Ipoh is a modern city, with a huge historic significance behind every corner of the town. A city of many firsts, Ipoh retains its pre-war colonial times with a large influence in Anglo-Chinese Architecture. Several buildings, including the State Hall and the Railway Station continue to retain colonial architecture.
Despite being a small city, Ipoh continues to live up the culture since the old days. For example, the majority of buildings in Ipoh continue to retain its original architecture. It's rich history bridges cultures to create a mix of a foodies paradise and a Cultural's Hot-spot. Here are some of the highlights of my journey in Ipoh!
1. Ipoh Railway Station
Ipoh Railway Station is dressed in colonial architecture from that era and had served both passenger and freight trains since its inception in 1917. Its distinctive columns and straight cuts brings its rich history into the modern year. The station features a hall that held both arrival and departure halls, together with various food & beverage shops. Based on a queue ticket system, it is a 10-15 minute wait for the purchase of your tickets. Outside, Taxi drivers tout their services for tourists and passengers whom just arrived.
2. Bukit Kledang
At 800 meters in high, Bukit Kledang stands at one of the tallest hills in the town of Ipoh. Gradual to steep slopes line the tarmac road that leads to the top - a tel-communications station. Personally, this had to be the toughest uphill climb ever! With sharp gradients of at least 60 degrees, it was tiresome to hike to the top.
3. Birch Clock Tower
Officially unveiled in 1909, the Birch Tower had been running ever since for the last 108 years! (That's what I heard). A cultural and architecture landmark, the Birch tower was a great sight in the quiet part of town.
4. Town Centre
I chanced upon concubine lane and market street by chance while exploring the town centre after lunch. In fact, I was fortunate to come by when it wasn't too crowded with tourists! Concubine Lane features a variety of tourist shops, cafes and boutique hotels, while Market Street was largely empty despite having a huge history in the days before. Well, I stopped by a local dessert shop that sold Tau Fu Fa (Tau Hui) with a different take on sweetness. The dessert was served with brown sugar and sesame seeds despite the usual take of sweet syrup served in Singapore. Light, succulent bean-curd paired well with the crunchy brown sugar and sesame seeds. It was certainly a great dessert after lunch!
5. Gunung Lang
Gunung Lang is a recreational park up north in Ipoh. Famous for its man-made waterfall and tranquil man-made lake, Gunung Lang operates daily with RM3 Boat rides to and fro its park. Onsite, ample parking is available while food and beverages are readily available. Honestly, the lake was awesome. However, as I got close to the recreational park, I realize the stark emptiness of the place, where birds and animals are locked up in unsightly conditions.
The food, culture and sights. The town of Tanah Rata has a hive of activity to fit most travelers. From pubs to eateries, to foods of different cuisine, Tanah Rata is a travellers paradise and a pitstop for all things familiar. As a budget friendly traveller, here are some of my favorite spots for awesome foods (not listed in order)
1. Fruity Delights
With its warm customer service and great deals, Fruity Delights is a great place to spend the evening away. Try its great value cake sets. Choose any cake and match it with Cameron Tea from the Bharat Tea Plantations for just 10.90RM. I'd recommend the moist cake and the Mango Strawberry Cheese Cake for some sweet indulgence.
2. Roti Kosong
Much like the Roti Prata one will find almost everywhere in Singapore, this store serves you something equally delicious like before. Opened only in the morning, the store serves a variety of simple Roti with just plain (Kosong), with egg and with margarine (Planta). Roti Kosong (1.20rm/piece) was enough to fill my tummy. Coupled with a lightly spicy and sweeten curry with visible potatoes and carrots, Roti Kosong will fill you in for breakfast! A perfect combination would be 2 Roti Kosong with 1 Teh Tarik, total amounting to 4RM
Parked right at the edge of the shop houses of Tanah Rata, Marybrown operates daily and has both indoor and outdoor seating. I had my first meal there. At just 11RM, I ordered the Lucky Meal which came with a drink, some chicken, mashed potatoes, a bun and some refreshing coleslaw. It was great, for a start, but the chicken can get really oily too.
4. Satay by the Road
Lightly sweeten bits of lean meat on a stick is what this satay join has. Located diagonally opposite Maybank, this satay join serves a variety of meats, from chicken (Ayam) to mutton (Kambing) for just 1RM each! Open from 2pm till late, be sure to order your before the dinner crowd comes along. Don't be surprised if you have to wait up to 20 minutes during dinner time.
