So I found myself back in Ipoh again this spring for a family visit. This time I decided to visit the old town area which has been experiencing a rejuvenation of sorts over the past few years.

Ipoh used to be the center of tin mining in Malaysia in the early part of the 20th century. But ever since the tin mines have run dry, this capital of Perak state has been relegated to a small town as most of it’s younger population moved out to booming population centers like Kuala Lumpur and Penang which offered better paying jobs. However, since 2013 Ipoh has been experiencing a revival as it tries to remake itself into a more attractive destination instead of being a pit stop, or at worse a passing mention for travelers going up north.

It’s still a sleepy little town compared to Georgetown in Penang island, or the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, and that’s where it’s charm comes from. You won’t feel crowded out by tons of tourists as you explore the rather quiet streets of the old town. Ipoh itself is divided into 2 parts by the Kinta River. The Old Town is north of the river and is essentially the Chinatown with pre-war shophouses. The New Town is south of the river and consists of more recent office blocks, hotels and shopping malls.

 

Street Art Murals

After seeing Georgetown revitalize itself with street art from Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, in 2014, the Ipoh City Council and OldTown White Coffee decided to collaborate and invite Ernest to paint a series of murals on the walls of the shophouses in the Old Town.

You have to look for the street art murals amongst the old shophouses. Some of them are also interactive like this one where you can sit by the barrel and have a beer with the 3 guys.
How about sitting at the table for a meal?
A depiction of the rag and bone man who is the backbone of recycling and waste disposal in most towns in Asia.
A huge mural depicting the tin mining past of Ipoh.
Various shops and cafes have also taken up with the street art craze by commissioning some wall art of their own. Like this mural which covers a wall inside of Burps & Giggles.

From what I can see, the tropical weather has taken it’s toll on the exterior street murals over just a few short years. A lot of them are in stages of decay and disrepair. It somehow adds to the nostalgia of the Old Town, but it would be a waste to let them degrade to the point where they become an eyesore.

 

Tin Mining Museum

I passed by this small museum, Han Chin Pet Soo. It’s dedicated to the Hakka tin mining community. Unfortunately, it does not accept walk-in visitors and you have to reserve a guided tour via http://www.ipohworld.org.

 

Concubine Lanes

These small lanes have probably become the main attraction of the Old Town revival. It’s packed on weekends as both locals and tourists come here to look through the street art murals and shop at whacky shops that have sprung up here. As to why they are called Concubine lanes? History has it that in the early 20th century during the tin mining boom, wealthy tin traders and British officers met their lovers here, away from the eyes of their wives. Many of the ladies stayed in rented apartments along the lane hence giving rise to the name.

Second Concubine Lane is filled with shops and small restaurants selling local food and wares. If you want to shop, this is the place for you.
Third Concubine Lane is usually quiet as it does not have many shops, but you can find several of the street art murals here.

 

Sekeping Kong Heng

This is probably one of the more well known eating places in Ipoh since it’s beginning. The ramshackled building that houses this famous coffee shop looks like it could collapse any moment. However, don’t let that daunt you as it has gone through a rejuvenation.

The famous Kong Heng eating house which has stood here for many years. It still operates as a traditional Malaysian small town restaurant – dim, dirty, crowded and stuffy but serving delicious food. Behind the old building, however, it’s quite a different story all together.
The side view of Kong Heng hidden behind an overgrown mess of banyan trees.
Hidden in the mess of banyan trees is a modern restaurant called Plan B.
You’ll also find a weekend flea market here.
The local barber shop has also gone upscale with air-conditioning.
The back portion of Kong Heng has been demolished, but retaining the old walls and tree roots. A new boutique hotel is built right on top of it.

I was not able to access the hotel as only guests are allowed in. However, if you want to stay here, read this review first. This hotel isn’t for everyone.

 

My Thoughts

The Old Town is still going through the revival process. I could see conservation shophouses still in the process of been renovated to become boutique hotels. Shops containing old trades still operate along the lanes while tourists gawk. To me, it seems that the revival has slowed down, as the street art murals are falling into disrepair without anyone maintaining it. Most of the touristic activities are concentrated around the Concubine lanes and Kong Heng only and not evenly spread out. Maybe there is a pause as the stakeholders have to sit back and decide how to proceed forward. Hopefully, they will continue to revitalize Ipoh whilst retaining it’s small town charm.

Old trades still continue to operate as delivery men drop off goods.
Same façade but different owners, resulting in a totally oddball look.

If you are wondering what else is there to do in Ipoh, you can click on my other blog posts – Visit a haunted castle, or visit cave temples.

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2 thoughts on “Old Town Revival

  1. There is something about street art that can give insight into a culture unlike anything else. There is always food (an excellent way to understand a culture), the local spirits ~ and then art. Great post, Edwin.

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