Just a few hours north of Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh offers up an interesting historical quarter. Historic buildings, some grandiose, some less so, fill “Old Ipoh” so set aside half a day to explore.
The town is ringed by caves, cave temples, and a viewpoint. There’s even a castle for those into monuments to the British colonial period. These can all be packed into a half- or full-day tour.
Then there’s the food. If local fare is your thing, Ipoh does not disappoint, with oodles to try from egg tarts to fiery curries. We list a cheat sheet of some of our favourites.
For those who consider Georgetown too touristy, Ipoh settles into a comfortable middle ground. Yes it can get busy on weekends, but through the week things slow right down. Without the crowds, the city’s back streets are ideal for meandering strolls.
Lastly, there are no shortage of decent places to stay. Ipoh is also well connected to regional destinations. Give it a night, or two if you can.
Set in the heart of Peninsular Malaysia, Ipoh is hot and humid year round. While it could rain at any time of the year, the wettest months are towards the end of the year. October and November see the most rain, followed by April and May. If you want to dodge rain above all else, aim for June or July.
Ipoh sees a significant inflow of tourists on weekends, especially holiday weekends. At this time booking your accommodation in advance can be a good idea. On weekdays, this is less of an issue.
Ipoh was shaped by the tin mining boom of the first quarter of the 20th century—at one stage it was the largest tin producer in the world. Many of the town’s attractions are evidence of this boom period. Today, the tin mining industry is just a tourist attraction.
The town is divided in two by the Kinta River, with the “Old town” to the west and the “new” to the east. Much of the accommodation and eating options are in the new part of town. This is not an issue though as Ipoh is small enough that most is within easy walking distance.
In a nod to tour groups, Ipoh has perhaps more than its fair share of cheesy tourist attractions. Skip the thematic museums and instead spend your time at the quality Hakka Miner’s Club. Downtown city tours are available, but much of the pleasure is that self-discovered. Walk and wander. Graze from one shopfront restaurant to another. Drink more than your fair share of kopi putih (white coffee), a drink the town is famous for. Then eat some more.
Ethnically, Ipoh is over 60% Chinese, so if you’re coming here from the east coast, you’ll find it to be quite different. Yes, there are no shortage of bars to relax in come the evening.
We’d say Ipoh is worth at least a one-night stay. Two nights if you have the time, three or more if you’re on an open-ended trip. It is well situated between Kuala Lumpur and Penang, making for an excellent spot to break up your trip. Or, if you’re heading to the Cameron Highlands, this is the closest large lowland centre to there.
The Tourist Office is just to the north of the train station and has a good selection of maps and brochures. Staff are friendly and quite informative.
ATMs are littered through the downtown area. HSBC has a branch close to the train station.
The Post Office is just to the south of the train station.
While Ipoh is a mid-sized town, much of the accommodation is spread over a wide area. Many of the better places are in the “new town” often a 15 to 20 minute walk from the train station. Luckily it isn’t a bad walking town, so this isn’t the end of the world.
The Brownstone is our favourite backpacker dig in Ipoh. It has spotless dorms and private rooms and there are plenty of common areas to relax in.
The one downside is the location. The Brownstone is a solid 20 minute walk from Ipoh train station and 15 minutes from the “old town”. On the upside it is close to the bar area of town and there is some good eating nearby. Try Ipoh Hainan Chicken.
The dorms here are pod-style and stacked in two levels, with the upper row reached via a stubby metal ladder. Curtained in for privacy, each has a lamp and power socket for all your recharging needs. Light switches, as are often the case, are inconveniently located at the rear of the pod. Lockers (with padlocks) are large enough to fit a fair size pack.
Our dorm (one of three, all 55 ringgit) was well sized, with some window-side seating. The air-con chilled the room well. The only complaint was the dorm did catch quite a bit of traffic noise, so light sleepers should pack earplugs. Private rooms (140 ringgit) and family rooms (199 ringgit) are available, though we were unable to see inside one.
The big asset at Brownstone is the common areas. A large ground floor, swing-laden, breakfast area has a kitchenette for your own use. Upstairs there is an outside deck and an indoor area strewn with beanbags. Free WiFi is available throughout. Shared bathroom facilities are clean and well kept, if sometimes a bit of a walk from the dorm.
Staff are friendly and chatty and they’ll give you a simple map of Ipoh marking some points of interest. They can also hire bicycles and arrange guiding services if you wish.
