We love discovering new places! This post on free things to do in Ipoh, Malysia is from Jub the Tiki Touring Kiwi.
Ipoh, located in Malaysia’s Perak province, isn’t well known to international tourists but is the most popular domestic tourist destination, given its location two hours north of Kuala Lumpur by train or bus. Now that Lonely Planet featured it in their Top 10 Must Visit Cities In Asia, it’s started to attract an international audience. Here are a few cool free things to do in Ipoh.
Feeling ‘templed out’ in Southeast Asia isn’t uncommon. However, the cave temples of Ipoh are rather unique and worth a visit. ‘Templed out’ or not you need to visit at least one. The three most popular are:
Sam Poh Tong, which is rumored to be Malaysia’s largest cave temple has a number of statues of Buddha and a shrine where you might see locals praying. Something more random: the pond full of turtles that you can feed tomatoes to.
Perak Tong is my favourite cave temple because of the paths that extend beyond the exit. You find yourself slowly climbing the hill. At the top there are a couple of gazebos-like structures where you can rest and enjoy the views over the outskirts of Ipoh and limestone hills in the distance.
Kek Lok Tong was first used as a place of worship in the 1920’s . The cave became an iron mining site in the 60’s. Now when you visit, you’ll see intricate paintings on the cave walls, various statues and a Buddhist shrine with a large garden area on the far side. The garden area is beautiful, but unfortunately you can see an active quarry in the distance which does disturb the serenity.
Penang may be well known for its street art, but Ipoh’s street art may be a match. The most popular pieces are from Ernest Zacharevic who many consider responsible for putting Penang on the street art map worldwide. He has seven pieces scattered around the Ipoh’s Old Town, amid those from other artists. What’s great about the street art here is the meaning behind most of the pieces. For example, the picture above is a sight you will still see today; people hustling to make a living via recyclables found in the rubbish. If you’ve spent time in Malaysia before arriving in Ipoh, you won’t be surprised to find Marilyn Monroe featured in a couple of art pieces.
Pro Tip: Check out the area near Jalan Masjid Street, it’s full of street art!
Heritage Walk Tour
For those who appreciate historic buildings, Ipoh’s Old Town will put a smile on your face. There are 20 or so heritage buildings featured on a map available from the tourist information centre. Many of the buildings are over 100 years old, from a time when Ipoh began to grow with the tin mining boom in the 1880’s. The walk is four miles or so (if you follow the buildings in order on the map) and is an easy way to spot lots of different street art you might otherwise miss.
Of the three free museums in Ipoh, two are worth visiting.
The Han Chin Pet Soo is a great place to start your Ipoh visit (you will need to book in advance online). There are three floors full of artifacts from Ipoh’s history starting with the late 19th century tin mining boom as well as some artwork created to help tell the story of the boom.
The Ho Yan Hor (Herbal Tea) Museum is right next door to Han Chin Pet Soo. The staff is very passionate about the museum which tells the story of Ho Yan Hor. founder the Ho Yan Hor Herbal Tea Company. What makes the museum interesting is the story of how he started selling tea at five cents a pot in the old town. He would make upwards of $60 a day. That was a lot of tea! It’s simple, effective storytelling at its finest. To top off the tour, you can sample some of the tea but, unfortunately, it’s not for sale.
Kinta River Walk
The Kinta River once held one of the world’s largest tin deposits. Nowadays when rain hasn’t fallen for a while it’s barely a river. There are paths running alongside the museum for a few kilometers where you can watch people fish during the day. In the evening, the stretch of river one kilometer north of the herbal tea museum, comes alive with colourful lights, food stalls, occasional live music and the buzz of people enjoying the evening. It’s a great place to spend an hour or so hanging out with locals.
Have the free things to do in Ipoh caught your interest? There are plenty of things to do in Peninsular Malaysia beyond the tourist trail! Give Ipoh a chance!
What are your favorite free things to do in Ipoh?
Jub is a late twenties kiwi slowly meandering about the world. Having departed for Canada in 2013, the travel bug started to take hold and he’s been travelling more or less full time since. In 2017 his focus will be on telling stories involving sports and volunteering worldwide on his blog Tiki Touring Kiwi. You can follow his adventures on Facebook and Snapchat.