We met our host and she showed us up to our apartment on the 19th floor, a quick handover and she left us to it, a great view from the balcony of the town and the infinity pool below, perfect in this heat!
The town of Ipoh was founded on the back of the tin rush that began around the 1880s when large deposits were found in the area, situated on the highest navigable point on the Kintra River the town was well placed for the export of the ore, despite the decline in mining the town has undergone a resurgence of late and is a bustling town with a thriving street art and food scene. Seven pieces of street art in Ipoh have been created by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, a name synonymous with the infamous works of George Town, Penang. So we were keen to get out and explore…..
We started out exploring the old part of town, heading first down mural lane, where many walls and doorways are covered with all sorts of street art, great detailed paintings, all sorts of subjects, a lot of different people in various poses/situations, children playing, different scenes, some in better condition than others due to the harsh extremes of weather, some more detailed and brighter in colour than others, all very good we continued walking down to the train station, itself a landmark a combination of Moorish and Victorian architecture, framed by broad arches and capped with a broad white dome, used in the film ‘Anna & the King’. On from here we walked past the clock tower and came to the tourist info office, a respite from the heat outside where we picked up some useful maps, one for the art trail round town and the other for the temple caves.
Next stop was lunch so we popped into a Malaysian coffee house where Rich had Asam Laksa, a sour fish and tamarind noodle soup and I had Nasi Lemak, the national dish of Malaysia consisting of rice cooked in coconut milk, with cucumber, peanuts, a fried egg, dried anchovies and sambal of which the sambal was very spicy, delicious though.
We continued walking round the art trail spotting the seven most well known of the art pieces, plus lots more art besides almost round every corner or on every doorway, really lovely. We continued on down ‘Concubine Lane’ where wealthy merchants kept their mistresses, though pretty it is now full of stalls selling a lot of tourist ‘tat’. After walking round a lot of the old town we wearily headed back to our apartment, it had been a very hot but interesting day.
We ventured out into the suburbs of Ipoh to visit several of the many cave temples, using our Grab app we called a taxi and just 7km out of town our first stop was to Kek look Tong a craggy cave mouth beneath a towering cliff, the cave temple has three Sages which dominate the central cavern, along with many huge stalactites and stalagmites and as we walked towards the back of the enormous cave there was a golden Chinese Buddha of Future Happiness sitting beyond the main chamber, looking out onto beautiful landscaped gardens and lily pond, surrounded by forested cliffs.
It was cool walking through the huge caves and the beautiful gardens were lovely to walk around under the shade of trees and huge bamboos. There was a semi-circular arrangement of a series of miniature statues, depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha, which were very interesting as each was unique character with different poses and facial expressions.
From here we called another Grab taxi that took us down the road to Sam Poh Tong Temple to the right of the entrance was an ornamental garden with ceramic lions, miniature shrines and Buddha statues encircling a rock-studded pond packed with koi. The temple itself as we entered seemed quite small but as we followed the cave round it opened up into a tropical oasis with turtle pond fully enclosed by lushly forested and fern covered limestone cliffs. Nestled in the base of one of these sheer limestone walls was a breath-taking bright red and yellow tiered pagoda, a real ‘secret’ garden, we spent some time in here just sitting under the shady palms with the sunlight streaming down it truly was magical.
The following day we headed in the opposite direction, again out into the suburbs of Ipoh, this time to visit Perak Tong Temple, established around 1926 by Chinese Buddhists Chong Sen Yee and his wife, this temple is popular for its mesmerising murals and panoramic views.
As we walked up the first staircase leading into the huge cave, the space was dominated by a majestic golden seated Buddha around 15m tall. Exploring the rest of the temple was a labyrinth of smaller caves with shrines, statues and many murals and paintings decorating the cave walls, near the back of the cave was a steep narrow staircase which led up through the cave, outside and still further up to a stone balcony, with another shrine and – after 450 steep steps views across Ipoh and the hills beyond. It was very hot and humidity was high, so the climb up kind of did us in, and we rested for a while at the top in the shade, before making our way back down on shaky legs. Heading back to the apartment we had dinner, did some washing and packed up ready for catching the train on to George Town.
