In the state of Pahang where our new friends from the Cameron Highlands were from, Ipoh was one of those places where I had no idea what to expect. To be honest I even forgot why we were going… that sometimes happens when you’re visiting a new place every 2/3 days for the past 7 months!
Not on the usual beaten track it was much bigger than I expected when we arrived, surrounded by large limestone karsts making it already picture perfect. Bonus, it wasn’t touristy.
We arrived in Ipoh from the Cameron Highlands around midday and so set out to explore the city before we could check in.
Note: Buses tend to stop and start from Amanjaya Bus Station which is around 10km from the center.
After a spot of lunch in Ipoh Parade Mall (I’ll shamefully admit we ate Subway which I blame Alex for) we headed to the Old Town area in Ipoh. Here there is a street art trail to follow, leading to lots of hidden art pieces. Below are some of my favourite.
Not on the street art walk we found this street art with a modern twist. I loved it! It was down an alley near the humming bird and bag half full paintings.
As a historic mining town Ipoh also has a Heritage walk which we didn’t manage to complete, if you ever visit and have time to check it out, let me know how it was.
While in the Old Town we made sure to visit Concubine Lane. It’s history dates back to 1892 when Ipoh was being rebuilt after a fire. A mining tycoon who owned the three lanes in question gave them away to his three wives. It’s been open since 1908 and also contains some WWII history, with soldiers often housing their mistresses here, hence the name ‘Concubine’. Now, it’s filled with souvenir shops and even though it’s short, it’s definitely worth a visit with some great painted postcards.
It also has it’s own playful street art.
It’s one of the three Concubine Lanes which IPack Travel has some great background information on, if you want to know more.
Market lane or umbrella street as it stuck out to me is definitely Instagram worthy. It’s apparently the second Concubine Lane.
It hasn’t got a market on it, or at least not any more. But it does have some great street art too. It seems where doesn’t in Ipoh?! No wonder it has been named the off-the-beaten-path Penang.
Drink White Coffee
White coffee doesn’t just mean coffee with milk in Ipoh so after exploring the Old Town me and Alex headed through the Chinese quarter to Kedai Makanan Nam Heong Café. Nam Heong is rumoured to be where white coffee in Malaysia originated and also the birth place of the Old Town White Coffee franchise found all over Malaysia.
The coffee is made by marinating the coffee beans in margarine and for only 3.60 RM per cup me and Alex found a seat in this bustling Chinese café to try it. It’s hard to believe neither of us liked coffee 7 months ago before we left the UK for Asia!
P.s. it gets a 10/10 would recommend from us.
If you love it that much like we did and want to buy some as a souvenir then head to the shop (that I can’t remember or find the name of) next door to Old Town White Coffee Café near the Tourist Information Centre for some aesthetically packed granules for 15 RM. The Old Town White Coffee franchise do sell white coffee sachets but they are all 3 in 1 meaning they come with a lot of added sugar!
Every evening on Jalan Dato Tahwil Azhar there’s a night market from 6pm. We went there on our first evening.
Warning: don’t expect any nice souvenirs, as a non-touristy town Ipoh’s night market sells mainly everyday items such as phone chargers and lots of cheap, fake brand materials such as sunglasses and watches.
Purple Cane Tea House
As in Kota Kinabalu, I was on a tofu hunt in Ipoh. We found Purple Cane Tea House to be a very nice restaurant with lots of beautiful (and slightly pricey) tea pottery sets on display. The tea itself was relatively expensive, especially compared to the white coffee we drank earlier that day, but the meals were reasonably priced. I can confirm I found my tofu fix, this time Thai styled.
With its surrounding limestone karsts and cliffs, Ipoh has a lot of cave temples. So we spent our second day venturing further out of the city to explore some of them.
Sam Poh Tong Temple
Our first stop was Sam Poh Tong Temple via a Grab Taxi. Now this is what temples should be like. It was 10:30 am and we were the only ones there. It’s hands down the quietest temple we’ve ever been to. No tourists (except for us).
It’s not just the grounds that are beautiful, with its gorgeous Chinese style architecture and large pond full of fish and terrapins. Even though I could have spent much longer basking in the beautiful garden we headed into the cave (for free), past the offerings.
