Also, their white coffee is among the best and can be taken alongside half-boiled eggs and kaya toast. RM5-RM7.
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.
- Medan Aneka Selera/Gourmet Square ( Tung Koo Thing), Lengkok Canning (Next to Woolley Food Court). Dinners only. Variety is the name of the game here. A giant food court with hawkers selling just about every local fare imaginable as well as local renditions of Japanese, Thai and Western fare. One of the attractions is a stall selling exotic Chinese seafood. RM4 upwards.
- Woolley Food City, Lengkok Canning, Ipoh Garden (Next to Medan Aneka Selera). Lunch Only. A food court selling a variety of local dishes as well as some localized versions of Japanese, Vietnamese, Western and Thai cuisine. The ais kacang from ABC Desserts, especially the gula melaka version, is a sinfully sweet mix of red beans, cendol (pandan-flavoured rice strands), condensed milk, syrup combined with shaved ice - perfect on hot days. RM4 upwards.
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.
- Lou Wong Restaurant, 49 Jln Yau Tet Shin, ☎ . 10.30AM-2.30AM. Proudly claims to be Ipoh's most famous purveyor of nga choy kai, the local speciality chicken and beansprouts. It's almost always a crowd here. Chances are you'll have to wait and right on the road to boot, though the large kitchen churning out dish after dish is interesting to watch. about RM10 per person.
- Onn Kee Restaurant, 51 Jln Yau Tet Shin (Next to Lou Wong Restaurant), ☎ . 1PM-3AM. Onn Kee and Lou Wong have a much touted rivalry, having had stalls opposite each other for as long as locals can remember. Their quality is a little more consistent compared to the other place. about RM10 per person.
- Cowan Street Ayam Tauge & Koitiau, 44 Jln Raja Ekram, ☎ . 7PM onwards, closed M-Tu. Less famous than Lou Wong and Onn Kee, yet far more popular among locals. Their opening hours are actually more variable than listed, but it doesn't stop hungry patrons from turning up and hoping to fill their cravings. from about RM10 per person.
- Aun Kheng Lim, 24 Jln Theatre, ☎ . 11AM-10PM. The red and white striped corner shop is the place for local speciality salt-baked chicken. Tender meat falls off the bone, just about enough to share for two or for one very hungry person. There's drive-through business like Funny Mountain down the street. Whole chicken, RM19.
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.
- Foh San Restaurant, 51 Jln Leong Sin Nam, ☎ . 6AM-1PM, closed Tu. Most well established dim sum restaurant in the city. Tourists flock here by the bus loads (literally). Even with two floors, weekends have the place filled to the brim, with strangers sitting next to strangers as long as there's an open seat. Not the place for a leisurely chat over tea unless you get there very early in the morning. RM3-4 per plate.
- Ming Court Restaurant, 32 Jln Leong Sin Nam, ☎ . 6AM-12PM. Many locals will argue that the dim sum here is superior to the more well known Foh San though their servings portions are also smaller. Their tong sui (sweet dessert drinks) are just as popular. RM3-4 per plate.
- Restoran Yoke Fook Moon, 67-69 Jln Leong Sin Nam, ☎ . 6AM-10AM, 6.30PM-11PM. The lesser known Dim Sum restaurant on "Dim Sum Street", one can generally avoid the crowds here. The char siew baos are freshly steamed and fluffy. Portions are slightly bigger and unlike Foh San and Ming Court, this place is open for dinner too. RM3-4 per plate.
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.
- Kalai Curry House, 38 Jln Sultan Yussuf. Located in the heart of Little India, serves up Southern Indian fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Great Indian breads and banana leaf rice. RM3-RM25.
- Nasi Kandar Yong Suan, 2 Jln Yang Kalsom. Nicknamed "Nasi Ganja" for the addictive quality of their food that keeps people coming back for more. Housed in a crowded non-descript coffeeshop, join the queue and choose a selection of various dishes like ayam merah (red chicken curry) and spicy egg omelette, then watch as the proprietor pours the special mixed curry sauce all over your plate of rice. They have a separate shop lot called Nasi Vanggey on Persiaran Greentown 11. RM5-15.
- Restoran Samy, 70 Jln Besar, Chemor. South Indian style banana leaf rice, the choices of curry are aplenty. Besides the typical chicken, fish, prawn, squid and mutton curries, they also serve crab, shark and seasonally, turkey curry as well. RM10-RM25.
