The road to Ipoh is certainly the one less traveled. Even though it is (by population) the third-largest city in Malaysia and the capital of its province, Perak, Ipoh remains an in-between place. It’s largely glossed over by tourists planning their vacations as they rush between the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and coastal, colonial Georgetown three hundred and fifty kilometers to the north. However, Ipoh is a gem loved by the local Malaysians, and those lucky enough to stop by there.
Ipoh was a boom town, quick to swell and then dissipate. During the nineteenth century, Ipoh germinated out of a small Malay village, fueled by the tin-rich valley of the Kinta River. After a fire destroyed half the town in 1892, it was rebuilt in an orderly grid pattern, which facilitated a second tin rush which fueled its growth in the 1920’s and ’30’s. As with many rush towns, growth stagnated and nearly sputtered to a halt a mere few decades later. Seeing the city they loved dying, the people of Ipoh worked to compose the former mining town into a masterpiece, and tourism became a major industry.
Ipoh, in addition to its tropical rainforest climate which means every day is as good as a gorgeous midsummer day, features superb colonial-style architecture.
What makes Ipoh truly stunning as a physical city, however, isn’t the simply the architecture.
As complementary as a few flakes of sea salt atop a piece of caramel, it’s the art that accompanies the architecture that gives Ipoh its balance and unique flavor.
Street art is scattered around Ipoh, ranging from single pieces to mural villages to entire rainbow neighborhoods. There are pieces everywhere waiting to be discovered with a certain sense of serendipity. (Though, of course, plenty of guidebooks and maps exist to tell you exactly where to find each piece.) A few pieces (such as the Psy ice cream one pictured below) are even interactive, so one can insert themselves into the art before taking a souvenir photo.
Art isn’t limited to just walls in Ipoh – entire buildings are devoted to it! They come together to make much more than a sum of their parts.
If you want to see street art in a more concise way than simply wandering around town, Ipoh also has a “mural lane,” where you can stroll for hours in what essentially comprises a free, outdoor museum.
Nearly as bountiful as Ipoh’s art is its food.
Like much of Malaysia, three different cultures exist in harmony here – the Malay, the Chinese, and the Indian. Food from each unique culture can be found. For authentic Hong Kong style food, head over to Ming Court Hong Kong Tim (sic) Sum. Make sure you get there early, before the long lines can form for the lunch rush.
If instead of Chinese you want more local food, head to one of the many restaurants which sprawl out onto the sultry streets of Ipoh.
Must-try dishes in Ipoh inlude steamed chicken with seasoned beansprouts. Add some of Ipoh’s beautiful handmade flat noodles to create a meal which is truly Perek.
Ipoh is also famous for its “White Coffee.” The beans are roasted in a special way, and the resulting brew is mixed with syrupy condensed milk. The result is a frothy, sweet coffee which pairs beautifully with crackly fried wontons, or any other snack which may suit your fancy.
Ipoh is a city to be savored with all of your senses. Don’t only take the time to have a quick, thoughtless layover between cities here – take the time to truly delve in and enjoy a slice of what Ipoh has to offer.