Ipoh has changed much from the once bustling mining town in the 1930s to a quiet, sleepy city. It is the 3rd largest city in Malaysia, but with a relatively low population. Life there is peaceful and slow-paced. Being a city set in a valley, Ipoh is surrounded by mountains and has the one of the cleanest water supplies in Malaysia.
Touted as a great place for retirement, Ipoh does not have much to offer in terms of night life and entertainment, but is more suitable for travelers that are keen on sight-seeing and trying good local cuisine. There are historical buildings and sites to awe, huge limestone caves to explore and in nearly every nook and corner is good Ipoh food you cannot find anywhere else. For tourists who are more outdoor-inclined, there are many activities in the outskirts of Ipoh that you can partake in.
Being a rather quiet place, Ipoh is suitable to be visited all year round. However it tends to get pretty congested around February during Chinese New Year, and many places especially famous restaurants will be packed. You should also check ahead to see if there are any current events ongoing in Ipoh at the time of your travel, such as the PC Fair or a concert as most hotels would then be fully booked.
There are a lot of places to stay when in Ipoh, depending on your budget. For travelers that are fine with roughing it out, there is the YMCA which offers private rooms as well as large dormitories, or even the Majestic Station Hotel which is located in the same building as the Ipoh train station. This hotel sports lovely Victorian architecture and is fully equipped with basic amenities. Staying here will only cost you RM88 to RM138 (for a family room) per night. There are many cheap hotels in Ipoh, but most of them are dodgy. There are only a handful of hotels that you should try staying in, such as Regalodge and City Homestay.
If you would prefer to splurge, there is Indulgence Living (and Restaurant) which offers superior service and amazing food in the small package of a two-storey mansion; perfect as a romantic getaway. There is also Syuen Hotel, which is the largest luxury hotel in Ipoh. It is near to a shopping mall and various food destinations. Prices here start from RM300 for a superior room to RM3000 for a penthouse suite. Most of these hotels can be found online, and some offer cheaper online rates.
Your browser may not support display of this image.Your browser may not support display of this image. Ipoh is a food haven, and as such there are so many choices for you to choose from. Ipoh is of course most famous for their ‘nga choi kai’ (bean sprout chicken) and white coffee. Many people recommend ‘Lou Wong’, located at the Yau Tet Shin – Osbourne Street junction, as the best place for bean sprout chicken, but I personally prefer ‘Onn Kee’ (directly next door) as they have tastier noodles and fat juicy bean sprouts. These restaurants are open for business all day, but most people come here for dinner or supper.
Just like Ipoh’s bean sprout chicken ‘triangle’, Ipoh also has a few white coffee restaurants located together along Jalan Bandar Timah. There are many contradicting stories as to which restaurant started it all, but I am told that it is Nam Heong.
However, all Ipoh white coffee restaurants serve aromatic tea and coffee, with yummy white toast and other various kuih (cakes or various desserts) for a delicious tea. However, I personally prefer the drinks from the shop ‘Sun Yuan Foong’ across the road. Their tea is superb, not overly sweet and with the right richness. There is also an ‘Ipoh Old Town Kopitiam’ franchise that has many shops easily located in not only Ipoh but in many other states that serve good Ipoh white coffee, but of course nothing beats the originals.
Your browser may not support display of this image.A few other must-tries in Ipoh is the ‘dim sum’, Ipoh curried noodles and salt-baked chicken (yim kuk kai). The most famous dimsum place is Foh San along Jalan Tahwil Azhar, famous for their barbequed pork buns. You must also try their ‘Har Kao’ (prawn dumplings) and deliciously soft egg tarts. There are many other good dimsum restaurants around Ipoh, but this is undoubtedly the most famous. The most famous curry noodles in Ipoh are supposedly found at ‘Kedai Kopi Yee Fatt’ along Jalan Kampar. The salt-baked chicken of Aun Kheng Lim restaurant in Theatre Street is supposedly one of the best. The chicken is marinated with salt and several Chinese herbs, wrapped up in parchment and baked in mounds of salt at high temperatures. Many tourists buy boxes of these chickens back home when they visit Ipoh.
Places of Interest
Ipoh does not offer much in terms of nightlife, although they do have a few night clubs in Ipoh Garden East, and at Greentown for those who would like to party the night away.
For the sight-seers however, there is lots to see in Ipoh. Ipoh has many limestone caves, and these are the most famous of the caves; well-known for their awe-inspiring structures and beautiful landscaping.
Sam Poh Tong boasts beautiful stalagmites and stalactites, with a pond filled with tortoises and a wishing well. Perak Tong on the other hand has delicate works of art and statues in its cavernous centre with little nooks and crannies to explore. Finally Kek Lok Tong is a non-assuming cave which opens out to a lovely garden with a pond, prefect for an evening stroll.
For spelunking enthusiasts, Ipoh also has other limestone caves for more aggressive exploration such as Gua Tempurung, near Gopeng which is south of Ipoh. Tourists are able to choose various trails to explore the cave, some involving climbing and wading through water-logged areas.
There is also a theme park, ideal for families to visit – The Lost World of Tambun that also houses the Tambun Hot Springs. Here families can go on rides and have fun in the park, or simply soak in the hot springs and relax.
No trip to Ipoh is complete without a few goodies to take home as souvenirs for friends and family (or even just to have a tasty reminder of your trip in the kitchen for the next few days) and among the most popular items are Ipoh’s pomelos and ‘heong peng’ (fragrant biscuits).
Your browser may not support display of this image.Your browser may not support display of this image.The big yellowish green pomelo, known as the Chinese grapefruit can be found in abundance along the Tambun roadside stalls just beside the Sam Poh Tong and Lin Seng caves. This delicious fruit with a thick skin and pale pink pulp is a famous must-buy from Ipoh.
There are many shops in Ipoh that each boasts having the best ‘heong peng’ and indeed all the biscuits are almost the same and equally delicious. Each biscuit has a nutty, wheaty texture with a sweet sticky filling that oozes out with each mouthful. However, there is a diamond mine of ‘heong peng’ in Gunung Rapat (No. 177, Persiaran Gunung Rapat 6, 31350 Ipoh to be exact) where the biscuits are still cooked manually and are tons better than the usual factory manufactured ones. Be sure to buy a box before you leave!
Getting to Ipoh is relatively easy by car. Located along the North-South highway, north of Kuala Lumpur, one only needs to exit at the ‘Simpang Pulai’ or ‘Ipoh Selatan’ exit (from Kuala Lumpur) or at the ‘Jelapang’ exit from Penang.
The main bus terminal in Ipoh is located at Medan Gopeng, although a few buses may drop you at different stops such as Medan Kidd (old bus terminal), Syuen Hotel (Nice bus), Jalan Bendahara (Sri Maju) or Jalan Bercham (Yoyo). There is a train as well, from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh (8.45pm daily) and from Penang to Ipoh (9.30pm daily).
If you’re planning on driving your own vehicle in Ipoh, getting around might be rather tricky. It would be advisable to get a map, or to have a rough idea of where you’re headed to. However, locals would know how to direct you to famous landmarks or food places, and they say all roads in Ipoh lead to each other so it is difficult to get lost! It is more advisable to get a taxi to move around if you are using public transportation as the bus system of Ipoh is rather unreliable. However, be careful that the taxi drivers do not overcharge you.
Enjoy a relaxing holiday in the calm easy going lifestyle of Ipoh.