When people think of Ipoh, two things come to mind: the food and white coffee.
It’s not surprising. Both are really good. I stayed there for three days, and all I had (almost) was nasi ayam (white chicken and rice), together with white coffee.
This small capital of Perak state, however, has more to offer. It’s not only about the delicious kway teow (fried noodles) and low cost of living, but more importantly, it is also about heritage.
Around 200km from the Malaysian capital, Ipoh is the fourth largest city in Malaysia. Its Golden Age arrived in the 1880s to the 1930s, when it became the tin mining capital of the country.
The riches promised by tin attracted thousands of new migrants to the city, majority of them Chinese, who brought along their culture, and of course, their food.
Ipoh’s wealth in its boom period is reflected in the architecture of the city structures. Until now, you can still find a lot of very nice buildings in the Old Town. Some do look a bit worn and needing restoration, but at least they remain standing as a reminder of Ipoh’s glorious past.
It’s easy enough to go to Ipoh from Kuala Lumpur. Aside from taking the Electric Train Service and the bus, you can also book Malindo Air tickets on Traveloka. There’s no booking fee and you can pay via various payment methods, so it’s very convenient, and the time you save on traveling, you can spend more on going around Ipoh.
Once you’re in Ipoh, you can either stay in the Old Town or the New Town. If you’re interested in Ipoh heritage, I would suggest staying in the Old Town, of course.
If you want to systematically follow the Ipoh Old Heritage Trail, just find your way to the tourism office (we took a cab) and ask for a map that can guide you in finding and identifying the historically important structures in the city. (You can also download it here.)
The Old Town isn’t so big; in a couple of hours of moderate walking, you’ll already see most of it. However, if you want to be more spontaneous, ditch the map and just walk randomly; let your feet guide you.
The most recommended route for walking the Old Heritage Trail is the one that starts from the Ipoh Railway Station. It is an architectural marvel in itself, drawing from a lot of influences including British Indian colonial and late-Edwardian Baroque architecture.
The exterior is quite beautiful, with its arches and columns, and a large central dome. Designed by British architect A.B. Hubback, the Ipoh railway station was completed in 1917, definitely one of the best examples of colonial architecture.
The best thing? The railway is still functional too. There are trips going to Kuala Lumpur (KL Sentral), Butterworth, Singapore, and Hatyai (Thailand).
In the same building as the Railway station is the Majestic Station Hotel. It is locally referred to as Ipoh’s very own Taj Mahal, and calls itself a Grandiose Moorish Colonial Hotel.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any of the charms of the hotel because it was closed when I went there and had been closed for a couple of years. Until now, it remains to be restored.
Near the railway station, you will find across the street the Ipoh Town Hall, another historic building designed by the prolific A.B. Hubback. Completed in 1916, the town hall — which also used to house the Post Office — gives off a very elegant vibe. It must be the color of the building, or perhaps the columns?
In any case, the Ipoh Town Hall is one of the most photographed buildings in the city.
Just across the town hall is another gleaming white neo-classical building, the High Court, which was completed in 1928. It’s said to have an underground tunnel that connects it to the Town Hall, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to check it out.
There are many other notable heritage buildings in Ipoh. There’s the well-restored Straits Trading Building that was the former office of a big tin-ore exporter. Built in 1907 in Italian Renaissance style, a bank now occupies its premises.
Another one is the HSBC Building, built in elegant classical style in the late 30s. It held the title of being the tallest building in Ipoh for a long time.
There’s also F.M.S. Bar & Restaurant, said to be the oldest restaurant in Malaysia. An immigrant from Hainan, China opened the restaurant, catering primarily to European miners and plantation owners. Unfortunately (again!), it was closed when I went there. If it’s open when you visit, make sure to go inside and have a bite!
Finally, don’t forget to take a look at the Birch Memorial Tower along Jalan Dewan (Post Office Road).
It was erected in 1909 in the memory of J.W.W. Birch, the first British resident of Perak state who was killed in 1875. There are illustrated panels around the facade which features famous historical figures around the world.
The Ipoh Heritage Trail, despite the rich experience it provides, is still considered as one of the most underrated destinations in Malaysia.
If you like going off the beaten path (although there are many things to do in Ipoh), walking around the Old Town to appreciate its heritage is definitely for you.
Have you been to Ipoh? How was your visit to the city?