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A HIDDEN GEM
If you are planning to visit South East Asia, Ipoh in Malaysia is a hidden gem that should be on your radar. The city has been reinventing itself to attract tourists in the region and there are many reasons why this city should be part of your itinerary too. Here are my recommendations on what to do in Ipoh.
How to get to Ipoh
Ipoh is located about 200km north from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia‘s limestone valley. You can get there via airplane from Singapore directly to Ipoh’s Sultan Azlan Shah Airport. Unfortunately there are no planes from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh or from Penang to Ipoh. Alternatively you can get to Ipoh by train, bus or car.
Why you should go to Ipoh
The city of Ipoh is the capital of the state of Perak and Malaysia’s 3rd largest city. The limestone hills of Ipoh are over 200 million years old. There are rainforests, caves, rivers, lakes, and more in Ipoh and surrounding areas.
I have been to Ipoh and to nearby towns during my travels to Malaysia and have relatives living in Taiping, just 1 hour’s drive away. I first went to Ipoh in the late 1980’s when the city was starting to recover from years of decline after the closure of the tin mining industry which flourished in the 1800’s to 1900’s and had made Ipoh a very wealthy city. It was known as “the city that tin built” and used to be one of the wealthiest tin mining cities in the world.
Now, Ipoh is becoming hip. It’s going through a revival of sorts, being given a bit of a makeover, and starting to put itself on the tourist map. But it isn’t too touristy yet. So you should visit in the near future and you will be able to explore the city comfortably without crowds, before everyone finds out about it.
I would definitely include a short stay of a couple of days in Ipoh.
What to do in Ipoh
Here are 9 things I recommend in Ipoh:
1. Heritage Trail Walk
The Tin Heritage Trail is a great way to see the highlights of Ipoh’s Old Town colonial heritage. You can visit some of these places to appreciate the history and architecture of the city. The Ipoh Railway Station is an excellent example of Ipoh’s rich past influenced by the British and with aspects of Moorish architecture.
Check out some of the other sites on the heritage trail list whilst you stroll around the city on a self-guided tour.
Kellie’s Castle is an unfinished and abandoned castle that was built by a Scottish business man in the early 1900’s who left Ipoh and never returned. The castle, left unattended, went to ruins. Legend has it that it’s haunted by him and his family members. It is now a tourist attraction that people love to visit and hear the stories relating to the history of the deserted mansion. It has been used in a couple of famous movies too.
3. Lanes and alleys
Some of the historic lanes such as Concubine Lane are featured as part of the Tin Heritage Trail mentioned above. But if you don’t do the trail tour, you should still visit these lanes, which are getting a new lease of life and becoming a tourist favourite with shops and cafes. Legend has it that the street got its name because rich miners would have their mistresses staying here.
4. Ipoh Cave Temples
There are more than 30 cave temples in Ipoh, built into the limestone hills. They are quite amazing and mostly all Buddhist and Taoist religions. Some of them are huge and sprawl over many acres of land and include gardens and ponds. They are popular attractions here and you have to at least visit one or two. You will not only be able to appreciate the religious architecture and deities, but also stalactites and stalagmites which are many years in the making.
Perak Cave Temple, Ipoh
5. Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake in Ipoh is a quiet spot, a little oasis, but it’s not easy to find. A true hidden gem in every sense. There’s not much to do here other than to take in the scenery of the lake and limestone hills which are mirrored in the water, hence the name. But, the future of Mirror Lake is being threatened by a limestone quarry very nearby.
6. Recreation Park
Gunung Lang Recreational Park is a popular lake with limestone hills and a waterfall. It is located near Mirror Lake. Here you can go caving, canoeing, boating and rockclimbing, or simply hang out and have a picnic.
7. Banjaran Retreat
Not far from Gunung Lang Recreation Park is Banjaran Retreat, perfect for time away from the stresses of life. If you want to spoil yourself with a little pampering and/or stay at a luxury villa, the serene Banjaran Hot Springs Retreat is for you. The natural setting offers privacy and tranquility, with spa therapies to indulge in and hot springs to relax in. Best of all, they have a cellar restaurant set in a cave. How cool is that!
Banjaran Hot Springs Retreat, Ipoh
8. Lost World of Tambun
Just a short walk from Banjaran Retreat is the conveniently located themepark, Lost World of Tambun. This is the big attraction here to lure tourists to Ipoh. It is perfect for families to spend a day here for some fun in the Waterpark and Zoo, and some Eco-adventures exploring the jungles and caves of Ipoh. You can also learn about the rich heritage of tin mining in Ipoh and have a go at tin panning yourself.
9. Street Art
Street art is popular in Ipoh with murals and graffiti art in the lanes and alleys. The Old Town boasts much of the art which is very well done and interactive. Much of the art is done by the same artist.