IF you have never visited Perak, you will be surprised that there’s a lot to see and do there. This holiday, why not take a bus or train ride to Ipoh and explore the state capital, which has many memorials and structures that hark back to pre-war Malaya.
Walk in Ipoh A short walk from the Ipoh internal bus terminal and beside the Perak state mosque is the Birch Memorial ( J.W. Birch was Perak’s first British Resident) – a fountain made of “Ipoh marble” and presented to the public by the state’s Chinese community. Note the spot where the memorial is because, during the Japanese Occupation, the head of a man executed by the Japanese was displayed on a spike there.
Next, if you walk to the corner of Leech Street and Panglima Street, you will see the site of the first Chinese theatre, built in 1891. In 1906, it was rebuilt to accommodate 1,500 theatre-goers, and in the 1920s a three-storey hostel was built beside the theatre for visiting Chinese opera troupes. Today, the building is famed for the Kong Heong coffee shop, a popular dim sum café on the ground floor.
And, did you know we have the equivalent of the Taj Mahal right here in Malaysia? Built in 1935, the Ipoh Railway Station is affectionately dubbed Ipoh’s Taj Mahal (well, by residents of the city at least). Combining Moorish architecture with modern trimmings, it looks like its counterpart in Kuala Lumpur.
Beside the station is the Majestic Hotel, in front of which is a beautiful garden that welcomes tourists to the city. Perak is said to have pioneered train travel in Malaya and the station is a symbol of how the railways catered to the transportation demands of its once robust tin mining industry.
If exploration is your cup of tea and caves your ideal holiday sightseeing, why not make your way to Gua Tempurung.
The limestone and dolomite caves are among the larger cave systems in Perak’s limestone hills and are believed to date back to 8,000 BCE. The cave stretches for 1.5km on a direct course through the Gajah-Tempurung mountain range and is made up of five huge caverns with ceilings resembling coconut shells, hence its name.
Described as “Perak’s best kept secret”, Gua Tempurung is perfect for explorers, intrepid tourists, adventurous teens and history buffs.
Why? Well, apart from the huge caverns, towering marble columns, underground waterfalls, streams and amazing rock formations – some apparently even resembling orang bunian and pontianak – the caves’ historical significance adds to their allure.
The famous limestone caves were also a communist hideout during World War II and the 1969 Emergency, and it is believed that a small community (a little short of 2,000) of the Communist Party cadres lived undetected in the caves for over 40 years. Among them was communist guerrilla Lee Meng, after whom one of the caves is named.
An added attraction is the accessibility of the caves for young children and elderly tourists as there are walkways. Although these can be steep at certain points, for most part, the walking tours are undemanding.
The guided tours are divided into five categories – from easy to challenging and strenuous. Some tours do not even need prior preparation but the harder ones, which include a short trek through underground rivers, require visitors to bring a good torchlight and a change of clothes.
Cave tours, depending on the degree of difficulty, can take up to four hours. For camping enthusiasts, there’s a camp site close to the mouth of the cave.
Whether the visit is a family event, a group outing or solo trip, Gua Tempurung is a great place to explore during the school holidays, especially for city-dwellers who are want a change from hanging out in shopping malls.
Ticket prices for the tour range from RM5 to RM20 for adults, and RM2 to RM10 for children. Opening hours are 9am to 5pm daily.
For more information, call Heritage Acres at 05-545 8834, fax 05-545 8837, or call the site office at 011-540 775.
Living in multi-cultural Malaysia, it would be remiss if you do not visit the some of the spectacular temples and mosques.
One temple worth visiting in Perak is the Kek Lok Tong cave temple at Gunung Rapat, about 5km south of Ipoh City. The temple has impressive works of art, with statues of Buddha in various postures among the stalactites and rock formations.
A smaller but equally impressive cave temple is the Sam Poh Tong, also located in Gunung Rapat.
According to legend, the cave was discovered in 1890 by a monk from China who was passing through Ipoh; he decided to make it his home and a place for meditation. The monk remained there for 20 years until his death. Till today, nuns and monks still occupy the Sam Poh Tong.
And, if you are up to it, you can climb the 240-odd steps which lead to an open cave with an excellent view of Ipoh and its surroundings. Other attractions at the temple include a lovely Japanese pond full of Japanese carps and tortoises (symbols of longevity) located outside the cave, and a vegetarian restaurant.
And then you have the Perak Tong cave temple along Kuala Kangsar road, another interesting temple with a view.
Towards the north of Ipoh, beside Gunung Cheroh along Jalan Raja Musa Aziz, is the Kallumalai Arul Migu Subramaniam Koil, a Hindu temple nestled in the limestone hills. It is the main venue for Hindu religious and cultural events for residents in and around Ipoh.
To complete your Malaysian cultural experience, head on to the Masjid Ubudiah in Kuala Kangsar, said to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the country. You have probably seen pictures of the mosque on magazine covers and postcards, with its white walls and magnificent golden domes and minarets.
Located at Bukit Chandan recreational park, the mosque was built during the reign of Sultan Idris Mursyidul Azam Shah I (Perak’s 28th ruler) and officially opened in 1917, after a slight hitch in its construction – two elephants belonging to the sultan ran over some imported Italian marble tiles, and the outbreak of World War I caused a delay in replacing the marble.
A castle in our midst? Located at the Kinta Kellas Rubber Estate on the way to Batu Gajah town and 14km south of Ipoh, lies Kellie’s Castle, home of Scottish planter William Kellie Smith in 19th century Perak. Living far away home, he built a residence reminiscent of his abode back in Scotland.
And so, on a hilltop at his rubber estate, Smith built his castle. And, as he got on well with the workers from South India, he built a Hindu shrine for them on the castle premises. So appreciative were his workers of this gesture that they erected a statue of Smith there as well!
Work on the castle commenced in 1915 but came to an abrupt halt after Smith’s sudden death in 1926.
The ruins of the orange-coloured castle now stand in isolation although in recent years, the Perak Government has made efforts to restore it and clear up the foliage that has encroached on the structure.
Be forewarned though, the castle is believed to be haunted and has hidden rooms and secret underground tunnels.
Maxwell Hill /Bukit Larut
About 3km from Taiping town is Maxwell Hill or Bukit Larut, where the air is fresh and the view breathtaking. The trek uphill is arduous – not only is it steep but the road twists and turns through dense tropical jungle.
All the huffing and puffing, however, is worth it as the view from the summit is spectacular – on a clear day you can see Pangkor Island and, some claim, even Penang! There is a recreation park at the top, and bungalows and a rest house where you can stay the night.
For more information, call the superintendent of Bukit Larut at 05- 827 241/3.
A Malaysian schoolchild would have learnt about H. N. Ridley and the rubber seeds he brought here with him. But, did you know you can see one of the nine original rubber trees that were first planted in the country?
Located near the district office in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar is the last standing rubber tree from the original bitch.
The tree was planted, with the seeds that were brought from Kew Gardens in London, way back in 1877. A memorial plaque at the base of this solitary tree reminds people of the importance of the rubber tree to the history and economic development of the country.
Pulau Pangkor is one of Perak’s top holiday destinations. Don’t worry about the cost of staying in a resort or hotel as the island has plenty of budget and moderately-priced accommodations, like the cheap but clean and comfortable chalets.
Activities include scuba diving, windsurfing, fishing, snorkelling, jet-skiing, volleyball and beach football.
Apart from soaking up the sun and sea, you also get to see the 330-year-old stone foundation of a Dutch fort. It is located near the Teluk Gedung village and has an interesting and chequered history. In 1973, the National Museum undertook restoration work on this heritage site.