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.
It too has beautiful murals on century-old shops, on par with those in George Town and certainly livelier than those in Seberang Prai.
Many of the once-polluted back alleys in Ipoh are now crowded flea markets and street food haunts.
Like Penang’s many museums and art galleries, Ipoh has a growing number of them.
Penang has a few remaining beaches, while Ipoh has loads of limestone caves to stay in the race of natural wonders.
Recently, I brought up the topic of Ipoh tourism to friends from Alor Setar and to my surprise, many of them would rather drive three hours there than to Penang because of two main reasons — cost and transportation.
They say Ipoh has wider roads, which I found to be true during my visit.
There were noticeably fewer cars parking illegally, and the main roads are wider with roundabouts instead of traffic lights.
Attractions are inexpensive in Ipoh. I wonder how many Penangites would call our attractions affordable.
I visited Kek Look Tong Cave Temple in Gunung Rapat, at the southern end of town. To my surprise, entry is free with ample parking lots, also free.
Inside the cave, it’s a natural wonder of ancient stalagmites and stalactites, with awesome golden statues of rarely seen Chinese deities.
At lunch in one of Ipoh’s bean sprout chicken restaurants, I spoke with a local tour guide who had a group of 20 Japanese tourists.
“Ipoh used to be a dead town. People only came here to work, or else we would just drive past it on the highway.
“But look at the heritage enclave now. Many Asian tourists have been to Penang and now they want Ipoh,” he said.
I would say Penang food still leads, but not by much more. Seafood here is no longer cheap.
While I find Ipoh offers fewer varieties of flavours, food elsewhere in Perak, such as in Tapah and Tanjong Tualang, are far cheaper than in Penang, and these places are only about 30 minutes’ drive from Ipoh city.
Penang needs to look for alternatives to continue attracting visitors.
As a mainland boy, driving 90 minutes to Ipoh is almost the same as inching into jam-packed George Town, so why not? It’s the nature and local food that we seek on vacations.
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