Ipoh, Malaysia’s third largest city, may probably not be on the list of famous tourist destinations in this country. But to me, Ipoh always has such a magical appeal that after 4 visits, I really love the charm of this city.
Over the past decade, Ipoh has gradually been revived thanks to the explosion of stylish cafes, lovely boutique hotels and stylish mural arts in the Old Quarter. Modern breath seems to blow a new life into the nostalgic beauty of Ipoh, blending with the inherent natural scenery, bringing a distinct charm and simplicity for this city.
The old town was rustic and quiet as the tranquility in vintage Chinese architecture intertwined with the classical look of British colonial buildings. The majestic nature of the towering limestone mountains surround the natural hot springs, creating a poetic, magical like-a-fairy-tale landscape. Ipoh seems to have all the charms needed for a city, not bustle & hustle, but graceful and peaceful.
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.
Considered as a miniature George Town (old town in Penang), the old town in Ipoh was renewed by Ernest Zacharevic (Lithuanian, the chief painter of George Town) with his creative mural paintings, showing the beauty of multi-ethnic culture of Malaysia, making narrow roads out of their inherent gloom.
The daily life of Malaysians, from Chinese, Indians or original Malay is depicted vividly, diversely and colorfully on each mural, sometimes covered a large wall, sometimes just a small decoration on the door’s side. The drawing looks carefree and mischievous, creating a high level of interactivity with the viewers, making it easy for them to become part of the work.
Just standing still at a corner in the old town, I can observe the peaceful lifestyle of local people, through a lens of the arched identical door frames. This traditional Chinese architecture seems to be common not only in the old town of Ipoh, but also in other old quarters throughout Malaysia. Under that lens, in the empty place, my gaze can get through the door frames to reach the very end. In more bustling areas, the scene is interrupted by daily activities. Everyone seems busy in their world, regardless things are still spinning around.
Cafe is probably the most crowded place in Ipoh old town. Thanks to the explosion of trendy cafes, Ipoh is back to the searching list of young Malaysians, as well as tourists.
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, specially white 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 brings along the world of teapot.
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.
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.
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.
Walking through the steps at the entrance of the temple, I was really surprised by the vastness of the space inside. 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.
In addition to the spacious main hall, the corners have lower ceilings, which can be reached by hands. The atmosphere in the temple is strangely airy and cool. Therefore, visitors come here not only to pray, but also to rest and relax, to hide from the intense heat outside.
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.
My most impressive spot in this temple is the lush garden in its backyard, nestled among the surrounding limestone mountains. 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.
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 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. Driving on the tree-lined road, I walked into the main hall of the resort. The rustic features of the wooden interior combined with large terracotta pots and a small lotus pond bring a strange sense of relaxation to anyone who comes to this place.
The more you go inside, the amazing wonderland gradually emerges. The large natural hot lake is located in the middle, surrounded by limestone mountains and caves, with layers of trees, creating a mysterious, distinct green space.
In 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 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.
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.
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