Ipoh is the capital city of Perak State in the upper central region of Peninsular Malaysia. It’s just over two hours away from the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur, by bus, car or train, so spending a day in Ipoh is definitely do-able. We decided to catch the Electric Train Service up for the day recently as they’ve just introduced new Chinese train sets on the route, which is part of a longer journey to Padang Besar at the northern border with Thailand.
We arrived in Ipoh about a quarter to 12 after a just over 2 hour train journey, just in time for lunch. Here are some of the things we discovered, which leave possibilities for further exploration in future.
Ipoh is famous for one of Malaysia’s favourite drinks – local coffee. The beans are roasted in a wok with margarine and sugar before being ground. To make the drink, the ground coffee is placed in a cloth bag with a handle and the hot water is poured through the bag into a ‘holding pot’ and the bag is bumped up and down a few times to get the strength, before the coffee is decanted into cups. Sugar, condensed milk and ice may be added depending on your preference. The default result will be sweet, so if you don’t want the sugar hit ask for ‘kurang manis’ (less sweet). Kopi ‘O’ is black, ‘Kopi’ is with milk, and ‘kopi ais’ / ‘kopi O ais’ is with ice. Paired with some toast and kaya (egg jam), you can’t go wrong. There are many ‘famous’ ‘best’ of these coffee shops also known as kopitiam, located along Jln Bandar Timah and if you stop to test each one, you’ll be buzzing for a week!
We hoped to try the coffee and famed creme caramel at Restoran Thean Chun at the northern end of the street, but they were closed, apparently for a couple of days. We decided then to test out the food on offer at Restoran Tauge Ayam Lou Wong, next door. Ipoh is famous for its bean sprouts (tauge) and chicken (ayam) and this seemed to be a new branch of the original restaurant in the New Town, where most of the other well known food shops are found. We had our chicken and tauge with koay teow soup, for which Ipoh is also well known and left satisfied with our meal. A little further up the road we discovered a really good egg tart seller at the All In Cafe and can confirm that this goes really well with a cup of local coffee.
Walk, find wall art
If you walk from the railway station to the City Hall opposite, you can pass between the City Hall and the State Mosque, along Jln Dato Sagor to get to Market Street. There seems to be quite a bit of ‘sprucing up’ being done in this area as the City Hall is nice and clean. The Birch Memorial Clock Tower, just over the way, was built in 1909 in memory of the British Resident, murdered by a group of local Malay Chiefs, one of whom was Dato Sagor for whom the road is named. Irony?
Many of the older buildings around the ‘old town’ have been tidied up, but some are still in need of considerable work with extra foliage that’s doing them damage.
At least one of the buildings which has been done up (the Ho Yan Hor building beside Han Chin Pet Soo), has a great piece of wall art along the side. There are at least 8 pieces of wall art dotted around the old town and another over the river in the new town area.
Talk to the Locals
Along Jln Dato Sagor, stop for a chat to one of the few remaining ‘petition writers’ in the country. These gentlemen used to be commonly seen outside government offices, where they would fill in forms and write official letters for their illiterate customers.
The petition writers used to also write letters home for overseas Indian customers and it was interesting to watch them listening and writing down what the customer wanted to say. En Yusuf bin Mohamad was more than happy to have a quick few words with us before we went on our way.
We also stopped for a chat with the egg tart man, the chap behind the counter at the coffee shop and the elderly printer in the old print shop.
Learn a little local history
Ipoh has a number of buildings that count as Museums. The Darul Ridzuan Museum along Jln Istana, is the other side of the Ipoh Padang and you can collect an Ipoh heritage brochure for a comprehensive list, from the Tourist Information Centre (follow the signs from the Birch Memorial). You could spend a day on the north side of the old town just wandering around the Royal Ipoh Club, the Indian Mosque and St Michael’s Institution.
Having found an old photo of the Han Chin Pet Soo building in Jln Bijah Timah, this writer was pleased to find that it had been restored and opened as a museum. We decided to see what they had on offer and were very pleased to find that this former men’s club exclusively for Hakka tin miners has been restored to its former glory, using most of the original fittings and furniture. Definitely worth a visit.
Find something interesting & unusual
Little India in India was a focal point for many of the Indians who came many years ago to work in the rubber estates and stayed, becoming Malaysians long ago. It stretches along much of Jln Sultan Yusof and in the run up to Deepavali in October/November is a lively street of stalls and decorated shops. The Star Printing Works is in this street as well, no big signboard, but wonderful old printing presses, no longer used, but great for a look if you’re interested in ‘old mechanical stuff’. Have a chat to the staff and hear their stories.
We didn’t actually make it to the ‘New Town’ over the Kinta River because of a late afternoon storm. Unfortunately this is apparently where the food shops stay open longer and where we had planned to eat dinner before making our way back to the station to catch the train leaving at 7:39pm. As the rain started, we just made it in time to the Nam Heong kopitiam at the south end of Jln Bandar Timah, where we sat out the storm over toast and coffee. As we were chatting to the young chap behind the counter, we realised this is the original ‘Old Town Coffee’, who have successfully marketed their premixed coffee throughout Malaysia and overseas.
We thought we might find somewhere for a bite to eat on our way to the station, but after realising the shops were all shutting on this side of town, we thought we might find sustenance at the Railway Station Cafe, but sadly, it was closed. had we asked, we might have discovered that there is a restaurant in the Majestic Hotel upstairs. Ah, another trip is necessary!