Leaving Ipoh we caught the train to Butterworth, a smooth journey on a timely, clean efficient train that took only an hour and forty-five minutes, as we arrived into Butterworth it absolutely poured down, luckily though the walkway to the ferry over to George Town was under cover and after buying our tickets for the ferry RM 1.20 / 0.22p we only had 10 minutes or so before the next ferry. It was a simple ferry, open sided with bench seats with room for cars, roll-on roll-off, we were soon underway and 20 minutes later docking into George Town.
We called a Grab taxi from the terminal and were soon heading over to our apartment. After signing in and getting the keys we headed up to our apartment on the 18th floor, complete with balcony for sea and city views. As per usual we settled in with a cup of tea and then headed out to pick up some groceries, we’d both been craving some Mexican fajitas, so with a good supermarket nearby (including Tesco) that’s what we cooked for dinner that night, delicious!
Bit of a late start the following morning, but we walked into town, already stifling hot, (no matter how long we’ve been away, the heat still gets to us!), we stopped en-route to try a Penang specialty at a restaurant called ‘Hot Bowl White Curry Mee’, we ordered a bowl each of the ‘original’ curry mee which was a steaming bowl of white coconut broth with vermicelli, regular egg noodles and beansprouts with pieces of congealed ducks blood (like soft jelly pieces) and we added ginger pork meatballs, a pot of fiery chilli paste was on the table for us to ‘add to taste’, it was very tasty and filling as neither of us were able to finish our bowls. Leaving here we continued into town, stopping at the bus depot to pick up a unlimited bus pass each for the week for 30RM /£5.50 then onto the art trail.
An artist mentioned earlier with the art in Ipoh Lithuanian Ernest Zacharevic in 2012 sketched a series of mural installations for the George Town festival, since then Penang has taken off as one of Southeast Asia’s street art capitals, as well as Zacharevic’s pieces there are works by local and international artists all over the old town, as well as paintings there are a series of steel wire cartoons, some fifty of them commissioned in 2009 to mark out the UNESCO listed parts of the city. We had a map and followed the trail of art, some really good and creative pieces all round town for several hours, having seen most of them we called it a day and caught a bus back to our apartment to cool off.
Penang Island was ruled by the sultans of Kedah until the late eighteenth century but with increasing raiding parties from the Thai and Burmese, help was sought from British trader Francis Light looking for a regional trading base to counter the Dutch presence, so through the British East India Company a deal was struck, military aid in exchange for cash, Penang then became the first British settlement in the Malay Peninsula, declaring it a free port, its population thrived increased by Indian and Chinese traders George Town took its name from British King George III, gaining independence from Britain in 1957.
Before the new millennium George Town was like a lot of cities shabby, unloved and a victim of inner city decay, until George Town and Melaka the other former British straits settlements became a single World Heritage Site in 2008, and the regeneration started.
The next couple of days we caught the bus and headed into the historic heart of George Town, a mix of Colonial, Indian, Malay and Chinese heritage. We wandered round the labyrinth of streets with sights including several houses formerly owned by Chinese merchants, brightly painted many with decorative wooden doors and carvings, the Goddess of Mercy temple, a Chinese Temple dating from 1801 with dragon carved pillars and wooden roof beams, blackened by incense smoke and Sri Mahamariamman Temple founded in 1833 sited in Little India, pale green and red with a tower of sculpted deities, a mass of colour. We also viewed the Kapitan Keling Mosque, the oldest and largest in Penang dating back to 1801 it’s Anglo-Moorish style with dark ‘onion’ domes, arched portico and minarets an impressive sight.
