The year 2017 marked a turning point for the tourism landscape in Perak. A nationwide campaign had been launched to drive tourists to the state.
The Visit Perak Year 2017 campaign saw investments funnelled into tourism infrastructure. Its capital, Ipoh, began to introduce heritage walks and restored colonial buildings. Tourism stakeholders were also trying to get visitors to stay longer than a day.
All those concerted efforts paid off.
Suddenly, Perak became the trendiest spot to travel to in Malaysia. The state was no longer just a short stopover for tourists making their way up to Penang, or down to the southern states.
Visitors were now drawn to places such as Taiping, Batu Gajah and the royal town of Kuala Kangsar. Perak’s popularity was also particularly concentrated in Ipoh.
The capital enjoyed renewed vigour after being featured in Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 places to visit in Asia.
It was something that was observed by The Star reporter Lo Tern Chern.
“This is a heads-up for tourism players in Penang. Nothing good lasts eternally and neither will our appeal as a tourism hotspot. Your neighbour, Perak, is doing mighty well.
“I went to Ipoh, and the once dull city is now bustling with tourists from all over,” he wrote in a 2018 opinion piece.
Lo remarked that Ipoh now has attractions that could rival those found in Penang. He noted that Ipoh too has beautiful murals on century-old shops (much like those in George Town) as well as many museums and art galleries.
Lo added that while the cuisine in Ipoh has “fewer varieties of flavours”, the food elsewhere in Perak was cheaper than Penang.
He concluded he would rather travel to Ipoh than holiday in “jam-packed George Town”.
If anything, Perak today has solidified its position as one of the strongest tourism destinations in the country. The Department of Statistics reported that in 2019, just before the pandemic, the state recorded the fifth highest domestic tourism receipts at RM7.8bil.
And now that interstate travel is finally allowed again, travellers are itching to visit the state. Hotel operators there reported a surge in bookings when travel restrictions were lifted, and not just in Ipoh.
Malaysia Budget Hotel Association Perak chairman Zamari Muhyi said there were many bookings for rooms in Manjung, Gopeng, Taiping and Lenggong.
“In Manjung, up to 80% of the rooms have been booked. In Tapah and Tanjung Malim, the room bookings are between 50% and 70%,” he said in an interview.
A check by The Star at several tourist spots also showed heavy traffic with many cars bearing outstation number plates.
Travel writer Sam Bedford, in his piece for Culture Trip, said Perak certainly deserves more love from travellers.
“Wise travellers should make their way (to Perak) sooner rather than later, before it becomes inundated with visitors, as so many other Malaysian destinations have.
Bedford was particularly impressed by the cave temples found in the state.
“One of the top reasons to visit Ipoh is to experience the region’s cave temples,” he wrote.
He further highlighted the temples Perak Tong, Sam Poh Tong and Kek Lok Tong.Of course, the state has so much more to offer beyond Ipoh. We track down what you can see, do and eat when you’re in Perak.
The capital would be the obvious draw for first-time as well as repeat visitors to the state. And it’s easy to see why. Old world charm and a hipster kind of vibe make this a charming place for both residents and travellers alike.
A good way to explore the history here is through the Ipoh Heritage Walk (map can be downloaded online). The suggested trail starts at Railway Station, which is an impressive colonial building. Other landmarks in the trail include the Town Hall, Old Post Office and the Birch Memorial.
Another walk worth exploring is the Ipoh Mural Art Trail that shows the most popular street art around the city. Some of the murals were painted by Ernest Zacharevic, the Lithuanian artist who painted some of the iconic street art in George Town.
Over the years, Ipoh has also become one of the country’s major food capitals. The iconic culinary delights would be bean sprout chicken rice and white coffee. Other favourites to try are chicken hor fun, salted chicken, tau foo fah and chicken curry bun.
The wettest town in Peninsular Malaysia is renowned for its lush greenery. It’s a fact that shouldn’t come as a surprise since the idyllic town is home to the first park in the country.
The Taiping Lake Gardens has many old trees that always bewilder visitors. Look out for humongous rain trees with branches that look like they’re touching the lake.
Nearby, visitors can find the Taiping Zoo which has over 1,200 animals.
In the past, Taiping was the centre of Perak’s mining industry and that illustrious past is evident in the many attractions and structures. The town is home to Malaysia’s first railway station that transported tin to the rest of country. Today, there’s a gallery at the train station that showcases Taiping’s history.
Taiping also has many other notable “firsts” in the country. Perak Museum, opened in 1883, was the first museum in Malaysia; Maxwell Hill was the first hill station; and the Taiping Clock Tower was the country’s first of many clock towers.
Formerly known as Teluk Anson (after a British official), this small town is best known for its clock tower that’s shaped like a pagoda. The Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan perennially attracts many curious visitors who are bewildered by its tilt.
Just like Italy’s famous Leaning Tower Of Pisa, this one is slanted leftward due to the soft ground.
Most visitors usually just stop by Teluk Intan to take pictures of the tower. But there are many other heritage structures in town that are worth visiting. These include the War Memorial stone, Horley Methodist School, Madrasah Al Ihsaniah and the town’s branch of HSBC Bank.
For foodies, the chee cheong fun here is a must-try as it’s different from the Hong Kong variant that most Malaysians are familiar with. The ones in Teluk Intan are packed with turnip, dried shrimp and preserved vegetables.
Those with an adventurous streak will find much to love and do in Gopeng. The town in the district of Kampar beckons with many great outdoor activities such as white water rafting, caving, abseiling and hiking.
The Kampar River here is one of the best sites for white water rafting in the country. It has over 20 rapids that go from Grade 2 to Grade 3+ along a 7km-long journey. For more splashing good time, go abseiling at the Ulu Geruntum waterfall. The activity is partly operated by the Orang Asli community.
For caving enthusiasts, the place to be is Gua Tempurung. The cave is one of the country’s oldest and is segmented into five different caverns. Golden Flowstone, one of the caverns, offers a short leisurely tour for casual visitors. Another cave worth exploring is Gua Kandu, which is an important karst conservation site.
If you’re looking to take a hike, Bukit Batu Putih offers an easy trail that can be completed in about two hours. Hikers will be rewarded with sweeping views at the peak of the Kinta Valley.
One of the country’s mysterious landmarks, Kellie’s Castle, can be found here. The place is full of creepy tales that have enthralled and terrified visitors and locals alike. Built by Scottish planter William Kellie-Smith for his family while living in then-Malaya, the venue is today one of Malaysia’s top dark tourism attractions.
Of course, Batu Gajah also has a history that’s less macabre in other parts of the town.
Batu Gajah is known for its heritage trail that’s centered around the Jalan Changkat colonial core. Some heritage attractions include God’s Little Acre, Kinta Gaol and the High Court House building.
Sitiawan might not be the most obvious place for tourists at first glance. But this little town is worth discovering, especially for visitors planning to go to Pangkor Island via Lumut.
Its star attraction here is the Tua Pek Kong temple. More than just a scenic place of worship, the venue also attracts curious visitors who want to see for themselves the row of tall statues here.
The place is also great for catching views of the sunset.
Another great spot to see beautiful sunsets is the Teluk Batik beach. Have a picnic at the beach where you will be treated to white sandy beaches and the warm ocean. For more outdoor pursuits, check out the Taman Paya Bakau which has magnificent mangroves.
When it comes to food, the gong pian biscuit and red wine mee suah are the town’s representative culinary delights. Both are well-known Fuzhou delicacies. As a matter of fact, Sitiawan is known as “Little Fuzhou” due to the strong Fuzhou heritage in the area.