Is Ipoh worth visiting?
We spent 2 full days in Ipoh, the capital of Perak state. It was enough to make it our favorite stop on this trip through Malaysia.
I knew I would like this town the instant the bus started its descent into the valley that surrounds Ipoh. We could see the city in the distance, but what stood out was the countryside – green and lush and dotted with huge limestone outcrops.
There’s a charm to Ipoh. The downtown core is small and easily walkable. On one side you’ll find the Railway station, High Court and Town Hall, all large colonial-era buildings built during the time Ipoh was one of Malaysia’s richest cities (tin mining made it rich). The area has wide sidewalks and tree-lined streets. Walking a bit west, is the “real” downtown. There you’ll find a few blocks of Chinese shophouses, mansions, and a few quaint alleys full of shops, cafés and restaurants. And if you like street art, they have that too.
You can see all of the highlights of the downtown core easily in a day’s outing. One recommendation: take the tour to see Han Chi Pet Soo. It was a clubhouse for rich Chinese mine owners, a place where they drank, smoked opium, and do what guys do when they’re drunk and high. The tour is free (but a 10 Ringgit donation is appreciated). It’s one of the most fascinating tours we’ve taken and once you’re done you’ll be familiar with the history of the mine owners in Ipoh. Pre-book the tour here (again, it’s free. Pre-booking is just for scheduling purposes). You should also visit Concubine Lane, a touristy (but pretty) lane of boutique shops, cafés and restaurants. It’s one of 4 lanes where the rich mine owners housed their mistresses (ie. concubines). It was also infamous for its opium, prostitution and gambling dens.
Want to see a beautiful mosque and more street art?
A few blocks from downtown, over the Kinta river, is the Panglima Kinta Mosque. Right there is a small alley full of street art.
There was a tranquil, peaceful air to Ipoh’s downtown. It feels like a provincial town. We enjoyed it.
Accommodation in Ipoh. The Sarang Paloh Heritage Stay is highly recommended for a stay in the Old Town. Alternatively, very close to town but in the beautiful nature surrounding Ipoh, stay at the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat for a luxury spa experience (it’s where we want to go the next time in Ipoh).
But the highlight for me is the nature surrounding the city. The limestone outcrops dotting the landscape remind me of parts of Southern Thailand. In the background are green mountains ranges. The scenery is spectacular.
Within the limestone outcrops are many Buddhist Cave Temples. When I had heard of them I imagined having to climb into a cave to see a bunch of statues (like some of the cave temples in Northern Thailand). The cave temples in Ipoh are nothing like that. They have large staircases leading to huge caves with cemented floors. Within those caves are ornate statues, fountains and paintings.
We visited 2 cave temples: the Perak Cave Temple and the Kek Lok Tong Cave Temple. A few photos:
We only had time to visit 2 cave temples. But there are supposed to be over 30 in the Ipoh area!
More to See
There’s a lot more to see and do in the region. We only had 2 days so the above is just a sample. As I say, the geography was a highlight. But we also met some really nice people: a Chinese Malaysian who helped us call a Grab taxi when my phone was running low, an Indian driver who had worked as an engineer and had travelled to Canada (he had a lot of tales to tell), an older Malay man on a bike who warned us about taking care of our camera when exploring street art in the alley behind the Panglima Kinta Mosque (he told us that drugs are a problem and there’s been thefts). He followed us around, keeping an eye to make sure we were ok. Foreign tourists are still a novelty here and we found the people very friendly and welcoming.
Below: The Banjaran Hotsprings (we’re going to stay here the next time in Ipoh!)
Some more more attractions in Ipoh and Perak State.
Georgetown (Penang) is impressive but we didn’t love it while Melacca has lots of colonial character and is very photogenic. But for us Ipoh – with it’s natural beauty and friendly people – was our favorite place on this trip through peninsular Malaysia.
Have you been to Ipoh? What’s your favorite place in Malaysia?
Related: A detailed guide to Malaysia
Related: Why Prachuap Khiri Khan is our new favorite town in Thailand
Related: 12 Surprising Places to See (that you may never have heard of)
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Alyson J Long
Yes, we liked Ipoh too. It was our favourite place on that trip, we went across the north, through Cameron Highlands (hated that!) and along the east coast. My two favourites in Malaysia are KL and Kuching. Two very different cities, we like them in different ways.
Thank you for your feedback Alyson. I’m curious about the Cameron Highlands – why did you hate it? I haven’t been but I’ve heard good things about the beauty..
