Ipoh isn’t usually the first place people think to go to when visiting Peninsular Malaysia and it was somewhere we missed out when Tom and I came 8 years ago. The advantage of taking a whole year to travel though is that you have the time to choose to see areas you might normally miss, so we added Ipoh to our road trip itinerary.
The town itself is usually compared to (the more popular) Georgetown in Penang and it does have many similarities: the Chinese style shophouses, hawker food centres, amazing street art. In fact, some of the murals in Ipoh were actually painted by Ernest Zacharevic, the street artist who created some of the world famous pieces in Georgetown. Most of the murals are highlighted on Google Maps, but you come across them easily enough while wandering around the town. The advantage of the murals in Ipoh is, that not only are they just as awesome as those in Penang, but the streets are quieter so you can really take your time and enjoy looking at them all properly. Plus you don’t have to queue and wait for a photo! The town is much less touristy in general than Georgetown (which we do love as well) and although it is busy, has a laid back, retro vibe which feels fun and welcoming.
Ipoh old town is now centered around three small streets, apparently named after the three wives of a local mining magnate in the late 1800s. Wife Lane or Lorong Hale (for his first wife) is surprisingly now the shortest and quietest, only really notable for it’s mural or a fruit seller and pretty lanterns. Concubine Lane (for his second wife) is by far the busiest and is full of stalls selling snacks and trinkets. Market Lane (for his third wife) is quiet and pretty, with a ceiling of lanterns and colourful umbrellas and is an easy place to stroll and take some photos.
Food is a big deal in Ipoh and is the main reason it attracts many tourists from around Malaysia itself. Most famous is it’s white coffee and egg tarts, which are impossible to avoid the minute you enter town. Cafes selling these are absolutely everywhere! Dim Sum is also wildly popular here and there are LOADS of choices, from established and popular (try Foh San or Ming Court), to smaller, underrated options (try Zui Le Xuan or Lok Hin). These Dim Sum places come recommended by an awesome food guide for Ipoh, not by us. We ate ice cream. We already took three sweaty kids around the old town, so sitting through Dim Sum as well was not high up on our list of things to do. Back to the swimming pool for us!
The best thing to do in Ipoh is just wander about and see what you find. If you are short on time though and want to make sure you see the ‘best bits’, there is an Ipoh Heritage Trail. You can book organised walks via TripAdvisor or general tourist sites or do it yourself by heading to the Ipoh Heritage website which gives you information and Google Map/GPS coordinates. The Trail focuses on 27 points of interest and covers most of Ipoh’s history. You start at the British designed Ipoh Railway Station and other examples British colonial architecture, past traditional Chinese style shophouses and modern buildings and finally finish up at the Birch Memorial in the old town. It gives a lovely run through of everything that makes up Ipoh: traditional, colonial and modern all mixed up into a brilliant slice of Malaysian life.
Where to stay
We stayed at the beautiful Haven Resorts, and would highly recommend it. It is a bit out of town, but that allows you to enjoy the surrounding countryside of jungle and limestone cliffs, which a central hotel means you miss out on. Although it isn’t a ‘budget’ option, it is very good value and definitely worth considering when booking your stay.