Through an underground cave tunnel we came out into an open-top, large cavern with the most beautiful temple inside.
At 11:30am it started getting busier; meaning around 5 people arrived! Someone bought tomatoes to feed the tortoises; which is the only downside of the temple; the number of tortoises kept in a caged area. There are so many of them and you can buy tomatoes to feed them. They looked extremely hungry so I was torn as to whether to buy some tomatoes to feed them or not to contribute to the demand for them to be there. After seeing them aggressively (as aggressive as tortoises can) fight over the tomatoes we decided against it and walked away. I’d love to know what you would have done?
Nam Tiang Tong Temple
We then walked the 50m to next door, the Nam Tiang Tong temple. This was a lot different to Sam Poh Tong and while the outside was nowhere near as impressive, it was the inside which really appealed to me.
It’s what it says on the tin, a cave temple. Nestled into the walls of a cave with white painted roofs there are four big religious statues. There was also a table of free books, which I had to read the sign three times to confirm to myself they were free… but they were! While most of it is in Mandarin I picked up a copy of Pure Land Pure Mind to learn a bit more about Buddhism; once I’ve stopped writing blogs!
To the right of the statues we walked through the cave, a small passage way with a major and welcomed wind tunnel to another ‘room’. We took some steps up which led outside, hiding our oranges from the macaques in the trees (who we don’t have a good track record with); thankfully, for once they were no bother. The views from here were pretty great!
We decided to climb up all the stairs to the top in hopes of another great view but it wasn’t worth it as there isn’t one. It was worth it to walk through the cave itself, even if the 2nd to last platform (which had obviously been built with wooden flooring) is holey and feels very unstable… by now we’ve learned that it wouldn’t be Asia without a bit of that!
Lin Seng Tong Temple
In my opinion we didn’t save the best to last as Lin Seng Tong was the least impressive. Even nestled beautifully into the rock, the outside seemed very ‘animated’ with tacky figurines scattered everywhere. Thankfully, as with the previous two temples, entrance was free and this temple doesn’t require you to spend long.
Perak Cave Temple
At the other side of Ipoh is also Perak Cave temple which has 800 steps and apparently amazing views from the top. We decided not to visit but we’ve heard going in the morning is the best time for clear views of the surrounding city.
Qing Xin Ling Cultural Village
The Quing Xin Ling Cultural Village was not something me and Alex had on our ‘to-do list’ in Ipoh and so we went off the recommendation of our host. We were so glad we did! With the only entrance fee of our visit to Ipoh, at 10 RM each we had so much fun.
We were both interested when the ticket lady told us there were free bikes to use inside, and also intrigued because we weren’t expecting anything big. To Alex’s sheer delight there were tandems a plenty. There were even cycle rickshaws that you could ride your friends and family around in. The outside cultural centre isn’t big but we made the most of the tandem doing three laps round the lake. It’s safe to say we had fun!
We then did another lap on foot to take in all of the small buildings displaying mainly old Chinese heritage. There’s even chance to feed the catfish which Asians seem to love to do.
After our busy morning and a veggie filled lunch at Restoran SYW (who specialise in duck if you’re interested) we headed to the Japanese Garden, another recommendation from our host. Also named DR Seenivasagam Recreation Garden, the Japanese Garden is best accessed from the Waterfront Hotel. Over the ‘love bridge’.
While the park isn’t the best thing about Ipoh it’s a peaceful place for a stroll to work off yesterdays sugary white coffee. We spotted a Sparrowhawk in the branches and a local football match through the branches. Both of which we spent some time watching!
We didn’t end up walking down Ipoh riverfront, which is apparently well-lit in the evening as we decided to make use of the gym next to our hostel instead. From what we saw it looks beautiful and our host again recommended this as something to check out. We also headed back to Purple Cane Tea House for fried pumpkin so no new food restaurants to report.
I can understand why Ipoh is known to be a great retirement place, there’s not much night life but it’s a lovely city with enough going on to spend a few days… so make sure it’s on your Malaysia itinerary!
Lots of Pocket-sized love,