When we moved to Ipoh, Malaysia in 2011, no one we talked to knew where Ipoh was. Most people were familiar with Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Penang, but not Ipoh. Fast forward to our return visit this year and Ipoh had suddenly made it onto foreigner’s radar.
Ipoh has long been a popular destination for domestic tourists with its stunning limestone cliffs and delicious foods. Located mid-way between KL and Penang on Malaysia’s main highway that runs through the country, Ipoh is a large city of 700,000 people. Ipoh is the capital of the state of Perak, but it wasn’t until the 1880’s that Ipoh’s population began to grow beyond a small village. The Kinta Valley tin-mining boom brought Chinese migrants and minted many millionaires in Ipoh.
If you are travelling through Malaysia, we think it makes for a great stop and today we are sharing our favourite things to do in Ipoh.
The Best Things to Do in Ipoh
Eat, Eat, Eat
The first thing you should do when you arrive in Ipoh is eat. There are many famous foods in Ipoh and many visitors come to Ipoh simply to eat. The first food we think you need to try is bean sprout chicken and some of the most famous restaurants serving it are Lou Wong and Onn Kee, which have been around forever. Plastic tables spill out on the streets in the evenings. There is no menu, but the efficient staff will set you up with some chicken, bean sprouts and tofu. It is the bean sprouts that are the real highlight here, plump and delicious served in a sweet soya sauce. If you are vegetarian like us, the tau fu fah tofu is another famous tasty dish. Best of all, your meal will be served right away and will be easy on the wallet.
Another food that you must try in Ipoh is curry mee. While the rest of the world calls this “laksa”, you need to try these authentic spicy noodles in a coconut broth.
Ipoh is famous for its white coffee and there are coffee shops all throughout Malaysia serving “Ipoh white coffee”. The coffee beans are roasted with palm oil and served with condensed milk, giving it that milky colour. You will often see locals drinking 3-in-1 instant white coffee packs: instant coffee, non-dairy creamer and sugar.
Visit the Cave Temples
Ipoh grew out of the tin mining boom of the Kinta Valley in the 1800s. Many Chinese immigrants arrived and set up gorgeous Chinese temples in the limestone caves surrounding Ipoh. These massive caverns set in the limestone cliffs are home to ornate statutes, paintings and pagodas. While Ipoh has over 30 cave temples, our two favourite temples are Perak Tong and Sam Poh Tong.
At Perak Tong you will be greeted by a 15 m tall Buddha in the first chamber, but also note the paintings on the cave walls. You can walk the 358 steps to the top of the cliffs for great views over Ipoh and the surrounding area.
Sam Poh Tong is the largest cave temple in Malaysia and Buddha statutes sit beside magnificent stalactite and stalagmites.
Fun, Fun, Fun at Lost World of Tambun
The Lost World of Tambun is a theme park in Ipoh that takes advantage of its stunning location in the jungle to deliver oodles of fun. Featuring a water park, animal encounters, amusement rides, adventure activities, a natural thermal hot springs and more, this is a must for all visitors in Ipoh.
We had the amazing opportunity to go glamping at the theme park and enjoy the park’s day and night activities. The park is uniquely Malaysian and pays tribute to the history of Ipoh. We really felt like we were in a “lost world” and it was a great break from the busy city centre. Lost World of Tambun is located on the outskirts of Ipoh and features a hotel and glamping experience, so you can base yourselves there. You can get tips for your visit and read our full review here.
Wander the Old Town
Ipoh has a lovely old town area with cute Chinese shop houses and British colonial heritage buildings. Taking a page out of Penang’s book, over the last few years the old town has been revived and now features charming lane ways, cute cafes, street art and more.
You can pick up maps at the Tourist Office on Jln Tun Sambanthan that shows the heritage buildings and street art locations. The most popular street is Concubine Lane, a thin laneway at the centre of Ipoh’s revitalized old town. This street just screams cuteness with its colourful umbrellas, kitschy shops and cafes. Our kids cooled down with some snow cones in fruit flavours as well as more exotic flavours like pandan.
There are also a number of museums that you can visit and a time tunnel, where you can see artifacts from the last 100 years in Ipoh. Here you can learn about Ipoh’s tin mining history and how the city developed to its present state.
Ipoh has a large wet market located Pasir Puteh located on Taman Hoover that is fun to stroll through. Come early in the day to see all the things for sale in this large multi-story market. It truly is a wet market, so you might appreciate wearing close-toed shoes.
Gateway to the Cameron Highlands
Ipoh is a gateway to the hill stations and tea growing area of the Cameron Highlands. It is a 2 hour drive from Ipoh through the lush jungle of traditional lands of the indigenous Orang Asli. The Cameron Highlands provide a welcome break from the steamy humidity of the large cities of Malaysia with its cooler temperatures. The lush green carpeted tea fields are picture perfect. The largest tea plantation and the best place to learn about how tea is grown and processed is the Boh Tea Centre.
The Cameron Highlands has a number of other attractions, including strawberry farms, steamboat restaurants and butterfly gardens. Try to avoid visiting on a weekend when the area swells with local visitors.
Getting Around Ipoh
Ipoh is a large city that is very spread out and for that reason we recommend having a car to get around. You can stay in the old town area and use taxis to access sights further away, but we like having the convenience of a car. We rented a car in KL and dropped it off in Penang and that was a great way to travel through peninsular Malaysia. Driving in Malaysia can take a little getting used, especially if you aren’t used to driving on the left.
Since we lived in Ipoh, it will always have a special place in our hearts. We might be biased, but we think it is a great destination to include on your Malaysia itinerary. Allocate 2-3 days to explore all of these fun things to do in Ipoh.
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