Saturday 18th November 2017
It was an enjoyable drive back down from the highlands, with stunning scenery, until we joined the main highway, but then it wasn’t long until we arrived at Ipoh and checked into our hotel. We were based in the New Town, which is where the majority of hotels are, but we were soon walking across the bridge into the Old Town in search of the Tourist Information centre where we hoped to pick up some maps of walking trails around the city.
Walking across the bridge into Ipoh Old Town. Chinese shophouses along the main road.
Ipoh is in the state of Perak and is Malaysia’s third largest city, having grown from the profits of the Kinta valley’s rich tin mines, which were developed by immigrant Chinese workers in the late 19th Century. The city is divided into two halves by the Kinta River, with the New Town on the right bank and the Old Town, with its Chinese shophouses and grand colonial buildings on the left bank. The Old Town was where we wanted to explore, and we very soon found the Birch Memorial Clock Tower, erected in memory of Perak’s first British Resident, James Birch.
Perak was the first state in the then Malaya to have a Resident, the system having been introduced in 1874. Four states had sought the protection of the British Government when there was civil unrest, and one of the Resident’s duties was to restore law and order to his state. Their role was an advisory one, but the Sultan, the head of state, was obliged to take the Resident’s advice. There was little or no support from Britain, and the success or failure of the Resident rested entirely on their relationship with the Sultan and his Malay Chiefs. Sadly, James Birch did not fare at all well, and was murdered by angry Malay Chiefs in 1875. The memorial to Birch was erected in 1909. Interestingly, the road on which it stands has since been renamed after one of his killers.
The Birch Memorial Clock Tower
Each side of the tower has a different frieze, meant to depict the growth of civilisation.
Figures such as Buddha, Moses, Shakespeare and Charles Darwin are depicted. A figure depicting Mohammed has since been erased.
Ipoh’s train station was built in 1914 and is a blend of Moorish and Victorian architecture in the ‘Raj’ style.
The domed train station at Ipoh.
Opposite the station is another grand colonial building, the Town Hall, built in 1916.
Ipoh’s imposing Town Hall.
We enjoyed following the street art trail and finding paintings on walls, almost, it seemed, around every corner. Many of the paintings were done by the same artist, Ernest Zacharevic, as those on walls in Penang.
We did a lot of walking in Ipoh, which was just as well as we needed to walk off the several cream teas consumed in the Cameron Highlands. In Market Lane, once known as ‘Second concubine Lane’, we tried the famous Ipoh ice ball. A large ball of ice is placed on sticks and then you get to choose which flavour sauces to have squirted on.
Market Lane. Adding sauces to an ice ball.
A ready-to-eat Ipoh ice ball. Quite a mouthful!
We set off one morning to visit the Han Chin Pet Soo Museum, in the Hakka Miner’s Club, but somehow ended up visiting the one next door – the Ho Yan Hor Museum. Here we learnt of Dr Ho Kai Cheong who created the famous (?) household brand of Chinese Herbal Tea in the 1940’s. After blending his herbal tea, he set up a stall outside the shophouse that houses the museum, selling cups of tea, and over the next twenty years this grew into a big business, to the point where he could no longer run it from the shophouse, but moved to a modern factory he had built nearby. An interesting ‘rags to riches’ story, we enjoyed looking around the museum until it was time to visit the Ha Chin Pet Soo Museum next door.
This was by far the more interesting of the two, giving an insight into the history of the town as well as the people who worked in the tin mines and built its wealth. The rather grand building with its curved bay window upstairs is the restored Hakka Miners’ Club, the Hakka people being the Chinese immigrants who worked in the tin mines. Only Hakka miners were allowed inside the club, and the elegant façade of the building hid shadowy goings-on such as gambling, prostitution, opium smoking and triad activities.
The museum we meant to visit… and the one we didn’t!
In the evenings we walked back over the bridge to find somewhere to eat. The restaurants all spilled out onto the streets and the place was buzzing. We tried the dish that Ipoh is famous for – ayam tauge – chicken and beansprouts, and found it ok but nothing special, and enjoyed strolling round the food shops, amazed by the number of sweet treats on display. We bought some to try back at the hotel. They were loaded with sugar and quite pleasant, but not really worth the calories!
Bright lights and busy restaurants.
After a busy couple of days it was time to pack the car and head back to the boat, making one last stop at a cave temple on the way.