We took a three-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur to visit the capital of neighboring Perak state, Ipoh. Known as the “town built by tin”, Ipoh rapidly grew in prominence as a booming tin mining industry in the 1880s. By 1895, Ipoh became the second largest town in the Federal Malay State. But as soon as the tin deposits started to deplete and tin prices declined, Ipoh’s economy went stagnant by 1970s. For a while it was a town momentarily forgotten. Recently, Ipoh began its resurgence. Livening up the British colonial architecture of the old town, highlighting the historical and natural wonders and the hard free flowing water which the town claims makes the food tastier.
The Kinta River which flows through the karst valleys of Ipoh is not only beautiful but rich in minerals. Feeding the surrounding soil with nutrients enabling anything that grows from its land seemed healthier. Was it the reason why coffee from this region became famous? Richer and stronger in taste? Who knows but Ipoh white coffee’s popularity speaks for itself.
Even using the water as ingredients to its local favorite, the Ipoh Hor Fun makes the broth flavorful and noodles silkier. Having lunch at Onn Kee Restaurant, one of the oldest taugeh kuay teow ayam restauran locals are fond of.
Old Town Strolling
In the 1892s, half of the town was grazed by fire. But since the town was still booming from tin mining, it was easy for the Chinese mining tycoons to rebuild the town, this time with a proper grid system and wonderful British colonial shophouses. Narrow alleyways also were also offered to the wife and concubines of Chinese tycoon, Yao Tet Shin. The wife and each concubines would manage their own lanes and collect funds from merchants, shops or stalls at their lanes.
These days the concubine lanes are lively streets with hip cafes, fancy murals and colorful merchandises. One such cafe is the Kafe Panglima Dua Lima where I gladly sampled fresh Ipoh White Coffee. The same Lithuanan artist, Ernest Zacharevic, who lent his talent to the iconic paintings in the Old Town of Penang also made a canvas of the aged walls of Old Town Ipoh.
MAPS Theme Park
Part of Ipoh’s resurgence in Malaysia’s tourism radar can be attributed the new theme parks that attracted visitors to explore Ipoh. Sunway’s Lost World in Tambun became a popular draw. The new RM 520 million investment Movie Animation Parks Studios (MAPS) is a new theme park in Ipoh. MAPS is said to be the first animation theme park in Asia. We got a chance to go around this expansive park. The architecture, designs and ornaments are a straight pop-out from the world of animation. We sat through one of the programs featuring the smurfs. It was quite interesting. Imagine the popular augmented reality on your smartphones blown out to a large theme park level. At the moment, it looks like the park would attract a younger audience. Some of the park zones are not open yet. Looking at it, they have other thrilling rides in store for the adult kids.
Go for Ipoh
I feel the need to explore Ipoh more after this day trip. I enjoyed the old town and the food so much. I’m sure there are natural wonders to explore. I read about some caves with ancient writings and temples. Maybe finding some fascinating heritage structures and more eye catching street art. Oh yeah I’ll go for Ipoh next time I’m back in Malaysia.
Cebu Pacific offers daily flights from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, with lowest base fares starting at PHP 2,088. KL is a perfect jump off point in exploring Malaysia.