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Located approximately 160 kilometres (99 miles) south of Penang Island and 200 kilometres (124 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh makes an ideal city to split the long journey. From George Town, take the ferry to Butterworth on mainland Penang and either take the train or bus to Ipoh. Public transport also offers regular connections to Kuala Lumpur.
One of the top reasons to visit Ipoh is to experience the region’s cave temples. Chinese Buddhists found the cavernous space inside Ipoh’s limestone cliffs to be the ideal environment for a temple. Visit Perak Tong, Sam Poh Tong and Kek Lok Tong. The exterior looks like any other Buddhist temple, but the inside exudes a mystical air as the bronze statues and religious decorations surround the stalagmites and stalactites.
Perak 2017, a nationwide tourism drive to Perak State, saw big investments in tourist infrastructure. What was once a little–known city in central Malaysia now has heritage walks, a well-stocked tourist information centre and restored colonial buildings. Over the last year or two, Ipoh and Perak have transformed into a tourist-centric city. If this isn’t a good enough reason to visit Ipoh, consider the inevitably small window of opportunity before it gets inundated with visitors like other Malaysian destinations.
During Perak’s tin mining boom, the British had a strong influence in Ipoh. Enjoy the colonial legacy with the beautiful structures such as the Railway Station, Birch Clock Tower, Ipoh Town Hall and the Old Post Office. While the colonial architecture isn’t as strong as in Penang, it does offer an insight into the city’s prosperous past. Follow the Ipoh Heritage Walk, which covers approximately 6.5 kilometres (four miles) around the city, to experience the best of Ipoh’s colonial charm.
Few outsiders are aware of one of the top reasons to visit Ipoh: the food. According to Lonely Planet, Ipoh is the ‘lesser known food capital’ in Malaysia. With food courts, local restaurants and hawker stalls serving the same recipes for decades, any foodie is sure to have a divine culinary experience. Try the bean sprout chicken, gai si hor fun (shredded chicken noodles) and the regional favourite Ipoh White Coffee.
Tourists will find a variety of quirky and speciality museums in Ipoh. One dedicates itself entirely to the famous Malaysian film producer Yasmin Ahman, while another uses miniature Chinese figurines to depict scenes from ancient China. The Geological Museum, one of the most comprehensive in Malaysia, is worth checking out too.
The walls along Mural’s Art Lane, a small alley on the eastern side of the River Kinta, are decorated with colourful murals. Sharing similarities to Penang’s famous street art, the images detail scenes from local family life, regional customs and traditions, while others show interesting scenes from the city’s past. The stairwell inside Wisma Chye Hin is covered in street art and graffiti too.
Among the top reasons to visit Ipoh is the chance to see some of the country’s oldest Neolithic cave paintings. Nearby Tambun Cave has hundreds of reddish-orange shapes and images covering the limestone rock face. Estimates suggest they date back between 2000 and 5000 years. Look closely and see pictures of humans, fruit and shapes. But apart from a handful of locals, few know about this incredible historical canvas on their doorstep. Follow the road towards Tambun and stop at the Caltex Petrol Station. Walk along the small lane near the fields. Cross the bridge and follow the signs to Tambun Cave Paintings.
From exploring the region’s vast cave networks to spending the day white water rafting, tourists have access to several types of adventure activities near Ipoh. Head to Tempurung Cave, West Malaysia’s most extensive cave network, and join a tour to scramble through the caverns and passageways. Choose the wet tour and navigate through pools of water. Or for a day on the water, visit the Kampar River and spend a few hours white water rafting.
Located approximately 21 kilometres (13 miles) south of Ipoh in Batu Gajah, Kellie’s Castle is Malaysia’s most mysterious colonial building. William Kellie Smith made his fortune from rubber and ordered the construction of a large estate for his family. But after his sudden death, the half-finished mansion was forgotten and lost to the jungle. Since it was rediscovered and became a tourist attraction, secret passageways and rumours of the supernatural deepen its mystery and allure.
Located in Pahang State, the Cameron Highlands have been a favourite retreat since colonial days. The British established Malaysia’s highest Hill Station and used the fertile land for tea plantations. Apart from enjoying the cooler climate, visitors can tour the plantations, go hiking and escape the stifling heat of the lowlands. Ipoh acts as a gateway to reach Cameron Highlands offering a convenient side trip.