…………. which is what Orang Utan means in English 😊
From KL we took a train trip 200km north to the third largest city of Malaysia, Ipoh. Britain could learn a thing or two from Malaysia on how trains should look and run – spotlessly clean, air-conditioned, on time, good customer service and at fairly reasonable price.
Ipoh is the capital of the Perak district, which was one of Lonely Planet’s top regions to visit in 2017. We heard about Ipoh from a travel podcast that Steve listens to, it’s not particularly known as a key place to visit but we were quite interested as to how the city was going to compare to the capital. The British came to Ipoh in the late 1800s to make money from tin ore that was found in and around Perak. The train station was designed by the same man behind the old Kuala Lumpur train station. Across the road from the station you have the City Hall which makes a bold statement when arriving (see pics). Like a lot of the old colonial towns/cities we have visited on our trip, Ipoh also had an ‘old town’, or heritage area, which consisted of a lot of historic buildings, trendy cafes, and little boutique shops. Unlike the other places, however, there was hardly another Westerner in the entire city! It seems that Ipoh is where the Chinese tourist spends time. After a few days we understood why – the town itself has a very high population of Malay Chinese. Bewildering at first, because it did feel like we could have been in China!
There are a variety of things to see and do within Ipoh and surrounding district, so knowing that time was on our side we booked ourselves in to a hotel for seven nights. Bit of a balls up on our first night, they made a mistake and stuck us in one of their windowless rooms… a nightmare for claustrophobic people like me! It was all sorted within a couple of hours and we moved the next day, but I should add how good Agoda (hotel booking website) were in sorting out the issue. Unlike your booking.com or Expedia where trying to speak to an actual person is nigh impossible.
On the Sunday morning we strolled through Ipoh’s famous Flea Market down Memory Lane, which was basically a boot sale. Really interesting to walk through, it was like going back to the 90s! Seeing old TVs and computer consoles for sale, a lot of market trader characters to be seen too. Just walking through, you realise that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, people still buy useless crap! The cars in Ipoh also seem to be from another era, some right old Volvo bangers zipping around, along with gas choking motorbikes too.
It’s quite interesting to visit a place that is trying to attract more tourists. The ‘Visit Perak’ signs are dotted around everywhere, we haven’t seen many westerners yet so will be interesting to see how well the campaign goes. We’ve noted already a few places serving continental food when in fact it’s nothing of the sort. They have no idea what a cappuccino should look or taste like! We got quite angry with one place because the food was just absolutely disgusting with no effort put into it or the service, we quickly added a bad review on tripadvisor so people didn’t make the same mistake! They should stick to decent Malay cuisine.
As there has always been a strong Chinese community in Perak, there are quite a few Buddhist temples dotted around. We visited the Sam Poh Tong temple on Monday morning. The temple is built within a limestone cave and built in the 1950s so the murals on the walls within the temple were still very vivid with their beautiful vibrant colours. You can climb up steep steps to get to the top of the cave and have a view point of Ipoh, again so bloody hot couldn’t stay here for that long, shame because there was no one around and it felt like we were on top of the world!
Next up, quite a unique attraction… the Orang Utan sanctuary based at Bukit Merah. At first we thought we could use Uber, no chance, twice we got picked up by the driver only for them to tell us a few minutes later that they won’t go that far (don’t accept the bloody job then!) Using public transport didn’t seem to be that plain sailing either, so after some web browsing we booked ourselves a rental car. Turned out to be incredibly easy driving there and back, no issues whatsoever. A rather expensive day, but seeing the Orangutans made up for it. The sanctuary was situated on an island and rather than the animals being caged it was the humans – only having access to around 200 metres of caged walkway. They had about twenty Orangutans varying in ages, our guide was very enthusiastic and was honest enough to say that they are still learning, and that in the past mistakes have been made, spoiling the babies, and becoming too attached etc. It’s likely that animal rights groups probably wouldn’t agree that this is the best habitat for the animals, however you could tell they had plenty of room, over 5 acres according to the guide. It’s far better than seeing them within a zoo (I think). We spent over 45 mins just staring at them before getting the boat back to the main island. I loved just watching them, the similarities in facial expressions and mannerisms to humans was quite amazing.
Another interesting site was Kek Lok Tong Cave Temple, south of Ipoh. This cave also has a Zen garden, which at first was strange because you have an iron mining site in the background, but after a while the noise strangely just disappeared. We spent a few hours here because as the pictures will show it was a beautiful place, this will be up there with my favourite religious places I’ve visited. I like the way Chinese temples seem to incorporate nature within their worship place, as well as letting you take it all in without being stared at.
Heat and humidity has meant that we’re taking things at a slower pace, so as well as seeing the above things we just spent most of our time walking around the city, tracking down all the art murals within old town, hunting for sushi restaurants in the new town, watching the food stall hawkers cooking some interesting delicacies (steamed chicken feet anyone?!), and finally visiting a tin mining museum (the most Alan Partridge-esque thing we will do on our trip) which I have to say was fascinating.
We liked Ipoh, different to any other place we’ve been too and at times a bit of challenge. It’s also been interesting to see a city that is basically Little China. If anything it’s made me even more determined to visit China one day.
Another attraction within Ipoh and Perak is its food – as you can imagine it’s heavily based on Chinese cuisine. Dim sum, salted chicken, chicken and bean sprouts are just a few of the local delicacies. I’ve been limited to what I can eat (still haven’t got over my bug from Sri Lanka fully) so a lot of sushi is required, which can’t be a bad thing! Also, you should know if you’re a veggie finding something decent to eat within Ipoh will be quite hard.
Plan B – a hip café/restaurant offering some inspiring dishes. I had ‘smashed’ avocado, edamame beans, kale, sour cream, poached eggs, all on top of a slice of doorstep wholegrain bread, one legendary breakfast
Vnam – a superb Vietnamese restaurant, staff were very courteous telling us what dip is best with what food, the owner of this restaurant was one classy lady, her style and smile to all clients were what made it even better, this place is a must.
Old Town White Coffee – a chain within Malaysia, they serve the best coffee and lime juices all for under £2, which is handy to know when money can be an issue. Steve has had his peanut butter fix a few mornings too! I opted for their rather tasty steamed bread with kaya (coconut jam), yummy : )
King Sushi – the same chain we went to in KL, after visiting for a third time (what can I say we love sushi!) it’s best to stick with the al carte menu as the sushi on the belt is pretty much all the same stuff.
Pakeeza – a top Indian restaurant within Ipoh, offering north Indian cuisine (your tandoris and breads etc) good grub if not super spicy and too much bone in the chicken.
Sushi Mentai – fantastic sushi again, at a lower price of the King Sushi.
Restoran Foh San – the dim sum restaurants in Ipoh are worth visiting, just for the experience. We had no idea what was going on and how to order, but after a while it made sense. Must admit I wasn’t a fan of the items we picked, perhaps because it didn’t feel like breakfast food, and too much meat as well. The jasmine tea was lovely however! Steve enjoyed his food so it’s a matter of preference I suppose….