A city shrouded in history and culture, Ipoh offers more than just a quick weekend getaway. Located in Perak, Malaysia, it has come a long way since the tin rush era which lasted till the 1970s. It was one of the most productive tin-producing districts then. After several decades of fighting a slow fade into obscurity, Ipoh has reclaimed its popularity, with its old- time colonial charm adding to this resurgence.
Beyond the Ipoh hor fun (flat rice noodles) that is synonymous with the town in Singapore and Malaysia, here’s our roundup of must-visits when in this beautiful and underrated city.
1. Wander through the streets of Ipoh Old Town
With the Kinta River running through the city of Ipoh, it has become a familiar and oft-used demarcation between the old town and the new town.
Located west of Kinta River lies the iconic Ipoh Old Town. When you step into the city centre, it almost feels like you’ve been transported back in time. You will find colonial era architectural elements standing tall and lining the streets in almost every corner you turn. Little refurbishing has been made to the building facades, but you notice that the moss-covered brick walls and chipped, faded paint adds a certain character and charm to the otherwise dilapidated infrastructure.
Start the morning on a hearty note at an Old Town establishment, Kong Heng Restaurant. With some luck, you’ll be able to find a seat in the busy kopitiam (coffeehouse), which already comes to life in the early hours of the day. Prepare to be greeted by enthusiastic hawkers, eagerly waiting to share their menus with you. Take some time to soak up the atmosphere before making your selection.
Even if heavy and filling breakfasts aren’t your thing, it should be made an exception while you’re here. Order the famed Ipoh-style Chee Cheong Fan (steamed flat rice noodles), often topped with a homemade mix of soy sauce and shallot oil, along with a roll or two of Popiah (spring rolls), lovingly prepared by the same old lady that has helmed the store for many years.
Address: 75 Jalan Bandar Timah, 30000 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Operating Hours: Opens for breakfast and lunch daily. Closed on Wednesdays.
Once you’re done, a stroll through the city square is in order. Just close round the corner is Kong Heng Square, a big pavilion that is home to the town’s burgeoning artisan market. With vines hanging off and creeping around pillars and brick walls of the century-old mansion, it might feel like you’ve stepped into an oasis that’s lost in time. Amble along the rows of boutiques and kiosks selling handcrafted knick- knacks and other bespoke goods, before popping into Plan B, a popular hipster coffee shop that has a raw, industrial feel coupled with touches of greenery for a quick coffee break and a slice of cake.
Along the way, don’t forget to stop by a laneway or two for quick photo ops against the striking art murals which line the walls.
Kong Heng Square
Address: Kong Heng Square: 30000 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Operating Hours: Open daily.
Address: Plan B: No. 75, Jalan Panglima, 30000 Ipoh, Negeri Perak, Malaysia
Operating Hours: Open daily;
Mondays to Thursdays: 10AM – 11PM
Friday: 10AM – 12AM
Saturday: 9AM – 12AM
Sunday: 9AM – 11PM
2. Explore one of Ipoh’s many limestone caves
Another reason why Ipoh is such an underrated travel destination is that it is actually home to some of the most spectacular sights which double up as cultural and even religious landmarks, something that you don’t find often. With a wealth of limestone mountains in the area comes an equally huge number of caves that are up for exploration.
Make your way to Kek Lok Tong Temple, located east of the Kinta River. At first glance, it might seem like just an ordinary limestone cave. But as you carefully traverse through the cave, you might find hints of something beyond the natural world — altars and traditional murals set into the caverns and peeking out from between and beyond the stalactites, a common sight in many of these caves.
Continue making your way through, and you will eventually reach a clearing at the other face of the mountain, where you’ll be greeted by the captivating sight of green hills and vales, and wisps of clouds moving across these marvels. Walk through the zen garden and soak up the tranquillity and clean, cool breeze. Spend the afternoon up here and even pack a light snack to enjoy alongside the spectacular view.
Address: Pesiaran Sepakat 3, Tmn Endah Jaya, 31350 Ipoh, Negeri Perak, Malaysia.
Operating Hours: Open daily, 7AM - 5.30PM
For those who want to explore more temples along the same stretch, Ling Sen Tong Temple is a short 10-minute drive, or a 30-minute walk away. Literally translated as the Rock of Heavenly Spirits, the temple is nestled away in a slightly quieter part of town and offers a slightly different experience. Expect a galore of brightly coloured statues – ranging from animals, deities, and other characters from classic Chinese folklore, including the popular tale, Journey to the West.
Address: 31350 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Operating Hours: Open daily.
After a long day of cultural immersion, pay a visit to the famed Sun Yeong Wai Roasted Duck Restaurant, located just minutes away from either of the temples by car. While known for its crispy duck skin and tender-soft duck meat, the restaurant also serves up a decent barbecued pork along with an array of meat and vegetables that often remind its patrons of home-cooked meals.
Address: No. 17 & 19, Jalan Sri Ampang, Taman Ipoh Jaya, 31350 Ipoh, Negeri Perak, Malaysia.
Operating Hours: Open daily, 10AM - 7.30PM.
3. Eat your way through Ipoh
While Ipoh has seen a rise in the number of restaurants and joints that cater to a more western palette, the authentic Ipoh flavours are still a crowd favourite among the tourists and locals alike. To put it simply, no trip to Ipoh is complete without visiting some of the more iconic food establishments.
Start your morning at Sin Yoon Loong for breakfast and a cup of the famous Ipoh white coffee, which reportedly originated from this store. Locally known as kopi putih, the white coffee preparation begins with beans roasting in a layer of margarine to bring out the flavours of the coffee. It is then mixed together with condensed milk and served in a vintage porcelain kopi (coffee) cup that’s often adorned with animal and floral motifs.
Address: 15A, Jalan Bandar Timah, 30000 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Operating Hours: Open daily.
Once you’ve had your hit of caffeine, it’s time to make your way down to Thean Chun Coffee Shop for another local dish — Chicken Kuay Teow Soup, otherwise known as Ipoh Kai See Hor Fun. An unassuming dish that truly warms the soul, the flat and smooth rice noodles are steeped in a bowl of piping hot chicken broth and garnished with slivers of chicken meat. Once you’re done wolfing down this bowl of goodness, cleanse the palette with their signature caramel custard dish that melts in your mouth.
Address: 73 Jalan Bandar Timah, 31650 Ipoh, Negeri Perak, Malaysia.
Operating Hours: Open daily from 8AM - 3PM, except for Thursdays.
For a wider variety of dishes, it’s also worth paying a visit to the Dim Sum Street of Ipoh, where you will be spoilt for choice by the variety of restaurants around. Known to be a local favourite, Ming Court Hong Kong Dim Sum retains its old-school Chinese restaurant appeal, from kitschy floor tiles right down to the well-worn metal trays that the service crew use to dish out small plates of dim sum around the establishment. Choose from over 50 different types of dishes but be careful to not make the mistake of over-ordering! It is known to get crowded especially during the weekends, so be prepared to wait.
Address: 50 Jalan Mustapa Al-bakri, Taman Jubilee, Ipoh, Malaysia
Operating Hours: Open daily, from 10.30AM until sold out.
Ipoh boasts an eclectic array of activities and food options at an affordable price, giving people more options when exploring the city. For those seeking a cultural trip coupled with good local food, Ipoh is definitely one location not to miss.
Best time to visit
As with most tropical places, expect humid weather and rainfall throughout most of the months.
The official currency of Ipoh is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM).
Get to Ipoh, Malaysia in 1h via direct flights in Singapore. Search for airfare deals and book your ticket here.