When thinking about Malaysia, the mind tends to jump to the modern capital Kuala Lumpur, or perhaps the street food heaven of Penang or the jungles of Borneo. Ipoh is still not high enough on the radar of many outside Malaysia to join that group – at least not yet. That might change in the next few years though! Whilst it is currently still quite small and sleepy, Ipoh has great potential to become an internationally known city. There are some fantastic underrated things to do in Ipoh and plenty of local cuisines to explore! In February 2018 the New York Times Magazine even wrote an article about why Ipoh should be on your travel radar.
We recently spent a week in this hidden gem of a city. In this post, we will show you all the reasons why we recommend that you visit Ipoh when you’re in Malaysia.
Ipoh is the capital of Perak, a state in central peninsula Malaysia. It is situated between Kuala Lumpur in the south and Penang in the north. It is easily reachable from both places by train and bus. With more than 600’000 inhabitants, it is the third biggest city of Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur and George Town on Penang.
There is a tropical rainforest climate in Ipoh. Because of this, the temperatures don’t really change during the year and the average temperature is a humid 28 degrees Celsius (82 Fahrenheit). The least rain falls in the months from January to March and from June to August, making them the best months to visit Ipoh.
For a long time, Ipoh town was just a small place, but this changed drastically in the 1880s when there were huge deposits of tin discovered in the area. When the tin deposits depleted and the tin prices collapsed in the 1970s, the city suffered years of neglect.
Because of efforts to conserve its British colonial-era architecture over recent years, the popularity of Ipoh as a tourist spot was significantly boosted. The limestone hills with many magnificent Buddhist cave temples and the delicious Ipoh cuisine have also helped attract visitors. To top it off, Ipoh maintains a reputation of being one of the cleanest cities in Malaysia.
Things to do in Ipoh
- Cave temples
- Street art
- Heritage Trail in Ipoh Old Town
- Concubine Lane
- Eat all the food
- Kellie’s Castle
- The lost world of Tambun
- Cameron Highlands
- Getting Around
- Final Impression
Perak Cave Temple
With more than 30 different cave temples in Ipoh Malaysia, it can be quite tricky to choose which one to visit if you don’t have enough time for them all. Our apartment host in Ipoh recommended that we visit Perak Cave Temple. He said that it is probably the most beautiful and popular cave temple – the best place to visit in Ipoh.
When you enter the cave itself through a beautiful building, it opens directly on to the 12 meters high golden Buddha, surrounded by four divine guardians. Almost even more impressive are all the huge paintings on the cave walls.
Inside the cave are stairs which lead you through a side opening to the outside of the cave. After climbing around 450 steps, you’ll reach the top of the hill and are rewarded with a fantastic view. It is one of those places in Ipoh where you can find much peace and quiet. Personally, we have to say that it is absolutely worth climbing those steps. Do it early in the morning though (the stairs are open from 9:30 am) to avoid the worst of the heat and humidity. For us, this was one of the best things to do in Ipoh.
Sam Poh Tong Temple
The Sam Poh Tong Temple is a Chinese Buddhist Temple located about 5 km south of Ipoh and it claims to be the biggest cave temple in Malaysia. It is said that a monk from China found it in 1890 and made it his home and place to meditate. Today, the cave is still used as a meditation site by monks and nuns.
A steep 246 steps will lead you to an open cave where you have a beautiful view over Ipoh. In front of the temple is a pretty Japanese pond full of carps and tortoises. Sam Poh Tong Temple is definitely worth squeezing into your Ipoh itinerary.
Kek Lok Tong Temple
The Kek Lok Tong Cave Temple is situated in the idyllic area of Gunung Rapat in the south of Ipoh. Since 1920 it is used as a place of worship. The temple complex houses a central altar with various Buddhist figures as well as different deities from Chinese mythology.
Image credit: marvelis.world on Instagram
At the temple, you can also find a beautifully landscaped garden with a jogging path around two lakes and one of the longest reflexology footpaths in Ipoh. If you like to walk around peaceful gardens, this is one of the perfect places to go in Ipoh.
