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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.