Wandering down Armenian Street we passed the Mor Hun Club, a still used traditional social club, with colourful tilework and carved gilt doors, you could hear the clacking of tiles from games of Mahjong being played upstairs. We came to Yap Kongsi which consists of Ciji Temple with amazing colourful carved dragons swirling across the roof and beautiful tile work and ceramics whilst next door is the green and white Yap Temple looking more like a European villa but holding the clan’s ancestral tablets. We continued on to the waterfront down to the Chinese clan jetties, communities of stilt houses built over the water set up by Chinese immigrants in George Towns early days, connected by wooden boardwalks the narrow alleys are quite claustrophobic and crowded with trader stalls everywhere we didn’t linger long.
Back out in wider streets we walked along Padang Kota Lama a promenade along the waterfront, a slight breeze giving us respite from the heat, we had great views over the straits to the mainland and surrounding hills. This led us past Fort Cornwallis, named after Lord Charles Cornwallis, Governor-General of India, we walked past the Fort, cannons perched over the walls at regular intervals and a lighthouse till we came to St George’s Church, one of Penang’s oldest buildings built in a Neoclassical style in 1818 by the East India Company. By this point in the day we were hot, tired and needing some refreshment, so into a coffee shop to cool down with an iced coffee, rest our feet then catch the next bus back to our apartment.
As F1 fans we have been lucky to catch every race wherever we have been, either through our Airbnb having a ‘sports package’ on their TV or a nearby sports bar, this weekend was no exception as it was the Azerbaijan race from Baku, for this we headed out to a nearby sports bar ‘Healy Macs’ where we enjoyed a pizza and cold jug of beer whilst watching the race.
Another site in George Town we visited was Penang Hill – Penang Hill was the first colonial hill station developed in Peninsular Malaysia discovered soon after British settlement; Francis Light commissioned the area to be cleared to grow strawberries. Though it was never fully developed (it was difficult to carve out the forest area), it became a favourite expatriate refuge before the advent of air conditioning.
Comprising Western Hill, Bukit Laksamana, Tiger Hill, Flagstaff Hill and Government Hill, it is located six km away from Georgetown. Set 821m above Penang’s capital, islanders call it Bukit Bendera and it is generally about five degrees cooler than George Town. It is the last patch of tropical rainforest in Penang so the flora and fauna here have been protected since 1960. Its oldest bungalow, Bel Retiro, is the holiday residence of the Governor of Penang. Today, the ridge on top of Penang Hill is known as Strawberry Hill.
We caught a Grab taxi to the base station, and after buying tickets for the return trip on the funicular we were soon heading up the hill, the funicular was opened in 1923 and the railway has a tunnel which measures 258 feet long and is the steepest tunnel in the world, with a maximum slope gradient of 52.9%, 27.9°, so pretty steep in places, though unbelievably it only takes just over five minutes to reach the top. With several viewing platforms, we had fabulous panorama views over the cape of George Town, mountains, hills and across the straits to Butterworth and beyond.
We walked around the peak seeing the huge 2.75 tonnes cannon, one of the old funicular coaches used from 1923 to 1977 was on display and then continued up to Penang Hill mosque and Hindu Temple, the latter being restored and covered in plastic sheeting. We walked further up to the Bel Retiro gate house, a prestigious property built in 1789 as mentioned earlier a colonial holiday residence for the governor of Penang.
We walked down the hill slightly to follow one of the numerous marked nature trails walking under 30m-high trees and with over 100 species of birdlife, ranging from ordinary garden species to exotic deep forest inhabitants calling this hillside home it was a cacophony of birdsong along with beautiful trees and flowers and spectacular views. One oddity was seeing a red post box, apparently one of the oldest in Penang, put up here during the reign of Queen Victoria. Though indeed cooler up here it was still very hot with surprisingly little breeze so we made our way back to the funicular station and headed back down in the train.