5. Orchid Food Corner
Largely attracting a local vibe, Orchid Food Court is located right beside the Sunday Market (Pasar Malam) and directly opposite the bus parking area. I got myself a plate of Nasi Goreng Cina (5RM) and a cup of good ol' Teh Tarik . Nasi Goreng Cina is a form of Fried Rice with bits of Chicken, Prawns and a slight bit of chilli. Served piping hot and tasty with every bite, this dish is one meal for any part of the day.
6. Lord's Cafe
The Lord's Cafe serves up delicious homemade cakes and scones. From 2.80Rm, enjoy a piece of Freshly baked homemade Scone with Cream, jam and butter. The Lord's Cafe also serves up BOH Teas at just 3rm per cup. Try its Strawberry Scone (3rm). Buttery, flaky texture served with cream will help smoothe the aches of the afternoon away.
7. Jungle Bar
Hidden from the side road, spot the Jungle Bar from jungle music seeping out from a zinc plate building. The plus of it, is its cheap beers from just 7RM. Open from 7pm daily, enter from Kang's Traveller Lodge and turn right. Serene and coupled with hippie jungle country music, it is one of the perfect ways to spend the evening away in Tanah Rata
One of the most memorable foodie experiences I had was savoring Nasi Goreng Biasa & Cina. Both affordable and easily found in Tanah Rata, both dishes are easily done with a cup of Teh Tarik! It's a wonder that hot drinks seemingly turn cold after a short while!
On the downside, a solo traveller will somewhat not enjoy the perks of being in a group, especially while eating foods. For example, a set for Steamboat will cater to a minimum of 2 people.
Boarding the bus to Cameron Highlands, I could feel the increasing excitement. A couple of hours later, the bus was going up and around the mountains, heading straight for Tanah Rata. I had booked accommodation at Tanah Rata, just a few weeks back at the CH Travellers Inn. I had not known I would be spending a long time here! As I am typing this, I am slowly getting bored and relaxed in this very town. Awaiting a parcel from Singapore, I can't help but anxiously ponder when would it arrive. Well then, here are some of the highlights!
1. BOH Tea Plantations
The Plantation is located about a 28 minute drive from Tanah Rata. To get there, I took a one way taxi ride (30RM) and got there just as other tourists do. The place was packed with tour groups and locals alike. Overlooking the valley, the Plantation occupied a vast area of the valley, creating a mirage of green, puffy clouds. Despite the sweltering afternoon sun, the air was cool and it remained windy at some times. After the factory tour, I visited the shop and got myself a can of BOH Tea Leaves. Soon after, I headed off to the Cafe and ordered a strawberry cheese cake and a pot of the classic BOH Tea.
To exit the Plantations, I walked out towards the main road. Along the way, I saw a few photographers and saw that it was a really good opportunity to snap some postcard-friendly images!
2. Time Tunnel
The facility was located along the main road, and costs 6RM to enter. Despite the unconvincing exteriors of the time tunnel, it was interesting to view many artifacts from the past. With toys, posters and furniture going back to the beginnings of Cameron Highlands, it was nostalgic to get close and up with them. They even have a picture of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yeo and our current Prime Minister in their younger days! An awesome place to visit.
3. Big Red Strawberry Farm
Located in Brinchang, the farm is situated within a community of other farms that produce flowers, catus and organic vegetables. As with other tourist destinations, the place was packed with tourists and locals alike. The main highlight was the picking of strawberries. However, I hadn't picked them as it was costly! A mere 25RM for half a kilogram was an outrageous price to digest. In the end, I didn't picked any strawberries, but snapped some really beautiful flowers from their garden.
4. Gunung Jasar (1,696m)
On the way to the start of the trail, I met up with another solo traveller from the Netherlands. Sieb was his name, and he has just came back from Taman Negara. We chatted along the way and we got to know each other better. The view up was amazing. What start from a gentle climb led to a steep climb. Soon, we reached a clearing that had some workers getting on with some improvement works at the power tower. From there, the path to the summit was slightly man-made and soon we reached it! At the summit, a stone demarketed the border between 2 states - Pahang and Perak.
5. Gunung Berembung (1,840m) + Parsit Waterfalls
I started the hike solo, through trail number 7. Behind me, was a German couple who strayed away when we got near the start of the trail. The journey up was indeed a journey of self doubt, getting adventurous and the constant question of 'Am I walking in the right direction?'. After heading up a hill, thick vegetation was present despite the clear path on the ground. Making markings along the way, I steadily headed up, through tiresome steep climbs and slippery moss covered roots, I made it to the top. The sense of euphoria overcame my tired soul as I see the summit signs. The view wasn't fantastic, but the hike was amazing. Reflecting back, had I not trust my instincts and stopped Midway, I wouldn't had such a wonderful experience.
