Ipoh, Malaysia’s third largest city, is probably not on the list of famous tourist destinations in this country. However, I have been there 4 times in 3 months, and continuously been surprised after every return.
The city has been going through a gradual revival thanks to the boom of classic style cafes, stylish boutique hotels and street art in the Old Quarter. The modern but vintage touch has nicely harmonized with the inherent beauty of its majestic nature, giving Ipoh a distinct charm.
It is a great surprise of Ipoh’s tranquility. The Old Quarter becomes more impressive with lovely and creative street arts. Stylishly decorated cafes make the Old Quarter more colorful and lively. Banjaran Resort with its natural hot spring is magnificent as a fairyland. Numerous temples located inside massive limestone mountains are the unique feature of this land. Ipoh seems to have everything that make the city attractive, somewhat similar to Penang, but more quaint and rustic.
When I first came to Ipoh, it was a day trip from Kuala Lumpur, too short to feel the beauty of the city. Each time coming back, spending a few days with different groups of friends, I had chance to experience the slow life in Ipoh. Here are some of my favorite places in this city.
Not as glorious as in Penang, the old quarter in Ipoh is a few narrow and quiet streets renovated by a Lithuanian artist named Ernest Zacharevic with his creative murals, showing the beauty of multi-cultures of Malaysia. He is also the main artist for the famous George town of Penang.
The multi-ethnic life of Malaysian people, from Chinese, Indian to Malay are painted vividly and colorfully. We had fun moments interacting with these rustic and ordinary murals there.
Wandering around the sidewalks in central of Ipoh is comfortable and cool as you walk under a series of arched identical door frames. This feature is not unique for only Ipoh, but seems to be very popular for all of the old towns in Malaysia.
Even though it was a weekend, Ipoh was not too crowded, the cafes and restaurants were next to next with brilliant colors. I didn’t stop broaching since I had no space in my stomach to enjoy all delicious local food there.
One of the uniqueness of Ipoh is numerous temples built inside the cave of majestic limestone mountains which are the geological natural signatures of this land. Kek Lok Tong is the most favorite one thanks to its massiveness, huge inside space, exotic shapes of stalactite and a lush quaint zen garden.
Entering inside, I was surprised by the massiveness of this mountain. The floor has been paved to serve for worshiping and visiting, while the upper ceilings remain as their original geological state of limestone mountain. Natural lights from the entrance enhanced the beauty of the stone grains and stalactites.
The atmosphere inside the cave was cool and comfortable thanks to large openings at each end. That’s why it is not only the place for worshiping but also serves as a refuge from the overwhelming heat, for taking a break and relaxing.
Golden statues of Buddhist and Chinese mythological deities were respectfully set at the central marble altars. As a non-religious person, I don’t know much about their names and their histories, but noticed that all of the statues were carved beautifully and sophisticated.
The most remarkable thing about this temple is a lush zen garden located behind it, which is surrounded by limestone mountains and countless green trees.
It was sunny and hot but I decided to take a walk around this beautiful garden. Thanks to the shade of tall trees, the entrance to the garden became more pleasant, like entering a green space. The large lotus pond in the middle is a quaint charm of the garden
Sitting quietly in this greenery, listening to the sound of nature, smelling the scent of plants, I realized that sometimes in life we just need these quiet moments, escaping the bustling noisy days, to have self reflection, to calm down and to appreciate what life have gives us.
Railway station is one of the icons of Ipoh with an impressive combination of Moorish and Gothic architecture from British colonial time. Prior to the 20th century, the building was used as a hospital, then redesigned as a train station and operated since 1935.
Its white walls combining with dome and round cylindrical towers bright out an elegant look for the building. The park in front of the station is also a gathering place for local people.
Perhaps the Banjaran hot spring resort is my most favorite spot in Ipoh thanks to its magnificent fairyland beauty. It had been the main attraction dragging me to Ipoh for the first time, and also was the reason making me to come back.
