Story and photos by YOON LAI WAN
When I read about the Star2 Monthly Challenge for Travel, I initially thought everything about Ipoh has already been written. After some guidance from the stories on the challenge that had already been published, I had a much better idea of how to tackle it.
Across the horizon in the east I see the rising sun peeking out from the side of the majestic Mount Korbu, bathing the capital of Perak with warm golden rays. I feel proud of being Ipoh-mali as I think about the lyrics of that song from Ipoh-born rapper Point Blanc.
Ipoh covers a large area, including the neighbouring townships such as Bercham, Menglembu and Tanjung Rambutan. This city is certainly not a retirees’ abode anymore.
Everyone knows about our famous limestone hills and caves. Among them are Gua Tambun, famous for its Neolithic cave paintings, Gua Tempurung (Gopeng), and Gua Kanthan (Chemor) where the imposing Cathedral Chamber stands.
However, south of Ipoh is the arresting and lesser-known Gunung Lanno which happens to be one of the biggest limestone outcrops in the Kinta Valley. With the labyrinth of caves running through the limestone hills, one can easily get lost in the cave system.
At Kampung Kepayang is Gua Nea (part of Gunung Lanno). With the cave entrance high above ground and covered with thick vegetation, this cavern is rather bizarre. This enormous cave which was once underwater is full of dry cave curtains, flowstones, large columns and gour pools. A guardian exists in this chamber as one of the rock formations is a giant portrait of a human’s face. Though Gua Nea is dried up, this celestial wonder is a favourite haunt for photographers.
A number of waterfalls exist around Ipoh. A lesser known one is the Silibin Waterfalls tucked in the Kledang Sayong Forest Reserve. One will encounter a number of cascades and plunging falls surging down humongous boulders into crystal clear pools. As this falls lies in an isolated place, do go in a big group should you decide to venture in.
There’s an interesting mix of places of worship. Nestled at the foot of Ipoh’s impressive stretch of limestone hills in Tambun is the Tibetan Buddhist Temple. During Wesak, witness the unfurling of the thangka and delight in the ritual dance, known as Cham, performed at the courtyard.
Masjid Muhammadiah, also known as the Chinese Mosque, is the first Chinese Muslim Mosque in Perak. This enchanting mosque in Taman Tasek Jaya, is in shades of green and red and built with a complete Chinese architectural design.
Ipoh has a vibrant food scene which tourists flocking here. Gurmeet Singh’s Punjabi food is a hidden gem in Ipoh Garden South. With 21 years in the food industry, Gurmeet daily churns out soft chapati, delightful paratha, and hot and spicy mutton, chicken and sardine curry. Vegetables are cooked Punjabi-style. He cooks just enough for the day as he does not believe in serving leftovers. His stall, which opens at 4pm daily, can be found at Restaurant and Café New Weng Fatt.
Even before stepping into Poh Beng Claypot Bak Kut Teh (non-halal) corner shop located opposite the police station in Bercham, the aromatic smell of mixed herbal soup with meat and golden straw mushroom beckons. Also containing pork trotters stewed in black vinegar and jellyfish salad, the reasonably priced meal is worth trying. The shop opens for business at 5pm.
Do not miss the mee goreng mamak and pasembor sold at Railway pasembor stall in Tanjung Rambutan. Generous in portion and delightful to the tastebuds, this stall is open from noon till dusk. Head for the railway station (not in operation) or just ask the locals, should you get lost.
Take a detour to Simee Wet Market in the morning to get the best silky egg tart in Ipoh. Sold by Choy Kee Confectionery, these egg tarts are snapped up the moment they are unloaded from the motorbike. Should your luck run out, book your tarts with the helpers at the stall. It may take another 20 minutes for the next load to arrive.
“Kopi! Kopi-O!” The lively holler of waiters and the aromatic whiff of coffee early in the morning bring Ipoh alive. Drink it steaming hot or icy cold, black or white, coffee kickstarts the day, but have you visited a coffee factory where the beans are roasted the traditional way? Up on a little hill in Menglembu sits Chuen Kee Coffee Factory, in operation since 1957. Teoh Chok Beng, together with his family, has been roasting coffee beans there, using wood-fired ovens. The beans are sourced from a few countries and the process of roasting, caramelising, grinding and packing is all carried out here. The team starts work in the pre-dawn darkness as it is much cooler when one has to keep on stoking the extremely hot oven, stirring the big cauldrons and breaking hot pieces of caramelised beans before they harden. According to Teoh, coffee beans manually roasted using the traditional wood-fired ovens are more aromatic. I couldn’t agree more, as the piping hot cup of coffee served by his wife was intense in aroma.
Ipoh definitely has it all: Gastronomic delights, mesmerising landscapes and friendly faces. As the saying goes, Ipoh mali talak sombong (Ipohans are not stuck-up).