We spent a few days in Ipoh, the capital of Malaysia’s Perak state and the country’s 4th-largest city. Ipoh dates back to about 1820, when it got its beginnings as a small mining town. It suffered some sort of major fire, unfortunately, and had to be rebuilt in the end of the century (1892). The city was restored to its tin mining glory, though, as immigrants continued to flock in. For a period it was even known as the “city of millionaires.”
Old Town Ipoh + Not Old Town Ipoh
There are 2 major areas in Ipoh, divided by the river. One is Old Town, and the other is the part that isn’t Old Town (yes, that is the proper name). Old town is interesting, spreading out from both sides of Jalan Sultan Iskandar. It’s both run-down and vibrant in its offerings, with much to explore on foot. From grimy street art murals to hole-in-the-wall coffee shops peeking out from behind bamboo curtains serving the famous White Coffee, there is no lack of things to look at. The busy Concubine Alley is interesting, lined with shops and stalls, colorful street art and people bustling about. The buildings are old and historical, and the Masjid Negeri Perak (mosque) plopped nearby is massive. The Birch Memorial Clock Tower is an interesting look, too ….well as interesting as a clock tower can be.
The other side of Ipoh feels odly diverse. One section is highly-grungy and feels like the abandoned tin mining town it is. Another section, centered around Jalan Dato Tahwil Azar/Jalan Yau Tet Shin, is busy and bright, bustling with food-focused shops (amazing biscuits, moon pies, and more) and exceptionally good Chinese-Malay restaurants with bright plastic tables and delicious smells spilling into the streets. At night it lights up with a bunch of neon (I got lazy at this point and took no photos).
A strange part of Ipoh is this fancy upscale area, with boutique hotels and some very fancy bars with equally fancy (crazy) prices. I also would be remiss to leave out the arcade game shops, with rows of machines filled with stuffed toys ripe for the plucking and money-wasting! If you’re wondering, yes, I did play.
Markets of Ipoh
Gerbang Malam (Night Market) | There is a night market in Ipoh, of course, because when is there not a night market!? The night market is weird and unremarkable; lots of bootleg goods and some fruit, but not much else. It sets up on the late side, and does not offer the usual food choices night markets are good for. Instead, I’d head behind it to the food plaza with dozens of local stalls at very low prices.
Wet Market | There is a central market with local groceries and food too, of course. It’s pretty gross, the concrete in worse shape than most similar ones if that is even possible. However, the fruit is super super cheap, and the coolest offering is a whole row of people churning out fresh coconut milk from fresh coconuts being fed into machines pressing it!
Sunday Market | My highlight was the sunday market, allegedly called Memory Lane Market, which took over blocks and blocks (and blocks!) of the downtown. Miles of tarp-covered stalls, selling a lot of thrift store clothes for pennies (I got a denim jacket for $2USD, wore for a few weeks and trashed). There were also thousands of lost/found/stolen/unknown origin items many of which appear to be trash, displayed carefully on blankets for resale (remniscent of Rio but more organized). It’s chaotic and crazy, but a must-see.
Perak Cave Temple
There are tons of temples in the areas surrounding Ipoh. These “cave temples” are as they sound; temples built into the side of mountains. One of the closer ones is the Perak Cave Temple, which we didn’t really want to go to but after 3 failed attempted day trips to Taiping decided to check out. It was surprisingly cool, albeit exhausting to walk the hundreds of steps. The temple was free (!) and boasted amazing views of the landscape dotted with industry. Sarah became obsessed with saying “industry” and repeated it…repeatedy. On the way back, we became cheap and decided to wait at an unknown/random bus stop and flag random buses. After this failed, we reluctantly hailed a sketchy cab back into town.