This struck us as the best budget option in Ipoh. If you’d prefer something close to the train station, consider Brick Box Hotel. It offers modern brick faced rooms (singles 108 ringgit, doubles from 138 ringgit).
The French Hotel offers spacious rooms which will deliver the goods for those after a flashpacker stay in Ipoh.
So named due to French ownership, the hotel opened in 2012 and is located about a 15 minute walk from Ipoh train station. Set on a busy downtown road, the building stands out from the surrounds and the foyer is glassy and modern.
The rooms (deluxe rooms from 158 ringgit, family rooms 208 ringgit) match the foyer in style. Spacious and well designed, rooms are double-glazed to keep the traffic noise at bay. The bed was comfortable and the linen crisp and clean. Bathrooms (solar powered according to their brochure) are also spotless.
Facilities include free WiFi throughout the property, LCD TVs, complimentary tea, coffee and water. A lift whisks you to the higher floors. We found the staff to be cheery and helpful, happily showing us through a room.
The French Hotel will appeal to those looking for a modern mini-hotel which has made more effort on the design side. If you want to be closer to the station, consider perhaps Brick Box or Hotel Abby. If you’d prefer something more luxurious, Sarang Paloh Hotel might fit the bill. Shop around online for a discounted rate.
The Sarang Paloh Hotel is about as heritage as Ipoh gets. If you’re looking for something a bit more luxurious, give it a go.
Unfortunately we were not able to see a room here. Despite three visits over as many days, the staffer advised us they were full every time. Moral of the story, if you want to stay here, book well in advance!
Sarang Paloh Hotel is well located for both the train station and the historic part of Ipoh town. The hotel occupies two buildings—the Yick Woh Jewellers and the Oversea Chinese Banking corporation. Both names can still be seen on the facade of the restored building. According to their website, it dates back to 1930.
As we were not able to see anything more in the hotel (staff were adept at steering us out of the lobby!), all else we can say is online reviews are positive. Please see their website for photographs of the rooms (238 ringgit to 298 ringgit). Do shop around online for a discounted rate.
If you’re looking for a functional and affordable room close to Ipoh train station, Abby By The River fits the bill.
Set on a corner overlooking the Kinta River, the bright coloured building is easy to find. Within, you’ll find equally bright rooms, with doubles (90 ringgit) and family rooms (120 ringgit) on offer. Six and eight bed dorms (30 ringgit and 25 ringgit) are also available but we couldn’t see inside the dorms.
The property is air-con throughout and free WiFi is standard, as are hot water bathrooms. Rooms do allow smoking, so if you prefer a non-smoking room, say so.
Up top there is a small cafe area with a city view, but we’d be angling to hang out elsewhere. Due to the low prices, this is a popular choice on weekends—make sure you book in advance if in town on the weekend. Shop around online for a discounted rate.
Click on the hotel name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.
Ipoh is often described as a “new Georgetown”, and while that is stretching things, the food scene is still none too shabby.
Start your day by skipping the hostel or hotel breakfast and head for dim sum (under 2.50 ringgit a pop) at Chang Keong Dim Sum. With over a dozen choices to select from, this is a spot where it is hard to go wrong. Combine with a steaming hot coffee and you’ll be good to go.
If you’re heading out to tour the caves, the oddly named Restoran New Hollywood works. About as far from the hills behind LA as you can get, this covered hawker centre is deservedly popular. Try the Chee Cheong Fun (5 ringgit)—a Cantonese steamed rice noodle roll with a prawn filling and dipped in sauce. Delish.
Back in town, an easy lunch spot is Ipoh Hainan Chicken Rice, which serves up, you guessed it, chicken rice (7 ringgit). We went with roast chicken, paired with an iced lemon juice, and could easily have had a second helping.
For coffee, in the heart of the “old town” we sought solace from the heat at the retro Aud’s Cafe. Combine a latte (10 ringgit) with a brownie and scoop of ice cream (10 ringgit) for a mid afternoon splurge. While we didn’t try it, Neli’s Deli nextdoor also looked tempting.
In the same area, Plan B is a modern chain coffee outlet with a couple of branches in KL. Their Ipoh outlet is sprawling and comfortable—ideal if you need a corner to catch up on your emails. We just had a flat white (9 ringgit) but the comprehensive menu is international in flavour. Think everything from eggs benedict (22 ringgit) to laksa (26 ringgit) and salted egg carbonara (28 ringgit).