Banjaran Resort is located about 8 km from the center of Ipoh, so you can only reach there by car or taxi from the center of Ipoh. As soon as I turned into the narrow road leading to the resort, I felt so peaceful thanks to its greenery. Entering the lounge, the rusticness of wooden furniture combined with big terracotta jars and a small lotus pond gave me a pleasant relaxing sensation, eliminating all the fatigue after a long distance drive from Kuala Lumpur.
The more I got inside, the more I surprised about the lush natural scenery, full of green, peaceful and quiet. A natural hot lake in the middle, surrounded by the range of limestone mountain is the uniqueness of this resort.
The lake has natural geothermal hot water up to 70 degrees Celsius, which is cooled down when it leads to outdoor dipping pools. I was excited to dip myself in each pool, experiencing different temperature level, from 40 degrees to 48 degrees, and felt my body gradually adapted with the hot water. The most interesting thing was probably the cold water shower in the middle of each pool. As far as I know about the principle of Japanese onsen bath, when bathing in hot springs, sometimes pouring cold water will help making skin more elastic.
Banjaran’s scenery is magnificently beautiful. In the early morning, when the weather is quite cold, the hot water in the lake evaporates into a faint smoke, looking magically like in a fairyland.
In the afternoon, it can be transformed into an extremely romantic and private dating spot.
The resort does not have too many rooms, but each room is a spacious and beautiful villa with a small private pool, a Jacuzzi, a cool outdoor living room. In addition to the hot springs, Banjaran is also famous for its beauty and health care treatment services, such as Spa and massage, natural sauna in limestone mountains, yoga / taichi, meditation in the cave. Room rates are also very high, but with its great facilities and the unique ambience it offers, it is worth any penny spent to enjoy a quiet and relaxing holiday there.
What to eat and drink in Ipoh?
Plan B is a cafe that can not be missed in the Old Quarter because of its bustle. With the earthy tone of red brick walls and brilliant yellow lights, Plan B offers a cosy yet spacious space, laid- back yet modern look.
Not only having air-conditioned rooms, Plan B also has a bright lush outdoor space with natural light from the glass ceiling coupled with green pots. In addition, the cafe is linked to the Sekeping Kong Heng Hotel, creating a large harmonious complex. The menu is also very good, with plenty of fresh juices, coffee and light food.
Not far from there is Burps and Giggles. With the concept of ”women freely burp and men can giggle”, the place is bizarrely decorated, going beyond the art framework.
Giant murals on old-fashioned walls combine creatively with ancient materials, colorful rattan chairs and decorative pillows, making it an impressive check-in spot for Instagram enthusiasts.
Ipoh is not only famous for coffee, but also has popular tea shops, selling many kinds of teas and unique types of teapot, as well as having a cozy atmosphere to enjoy tea. Purple Cane tea house is one of them.
Entering the shop, I was fascinated by the world of teapots. Countless teapots with different designs, sizes, colors, and materials, such as ceramic, porcelain, glass, crystal, are neatly displayed. Tea making is also an art when choosing the right teapot for each type of tea. The material of the pot also partially affects the taste of tea.
The inside is quite spacious with in-house green trees, creating a fresh and relaxing ambience. Simple menu with a good variety of teas, hot or cold and the deserts look yummy.
Speaking of food in Ipoh, I could not forget the delicious crispy roasted duck at The Syw restaurant near the old town. I must say it is “one of the kind”, I have never eaten elsewhere as delicious as it. Duck meat was very soft, and not tasted fatty at all. Duck skin was crunchy and smelled good. I ate there every time I visited Ipoh, some days I had both lunch and dinner. Syw restaurant also has many other dishes that are also very good such as roasted pork and fresh vegetables.
The most popular local food in Ipoh is Nga Choy Kay, means beansprout chicken, usually refers to three dishes — kway teow (flat rice noodles) soup, poached chicken and peppery beansprouts. Just order 1 set, you will be served all these 3 dishes. Hor Fun is a typical noodle soup of Ipoh, can be eaten with various types of meat such as chicken, pork, or shrimp. Cendol, a type of sweet soup eaten with ice and countless topping types, is a must-have dessert.
Selected information from several trips in Mar – May, 2017