Explore Ipoh’s caves, limestones hills and temples
Ipoh is for the naturalist, outdoor enthusiast and the curious. It’s where one can go white water rafting, traverse through caves, hike up mountainous limestone ranges, enjoy beautiful street murals, sip on white coffee and taste local cuisine.
In its prime, Ipoh was known as the King of Tin. But it was a short lived royal affair. The city was dethroned in the mid-1980s when the tin market took a hard nose dive that plummeted the price of tin and closed tin manufacturers.
Subsequently the streets of Ipoh fell into a deep slumber.
During its time in recovery, Ipoh realized that being a-has-been was not how it wanted to go down in the history books.
The city shed its tin town turmoil, gained back its confidence and reinvented itself.
Today Ipoh is getting re-discovered but not for being stripped for its metal. But for its magnificent setting in nature and culture.
Thankfully it is willing to share its brilliance.
Ipoh has a Podcast episode
It’s no mystery that I’m an outdoor enthusiast (97% of my IG pics are outside), so inherently it’s natural that I’d explore more Malaysian caves. Yup! MORE caves. Check out my post about caving in Borneo.
Unlike how I decided to visit Borneo. My travel to Ipoh sparked on my walk to the grocery store. I love listening to podcasts. And on this particular day, Spotify popped up Amateur Traveler Podcast by Chris Christensen; Travel to Perak, Malaysia – Episode 543 on the recommendation list.
It was like the Universe was trying to tell me something. LOL!
Ha, ha! In all seriousness……
Chris Christensen interviews Jeb from Tiki Touring Company and the pop up recommendation couldn’t have come at a better time. Because, two fantastic friends from the States were flying in and we were racking our brains on where else to visit in SE Asia.
Jeb’s comment, “Ipoh was listed as the number 6 best city in Asia to visit. If you get to Perak you’re going to be off the beaten track but you have world class food, awesome street art, and you have cave temples which are awesome to look at, couple of waterfalls… ”
Errrr…. cave temples, art, waterfalls…. sold! This pushed my curiosity into hyper focus to learn more. Which parlayed me and my friends submitting to cart, airplane tickets to explore Ipoh.
Where is Ipoh, Perak?
124 miles northwest of Kuala Lumpur is Ipoh. The capital of the northwest state of Perak and the 3rd largest populated city in Malaysia.
Fun fact: it’s also one of the cleanest city in Malaysia.
Ipoh is gaining global destination tourism
Ipoh’s heart rate is rapidly advancing and becoming more noticed on the travel destination scene.
There are heritage walks, unique cafes and eateries, British influenced architecture, exotic caves, temples, and temples in caves.
According to Lonely Planet, Ipoh is the “lesser known food capital” in Malaysia. The regional favorite is Ipoh’s White Coffee. The beans are roasted with palm-oil margarine and served with condensed milk.
Try asking for black white coffee.
The fruit is plentiful, especially durian, seedless guava, and pomelo. Nasi Kandar and Nasi Vanggey are also local food favorites.
How about art + caves = Old cave art. It’s a chance to see Neolithic cave paintings. Dating 2000 – 5000 years ago.
The new kid on the art scene is the street mural art trail. Which takes you on a journey through the New Town and Old Town streets. Multiple artists depict Malaysian culture, heritage, and scenery on old & colorful buildings.
All this comes with magnificent limestone hills as the backdrop.
How to get to Ipoh
Planes, trains, bus or car. Pick your transport.
There are daily flights to Ipoh’s Sultan Azlan Shah Airport to and from Singapore and Johor Bahru.
Already in the country? It’s either a 2-hour car ride southeast from Georgetown, Penang Malaysia or 2 hrs 40 min drive from Kuala Lumpur.
Don’t have a car. Take a train from Kuala Lumpur. Check out the train options .
Plan your stay in Ipoh
We stayed in the Weil Hotel, which met our needs perfectly. Connected to a mall, in walking distance to the night market and hawker stalls.
If you’re looking for sanctuary, check out The 5-star Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat. Located on 22.7 acres, the retreat is surrounded by towering limestone hills, jungle, natural caves, geothermal, and waterfalls.
How to get around, Ipoh
Hire a driver.
After researching tourism packages we quickly realized we didn’t need to book tours. We needed a driver. Enter, Paul Leong.
We had a long list of places to see & do and Paul was our answer to get our checklist done. He provided airport, half & full day transport and gave great recommendations to our list.
Also, Paul offered to drive us in the evening if we needed. He was accommodating, professional, quickly responded via WhatsApp and rates are extremely reasonable. In comparison to four other quotes I inquired upon – Paul was definitely the right choice.
Next time I am in the area I will be calling upon his services. Paul extends his driving services in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
What we did in Ipoh
Kek Lok Tong Cave Temple aka Cave of Ultimate Bliss has been around for 100+ years. A few locals mentioned this is the best cave temple in the area. It covers 12 acres of zen gardens where locals come to have their morning walks, social encounters and enjoy nature.
Perak Tong Cave is best known for its Buddha that is 40 feet in height. The wall of the cavern is decorated with colorful murals depicting characters and events from Chinese mythology. Behind the statue is a flight of steps providing a birds-eye view of Ipoh.
Gaharu Tea Valley: Established 20 years ago on 300 acres with 200,000 trees. The tea plantation provides a tour to learn more about the Agarwood trees and beautiful views of the plantation.
Agarwood is highly prized for powerful medicinal value and exotic fragrance. The most famous tree in this area is the Love Tree which is 200 + years old.
Gua Tempurung: This cave is a lot of fun. The longest cave in Malaysia; 4.5 kilometers with an underground river. This was the sole cave that we explored that was not a temple.
The caves were absolutely beautiful. Surprisingly it wasn’t cold, but there was a very breezy section in a particular spot; which was so welcoming (& needed). Pro Tip: consider taking the water long tour (5 hours). Read more here about what to bring and what to expect when booking a wet tour.
Gunung Lang Recreational Park: A gorgeous view of limestone scenery on a lake. Take the 3 min. ferry ride to another viewing area. Pro Tip: walk to the back left of this area to enter a cave. Unfortunately, a movie was being filmed which didn’t allow us access.
Qing Xin Ling Leisure & Cultural Village: Enjoy a bike ride (bikes provided; you have to do the pedaling) around a quirky village (that takes you through time with themed booths) that surrounded a pond filled with fish and turtles.
Pro tip: Walk (or bicycle) to the back area and look up in the limestone hills for dusky leaf monkeys (pic to the left). Take the stairs to King Kong territory to explore jungle cliffs and flora and fauna. Keep going and you’ll see a path that leads to a trail (1k) up to the peak.
Note: Must purchase tickets at an offsite location; Kota Furniture Shop along Jalan Gopeng.
Concubine Lane: Take a little stroll and enjoy the beautiful mural arts by Ernest Zacharevic and little souvenir shops.
ERRRR…. Hold up! Record scratch!
Anyone else questioning why it’s named Concubine Lane?
The location was once known as an opium den during the turn of the 20 century. Also, it’s where women called to men from red-curtained windows and where some met their naughty married lovers (tin traders, British officers).
Check out my Instagram stories highlights.
When to visit
We arrived in late May, which was perfect because we pretty much had each location to ourselves (minus the locals). The busy tourist months are June and December. The weather in May held up nicely, meaning it didn’t downpour rain.
What I hope to do next time
I’m a big believer in revisiting countries. It’s a way to continue new experiences and new areas. That’s why I love creating lists of additional adventures for next time. I mean, who cares about the number of countries visited if you haven’t fully immersed and exposed yourself to all opportunities, right?
1. Return to Tempurung Cave for its wet tour.
2. Cameron Highlands is outside of Perak State and home to the Mossy Forest, Boh Tea Plantation, Mount Brinchang (the peak is 6,666 feet above sea level), Orang Asli Villages, and Thompson Falls.
3. Ulu Geroh Rafflesia Trail: known for its durian orchards and rubber plantations. But also Rafflesia. Which is known for being the largest flower in the world. Its other name is the Corpse Plant and much like durian, Rafflesia has a very strong odor.
4. Royal Belum National Park: the oldest rain forest in the world dating back over 130 million years. The wildlife here is Malaysian tigers, elephants, tapirs, Sumatran rhinoceros, sun bears, and white-handed gibbons.
5. Explore and travel this route; KL > Ipoh > Georgetown. If you do or have done this route. Please let me know, I would love to hear about your experience.
6. Gopeng white water rafting on the Kampar river.
Again, do you see Keri in the pic (King Kong territory) on the left? Look very closely and you’ll see her red shirt.
Top Tips To Know Before You Go
1. Hire Paul as your private driver. By doing so, you can customize your visit.
2. If you don’t have a driver, the main app you will need is Grab. It’s is widely used in Ipoh.
3. Cash and get small bills.
4. For outdoors activities, bring mozzy repellent. I can’t recommend Ben’s mosquito, tick and insect repellent wipes enough (travel friendly & works effectively).
5. Good trekking shoes.
6. Breathable clothes. Go for dry fit materials as the weather is hot and humid year round.
Cheers! To visiting reinvented cities with limestone hills.