THE people of Perak have every reason to be proud of their state capital which was recently ranked sixth best destination in Asia and ahead of all cities in South-East Asia by Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide book publisher.
Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir attributed the success to reviving some of the city’s old buildings, including converting shophouses into quaint cafes, and turning Ipoh into a “Hipster Town”.
Mayor Datuk Zamri Man disclosed that local investors believed Ipoh is one of the best places to visit in Asia and went for a fast-paced restoration of period houses, century-old and historic buildings.
Visitors to Ipoh can now experience contemporary street art, traditional coffee shops, art cafes and colonial masterpieces in the space of a single street, or enjoy bird-watching while cycling in the Kinta Nature Park, white-water rafting near Gopeng, and trekking to cliff-top temples and the fragrant Gaharu Tea Valley.
In contrast, the extravagant River of Life project in Kuala Lumpur is making the oldest parts of the city soulless, devoid of traditional businesses, long-time residents and activity after dark.
The recent destruction of Lunar Peaks, one of Kuala Lumpur’s most prominent public sculptures created by National Laureate Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, was an indication of how the local authority dealt with old structures in the city.
Ipoh used to boast a large number of millionaires thanks to tin mining but with the collapse of the industry in the 1970s, many local residents moved to other cities and states in search of greener pasture.
Many young men and women were laughed at when they said they were from Ipoh, hence the term “Ipoh mari”. But now, people from Ipoh can beam with pride and tourists are flocking to their city to savour its food, fruits and white coffee.
The most picturesque sight along the North-South Expressway must surely be the jungle-covered limestone hills before reaching Ipoh and my idea of paradise is to stay in a chalet built with a strategic view of this pristine area.
Our gravest mistake over the years was in not maintaining our old shophouses and buildings. We allowed them to deteriorate or be torn down in the name of development. If we had conserved them, our cities and towns would be living museums now and many would dominate the top 100 list of any global ranking in tourism.
The other colossal and irrecoverable loss was cutting down large swathes of our virgin jungles for logging and plantations.
As such, Ipoh should exploit its tourism potential by adopting the maxim “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
Early this year, Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron launched a smartphone application known as Destinasi Melaka developed by Telekom Malaysia and the Malacca Tourism Promotion Division.
If Ipoh has not done so by now, this should be a top priority as information available from an app is organised in the most useful manner and accessible by anyone around the world. Tourists attracted to Ipoh via the app would continue to use it upon arrival to make more bookings or for navigation, without having to unfold paper maps or keep asking for directions.
Perak tourism should not waste money printing pamphlets as most would be left untouched or thrown away. Instead, it should promote the hipster subculture, which is cool and contemporary.
Well done, Ipoh!