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.
- Mun Choong Restaurant ( Pusing Public Seafood Restaurant), 511-517 Jln Pasir Puteh, ☎ . The popular choice for special family occasions in Ipoh because of their consistently good food and large portions. Their steamed freshwater prawns with ginger are a crowd favourite. Service is attentive and efficient. RM30 and up.
- Sun Swee Kiong, 15-17 Jln Homan, Tanjung Tualang, ☎ . The place stands out with its large aquariums teeming with soon-to-be dinner. Kon chin har, pan-fried prawns to be dipped in soya sauce, is the dish you'll see on everybody's table. Prawns usually cost 30 bucks a pop. Expensive? Perhaps, but it doesn’t stop intrepid food hunters from making long detours just to have a meal here. RM30 and up.
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.
- Citrus Wine & Dine, 38-46 Laluan Ipoh Perdana, ☎ . 11:30AM-3PM, 6:30PM-11PM. Closed M. Modern European fine-dining cuisine with Asian flair in a cosy atmospheric shophouse. Service is excellent with a selection of wines and cocktails. Offers cheaper 3-course set lunches during weekdays. RM30-RM300.
- Indulgence Restaurant and Living, 14 Jln Raja Dihilir, ☎ . Serves European inspired meals all day. Opened by nationally renowned chef Julie Song, what was once a quaint cafe has now expanded to a laidback Western dining experience few can rival. They source and put together quality ingredients to make unique dishes that aren't found on menus elsewhere. RM40 per person upwards.
- MichelangelO'S Pizzeria, 40 Jln Medan Ipoh 1B. Opened by an American, this place serves authentic American style pizzas in a lively rock-and-roll environment. Their wood-fired pizzas are crispy and toppings are very generous. RM25 upwards a pie.
- Missing Marbles, 99 Jln Sultan Yussuf. A vintage-styled cafe offering more upmarket contemporary versions of Asian meals like ramen and mee siam. Its sister store Burps and Giggles next door serves Western dishes, though both equally celebrate the past with their cheerful recycled wall art and lamps for decor. True to its name, there are marbles scattered throughout the nooks and crannies of the place which used to be an old optical store. RM18-30.
- Friend's Cafe Ipoh, 28-30 Jln Medan Baru Ipoh 4, ☎ . 7PM-midnight. Serves Italian inspired meals all day. The signature dish is the forest mushroom chicken which is a reimagined chicken chop. Desserts include ice cream and macarons. RM17 and up.
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.
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.
- Nam Heong Coffee Shop, 2 Jln Bandar Timah. 6AM-6PM. This Chinese coffee shop is the original home of the famous "Ipoh White Coffee" and has links to the big OldTown coffee chain too. The egg tarts are fresh out of the oven, all sweet and flaky. Also serves fried rice noodles and other local eats. Meals from RM3.
- Sin Yoon Loong Coffee Shop, 1 Jalan Bandar Timah. Located across the street from Nam Heong Coffee Shop, they are rivals in the "White Coffee" business. A favoured breakfast location among locals, they also serve good kaya cakes, which are sponge cakes with coconut jam. Meals from RM3.
- OldTown White Coffee, 3 Jalan Tun Sambathan (on the Padang, opposite the Tourist Information Office), ☎ . 9AM-12.30AM. Chain of coffee shops selling Ipoh's very own white coffee in comfortable surroundings. The first outlet actually began in Ipoh Garden South. Reasonably priced but uninspiring snacks. A rarity in Ipoh but standard in all branches is free Wi-Fi. Coffee RM3.50.
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.
- Big John's Music Shack, 24 Lorong Panglima (off Jln Bijeh Timah), ☎ . Found at the end of the small picturesque Concubine Lane , the music shack is a laidback two storey English-run pub with imported European beers, pub grub and live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Bricks and Barrels, 28-30 Jln Lau Ek Ching, ☎ . 4PM-1AM. A self-fashioned gastrobar, the place is a good place for families to dine during evenings in the quieter restaurant section before the nightbirds come in to chill around the open alfresco area. They serve pizzas, roast pork and ribs and German bratwursts among others (non-halal obviously), and the bar does draft beer, shots and cocktails.
- Miners' Arms Bistro, 8-10 Jln Dato Maharajalela (In the commercial part of the old town), ☎ . Mock Tudor pub complete with wonky stained wooden beams and correctly placed apostrophe. The convivial clientele is entirely ethnic Chinese but the inevitable karaoke is kept at a civilized volume.