Once at the base station we were not far from Kek Lok Si Temple, so we called a Grab taxi and made our way over there. The Kek Lok Si Temple is a Buddhist temple and is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, the entire complex of temples was built over a period from 1890–1930, the main sight in the complex is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of Rama VI (Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas) with 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha, and the 36.57 metres (120.0 ft.) tall bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.
We were dropped off at the temple complex, and we were amazed at the sheer size and number of different buildings, shrines, temples, steps and corridors linking it all together. Built into the side of a hill, we started at the bottom and worked our way up, a glass funicular took us up to the very top of the complex where the enormous bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy was in an open sided pavilion whose columns were covered in carved dragons, truly an astonishing sight, with more panoramas of the city below we walked across to the white seven tiered ‘Ten Thousand Buddhas’ pagoda, resplendent in the bright sunshine and capped by a golden Burmese stupa. Making our way back down in the funicular and then walking through the remaining complex we were starting to flag a bit so called a Grab taxi and headed back to our apartment.
As avid film watchers we have managed to see many films as we have been travelling, and enjoyed luxurious cinemas at a fraction of UK prices, Malaysia being no exception. As huge Marvel fans we had been waiting for ‘Avengers Endgame’ to be released, the culmination of a 22 film story arc, so we were pleased to see multiple screenings being shown at the cinema nearby to our apartment, where we went big, as in IMAX big. We were definitely not disappointed, loved the film and at £10 for the both of us great value!!
After the epic three hour film we walked back to our apartment, but stopping on the way to see a couple of temples. First was Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram a Thai Temple dating back to the 1900’s, it was a brightly painted affair with huge gilded pagoda and the main hall flanked by several huge serpents painted gold and bright green with shiny reflective tiles all over, very blingy! The huge ‘hangar’ like hall housed a large 33 metre long reclining Buddha, surrounded by many statues and shrines, the air heavy with incense smoke. The second the Burmese Temple was just across the road, guarded by two large white and gold lions, inside a large standing Buddha. We wandered round the beautifully landscaped grounds full of flowering shrubs and flowers with several smaller temple buildings and statues before walking back to our apartment.
Later that afternoon we headed out by bus to Batu Ferringhi, a lovely stretch of beach fringed by palms for sunset, though with quite a bit of cloud cover the colours weren’t spectacular, still it was a nice walk along the beach. Our week in George Town was nearly at and end, so it was soon time to do some washing, pack up and get ready to leave this time via ferry to our next stop, the island of Langkawi.
Langkawi – by Richard Gardner
Moving on from Georgetown, was simple as a Grab taxi to the Ferry port and then a three hour ferry crossing to Langkawi and then another Grab taxi to the hotel which was on the other side of the island, about forty minutes travel.
Our room was at the back of the hotel, overlooking the pool, and the jungle covered hills behind along with quite a few monkeys wandering around. After unpacking a few things, relaxing for a bit, we headed down to a near by restaurant for dinner. The Cactus restaurant did a mix of local dishes and western foods, plus a few other items like curries. We enjoyed three meals here, I ate their Indian Noodle dish twice, and Julie really enjoyed their Beef Thai curry.
Weather on the island, and on this west side of the Malaysian peninsula was wet and stormy for the most part, so we did not get out to see too much of the island, opting to either stay by the pool, or walked the mile into the town centre and the main beach there, Julie got to swim at the beach once but this was often closed for swimming due to the high swells, rolling in all the time. However the beaches are clean for the most part and uncluttered with parasols and sun loungers.There was a very good, but small aquarium in town, which we visited when it looked like the heavens were going to open up. They had a good range of local colourful species of fish, eels, crustaceans and jellyfish, along with living corals.On the whole our time on the coast of Langkawi was one of relaxing and chilling, and looking at our options when we return to the UK, which is fast approaching.
Next stop we are back in KL for five nights, before our flight back to the UK. We love KL, a big, modern city with some great food options and some great Airbnb apartments to relax in.