Sticking in the same area, Plan B almost backs onto Wharong a newish hawker centre. A good option if you want to eat but Plan B is a bit too pricey. There are also plenty of stalls selling souvenirs around here if you want to work up an appetite.
For afternoon grazing, make your way to the southern end of the historic part of town to Kedai Kopi Sun Yuan Foong. Known for Ipoh egg tarts (2 ringgit a pop), grab a few for takeaway, or sit down in the old shophouse building and wash them down with more coffee.
Sticking with a sweet tooth, consider Funny Mountain Soya Beancurd over in the new town. Closes around 15:00, so don’t leave it too late.
For dinner, many will point you to Lou Wong, which sits at the junction of what we’re calling “chicken corner”. Lou Wong is known for its bean sprout chicken, but our guide turned their nose up at it, saying it was a tourist trap. Instead we ate at kitty corner Ong Kee, which does the same dish, but in a more down market (and slapdash) style. A simple serving will set you back 10 ringgit before rice. The night market is right by here, so this is another good eating and shopping combination.
Also in the area, is Sun Tuck Kee, which is famous for its charcoal brasiers. Be warned the serving sizes here, even a supposed single portion, are large. Hokkien fried mixed noodles will set you back 6.80 ringgit.
If you’d prefer a splash out Indian meal, Pakeeza, over near the bar district, is excellent. Mains float around the 20 to 30 ringgit mark which is fair given the comfortable setting. Servings are large and the complimentary extra dish caught us by surprise.
Not far from Pakeeza is Ipoh’s primary bar district. St Patrick’s Irish Bar stands on a corner, but many other international-style pubs line the road behind. Names like Speakeasy, History, and Sober, set the theme. Look for happy hour deals to keep your budget under control!
Click on the restaurant name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.
Aud’s Cafe 97 Jl Sultan Yussuf, Ipoh. T: (05) 246 1310 https://www.facebook.com/audscafe
Chang Keong Dim Sum 34 Jl Raja Ekram, Ipoh. T: (012) 467 7841
Funny Mountain 50 Jl Mustapa Al-bakri, Ipoh.
Ipoh Hainan Chicken Rice Jl Raja Musa Aziz, Ipoh. T: (05) 254 5591
Kedai Kopi Sun Yuan Foong 17 Jl Bandar Timah, Ipoh.
Ong Kee Jl Yau Tet Shin, Ipoh. T: (012) 530 0888
Pakeeza 15-17 Jl Dato Seri Ahmad Said, Ipoh. T: (05) 241 4243
Plan B 75 Jl Panglima, Ipoh. T: (05) 249 8286 https://thebiggroup.co/
Restoran New Hollywood Jl Lee Kwee Foh, Ipoh. Breakfast and lunch. Closed Mondays
Speakeasy 40 & 42 Jl Lau Ek Ching, Ipoh.
St Patrick's Irish Bar 75 Jl Raja Ekram, Ipoh.
Sun Tuck Kee 65 Jl Yau Tet Shin, Ipoh. T: (012) 514 2228
Wharong 11 Jl Panglima, Ipoh.
3 Jl Bijeh Timah, Ipoh.
T: (05) 241 4541 https://www.ipohworld.org/reservation/
If there is one thing you should do while in Ipoh, it is to visit the Hakka Miner’s Club, set in the heart of the “Old City”.
The miner’s club was established on May 5, 1893 as a mens only club for Hakka tin miners. Within the club’s walls, miners could let their hair down. Smoking opium, gambling, and, as the museum put it “entertaining dancing girls’ were common.
In 1929 the club was rebuilt into the current structure. A substantial restoration was undertaken in 2013, creating the museum as it stands today. The museum opened in 2015.
The building is jammed with exhibits. These work to re-create not just how it must have appeared back in the day, but also to explain tin mining. Displays cover vices like opium smoking, prostitution and gambling, but also everyday activities. The rear of the ground floor includes a mock-up mining display, kitchen and street scene. It might sound a bit tacky, but the museum pulls it off well. The guiding throughout is professional and questions are encouraged—and well answered.
The other attraction is the building itself. The building has been lovingly restored, obviously with a careful attention to detail. Guides explain the challenges of the restoration, even down to repairing a light fitting.