Oddly enough, I kind of liked the umbrellas over the street. Maybe it’s because I’m in a kind of state of limbo at the moment or just because they’re different. Sweltering in London heat with it’s high humidity might have something to do with it. Or possibly it was that silly dog earlier, when I was on a walk, peeing against a rock. Hell Frank, I dunno, I just like the umbrellas.
Ha! Thanks Ted. Umbrellas over streets seem to be popular and next week we’ll be in L’viv (Ukraine) where I hear there’s a street full of them.
Humidity no fun. But hey, not raining right?
Looks very nice. Rarely hear about this place.
Really liked the vibe and the people.
Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
Wow! Those Buddhist Cave Temples are awesome and I’m sure you were bummed that you didn’t have more time to explore Ipoh. It may be off-the-beaten-path for now but, with all of its many charms and beauty, it looks like it will soon be on the tourist trail and a hot expat haven. Ipoh’s history sounds fascinating too and it seems like you could spend days wandering about and exploring it. I’d think it might be a great place to spend some time acclimating to Malaysia. Thanks to you, it’s now on my list of places to visit in Malaysia! P.S Isn’t it funny that, no matter where you are, there’s always a kid who will flash the peace sign when you take their photo?
Peace sign = like eating rice Anita 🙂
And the selfie…please don’t get started…
It’s funny how people differ. The more l read about Asia, the more l have no desire to visit. I feel the same about South America. I love that about travel… so many choices :-). Glad you loved Ipoh, it looks colorful. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Krakow. I have a feeling had l visited Prague before Krakow, I might have liked it. Enjoy!
I don’t look at it that way. Places are like people. Some you like right away, some grow on you, some you get instant love but it fades just as quickly. Some places are good for a few days, some are better appreciated over a longer period, some places don’t even appeal but you end up falling for it because of other charms it may have. The same is true for different countries and regions. I’m always happy to be in Asia and enjoy it for it’s qualities. But I’m also always happy to be back in Europe.
Prague and Krakow and Budapest all different. Hard to compare. But in the end we can only judge how we like it based on the time we spend and our experiences. And people, for us, are always part of the equation because – like it or not – when you spend a lot of time somewhere you have to deal with people on an everyday basis.
We’ve spent a combined 6 months in Prague. 3 months in Budapest. We know those cities very well now and love both in different ways (although Prague is always my favorite).
We’ve been in Krakow 8 days. 3 weeks to go. I don’t like to come to a verdict too soon because sometimes our heart grows fonder for a place with time.
But I’ll say this. Krakow is neither Prague or Budapest.
I have never been to Malasia..it is on my list. The cave temples are gorgeous. These are my kind of caves…ample and airy. I can see why you enjoyed this place so much, it is great to find a charming town that is very walkable and with friendly locals. The natural beauty and pretty geography is also very appealing, I think the Banjaran Hotsprings would be the perfect place to stay?
We were here in April which is really hot Gilda. I’d really recommend coming before the end of March to really appreciate the nature.And yes, I wish I had known about the hotsprings before going 🙂
Cave temples are common in SEA. While some are better than others then tend to look the same after you have visited a couple of them. The most unique cave experience I had was in Trang which isn’t far from Malaysia.
You’re right, but the ones I’ve seen in Thailand are basically caves with stuff in them. These were built up, with concrete floors, fountains, etc…pretty impressive.
It looks great – I love the look of the cave temples. Wish I’d visited it actually… didnt really know about it when I was there in 2004. Well, maybe one day! You’re getting closer and closer to Australia Frank!! hint hint!
One day Andy! 🙂
I love the murals/street art, so much fun has been had by the artists. Concubine Lane is a hoot, it is great that they embraced the history and kept the name as a reminder of the past.
If only they had kept the opium dens Jane. Wouldn’t that be a fun tourist experience?
Never heard of Ipoh. Love those cave temples though. Very impressive. I was in Malaysia a few years ago but the only place I visited was Penang before going to Sumatra. Thinking of going back and seeing more of Malaysia .Ipoh would interest me. I also hear that they’ve got some easy expat visas in Malaysia.
I actually saw some pretty slick brochures (maybe at the tourist office? I can’t remember) promoting Ipoh as an expat destination. Also heard from the Indian taxi driver I mentioned that foreigners are moving to Ipoh. So I’m guessing it’s up and coming…but I have no numbers. Found this browsing the internet: http://www.expatgo.com/my/2016/08/11/reasons-ipoh-great-place-to-live. As a place to live I would easily choose it over Georgetown. Ipoh struck us as a very liveable place although maybe too quiet?