During my last trip to Penang, I also visited Ipoh. This sleepy small town is the state capital of Perak and used to be the tin mining capital of Malaysia. It’s glory days of tin mining are long over and although it’s frequently missed out by visitors to Malaysia, it’s starting to get more popular these days, as people are attracted by it’s low cost of living and good food.
One of the features of Ipoh is it’s many limestone hills which rise majestically out of the ground. Through millennia of erosion by rainwater, caves have formed in some of these limestone hills, and Buddhist temples have been built into some of these caves as places of meditation and retreat. The last time I visited these cave temples was more than 20 years ago, and I felt that it was time to see them again.
The oldest and most well known cave temple is Sam Poh Tong (三宝洞). Translated into English, the name means 3 Treasures Cave. It may have been famous once but it seems that it has seen better days. The place is now quite run down and we even had trouble finding it because there was no name on the front entrance.
I left the place feeling that it had been neglected through the years. What could have caused it, I wondered. Somehow the neglect seems to have given the place a sort of secluded charm about it, like a beauty that has faded and now isolated.
On the road out from Sam Poh Tong, we passed by several other cave temples. These looked more lively and well maintained compared to Sam Poh Tong. Our curiosity piqued, we decided to stop at the most crowded and well decorated temple, which is also the first temple by the road when we drove in.
The sign on the entrance says that this is Lin Sen Tong, and it certainly looked very lively with many worshippers and visitors. It has many colourful statues of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac and numerous other deities. I guess these festive looking decorations served to attract more visitors. It definitely was a happy place compared to the sad looking Sam Poh Tong.
After visiting these 2 cave temples, I can’t help but wonder how their circumstances are similar to businesses. You could be successful once, but not upgrading your business will lead to others overtaking you in future.
It’s quite easy to get to Ipoh – by driving or plane. Driving from Singapore takes maybe 5-6 hours, and from Penang it takes around 2 hours. There are also direct flights from Singapore to Ipoh on Firefly and Tiger Airways.