Tours run four times a day. You can book in advance online, or just show up 15 minutes beforehand and hope to get a place. While officially free, donations of 10 ringgit per person are suggested at the end of the tour. The tour take an hour.
Ipoh Old Quarter
There are two parts to Ipoh town, the “new town” beyond the Kinta River and the “old” between the river and the railway. Wandering the old section is a great way to fill a few hours.
The historic quarter is hemmed in by four clear boundaries. The railway line to the west, Jl Sultan Iskandar to the south, the Kinta River to the east and Jl SP Seenivasagam to the north. Within you’ll find plenty of historic buildings at take a gander at. Also in the area are bookstores, galleries, cafes, souvenir shops and an excellent museum.
The tourist office distributes a “Ipoh Heritage Trail” flyer. It marks some 30 buildings of interest, but just lists the buildings and a photo. An easy improvement would be the addition of some information about each building. They also have an “Ipoh Mural Art Trail” flyer which marks the prominent art murals in the same area. They’re both free, so grab copies from the Tourist Office near the train station before you get going.
The epicentre of the scene is “Concubine Lane”, today known as Panglima Lane. The street once housed concubines during the tin mining boom, but today the ladies are all gone. In their place are tourist tat shops and their very in-your-face vendors. It can get congested with package tours around here.
Stray a bit further, and you’ll find no shortage of early 20th century buildings. Many have their establishment date near the top. Don’t be shy about wandering down the back lanes to enjoy different aspects of the buildings.
Highlights include the following.
Ipoh Train Station was conceptualised and designed by Arthur Benison Hubback—the man also responsible for KL train station. It draws from the same British Indian colonial architecture as the counterpart in KL. The station opened for business in 1917.
Completed in 1916, Ipoh Town Hall faces the station and was also Hubback’s handiwork. A claim to fame includes hosting the inaugural congress of the Malay Nationalist Party in 1945.
Just across from the State Mosque, and built in 1909, the Birch Memorial is dedicated to the memory of JWW Birch. The first British Resident of Perak, he was assassinated in 1875.
Just outside the historic quarter, on the north side of the Padang. The Moghul style India Muslim Mosque was built in 1908 by a wealthy Tamil Muslim.
Lovingly restored in 2013-2015, the Hakka Miner’s Club is one of the best examples of heritage in Ipoh. Do do their tour. Close by is the bright blue Hoyanhor Museum—dedicated Chinese herbal tea.
Around Plan B there are some dilapidated, though photogenic buildings—a hit with Instagrammers. On weekends you may need to queue for that shuttered window photo!
While Ipoh town has its historic quarter, if you can, set aside half a day to explore the surrounds taking in a few cave temples and a viewpoint.
The following are all easily taken in on a half day tour or you can easily hire a Grab to do them piecemeal. While you can visit Sam Poh Tong and Perak Tong by public bus, this is a time consuming approach.
Your first stop should be at Sam Poh Tong which lies around seven kilometres to the southwest of Ipoh town. Believed to be the biggest cave temple in Malaysia, the main attraction is in fact a collapsed cave with a temple within.
The temple was founded by a monk from China who discovered the cave in 1890 and used it as a place of meditation until the end of his life. Today you enter through the main cavern and follow a short tunnel which veers off to the right. The tunnel opens up to the collapsed cave. To your left is a pond packed with tortoises and to your left the temple. In late afternoon the sunlight floods down illuminating the temple.
Back on the street, just fifty metres away lies the lesser Li Sen Tong temple, which is most notable for its incense coils slowly smouldering away.
Once you are done at these two sites, if you have a guide, they may suggest you visit Qing Xin Ling, a privately owned “Cultural and Leisure Park”. Don’t bother.
Instead, push on to Kek Look Tong, a vast and very photogenic cave complex. The main cave pierces all the way through the limestone mountain, so be sure to walk all the way to the rear. At the far opening there should be a cooling breeze and a view over a pretty park area and then, in the distance a factory of some description.
The cave has a number of caverns you can wander through, some decorated with statues. In many cases though, the stalactites and stalagmites are more than enough to impress. This cave in particular is a hit with tour groups (look at the size of the carpark). Because of this, it can pay to wait for the waves to tourists to clear if things are busy.
