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Off The Beaten Track in Ipoh
Check out these three unique and historically rich places that haven’t gone mainstream… yet.
If you haven’t already heard, Ipoh is hip and getting hipper. As more and more people discover what makes the Silver City Lonely Planet’s sixth most exciting destination in Asia, we’re seeing a growing influx of visitors who go to Ipoh to eat kai si hor fun, drink white coffee and selfie their way through Sekeping Kong Heng. But of course, there’s much more to Ipoh than just that. Here are a few well-kept secrets that might surprise even locals.
Kallumalai Arulmigu Sri Subramaniar Temple @ Gunung Cheroh
From cave temple Sam Poh Tong to Chinese mosque Masjid Muhammadiyah, Ipoh’s bounty of religious monuments means some truly spectacular ones miss the tourist radar, such as Kallumalai Arulmigu Sri Subramaniar temple. Over a century old, the temple has four shrines and was erected as tribute to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of love, war and wisdom.
Popular with locals for weddings and religious festivals, the temple is special for several reasons, the most obvious being its unusual location: this is the only Hindu temple in Ipoh that is simultaneously located at the foothills of a limestone outcrop and nestled next to the banks of Kinta River, one of Ipoh’s most significant rivers.
Then there’s the arresting architecture. The grand rajagopuram (entryway), a 21.3m tower covered with 528 handcrafted deity sculptures, leads you into a prayer hall that gleams with brilliant colours; ornately-carved pillars and vivid frescoes depict significant scenes and figures from Lord Murugan’s life. At the back of the prayer hall, you will find a sanctuary of peacocks, said to be Lord Murugan’s mythological escorts.
While most Ipohites know Gunung Cheroh as the site of a famous rockfall that killed 42 squatters, old-timers will tell you that during Ipoh’s mining heydays in the 19th century, the area was the final navigation point for river travel between mining towns in the Kinta Valley. Food and supplies were loaded at Teluk Intan (then Teluk Anson) and sent upriver. Since the river beyond Gunung Cheroh was too rocky for boats to pass, the journey would stop here, before the supplies were transported by elephant or bullock cart. You could say Gunung Cheroh was the unsung catalyst for Ipoh’s transformation from a sleepy village into a thriving township.
If you’re not intimidated by the pack of wild dogs that roam the area, explore the temple’s vicinity. Gunung Cheroh houses a cluster of lesser-known but interesting religious sites that are built into the cave itself: Chinese temples Guan Yin Dan Ba Xian Tong (Goddess of Mercy and Eight Immortals Cave) and Nam Tou Ngam, and a small Murugan shrine.
Ladies street @ Ipoh Garden South
Most Ipohites know Ipoh Garden South, a gentrified neighbourhood off the highway, as “ladies street” for the high concentration of boutiques and beauty salons within its compact rectangular grid. With nearly 40 fashion outlets squeezed into three pedestrian-friendly streets – think Bangsar before it got glammed up - newbies might want to start with #Hashtag, an ambitious multi-label concept store that culls the best from online stores and independent brands.
What makes shopping here so fun, compared to a generic mall with mainstream brands, is the sheer eclecticism of options. From traditional cheongsam to hand-picked Parisienne pieces, to punk kitsch, there’s something for everyone, from tai-tai to lala mui. And if you need to refuel, there are plenty of kopitiams and cafes to pick from, many of which are beloved institutions. Try: New Weng Fatt Cafe (1, Lebuh Taman Ipoh, Taman Ipoh Selatan) for homespun Western food and potato paratha (evening session), Kedai Mi Cong Yin (39, Lebuh Raya Taman Ipoh, Ipoh Garden South, Business Hours : 7.30am until 2.30pm) for pork noodles (breakfast-lunch) and Coffee Tag (great latte).
The greatest thing about Ipoh isn’t the food, but the neighbourhoods teeming with rich stories. Ipoh Garden South has gone through numerous incarnations: 40 years ago, this commercial precinct was a hilly jungle before it was leveled for development in the 1970s, after which it spent the next decade or so as Ipoh’s primary pub hub. Ipoh’s first air-conditioned pub is said to have opened here. Some signboards remain as faded testaments to their heydays. Scotch Restaurant and Pub, now more famous for their food (try the chicken gizzards and fried meehoon) than brew, is one of the few original institutions standing.
Kledang Hill @ Menglembu
On the western border of Ipoh, you’ll find Kledang Hill, part of the Kledang range that stretches from just north of Ipoh to the south. Rich in flora and fauna, to many outdoors-loving Ipohites, it is their favourite playground to exercise and bond while getting some fresh mountain air. As early as dawn, you can see many people locals engaged in a variety of outdoor activities such as biking, walking, running and jungle trekking.
There are two ways to ascend. One is via a paved tarmac road, and the other, a steep climb through four main hiking trails, namely the 4-2 (an hour), 4-3 (1 ½ hour), 4-9 (2 hours) and RTM (4 hours); the numbers refer to a milestone (e.g. 4-9 denotes 4.9 miles, 4-2 means 4.2 miles, etc). The locals fondly refer to the longest trail as RTM as it ends at the broadcasting tower at the peak.
At just 800m tall, Kledang Hill ain’t no Everest, but don’t expect a walk in the park. Beginning at the bottom, the road cuts into the hillside in a zigzag manner and sharp, steep corners are common, taunting you to turn around all the way, but the payoff is sweet. From anywhere along the road, you can see the city of Ipoh spread out below among mining pools, limestone hills and the rivers winding like snakes across the flat Kinta Valley.
On the way up, there are at least two waterfalls. At a third of the way up, you would have reached the first waterfall. Two thirds of the way to the top, you would have reached the second waterfall.
How to get there
You’re likely to access Kledang Hill from the city centre through Jalan Lahat that takes you into mining township of Menglembu. You know you’ve arrived when you see the giant monument of a peanut, the town’s most famous export. From the town centre, follow Jalan Kledang, which runs all the way into the hillside.
Though technically you can drive up, the safer (and more considerate) way is to walk as you’ll be competing for road space with a lot of cyclists and trekkers. After your trek, refresh yourself with some cool coconut drinks at the foothill. In the morning, there are numerous vendors selling fresh produce such as fruits, live chickens and milk.
By Alexandra Wong
Photos by Zaim Rosli
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