Many people know of the big street art scene in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, but did you know that you can find some great street art in Ipoh as well? While there are some great pieces of street art from Ernest Zacharevic (famous for street art in Penang) in the old town of Ipoh, you also can find some amazing street art from various other artists everywhere in the city.
Especially the Mural Arts Lane in Ipoh new town is a great Ipoh attraction. A local teacher called Eric Lai, inspired by Zacharevics art, started a project to make this street a nicer place. If you want to find this amazing street, just look for Mural Arts Lane on Google Maps and you’ll easily find it.
The Old Town of Ipoh is not large, but it has a very charming atmosphere! One of the best things do to in Ipoh Old Town is to wander around the beautiful buildings from the British colonial era. If you’re particularly interested in the history and the architecture of Ipoh Perak, then you can follow the Heritage Trail Walk. We found a very useful map and information brochure online.
Even if you’re not that interested in the history and architecture of Ipoh, you can still enjoy the delightful streets and seek out a cute cafe in Ipoh town – there are many! Our top cafe in Ipoh was Aud’s by JJ Cafe – we visited at least three times for their amazingly fresh and tasty sandwiches and cakes, and avocado smoothies. Our second favourite was the goo9’s for their range of iced teas.
Concubine Lane is a small side street in the centre of Ipoh Old Town. The name comes from a rich mining family who owned many of the buildings in the town. The man gave one of the streets each to his three wives, hence one was called Wife’s Lane, one was called First Concubine Lane and one Second Concubine Lane. First Concubine Lane is the one that survives today, under the name of Concubine Lane.
In the past, this little lane was also infamous for opium, gambling and prostitutes. These days, it looks completely different. It’s probably the cutest little street in Ipoh, offering food stalls, souvenirs and Chinese-sold tourist tat, useful and less useful trinkets, and a lot of different colours and aromas. It’s the perfect example of what Ipoh tourism has achieved with some restoration work, and definitely one of the more interesting places in Ipoh.
If you ask us what to do in Ipoh, then eating ALL THE FOOD is definitely our top answer! Ipoh is famous for its local food and rightly so. Chicken and beansprouts is some of the best food in Ipoh in our opinion, but there is so much more to try as well. One restaurant serves up Nasi Kampur which is so more-ish that the locals nicknamed it Nasi Ganja! Eating your way through the great food scene Ipoh has to offer is one of the best things to do in the city. Don’t be afraid to try different menus and places to eat in Ipoh – we came across no bad food there. The food is also quite cheap, so you don’t need to worry to blow your Malaysia travel budget.
Once you’re done with all the things to eat in Ipoh, sit down in the Kafe Sun Yoon Wha and enjoy an ice cold snow beer – it has to be seen to be believed! There is a lot of good food in Ipoh and it doesn’t have to hide itself behind the food in Penang.
Kellie’s Castle is an unfinished and ruined mansion in the south of Ipoh. Scotsman William Kellie Smith started to build it in 1915 but never managed to finish it. Smith died of pneumonia in 1926 during a short trip to Portugal. His wife decided to move back to Scotland, so the mansion was never finished.
Today, Kellie’s Castle is a proper Ipoh tourist attraction. Some people claim that the mansion is haunted and that they have seen the ghosts of William Kellie Smith and his wife. The castle was also used as a setting for the movie Anna and the King in 1999. Whilst it may not be a must-visit, it makes a great addition to any Ipoh trip.
Should you go to a theme park when you are visiting a city mainly famous for its culture and food? Absolutely, if it is the Lost World of Tambun water park! This theme park offers so much entertainment and is one of the coolest places to visit in Ipoh. There are rides, a really (really!) scary ghost house, and an area where you can discover the tin mining history of Ipoh. There is also an adventure park where you can do group activities like climbing, and a nature park with a lot of different animals. Furthermore, there are various waterslides (including Malaysia’s longest man-made adventure river) and some divine hot springs. All of this makes for a perfect Ipoh day trip.
