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We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Ipoh, but we were excited to explore. We were pleasantly surprised by all the things this awesome city had to offer.
Ipoh lies inland in the Malaysian state of Perak (the capital city). Originally a small village located near natural tin deposits, Ipoh grew into something much bigger when it became a British centre of administration for the Malay Peninsula. Today central Ipoh maintains a wonderful colonial character.
Within Malaysia Ipoh is famous for its own unique style of coffee called White Coffee. The Coffee beans are roasted with palm oil and margarine and then served with condensed milk. Ipoh and white coffee has lent their names to coffee shop chains and brands of coffee beans and instant coffee (Old Town White Coffee being the biggest).
More recently Ipoh has received new investment and focus and has begun to regenerate. It’s becoming a tourist drawcard featuring its colonial buildings and charm alongside Mayasian-Chinese cuisine and culture, twin legacies of Ipoh’s history. The laneways of Ipoh’s Old town have been spruced up to become a showcase of contemporary Ipoh culture and cuisine.
Going through the Ipoh attraction list, there’s no big name or well known items but we found Ipoh worth a visit. The recent rejuvenation efforts are paying off and making Ipoh a place to visit for a different taste of Malaysia.
Read on to see our list of what to do in Ipoh.
Ipoh, with its history as an important administration centre in colonial times, has a rich collection of well preserved Colonial era buildings. Some are exactly as they were (on the outside at least) and some have been adapted but retain their original colonial facade as a key part of their new form.
Many of these buildings are in the Old Town, including the ones we visited (listed below) which were clustered along Jalans Dato Sagor and Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab.
One of the most eye catching of the old Colonial structures is Birch Memorial Clock Tower. Named after a colonial governor who was murdered by Malay nationalists (of which Dato Sagor – who the street the clock tower stands by is named after – is ironically one). It has a distinctive and decorative style.
Across Jalan Dato Sagor is the more modern looking by no less eye catching Sultan Idris Shah II Mosque. Built in 1966 and finished two years later the mosque is named after the then reigning Sultan of Perak.
We didn’t enter (you can but we’d have had to split up as women and men enter separately and we weren’t wearing suitable attired either) but were impressed with the modern architecture with neo-Moorish touches.
At the north western end of Jalan Dato Sagor is Ipoh station. The station is considered one of the architectural jewels of Ipoh as it blends a 19th century Victorian colonial front (although built during WW1) with a modern canopy for the platforms in the rear built in the first decade of the 21st century during a station overhaul. The building is more dominated by the old than new, but together they make for a great combination.
Walking north along the main road we came across the Ipoh Town Hall and the Ipoh High Court. These buildings were once the centre of British administration for the area. Their white facades and imposing Victorian architecture stands out compared to much of Ipoh.
On the opposite side of Padang Ipoh park from the High Court is the Masjid India Muslim. It’s white and green stood out against the blue sky on our visit and in many ways is more eye catching than the more modern Masjid Sultan Idris Shah II. Sadly you can only admire it from the outside as entry is forbidden.
Like Georgetown in Penang, Ipoh’s Old Town has a solid reputation as a home of quirky and colourful street art. However Ipoh’s tourism centre has moved to make it an Ipoh tourist attraction in its own right. Similar to the walking tour of Ipoh’s grand colonial buildings there’s a walking tour of the Old Town’s best street art.
The street art is typically stencil art or small murals tucked away in Ipoh’s lanes or decorating a shop on a busy street. A lot of it is really well done – either quirky and colourful or woven subtly into the streetscape so it takes a bit of looking to spot.
Even if you’re not interested in going out of your way to see the best art, if you are exploring the streets and lanes of Ipoh’s Old Town then it is worth keeping an eye out. S and Z enjoyed finding different pieces as we walked and it was one of their favourite Ipoh activities. We all enjoyed it!
The laneways of Ipoh’s Old Town were the surprise hit of our stay. We’d read about the efforts to do up the centre of the town before we came but didn’t expect it to be something that really made Ipoh an interesting place to visit.
We stumbled across the lanes while looking through the street art but they quickly pulled us in. These lanes are full of colourful small shops and food stands selling all manner of things. They’re colourful and vibrant places, often with more street art or public art mixed in.
The highlight was Concubine Lane, a long but narrow laneway that seemed torn through the middle of the Old Town.
At times they can feel a little touristy but not so much it felt fake. The lanes had an energy and activity that saw them (and the Old Town in general) make our Ipoh best place to visit
The kids enjoyed looking at all the things going on, from the ice ball vendors shaving ice to small art stalls and even a small play area with artificial grass.
At one end of Concubine Lane is the Kong Heng Block – a renovated block with hip restaurants and quirky little shops. Its a great example of Ipoh’s rejuvinated town centre and unsurprisingly it’s one of the old town of Ipoh’s new attractions. If not an Ipoh famous place to visit outright, with it’s great use of urban space as a place to eat and drink, shop or even just get a haircut.
The block used to be the original commercial block of Ipoh where the old town’s shops were congregated. Now it is opened up with laneways off laneways and small shops selling all manner of things. We visited in the early afternoon and while most things were open I get the feeling the Kong Heng block really gets going later in the day. If you’re wondering what to do in Ipoh at night then this is somewhere to visit.
One of the picks of shops is Bits and Bobs, a sweets shop with a reputation as a great place to grab an Ice ball, one of Ipoh’s signature dishes.
Although there isn’t a huge presence compared to other Malaysian cities, Ipoh has an ethnic Indian community. The community’s commercial (if not cultural) focus is in Little India, which is in the centre of Ipoh Town, not far from the old town’s laneways and street art.
With stores selling Indian clothes and jewelry and the odd Indian restaurant, Little India felt distinct from the rest of Ipoh. The highlight of Little India (for us) was the Ipoh branch of Sri Ananda Barwan. One of a chain of places we fell in love with in Penang, this place sells great Indian food at great prices.
It may not make the cut for what to do in Ipoh on a day trip but its a different side of Ipoh to explore if you have the time and curiosity.
For visitors (especially those from elsewhere in Malaysia) to Ipoh famous food is often high on the list of attractions. Ipoh food attractions are well known throughout Malaysia and as a food destination Ipoh ranks maybe second behind the king of them all, Penang.
Where’s the best places to eat in Ipoh? That depends on what you’re after and there is no shortage of reviews of hawker centres, coffee shops and restaurants online. I suspect even for the people that live in Ipoh where to go to eat can be a hard decision.
Location wise there looks to be a bunch of very local but awesome options clustered around the old town. Common consensus has it that the best food in Ipoh at night is found in the food courts but there’s plenty of quality restaurants, each with their own specialties. Most restaurants are open for lunch and dinner whereas hawker centres and food courts may only open in the evening. You should add this to your list of things to do in Ipoh at night.
I don’t know what’s the best food in Ipoh but here’s some of the native Ipoh “must eat food” type dishes the city is famous for:
Probably Ipoh’s best known export. Sometimes it seems like there’s no other type of coffee in the country. The name comes from the fact the coffee beans turn white after being roasted in margarine.
Thanks to the brewing process and the generous use of condensed milk, a white coffee is slightly sweet and has a thick, rich texture that’s lovely to drink. The taste is distinct from other coffee I’ve tried (not that I’ve had much) and I found it not too strong tasting with no bitterness. I barely drink coffee but I did love the white coffees here.
While there is plenty of Old Town White Coffee franchises around Ipoh (including one on the edge of the old town) the best coffees are found in the old style Kedai Kopi (coffee shop in Bahasa) places that seem everywhere.
Another icon: the Ipoh ice ball – or Ais Kepal in Bahasa.
Literally a pile of shaved ice formed into a ball, the Ais Kepal gets its kick from the toppings and flavours poured over the top. Cane sugar syrup is a common topping. It’s a bit like an Ais Kacang without the nuts, corn, beans and jellies.
It comes wrapped in two bits of waxed paper and the recommended way to eat them is to hold one piece in each hand and nibble away.
Bits and Bobs in the Kong Heng Square is perhaps the most famous place to get one of these. We found a couple of other cheaper options in the old laneways of the Old Town.
Ipoh is also well known for it’s noodles. Not strictly a single dish, Ipoh’s noodles take on a variety of forms. Typically the noodles used are hor fun or soft flat rice noodles and they are covered (or floating) in a stock or soup, which can be gravy like in thickness and usually flavoured with prawns or seafood.
The whole thing is topped with – chicken or pork balls, chives, prawns, chillis or a whole range of other things.
Gai Si Hor Fun (shredded chicken noodles) or Chee Chong Fun are some of the most popular of Ipoh’s noodle dishes.
The Medan Selera Dato Tahwil Azar night market is one of Ipoh’s many night markets or hawker centres. What makes this night market notable is the playground located in the middle. Although a little old and run down it’s still a great place for a meal with kids and a chance for the kids to to have a play and get some energy out.
The food is almost entirely Malay (so many of Ipoh’s iconic dishes are absent) and there’s some really good satay stands as well as top notch Ais Kacangs.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to try as much as we’d have liked as many of the stands were closed when we got there at 6pm. Even when we left over an hour later it still wasn’t in full swing.
There’s also a non-food market right next to the night market that was just opening when we left.
The kids loved the playground and we enjoyed the food. It’s a place worth checking out if you’re in Ipoh with kids and wondering what to do in Ipoh at night.
One thing we didn’t do in our time in Ipoh is visit at least one of the cave temples.
To the west of Ipoh lies a ridge of limestone karsts – hills of limestone that in some places raise up near vertically out of the ground. Within the caves of some of these karsts are beautiful and ornate temples built right into the side of the karsts themselves.
There’s typically an exterior facade at the entrance that’s outside the cave but most of the temple – especially the prayer hall – is on the inside.
These temples are scattered around the western side of Ipoh. However most are within a short drive of the Old Town.
Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to visit any during our time in Ipoh. We regret not trying harder, though, as they look amazing. We typically don’t list things we don’t visit unless they’re really worth highlighting, which these temples are. Surely the pick of outdoor activities in Ipoh. Well, maybe that and The Lost World.
The Lost World of Tambun consists of many mini lands. The main ones are the water park, amusement park, tin valley and petting zoo. They are all quite small and, alone, none of them are that amazing. Add it all together though and this park is lots of fun.
We found it to be well maintained which surprised me actually as the entry cost is very low for a quality theme park. The rides are very low key and better for kids than adults. You won’t find any thrilling roller coasters.
The water park is fun and they had a “pool party” daily when we visited with music and live dancing. We loved just floating around in the main wave pool watching the show, enjoying the views and just relaxing.
We loved out visit here and definitely recommend adding it to your list of Ipoh attractions. Click here to read our full review.
Ipoh is well situated for day trips to nearby places – one of which is Kuala Kangsar. Best accessible by car, Kuala Kangsar is approximately 30 minutes away on the E5 toll road. There’s a few twists and turns as the E5 snakes its way through some hills but it is an easy drive.
Kuala Kangsar is the traditional home of the sultans of Perak and has some unique attractions as a result.
Check out our guide to Kuala Kangsar for more.
Another possible day trip from Ipoh is to the smaller but culturally similar city of Taiping.
Taiping’s main attraction is its fantastic zoo. The gardens around Taiping Lake are nice to visit, too. Taiping is also along the E5 and takes between 40 minutes to one hour (traffic was variable and made a difference in our journey times).
You can read more about Taiping in our guide here.
It’s a little further from Ipoh to the Cameron Highlands, depending on exactly where you’re visiting. It took us around 90 minutes on a weekday, when the traffic was much better than on the weekend. In places it is a windy road with a lot of bends and slow going but it’s easier driving closer to Ipoh. The drive has some wonderful views along the way as well.
You can read more about things to do in the Cameron Highlands in our Cameron Highlands article.
If you’re looking for where to stay in Ipoh we can recommend the Regalodge.
Our four person room was quite large and felt really spacious. There were two queen beds and some space between them to move about. Best of all was a small lounge with armchairs, sofa and desk which meant we weren’t on top of each other and could spread out to play and relax. We even had a place to park the stroller. The bathroom was your typical slightly cramped hotel size, but with the extra space in the room itself, it didn’t matter.
The hotel was quiet and clean but the best bit was the friendly service. For example, when we went down to our car each day (when parked in the hotel’s carpark) we’d find the windscreen and rear screen cleaned and sparkling.
Facilities wise there is a day spa on site and a restaurant with a good looking menu that looks like it barely sees a customer. We did order some room service one morning and the servings were large and well priced. Tasty, too.
There’s some parking on site but not a lot. While we were told that if the carpark was full we’d be given vouchers for the street parking, no one in reception knew anything about it when we needed one. Luckily, there was unrestricted street parking very close by.
If there’s a knock on the Regalodge it’s the location. It isn’t too far out of the old town but not close enough to easily walk. There were few places to eat nearby, although there were a few pubs which looked like they’d get going a bit later than we’d usually be out.
That aside we found our stay really comfortable. The large room made it a great place to come back to after checking out the Ipoh city attractions.
M Boutique Hotel Ipoh – Trendy and modern, M Boutique has an onsite restaurant, 24 hour reception and a cafe. The hotel has comfortable beds and is conveniently located near to Ipoh Railway Station. Click here to see the latest prices.
D Eastern Hotel – A budget option located close to inner city attractions in Ipoh. This hotel had both double and triple rooms making it a great option for families, and free WiFi is available. Click here to see the latest prices.
There is not a lot of activities in Ipoh for kids – at least in regards to kid focused ones. That doesn’t mean Ipoh isn’t a great place to go with a family.
Our kids enjoyed exploring the old town as much as we did – the street art in particular was an engaging hit. The colourful lanes, with their bright shops filled with all different sorts of goods and novelties, also had the kids interested. I was surprised how interesting the old town was for S and Z (6 and 5).
Not all kids will enjoy walking around lanes and streets. Sunway Lagoon, on the other hand, is something that should appeal to all kids, big and small. The Cave Temples would also be something I think kids would enjoy. It was disappointing that we didn’t get the chance to check them out.
Between the kid-appealing Sunway Lagoon, the fun places to visit in Ipoh Town, the unique sights of the Cave Temples and Ipoh’s great food, Ipoh is a place that works well for travelling with kids. As a family it was a great destination to visit.
We loved Ipoh – as simple as that. In fact I’m surprised just how much we enjoyed it and I wish we had been able to stay longer than the few days we could manage. I’d have loved more time to check out the Old Town and enjoy the food. And if we ever visit again I’d love to visit the cave town.
There was a good variety of attractions. The Lost World of Tambun was a great family activity. The old town would have been worth the trip to Ipoh alone – in my opinion anyway. Plus Ipoh is well located for a number of day trips.
We’ve seen a lot of Malaysia and Ipoh ranks high on our favourite places there.
Will you be adding Ipoh to your list of places to visit in Malaysia?
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