Ipoh wasn’t on my radar when I went to Malaysia. In fact, when I passed through it on my way to Penang, I had to look it up. I wasn’t initially drawn to it. Once in Penang, however, I decided I didn’t want to follow the normal tourist path of Langkawi and Koh Lipe. I discovered that I could see orangutans close to Ipoh, so I decided to give it a try.
When I arrived in Ipoh, I immediately thought I had made a mistake. In about 2 hours, I had seen most of the small downtown area. It seemed rundown. Concubine Lane was lovely, but after 10 minutes, I ran out of interest in taking photos. I had booked four nights and was wondering whether to change my plans.
Thankfully, I didn’t. I soon discovered that some of the best sites in Malaysia are just a short distance from Ipoh’s town center and did my best to take them in. Here are eight reasons to explore the underrated city and surroundings of Ipoh, Malaysia.
1. Ho Yan Hor Museum
Drink Healing Brews
I only happened into this small tea museum because the Pet Soo Museum was closed on my first attempt to see it at 4 p.m. on a weekday. The tea museum is next door. It’s small enough you can speed through it within 15 minutes, or take your time and thoroughly read everything and spend 30 minutes. There’s an upstairs area with a small and fairly steep staircase which can be hard on the knees. The building is also old, so they request only one person on the staircase at a time. Learn the history of this company (now called Hovid) that started out as a doctor making herbal healing teas that blossomed into a business. You can both try, and buy, the teas at the museum. I purchased some dehydration tea to combat the heat.
2. Han Chin Pet Soo Museum
Get A Glimpse Of Life In Another Era
Our guide was one of my favorite parts of this museum (founded as a private club in 1893), which gave some history of the area, tin-mining worker conditions, an illegal gambling space, and more about daily life in Ipoh back when the club only allowed its members to enter. This is where I learned a lot more about the Hakka families — Chinese immigrant workers who, like nomads, made wherever they were their home. They brought their cooking styles with them and made dishes I’ve never heard of. Our guide told me where to eat it in town and urged me to go to a nearby authentic coffee shop. I took his advice on both counts. At the coffee shop, I ordered an egg custard, fresh out of the oven, and a coffee. The egg custards sell out fast; they are not to be missed. Visit the Restoran Thean Chun. There’s no website, but this is an unofficial Facebook page.
3. Greenfield Hakka Restaurant
Sample Unique Cuisines
Don’t miss out on this restaurant. The owners are kind and I interviewed their daughter for my YouTube channel. She explained the origins of Hakka cuisine and how migrants used lots of salt to keep the meat fresh. Today’s cuisine doesn’t use those levels of salt, but the recipes have been passed down. Today, the restaurant is used for weddings and events as well as enjoyable meals. Make sure you have dinner there one night. Here’s a link to their Facebook page.
Pro Tip: A reservation is strongly recommended.
4. Qing Xin Ling Leisure & Cultural Village
Make A Complicated Wish
A short Grab ride from the center of Ipoh is how you’ll find this wonderful spot. There’s a beautiful lake and colorful houses to photograph and walk through. You can rent a bike as a group and cycle around. One of the highlights is a wishing tree covered in red ribbons. You write your wishes on the back of a red ribbon, which has a small coin on the bottom, then put it on the tree. Some passersby kindly taught me how to properly get my wishes on the tree. I did a softball-type wind-up and released! It took me five tries, but I finally threw my ribbon all the way over the top of the tree. Another treat is to walk up to the small community center and various statues of deities surrounded by nature.
5. Kek Lok Tong Temple
Take A Walk In Paradise
This is a must-see, in my opinion. It’s a cave temple. The cave itself is beautiful and left me wondering how they made it into a temple. I was tempted to pray and loved how many of the deities represented were women. The inside temple doubles as a reprieve from the hot air. However, if you walk out the back, you’ll find yourself in a small garden paradise. The view is peaceful. You can stroll around the grass, find a group of buddhas, and sit on a bench or in a pagoda. If they reopen, you can also enjoy a paddleboat ride in the small river surrounding the temple. This is a lovely way to spend a couple of hours in Ipoh.
6. Perak Cave Temple
Find A Stunning View
Another must-see place for your agenda is this temple. While the interior is fascinating, it’s the walk to the view at the top that makes it worth the trip. Gaze at the inside of the temple, admire the natural rock formations, and then find yourself outside with a view of the city in the distance. The higher you climb, the greater the view. At the very top, take the path to your left and you’ll find yourself captivated by 360-degree views of nature and city. This is not a walk for everyone, but if you can manage it, it’s worth the effort.
Pro Tip: The steps are steep and with the Malaysia heat — Ipoh is hotter than many places in Malaysia — take your time. Bring at least one big bottle of water with you.
7. Orangutan Island
Watch Orangutans Play
This is about a 90-minute drive from Ipoh. While the main place to see orangutans in Malaysia is near Borneo, this island gives you an encounter with rescues being rehabilitated so they can be returned to Borneo. They’re behind a fence, but that doesn’t stop the joy of seeing them! A guide brought me around the island and explained all the work they do there. There’s even a nursery, and while I was there, three new babies were in confinement to make sure they were healthy. I didn’t get to see them, but it was fun to know they were there.
Pro Tip: Save on expensive day-tour prices by asking your Ipoh hotel if they can arrange a taxi for you. You’ll save about 50 percent over the tour prices. Go earlier in the day to see the orangutans being active. By 10 or 11 a.m., the heat may mean they’re sleeping.
If you go to Orangutan Island, stop off here. It’s named for its beautiful trees and there’s a large park with a lake you can walk around. This is a very relaxed city with lots of green spaces. I looked up hotel prices on my phone while I was there and found them to be some of the cheapest in Malaysia, so I’d contemplate staying here on a future visit.
Ipoh was a surprise and a delight. There are many more places to see than listed in this article. By the end of my stay there, I found myself walking downtown on some of the same streets I’d trekked my first day and found alleyways and street art I had missed my first time around. The city seemed more beautiful and I couldn’t stop taking photos. In the end, I went from thinking four nights was too long to stay, to feeling it wasn’t enough time.