It’s often the places that no one really knows about that make the difference. Not that Kuala Lumpur wasn’t interesting on my trip through Malaysia last October. Or Singapore, where I was later. There’s a reason why thousands of tourists from all over the world make the pilgrimage there. But in the end you only see what you already know from several travel guides or recently more and more often from your Instagram feed. To see this live and in color is of course also exciting – but in the end, places like Ipoh in Malaysia also have their charm, precisely because they are not yet so well known.
So when I’m on the road for a longer period of time, I like to stop at places that aren’t quite as crowded. Simply to deviate from the usual stream of tourists. Ipoh is not that untouristy either – however, the vast majority of visitors are from China, western tourists hardly seem to know Ipoh. And this, although Ipoh is a really nice stopover for 1-2 days, if you are traveling in Malaysia.
On my Malaysia Blog you can learn much more about Malaysia
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Hey, I’m Tatiana, a German-Brazilian living in Berlin & the author behind The Happy Jetlagger. I’ve been writing about my travels since 2014. In addition to my job as a flight attendant, this blog is my passion project!
The old town of Ipoh
The old town is small but nice, with many buildings from the colonial period. And some street art – which is a nice way to get in the mood for Georgetown, if you’re on your way there. Most murals are easy to find, even via Google Maps. Or you can get a map from the tourist office. They are very well organized in Malaysia anyway – also something I would not have expected.
The Ipoh Heritage Trail takes you past all the town’s buildings worth seeing – from a time when Ipoh was still so rich because of its nearby tin deposits that it was called the “City of Millionaires.” And again and again there are small alleys and beautiful details to explore and discover. It is precisely the fact that Ipoh is not so smoothly polished and still has a slightly morbid vintage charm in many places that makes the old town so special.
The tourist epicenter of Ipoh is Concubine Lane, a narrow alley peppered with stores, restaurants and street stalls. Of the Concubine Lanes, there are actually three; in ancient times, a tin baron gave each of his three wives a lane, and had them collect rents there for their own coffers – hence three Concubine Lanes. Today, the hustle and bustle takes place mainly on one, Lorong Paglima, commonly known as Concubine Lane.
On today’s Market Lane, Second Concubine Lane, you won’t find any stores, but you can take your time looking at street art murals and accessories draped with a good eye, such as an ancient beetle. Only that with the umbrellas… is somehow already oll… in the true sense of the word.
Probably the most detailed built gem in the old town of Ipoh is Kong Heng Square, a small block of stores and cafes. And really great job. The trees that have just been growing in the courtyard for centuries and simply integrated into the redesign of the buildings make you feel like you’re in Angkor Wat. A bit very attuned to hipster crowd, nevertheless you can store nicely here in the small stores handmade souvenirs and eat and drink well in the cafes and restaurants.
Street Art in Ipoh
What works in Georgetown on the Malaysian island of Penang must also work in Ipoh. Someone must have thought so. Georgetown, in fact, is now known for its largely interactive murals, made famous mainly by Lithuanian Ernest Zacharevic. (By the way, one or the other mural can also be seen in Ipoh.) With some of his works in Penang, he even earned himself the nickname “Banksy from Malaysia” and tourists even queue up endlessly in front of his murals in Georgetown to get a photo.
This is not yet the case in Ipoh. But street art can still be found everywhere. There is even next to the more famous Market Lane a complete alley only with street art, the Mural Arts Lane. Partly nice, partly less so, but in any case not as crowded as Georgetown. Since the old town is also very clear and many works are centrally located, you can actually look at all the interesting murals in just a short time.
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Night Market: The nightlife of Ipoh
As is typical for Southeast Asia, there is also a night market in Ipoh. But it is located outside the old town, and if you really want to go there after dark, it is better to take a cab or Uber or Grab (which is usually a bit cheaper than Uber and somehow also more popular). The walk is not far, but the roads on the way are rather gloomy – and that was not worth the savings to me. The market itself is unfortunately not very spectacular, mainly fake China knickknacks and trivial trinkets are offered. So if you are looking for local handicrafts or other authentic souvenirs, you will probably not find them here.
But there is exciting street food here: On a street corner there is a restaurant called Lou Wong, which is probably known for its chicken with rice and soybean sprouts. Anyway, the store is the fullest and biggest far and wide, and there’s no map either. Because there is only one dish on simple orange plastic camping utensils, either chicken or the vegetarian version (which is probably just the whole thing without chicken). English isn’t well spoken here, but ordering food is no problem. But it doesn’t matter. Food is delicious – and the restaurant is definitely worth a recommendation for adventurous eaters.
I found Ipoh really quite pretty, and if I hadn’t only had three weeks total for the whole trip, I probably would have stayed a bit longer. Also to explore the surrounding countryside. I think, especially for long-term travelers Ipoh is certainly a good change to come down from all the traveling and just hang out for a few days.
How to get there
Ipoh is located north of the Cameron Highlands on the way to Penang/Georgetown and is therefore a perfect stopover. In addition, Ipoh is absolutely conveniently located: there is a train connection to Kuala Lumpur, an airport with connections within Malaysia and to Singapore, and a large bus station outside the city from which you can get to all parts of the country. (Riding a bus in Malaysia is highly recommended at all, cheap and much more comfortable than you imagine!)
Where to stay in Ipoh
There are some nice places to stay in Ipoh. Individual, stylish and yet affordable:
M Boutique Hotel* A bit outside the old town, but thanks to Uber, which also works great in Ipoh, absolutely no problems.
De Café & Rest House* Not only highly recommended café, but also new capsule hotel. Ideal for solo travelers. Unfortunately there are no private rooms, but the location is very unique in the old town!
The Happy 8 Retreat @ Old Town Ipoh* Also in the heart of Old Town, beautiful boutique hotel with unique jungle-style interior.
More to read:
New York Times article on the up-and-coming destination of Ipoh.
All blog articles on The Happy Jetlagger about Malaysia: