Blog // Tales from the trail
We arrived in Ipoh late on a Sunday afternoon to be greeted by empty, and decidedly eerie looking, wide streets. Not only did nothing appear open, the place seemed devoid of life in general, that scene in the movies where a bell chimes in the distance and dust balls start rolling through kind of empty. None of which particularly fitting in with our expectations of the place, firstly given that all buses now stopped at a swanky new terminal 15 km out of town (presumably to avoid some sort of chaos in the centre?) and secondly we'd heard on good authority that from a 'foodie' perspective it was a must-stop (for the Malay) on the way to KL.
Perhaps just the time of day we mused as we final found a pleasant enough hotel with very friendly staff who reassured us (via the medium of an annotated map) that it was a good place to come visit and eat and bunked down for the night.
Awaking the next day we were greeted with a very different view, the previous day's deserted streets were now full to bursting with traffic and the numerous buildings' shutters had been opened to reveal the Chinese-style trading houses within.
Breakfast, we were recommended, was dim sum, which also appeared a very popular option, each massive round table surrounded by an extended Chinese family and vast selections of tasty looking treats covering the table-tops themselves. After our fair share we spied a 'white coffee' shop over the road for a post big-breakfast caffeine hit. White coffee, being not just a reference to the addition of milk but a slower roasting process (apparently involving palm oil margarine) that results in a milder, less bitter taste - also a local delicacy of Ipoh and considerably best value for money than a 'European coffee' in these parts, whilst being an equally tasty beverage in our opinion!
Some time later in the morning we took a wander across to the 'old town', although in our view not readily distinguishable from the 'new town' in which we were staying. One possible reason we read was a local recession at the time the likes of KL and Penang underwent the 'concrete revolution', throwing up the numerous high-rises which shape their skylines today. To us this seemed a little ironic given the local limestone geology and the number of cement factories surrounding town. Either way the town, whilst a very much grid-iron affair, at least escaped row after row of bland towers. The old-town did however contain a number of impressive colonial buildings, the local train station being one of the most impressive.
Similar to Penang, the old-town (as well as parts of the new-town) was filled with quirky street-art murals and wandering the back streets, the numerous trendy (but pricey) eateries we'd heard about, and last but not least an abundance of Chinese tourists.
Bellies full once again, we took a wander along the Kinta river-walk and found ourselves on our own again, passing a deserted and shut museum, a tribute to the tin mining heritage of the town.
Completing our walk, and having worked up a bit of an appetite again, we stopped in for another of Ipoh's recommended delicacies - salt baked chicken. Starting out as a small, Hong Kong influenced take away, today this place was absolutely booming and serving up a quite frightening number of chickens to passing people carriers (again predominately Chinese) in their trade-mark red boxes. Fortunately they were friendly enough to let us eat on a small bar table outside (and wash our hands afterwards!) as we polished off a juicy and delicious chicken.
Afterwards however, the salt roasted aspect found us gasping for a drink. Wandering into the old-town we found ourselves yet again in empty streets and bizarrely the numerous trendy outlets we'd spied earlier in the day (all with beer on the menu) seemed to keep standard office-hours. One last hope, and sure enough, heading for the beer inspired street art we'd seen during the day, we weren't disappointed.
On our final morning we were keen to try a traditional eatery and apparently the very first white coffee shop in Ipoh. Like many other cafes in Malaysia, they seemed quite content to serve the drinks whilst numerous other small vendors served up a variety of dishes which you could take back to the cafe - all helpfully on colour-coded plates (so dirty dishes could be returned later - brilliant!). Also present were a number of the regular, super-friendly patrons, one in particular keen to not only show Corallie where to get noodles, but also to pay for them before we had even realised what was going on!
Impressed, once again, by the Malay-hospitality but at the same time we never really felt we got the hang of the eb and flow of people in and out of this curious town during night and day. The next stop however we were sure was going to be busy at all times - bring on KL!
Comments on this posting: