Are you heading to Malaysia and want to learn about the best things to do in Ipoh? In that case, this post will tell you everything you need to know about heritage house museums, how to visit cave temples, what to see on the heritage trail, where to eat and get the best white coffee and where to find street art in Ipoh. It’s the only Ipoh travel guide you need, so read on to discover why Ipoh is worth visiting.
- See the street art in Ipoh.
- Admire Masjid Panglima Kinta Mosque.
- Uncover history at Heritage House Museums.
- Wander along the colourful laneways.
- Walk the Cantonese Heritage Trail.
- Drink traditional Ipoh white coffee.
- Immerse yourself in the Ipoh food and cafe culture.
- Shop at the Street Markets.
- Walk Along the Kinta River.
- Be amazed at the Ipoh Cave Temples.
- Visit the Scottish Kellie’s Castle.
- Explore deep inside Gua Temperung Cave.
- Have fun at the Lost World of Tambun.
When I researched Ipoh in the Malay region of Perak, it came across as a front-runner to Penang for its street art and vibe, so I added it to my Malaysia itinerary. Having been to Ipoh, I can tell you it is nothing like Penang. It’s smaller and has nowhere near the volume of murals as George Town, and at first, as a traveller who loves urban wall art, I was disappointed and underwhelmed.
However, after spending two days wandering around this ancient city, I discovered many great reasons to visit Ipoh besides its street art. It might not be as vibrant as Penang, but I was glad I had seen this hidden gem during my month in Malaysia because, by the time I left, I had discovered that Ipoh had a magical charm all of its own.
Read on, and I will share Ipoh’s captivating appeal with you.
See the street art in Ipoh #1
If you are looking for street art in Ipoh, wander around the old town, and you will find it down laneways and on the side of buildings. Many of the murals are by Ernest Zacharevic, the creative genius behind Penang’s rise to fame, and are painted in a 3D style to allow visitors to interact with the art.
The similarity they have with street art in Penang is that they feature scenes of everyday life activities and, sadly, are starting to decay with peeling and fading paint, much like many of the Penang masterpieces.
There is no plan to restore Ipoh street art to its former glory, so try to see it before it is gone forever.
Mural Art’s Lane is another place in Ipoh where street art can be found, but having read rave reviews about it from other travellers, I have to say it was not as good as I had hoped. Yes, it brightens up an otherwise derelict back alleyway, but it is not as fantastic as many visitors claim it to be. Go and look for yourself, but don’t expect anything as eye-catching as Zacharevic’s murals in the laneways.
Mural Art’s Lane runs between the main roads of Jalan Sultan Iskandar and Jalan Masjid, close to the Masjid Panglima Kinta mosque. The area was empty when we visited, and it felt like it lacked a certain energy, which led to my original disappointment of Ipoh. I am glad my feelings changed towards this charming city by the end of my stay.
Admire Masjid Panglima Kinta Mosque #2
Walk along Mural Art’s Lane, and the 19th-century blue and white painted mosque will be opposite a row of historic shophouses. We didn’t go inside; however, volunteers will gladly show you around if you wear the correct attire to enter the mosque – covered head, shoulders and knees.
Uncover history at the Heritage House Museums #3
I always love learning about the culture and heritage of my destination, and I found a couple of excellent heritage house museums in Ipoh to walk me through the town’s history.
Kapitan Chung Thye Phin Museum was the first we visited, which sat on the corner of an otherwise unassuming street. As it was raining cats and dogs, I dragged Mr P into what I thought was a gallery/gift shop to get out of the rain.
Neither of us expected to uncover such a find behind its white and brown facade; however, on entering, we were greeted by a charming lady who asked if we wanted to have a guided tour of the museum and, as it was wet and dismal outside, we said yes. I am delighted we did because it was such a great find.
Kapitan Chung Thye Phin
Kapitan Chung Thye Phin Museum (Arlene House) was once the headquarters of the last Kapitan China of Perak and Melaya. This was an important government position held by a person with standing and means.
Chung Thye Phin was a tin mining magnate, once Penang’s wealthiest man, so this three-storey office suited him perfectly. It has been restored to its former glory and contains furniture, clothing, ornaments and photographs of the early 1900s.
You can see where he dined, worked and entertained. There was even a room with a dance floor where guests would enjoy the latest pop music from China before relaxing with alcohol or an opium pipe!
Noticeably, a large portrait of Queen Victoria hangs in the Kapitan’s study, a nod to colonial rule in Malaysia in the 1900s.
22 Hale Street Gallery
The second heritage museum we visited was 22 Hale Street Gallery. It was my favourite museum and shows how life would have been in Ipoh and the Perak region in the 1900s through exhibitions with authentic sounds and music.
We learned how tin miners lived, how prostitution was the norm in Ipoh for wealthy Chinese businessmen and British officers stationed in Malaysia and how the adjoining building was used as a hotel for illicit meetings!
There is also a beautiful room at 22 Hale Street dedicated to how a Peranakan wedding would be organised.
The four-poster gilt wedding bed is gorgeous, with silk throws and cushions. We found out that two chickens would be put under the bed, and in the morning, depending on which chicken ran out first, the male or female would determine whether the new bride had conceived a girl or boy on her wedding night.
A small boy also had to roll on the marital bed three times to bless it. Snippets of information like this make learning about a different culture so much fun.
22 Hale Street is a fabulous heritage gallery and museum, and we learned so much about Ipoh from each room we walked through. Visiting these unique attractions is one of the reasons that Ipoh should feature highly on your Malaysia itinerary and why I am glad I added it to mine.
Han Chin Pet Soo
Han Chin Pet Soo is another of Ipoh’s heritage museums. It is located in the tastefully restored Hakka Miners’ Club, Han Chin Villa, once used as a prostitution, gambling, opium smoking and triad den. The museum exhibits give insightful information on the tin mining industry and the Hakka community.
Ho Yan Hor
Ho Yan Hor Museum is a gallery dedicated to the life of Dr.Ho Kai Cheong, creator of Ho Yan Hor tea, the famous household brand of Chinese herbal tea since the 1940s.
If you visit the museum, look at the side wall to see the Evolution Mural painted in 2013 by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic.
Wander along the colourful laneways #4
The laneways date back to the 1800s and have descriptive names like Concubine Lane, Tin Alley and Market Lane, giving a clue as to what services could be acquired along each one.
Ipoh’s laneways are now a popular tourist attraction and are where you will find street art alongside a few souvenir shops and general businesses like garages.
One laneway has colourful umbrellas and red lanterns suspended across it to bring colour to an otherwise grey back alley, another has multicoloured streamers hanging down the centre of a street, and one has the children’s traditional game of hopscotch painted onto the floor.
These narrow lanes are a significant part of Ipoh’s historical identity and a must-see on a visit.
Walk the Cantonese Heritage Trail #5
Due to its colonial buildings, Ipoh is often called the Kuala Lumpur of yesteryear. On the Cantonese Heritage Trail, you can follow a route to see the old and new town’s historic buildings. The trail has informative panels at each landmark.
If you are interested in history and architecture, this one is for you. We didn’t follow the heritage trail but still saw important buildings, like Ipoh Railway Station and the Birch Memorial Clock Tower, simply by wandering around town.
The memorial clock is the main landmark building in Ipoh old town and is in an elevated position at the end of Lorong Paglima, part of Concubine Lane. Erected in 1909, the clock tower serves as a poignant reminder of J.W.W. Birch, the first British Resident in Ipoh, who was tragically assassinated in 1875.
The area around Lorong Panglima is home to banks and cafes and is undergoing a regeneration project.
Close to the memorial clock tower is the Ipoh Railway Station, which opened in 1917. It’s a historic landmark for Malaysians travelling to Ipoh from other states and is affectionately known among the locals as the Taj Mahal of Ipoh City.
Drink traditional Ipoh white coffee #6
No matter where you go in Malaysia, you will hear about white coffee, established in Ipoh in the 1900s by the Hainanese immigrants. They added sweetened condensed milk to the black coffee the English had brought to the city, and Ipoh white coffee was born.
Now, no visit to Ipoh is complete without sipping a cup of white coffee, and one of the best places to try white coffee in Ipoh is at Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong, which has been open since the 1940s. Nam Heong White Coffee also has a good reputation for coffee and egg tarts, a speciality in Ipoh.
Another fun place to try white coffee with a spin is Kedai Kopi Ah Chow, where a splash of alcohol is added to a white coffee. I would guess after a hard day at work, tin miners back in the late 1800s may have made their coffee in a similar way!
We also tried it at Old Town White Coffee, a chain in Malaysia much like Costa or Starbucks, but to be honest, it wasn’t great, so try an independent coffee house rather than one of the big boys.
Immerse yourself in the Ipoh food and cafe culture #7
Ipoh is known in Malaysia for its great food, so specialities like egg tarts and dim sum, curries and international dishes can be enjoyed in lovely little cafes all over town.
We found two places to eat in Ipoh that I would happily recommend:
Aud’s is an unassuming cafe opposite the Kapitan Chung Thye Phin Heritage House Museum. We walked past it before realising it was open for business. Once inside, we were offered a friendly welcome and seated by the window.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the menu, so we were pleased to see familiar dishes alongside Malay. One item that sprung out at me was the ice cube coffee, which was an Aud speciality and came with instructions. I had to pour the warm milk and sugar syrup to my liking, and the more the espresso cubes melted, the stronger my coffee would be. It was the perfect way to enjoy coffee in Ipoh on a hot and humid day.
We also chose sandwiches, which were delicious and followed them with artisan Mr Aisu ice cream made in the Cameron Highlands.
Aud’s is a great little place; had we been in Ipoh longer than two days, we would have definitely returned.
Aud’s can be found at 97, Jalan Sultan Yusuff, 30000 Ipoh
Plan B is a large cafe with an industrial feel and a popular local meeting place for students and digital nomads. It has an extensive menu featuring Western and Malay dishes, but we were pretty unadventurous and ordered burgers. But you know when you just want something to eat that’s familiar? Well, this was one of those times.
We also had coffee and cake, which I can confirm were good. They also serve alcohol if you fancy something more potent than coffee!
Ordering is done via an app, so scan the QR code and download it as soon as you arrive. We found it a bit fiddly to use but got there in the end. Plan B is one of Ipoh’s most popular places to eat, so try it yourself.
Plan B can be found at 75, Jalan Panglima, 30000 Ipoh
Shop at traditional street markets #8
If you want to grab a bargain, then be sure to visit one of the markets in Ipoh. Kong Heng Square hosts a market which sells handmade items like clothes, jewellery and trinkets. It is close to the Han Chin Pet Soo Museum.
Gerbang Malam is a night market which runs from 8 pm each evening and sells food and bric-a-brac.
Tong Sui Kai Dessert Street is one of the most happening places to indulge in something sweet in Ipoh after sunset. The street has dozens of food stalls selling various desserts and snacks. Most visitors visit here to indulge in Ipoh’s famed mixed fruits ABC.
Walk Along the Kinta River #9
I will mention Ipoh River Front because, like Mural Art’s Lane, it is referenced by travel writers as a place not to be missed, and therefore, I should include it in this article. I want to contradict that recommendation by saying it wouldn’t be at the top of my Ipoh itinerary.
A few unsavoury-looking characters were lying around the grounds of the People’s Park and by the steps leading to the river, which I didn’t feel comfortable around (and I was with Mr P). I know people are down on their luck in every corner of the world (and I come from London, so I am used to seeing homeless people); however, it wasn’t a place I felt like spending much time in.
That said, you may have a completely different experience at the riverfront, so if you are at a loose end, check it out for yourself. I only visited it in the day, but I have heard that it is the place to be at night when it is illuminated. I will leave that for you to find out!
Be amazed at the Ipoh cave temples #10
The next Ipoh attraction on my list is also one of the most incredible. The unique cave temples, hewn into the limestone rocks, are one of the best reasons to visit Ipoh.
They are all located a drive from the central part of Ipoh and are spread out. We used Grab to get from one temple to another, which was relatively easy. Just make sure you have small value notes to pay your driver, as they don’t all accept cards and don’t always have change for large notes.
Sam Poh Tong Temple is the most famous of the Ipoh cave temples due to its age and beauty. The temple grounds are stunning, with water features, pagodas, and koi carp, not forgetting the macaque monkeys that roam around. You will see Buddas and temple paraphernalia inside the cave before walking through it to find a magical red-roofed pagoda in a small garden area.
Kek Lok Tong, Perak, and Nam Thean Tong are three other cave temples in Ipoh you must see.