Before we went there, we were a bit unsure about the zoo part of the theme park. We have very mixed feelings about zoos. While some people absolutely hate them because of the imprisoned animals, we also see that sometimes it is just not possible to release animals bred in captivity into the wild. We talked to several keepers in the park as well as watched them handling the animals. Our overwhelming impression from the staff we met was of a deep love for the animals. All the animals we saw were very active, lively and well-cared for, in large pens where they had plenty of space to roam around and no sign of distress.
Tickets and entry
By the way, there are two different kinds of tickets for this park. A day ticket allows you the complete use of the whole Lost World of Tambun Park from 11 am to 6 pm. An evening ticket allows you to use the Lost World Hot Springs Night Park only, but from 6 pm until 11 pm. You can check the ticket prices and special offers on their webpage.
Pro tip: Check out their promotions! We went on a Wednesday and paid for the second ticket with the Wednesday Lost World of Tambun promotion only RM1 (about $0.25!).
This one is actually not in Ipoh itself, but only a 2-hour bus journey away and definitely one of the coolest places to visit in Malaysia – at least temperature wise! The Cameron Highlands is a district in Pahang and shares some of its borders with the state of Perak, of which Ipoh is the state capital. While there is not a huge amount to do in the Cameron Highlands, it’s still worth visiting for a number of attractions.
One of the main reasons why you should visit the Cameron Highlands are definitely the beautiful tea plantations. There are what seems like endless acres of tea plants in the Cameron Highlands, as far as the eye can see. We recommend to visit the BOH tea plantation. Malaysias biggest tea producer boasts a factory tour and a restaurant with a fantastic view over the tea plantation. Of course, you can enjoy delicious tea and scones whilst enjoying the views from their terrace overlooking the tea plantation itself. This is a must-visit for any tea lovers out there!
The Cameron Highlands offers some really scenic hikes. You can either book a tour with a trained guide or try to do one of the trails by yourself (on the maps.me app for iPhones and Androids you find the routes).
Be careful when you go by yourself as it can be very slippery after the rain and on one route (Trek 9) there have been several robberies and dog attacks reported. We chose Trek 10 and were amazed by the scenic route with beautiful flora and views. If you’re into hiking, you could easily spend more than 2 days in the Cameron Highlands. Especially if you also want to explore the Mossy Forest, an unique forest which got its name from all the moss on the ground.
There are some other things to do and see in the Cameron Highlands. Locals love to visit the strawberry fields. As strawberry can only grow in a temperate climate, the Cameron Highlands is one of the few places in Malaysia where strawberries will grow. There are many different strawberry fields where you can pick your own when they are in season.
If you fancy some history and culture, then head over to the Time Tunnel. This is Malaysias first memorabilia museum and for many visitors one of the main attractions. Also mention-worthy is the Butterfly Garden, where you can see a variety of different butterflies and other insects. You can find out more about the Cameron Highlands here.
The Cameron Highlands is easily reachable from Ipoh via buses, which run daily in either direction.
The old town of Ipoh is very compact and easily walkable. You could even rent a bicycle. If you want to go to one of the caves or any attraction that is not in the centre, we recommend you get the Grab or Uber app for your phone. We found that taxi drivers are happy to quote up to four times the price of a Grab car. We read that there are also buses in the city, but we honestly never used them as Grab and Uber are very affordable in Malaysia – usually around $1 for any journey within the city centre.
Ipoh, especially its old town, is a charming city. With its convenient location between KL and Penang, it would be a shame to pass by and not stop to experience it for yourself. The perfect time to spend there is anything between 2 and 4 days. We recommend it to everyone who loves to try amazing food, discover some great street art or see some impressing cave temples. Make sure you stroll through the small alleys of the old town as long as the city itself has still this “secret” charm, because with all the attention Ipoh is receiving right now, it may not be a secret for very long.
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Did we forget anything on our list of recommendations of where to go in Ipoh ? Then let us know in the comments below!