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.
- Abby By The River, 55-57 Jln Sultan Iskandar, ☎ . Right next to the bridge on the Kinta River and can be spotted by its brightly coloured facade. A little bare, but rooms are fairly new and serviceable. Free Wi-Fi. Dorms from RM30, rooms from RM90.
- Bed & Bike Backpackers Studio, 2A Jln Sultan Yusuff. A small charming hostel on the first floor of a shophouse, with dedicated service from its owners and temporary hosts taking a break from travelling. There's free Wi-Fi and bicycles to use. Dorms from RM30.
- D Eastern Hotel, 118 Jln Sultan Idris Shah, ☎ . Refurbished rooms are basic albeit spacious. Traffic can get pretty noisy from the main road since the soundproofing isn't great. Includes parking space. Rooms from RM100.
- Grand Park Hotel, 19 Jln Bendahara (Opposite Sri Maju bus station), ☎ . A centrally located, nostalgic Chinese family mansion. Original Chinese decor is reflected in the connecting upstairs patio, the foyer and the large upstairs double rooms to the front of the building. Converted to a hotel in the 1950s, it also had a restaurant in the 60s and 70s. Rooms from RM50.
- Hotel Fair Park Ipoh, 85 Jln Kamaruddin Isa, ☎ . Conveniently located 5 minutes from Ipoh's city centre and conveniently located close to major sporting and government facilities like the Ipoh Stadium and Indera Mulia Indoor Stadium. Rates from RM99.
- Hotel Ipoh City, 18 Jln Dass (off Jln Horley). Close to the colonial buildings of Ipoh Old Town. Furniture is old but rooms and bathrooms are clean. Breakfast can be had in the hotel's Chinese restaurant. Rooms from RM90.
- Paradise Hotel, 29-A & 29-B Jln Ali Pitchay Isa, ☎ . , Clean, comfortable, and basic. High ceilings and lots of windows make it an attractive option. The shared bathroom for the cheaper rooms has a squat toilet. Hand basin as standard in all rooms. No Wi-Fi. A/C RM42. Fan RM39..
- YMCA Ipoh, 211 Jln Raja Musa Aziz (beside D.R. Park), ☎ . Has two dormitories, one with ten beds and another with five, as well as smaller private rooms. Air-con not guaranteed. There's a small cafeteria with not many choices nearby, since it's a little out of the way from town. Dorms from RM20, rooms from RM50.
- Hotel Excelsior, 43 Jln Sultan Abdul Jalil, ☎ , fax: . Recently renovated, the rooms and furniture are all new. Rooms are not very soundproof. Stay at the high floors for the best views. The Oversea restaurant is opposite. RM150-300.
- M Boutique Hotel, 2 Hala Datuk 5, ☎ . The urban vintage style this boutique hotel has been decorated with gives a fun, modern vibe. Standard rooms are small, but the smart arrangements and little extras including afternoon snacks make up for that. There's a self-service laundry area, a fitness room, and an inhouse shop selling items that match the hotel's style. For food, guests can choose between the adjacent Oldtown Whitecoffee Grand for Asian, or the continental hotel restaurant. Opened in 2013. RM170 and up.
- MH Hotels Ipoh, PT 21 2695B Jln Medan Ipoh 1A, ☎ , , fax: . The hotel has concept theme floors and spacious deluxe rooms and suites. It has privileged check-ins and also a special floor for ladies. For extra entertainment, there's a rooftop bar. RM180-300.
- Regalodge Hotel Ipoh, 131 Jln Raja Ekram (Located behind General Hospital and beside UOB Bank), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Provides free mineral water, soft drinks and instant cup noodles in their rooms. Also houses a foot reflexology centre and a fairly good fine dining restaurant called The Limestone's. The area gets a little dark at night. RM150-350.
- Ritz Garden, 86 & 88 Jln Yang Kalsom (easily recognized as the building with the pyramid-shape roof), ☎ , fax: . Deluxe and standard rooms are old and not in the best of condition. Ask for the newer rooms which start from RM210 nett. Has a private cinema, gym, swimming pool, computer / reading room, billiard table for all staying guests - no extra charge. There's a decent Indian restaurant just beside selling good fried chicken. Free Wi-Fi in its public areas as well as guest rooms. From RM150.