Visit the Scottish Kellie’s Castle #11
When we heard there was a Scottish Castle in the heart of the Perak countryside, we just had to see it to believe it, so off we went. We stopped at Kellie’s Castle and Gua Temperung Cave on our transfer to the Cameron Highlands with MyDayTrip.com rather than take time away from exploring Ipoh town.
If you only plan to stay in Ipoh for one or two days, you won’t have time to include a trip to Kellie’s Castle unless you miss out on seeing some other Ipoh attractions, which I wouldn’t advise.
Explore deep inside Gua Temperung Cave #12
Our second stop on our way out of Ipoh to the Cameron Highlands was one of the largest caves in Malaysia. Gua Tempurung spans a length of some 4.5 km, covering an underground river and five giant chambers. You can take several routes in the cave; we opted for the shortest one, which takes 20 minutes each way.
Once inside, the cave was impressive, with huge caverns and illuminated walkways; it was also very humid. I’m used to cold caves in the UK, so I found it interesting that this one was so warm.
If you love adventure, you can also go water caving, ‘spelunking’ as we discovered it was called, where you swim and wade through caverns. Not for the faint-hearted!
Have fun at the Lost World of Tambun #13
If you have children with you or love the fun of a theme park yourself, a visit to the Lost World of Tambun should feature on your Ipoh itinerary. It is located 15km outside Ipoh City in a jungle setting and is a water park and animal park with rides and activities like rock climbing and zip lining.
There are also hot springs to chill out in. If this sounds like something you would enjoy, you can book here for the Lost World of Tambun Admission Tickets.
Useful Information About Ipoh
Malaysia is divided into regions, much like states in the US and counties in the UK. Ipoh is the capital of Perak in the northern Malaysian Peninsula. The Ipoh population is around 900,000, making it a third of Penang’s population and a tenth of the size of Kuala Lumpur’s residents.
Tin had been discovered in Perak in the early 1800s, and mining had brought prosperity to the region. You can read a fascinating extract by Dr Ho Tak Ming, a senior research fellow at Perak Academy, entitled Ipoh—lifted then left behind by tin.
Present-day Ipoh is reliant on tourism and its standing as a culinary destination in Malaysia to entice travellers to its ancient city.
Is Ipoh worth visiting?
Ipoh is worth visiting because it has a rich history to uncover, from colonial rule and tin mining to present-day Ipoh, a foodie hotspot encouraging international tourism.
However you visit Ipoh, whether it is independently and you stay a few days, or you join an Ipoh history and food day tour from Kuala Lumpur, I would encourage you to experience Ipoh’s magic.
How long should you stay in Ipoh?
We stayed in Ipoh for two days and saw everything we wanted in town. If you’re going to include a trip to Kellie’s Castle and Gua Temperung, I would say stay in Ipoh for three days or do as I did and visit these two attractions on the way to or from the Cameron Highlands or Kuala Lumpur.
How do you get around Ipoh?
Walking is the best way to see the main sites in the old town. For attractions further away, like the iconic cave temples or Kellie’s Castle, you’ll need to use a Grab(taxi) to take you there. Download the Grab App and use it as you would the Uber App. Prices are laughably cheap, think £4 for a 30-minute journey, and you can choose your driver based on his ratings.
One tip to remember is that many Malaysians continue to wear masks as the norm, so have one with you as we were denied a taxi journey when we said we didn’t have masks to wear in the cab. And remember to carry small change to pay your driver if he doesn’t have a card machine.
How long will it take to get to Ipoh from Kuala Lumpur?
Driving to Ipoh from Kuala Lumpur will take 2 hours and 30 minutes.
How long will it take to get to Ipoh from the Cameron Highlands?
Driving to Ipoh from the Cameron Highlands will take just under 2 hours.
Where to stay in Ipoh
We stayed at the Weil Hotel, a short cab ride or dusty walk from the main attractions in the old town. It is a modern hotel, and the rooms were comfortable and well-equipped.
This upmarket hotel is attached to a vast shopping mall, which was convenient but not what I expected to find in unassuming Ipoh. The hotel has a rooftop pool with amazing views of the mountains that encircle the city.
I would book a budget room at Sarang Paloh Heritage Stay if you want something more authentic. It is close to the heritage museums and cafes mentioned in this travel guide.
Ipoh map of attractions to see
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