From the top, I headed on to trail number 3 towards the Parsit Waterfalls. It was a treacherous and slippery journey. With wet mud, sand and gravel, it was easy to slip and fall. Nonetheless, I made it to the waterfalls, alive. Along the way, I met up with a few groups of people. One of the most noticeable was a huge, noisy group of locals that somehow got lost in the middle of trail 3. Under-prepared was seperated, the group looked like they are having a hard time of getting back. I hope they're back safe and sound! Another party was a pair of travellers with a dark toned dog that had a blue leash. It was said that the dog followed the travellers into the forest, accompaning them all the way.
Back to the waterfalls, it was disappointing to not see a waterfall. I was expecting something more beautiful than simply rapids over rocks. What more, upon walking downstream, the natural River was Channelled to a canal which was littered with trash. Despite the disappointing ending, I finished the trek with trail 4, leading me straight back to the town of Tanah Rata.
6. Bharat Tea Plantation
As the most easily accessible Plantation, the Bharat Tea Plantations is home to the brand of the Cameron Tea. Packed and stuffed with locals and tourists alike, the vast greatness of the tea Plantation create a beautiful mirage of heavenly green fields. I ordered a Strawberry Scone and a cup of hot tea from their Cafe and sat there for quite awhile... Ha. Getting there was the easy part, a taxi costing 20RM for one way. Getting back, I hitch-hiked back on a motorbike. The guy happened to be from Germany doing a solo traveling in Malaysia. Thanks for the ride!
Morning begun early. I had breakfast at the rain-forest bakery Cafe with their cinnamon roll and a cup of black coffee. Before long, I boarded the rapid transit bus 101 to the National Parks. The ride lasted a total of 1.5hrs, where it traveled through several towns, rolling hills and curvy bends, before finally reaching its destination, the National Parks (Taman Negara). Akin to tourist sites, boat drivers were seen luring westerners to catch a ride with them. Knowing it could be a tourist trap, I headed to the parks office and registered myself.
After applying repellent and preparing my gear, I set off for the Kerachut beach (Turtle Beach). The short hike, a total of 6.8km (to/fro) led me through gentle hill slopes, streams and man-dug hills. On the way, I passed by several huts until I reached the edge of the meromictic lake. It refers to the clashing of sea water and fresh water, as sea water has a higher density, sea water sinks while the low density fresh water floats on the surface. The process also forms a natural dam formed between the entrance of the lake and the sea. I believe the beach was made partly due to the mentioned process.
Well, the beach was beautiful. It somewhat looked like a mix between Jurassic Park and the beach areas of Dead Island (the game). I got on with by lunch, before snapping a few photos.
Next, I headed back for Escape Adventure Land. The walk in was unnecessary, but largely due to the bus. Oh well... Once at the Park, the ticket entrance costs 87RM with a 20RM refundable credit. Locker rental costs 10RM for the whole day. The park itself was large! With high elements and obstacle courses, it was time to test my fear of heights. I started with some rock climbing with a few test drops. Next up, I headed to the main obstacle course that led me to several courses in varying difficulty. The hardest, surprisingly was the single rope bridges. With unsupported rope dangling from the line, it was super duper scary to simply cross it! Sometimes I wished I could just go down. However, there wasn't a way down. I just gotta do what I had to do - keep moving forward. The easiest had to be the tight rope. Despite the lack of foothold, it was fun to slither across it! The most exciting part was the flying fox. Except for the fact that one has to become spiderman to fly properly. Whew, by the time I finished, my hands were jittery and sore.
Last attraction, I headed to the slide. As I went down the slope with an inflated tube, I somehow turn 180° around spurn in a multitude to directions, hoping I won't flip and die in a horrible death 😝
Finally, I took the bus back to my hostel and got a much needed wash. I headed out to Prajani Mall to eat.. Macdonalds (of all things). For a Spicy Chicken Burger Meal (11RM), it wasn't quite comparable with Singapore's only. Well, it's cheap, what to do?
Soon I got onto my shopping mode, where I purchased a few goods, for the trip to Taman Negara. The day ended with a relaxing massage at a nearby shop (68RM), followed by supper at a Nasi Kambar Store. Awesome.
Penang, exciting at every corner. To start the day, I headed up Penang Hill (RM15) via a Tram ride that takes just 5 minutes. At 710m above sea level, Penang Hill stands tall as the highest hill in Penang Island. Cool breeze was aplenty as I walked to a viewpoint. Beautiful indeed.
Within the summit, a variety of food options were available. For instance, a food court sold general food fare at an inflated rate. An Owl Museum is located beside the food court and yes, I wasted my money there. Despite my special price, the Owl Museum felt more like an art gallery with collections of owls from all over the world. Nonetheless, the nearby dessert area made going up a little more meaningful. The view was great, yet it was time to head down. Before boarding, I sent a few post cards back home, legend says how long it'll take remains a mystery.
Next stop, the Pagoda. On the way there, I chanced upon a little coffee shop and stopped for lunch. A bowl of chicken Kuah Teow Soup and a cup of super 'gao' milo ais help smoothe the hungry belly. After 15 minutes of walking and sweatering afternoon sun, I finally reached the Pagoda's compound.
Magnificent as it looks, the temple enclosing the Pagoda was surrounded in nature, intricate Buddhism status and chines culture. Entrance was free, yet the sun was super free too (pun intended, it was really, very hot). I'll let the pictures do the talking below.
I took the local bus 204 that'll take me to the Jetty, where the bus terminal is situated. A kind auntie offered to pay my fare of RM2 when I did not had small change. Thank you auntie. Enroute, a barrage of old colonial buildings and architecture bring out the rich history that Penang has to offer. Just like Singapore, Penang was held by the British East India Company and was transformed into a seaport of Malaya. Henceforth, the British took their culture and belongings into Penang, bringing 2 different cultures together, and creating what we see today, and Anglo-Chinese kind of Town.
I then headed to the Clan Jetties, the Made in Penang Interactive Museum (Another Museum with money wasted) and lastly, the Penang Time Tunnel - finally a proper museum! The Penang Time Tunnel (RM16) had an extensive museum with life sized figurines and artifacts that relate the history of Penang. Upstairs, UV displays made photo taking great - for groups, not people like me 😛
And finally, a day is not a day without a proper massage. Soon after, I headed back to the hostel for a quick refuel and shower, before dinner-time. Back at the Chulia Street Market, I had a plate of Char Kuah Teow (RM5) and a bowl of Assam Laksa (RM4) . Damn! It was great! The Assam Laksa had a sour and sweet taste to it, largely different from what I normally have in Singapore. It was served with Kuah Teow, Herb Veggies and some Fresh Chilli - Spicy.
For dessert, I headed opposite for a piece of Apom. Turns out, it was a mildly sweet crepe that tasted just like Love Letters. After grabbing some supplies at a nearby 7-11, I headed to the Bakery Cafe, where I got myself a Jack Fruit & Gula Melaka Yogurt (RM12) and a piece of Cream Puff (RM2.50) - Naise ✌🏼And that's where I am now, typing this post (:
I'll probably head back to catch some rest before I head out early tomorrow to the Penang Nature Reserve for a much needed eco adventure. Till then...
Touching down at the airport in Penang, I felt a sense of relieve. Away from the troubles of life and the fast paced city I live in, I found peace in Penang. A city with rich heritage and a diverse range of culture makes the thought of exploring it seem exciting. While on my Uber to the hostel, I chatted with my driver on Malaysia, where we compared Singapore to Malaysia and the little things I should look out for during my stay here.
My hostel, Thirty Three Stewards Hostel, is a shop house based within Stewards Lane, a 5 minute walk to the busy streets of Chulia Road. After a quick check in, I headed out in search of dinner. Walking out of Chulia Lane, I chance upon buzzing push carts selling Wanton Mee, Soup Noodles and many more penang cuisine. I had my first meal at the Wanton Mee. It was delicious! Perfectly cooked noodles mixed with perfectly seasoned gravy. Heavenly.
Next up, I walked ahead to find a snack of Popiah. It was... ok only lah.. So so lor. I quickly went off and explored the areas around my hostel. I chanced upon a bar offering live music. Great! Beer and music, way to go!
At last, I walked ahead to find a massage place. In need of some relaxation, I headed in for a serious hour of massage. But that's not just that. The masseurs was a guy and it felt totally awkward. Nonetheless, it was a great one. Shiok!
It was getting late, and I head on to great some chicken soup noodles to finish off the night.
Backpacking over several towns and cities, the route passes through the Penang, Ipoh, Cameron Highlands and Kuala Lumpur.