- Sekeping Kong Heng, 75 Jln Panglima, ☎ . Restored bunch of heritage shophouses that is now home to a boutique hotel. The design is historically and architecturally interesting, leaning on the rustic side. Rooms aren't terribly private, with a fairly open air design that carries sound, especially early in the morning when the nearby coffeeshops start preparing for the day. RM170++.
- Syeun Hotel, 88 Jln Sultan Abdul Jalil, ☎ , fax: . An imposing looking hotel opposite Ipoh Parade shopping mall, the interior retains its grandness but is pretty much showing its age. Ask for a room with city views as the ones with no windows are worse off. RM190-420.
- The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, 1 Persiaran Lagun Sunway 3, Sunway Ipoh. This five star wellness and spa resort has 25 luxury villas and is located in a 56-acre valley that is surrounded by a cluster of towering limestone hills with natural caves, waterfalls and geothermal hot springs, all unblemished by time. RM1000-1500.
- Happy 8 Retreat @ Old Town, 46 Market Street, ☎ . A terrace corner house converted into a boutique hotel, with the size and lighting that entails although the rooms are all very unique. Breakfast is included. Has a pricey relaxing café decorated with lots of wood and nature elements. They have a few other suburban properties, none as convenient. RM220-400.
- Indulgence Living, 14 Jalan Raja Dihilir, ☎ . A boutique hotel with 3 designer suites and 4 themed rooms. The airy colonial bungalow lends an opulent yet homey atmosphere. Guests can kick back and mingle in a lounge; no kids above 3 allowed. Located above the fine dining Indulgence Restaurant, breakfast is complimentary and a tray of light bites is provided to guests free of charge. RM420 and upwards.
- Lost World Hotel, 2 Persiaran Lagun Sunway 1, Sunway Ipoh, ☎ . Located just a stone's throw away from The Lost World of Tambun theme park, this hotel is convenient for any traveller who plans to spend time visiting the attractions within the vicinity of the park. A night's stay includes breakfast and access to the famous Tambun Hot Springs Spa. RM280 and up.
- WEIL Hotel, 292 Jln Sultan Idris Shah, ☎ . Room design is modern, stylish and clean. The rooftop swimming pool is a big draw, and there's a bar too, with welcome drinks on check-in. The hotel is also connected to Ipoh Parade shopping mall. Lifts are a little small and slow. Weekends get pretty busy. RM250 and up.
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.
- President Pro DC - 4 Jalan Yang Kalsom (Near the budget hotels on Jalan Ali Pitchay) +60 5 2557477 Laundry and dry cleaning. Same day wash and fold RM3 per kilo, minimum RM6.
- Cameron Highlands is Peninsular Malaysia's most famous highland destination, known for its vegetable, strawberry and tea farms as well as its cool weather and beautiful scenery. There is a toll-free road to Cameron Highland close to the Simpang Pulai Exit off the North South Expressway. The journey up is just about an hour long.
- Taiping is about 1 hour North on the North South Expressway. Some of the most scenic views of mountain ranges and rain forests can be captured on the stretch of highway between Ipoh and Taiping. Taiping town is one of the oldest and most historic in the country.
- Bukit Merah, a family eco-tourist destination by a lake. Home to the largest water theme park in Northern Peninsular Malaysia and the only Orang Utan Island in the country.
- Penang is a 2-hour bus ride or drive away. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage site with some good beaches and great Malaysian food.
- Kuala Lumpur, the nation's capital is just a two-hour drive by car or a three-hour journey by bus or train.
- Pangkor is a 2-hour drive and ferry ride away. It is a quiet fishing village island with many beautiful beaches. This not very well-known island is significantly quieter than other more popular islands in Malaysia but still provides a wide selection of accommodation for backpackers and budget travellers as well five-star hotels and world-class resorts for those with money.
- Belum Temenggor Forest Reserve is the largest rainforest in the Malay Peninsula, 3 hours' drive along federal road 4 leading to Kelantan.
- Hat Yai, the southernmost city in Thailand, is roughly five hours away with a combination of train to Padang Besar and a 50-baht bus ride.
- Singapore, the island city state is just an hour away by plane, somewhat longer by bus or train but with convenient overnight timings.
|Routes through Ipoh|
|Taiping ← Kuala Kangsar ←||N S||→ Kuala Lumpur|