Header image courtesy of Luke Ow (via Unsplash)
Ipoh is the perfect location for a day trip, whether you are coming from the island of Penang or from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, as it takes only approximately two hours to drive from either way. Rent a car for the trip and remember to get a local SIM card, as you will need it to traverse the alleys. Alternatively, you may catch a bus or the train, but be forewarned—public transport is a hassle and the city is best navigated by using e-hailing apps or by walking.
Once labelled as a sleepy town, Ipoh has been revived in recent years as a “hipster” locale, owing to the murals by fledgling artists, new cafés, and flea markets that have popped up. The city retains its old-school charm, so take your time to wander through the smaller alleys like Concubine Lane, and admire the Chinese shophouses and British colonial landmarks, such as the Ipoh Railway Station and the Birch Memorial Clock Tower.
Kellie’s Castle takes some time to get to, as it is located off the beaten track. Nevertheless, it is often frequented by visitors due to its unique structure and derelict charms. Named after William Kellie Smith, a Scottish farmer, it was left unfinished upon his untimely death in 1926 and the fact that his family migrated back to their homeland.
Indian, Scottish, and Moorish influences can be seen throughout the property—you may recognise it from movies such as Anna and the King, which was filmed there. Take your time to explore the castle, which has 14 rooms, an empty lift shaft, and spiral staircases that bring you to underground rooms akin to dungeons and secret tunnels. There have also been reports of sightings of apparitions, adding to the aura of mystery surrounding Kellie’s Castle.
Kellie’s Castle, Batu 5, Jalan Gopeng, 31000 Batu Gajah, Perak | (+6) 05 365 3381
Bibliophiles will be delighted to explore this unique location of a bank-turned-bookstore. Here, you will see something that you have probably never come across before: The original vault doors and safety deposit boxes in the basement have been converted into bookshelves. Quirky neon signs light up the store and there are eye-catching works of pop art on sale. Plus, the books here are all new and heavily discounted.
BookXcess, 91, Jalan Sultan Yusof, 30000 Ipoh, Perak | (+6) 05 246 0019
Ipoh is a treasure trove of unique natural and man-made attractions, such as caves, temples, and lakes. You will even find a temple uniquely situated in a cave itself. The Perak Tong Cave Temple, which is one of the main attractions in Ipoh, is a fine example of this. A magnificent 40-foot statue of the Buddha is placed within, flanked by four deities and surrounded by colourful murals. Unbeknownst to many casual visitors, there is a path at the back of the cave where you can hike up to the top of the mountain that the structure sits on.
Perak Tong Temple, Jalan Kuala Kangsar, Kawasan Perindustrian Tasek, 30100 Ipoh, Perak | (+6) 011 2358 4126
Ipoh has some of the best Chinese food in the country, ranging from seafood restaurants to cheap eats. There are hawker stalls aplenty, and most of them are packed on the weekends as locals from all over flock to Ipoh to hunt out the best restaurants and cafés.
Known as one of the most authentic places in the country to have a taste of kai see hor fun (鸡丝河粉)—chicken noodles—it is no surprise that Thean Chun is always packed to the rafters with local and overseas visitors. An off-menu dessert that is well worth a try is the custard, served cold and topped with just the right amount of sweet caramel sauce. The coffee shop also has stalls selling pork satay (skewered grilled meat) and popiah (fresh spring rolls stuffed with fillings, such as shredded turnip and lettuce).
Restoran Thean Chun, 73, Jalan Bandar Timah, 31650 Ipoh, Perak | (+6) 05 255 3076
Hipster cafés have sprung up around Ipoh in recent years, and Purple Moon Lover is one of the go-to spots for coffee lovers, even though the building looks somewhat out of place in the housing area with its glass façade, white walls, and wood panelling. Purple Moon Lover has a generous menu to choose from, with pastries, pasta, and sandwiches on offer, as well as cakes shaped in the form of celebrated cartoon characters such as Totoro.
Purple Moon Lover, 53, Jalan Lee Kwee Foh, Taman Canning, 31400 Ipoh, Perak | (+6) 05 547 6328
This restaurant has become the pride of Ipoh, and its popularity inspired many imitators to take shape throughout the years. There is nothing like the original, however, as they serve up the best “moonlight noodles” in town—hor fun (河粉) or flat rice noodles served with a raw egg on top. What truly sets the dish apart is the generous portion of pork slices that give it a fragrant and crispy oomph. There is always a crowd, so be prepared to wait for a table.
Ipoh Tuck Kee, 61, Jalan Yau Tet Shin, Taman Jubilee, 30300 Ipoh, Perak | (+6) 016 220 9361