From here you need to trek across to the north side of Ipoh to reach Perak Tong, a cave and viewpoint. It is around 500 stairs to the peak, where there is a pavilion. While the stairs and path are decent, expect some panting by the time you reach the top. From the summit there are quite impressive views over both Ipoh town and the surroundings (including a large number of factories). Watch out for macaques.
As with Kek Look Tong, Perak Tong can get very busy, so choose your moment to start the climb. Some of the stairs are one-way only, meaning you’ll need to wait for others to pass at times.
All these sites can be seen on an organised tour from Ipoh town or by hiring a Grab for each leg. We paid 150 ringgit for a car and guide and included all the above along with Kellie’s Castle. Ask at your guesthouse or hotel for more information. If you want to visit just Sam Poh Tong, bus T34 runs from the local bus station passes nearby.
Click on the point of interest name to open its position in Apple or Google maps.
20km south of Ipoh.
Mo–Th: 09:00–17:00 Fr–Su 09:00–18:00
A castle might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Malaysia, but just 20km south of Ipoh, sits Kellie’s Castle.
The dream of Scot William Kellie Smith, the “castle” and the house behind it were intended as family residences. Construction of Kellas House took place in 1909. There he lived with his wife and daughter, but his dreams were far grander.
In 1915 he started planning the far more elaborate Kellie’s Castle. Bringing together Scottish, Moorish and Indian architecture, the plans included a six floor tower, an indoor tennis court and a rooftop courtyard. All the bricks and marble used in the construction were imported from India, as were 70 craftsmen from Madras.
The tower was to feature Malaysia’s first ever elevator. This lift was to be his downfall as while in Europe taking delivery of the elevator, he died of pneumonia. The castle was never totally completed.
Kellas House was badly damaged during the war. Still, you can see today some of the marble that covered the walls on the upper floors. The castle meanwhile is said to be haunted by a ghost who wanders the first floor veranda at night.
Today a visit is worthwhile to wander the castle room by room. Each is labelled in English, explaining the purpose of the room. Note the secret stairwell and there are a couple of tunnels leading off from the affair. Even in their semi-ruined, half-built states, it is easy to imagine what Kellie was aiming for.
Do follow the stairs all the way up to the rooftop courtyard (and helipad) for expansive views. Take care if exploring with kids, as some sections are poorly roped off and quite dangerous.
The castle is a popular venue for wedding photos and can get busy—aim for a morning visit if you can. The castle was used as a set in the filming of the 1999 film Anna and the King.
Kellie’s Castle is around 20km due south of Ipoh. The easiest way to get here is to get it included on a tour of the outlying sites around Ipoh (most tours include it). Independently, hiring a Grab there and back is the most time effective way of visiting.
Ipoh’s Sultan Azlan Shah Airport (IPH) has domestic flight connections to Johor Bahru and international flights to Singapore. It is around 7km from downtown Ipoh. Bus T37 runs between the local bus station and the airport.
Ipoh’s beautiful train station sits at the western edge of town. The station lies on the main KL to Butterworth train line and most trains will stop here. The train for KL takes two and a half hours and costs 36 ringgit. There are departures ex KL throughout the day.
Ipoh has two primary bus stations.
The local bus station is to the south of the train station (easy walking distance). Most of the services from here are of limited use to travellers. Notable exceptions include the t34 which runs by Sam Poh Tong, and the T37 to the airport.
Local buses also run from this station to Taiping (6 times a day), Georgetown, KLIA and TBS (KL’s main bus station). For longhaul destinations though, you are better off to head to Amanjaya bus station.
Amanjaya bus station is 10km north of Ipoh and serves destinations across Malaysia. Tickets can be purchased at the station, online or through your accommodation beforehand. Booking in advance on weekends is a good idea. At the station, ignore the individual bus ticket kiosks and use the main consolidated desk instead.
Sample destinations include:
Alor Setar: Throughout the day, 3.5 hours, from 30 ringgit Online booking
Cameron Highlands: Throughout the day, 2.5-3.5 hours, from 20 ringgit Online booking
Georgetown (Penang): Throughout the day, 2 hours, from 20 ringgit Online booking
Kuala Lumpur: Throughout the day, 3 hours, from 19 ringgit Online booking
Johor Bahru: Throughout the day, 5-6 hours, from 38 ringgit Online booking
KLIA2: Throughout the day, 3.5 hours, from 30 ringgit Online booking
Kota Bharu: Morning and evening, 7 hours, from 38 ringgit Online booking
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