Ipoh is an attractive city, especially its Old Town and its surroundings. The city is ringed by limestone hills, some of which feature Chinese Buddhist cave temples, while the Kinta River runs through it, with the Old Town on the west bank and the newer areas to the east of the river.
In my previous Ipoh post, I mentioned the Han Chin Pet Soo or Hakka Miners’ Club museum. This used to be a clubhouse for Hakka Miners and is now a museum, with most of the inside maintained as it used to be decades ago. The museum offers free scheduled tours, which you need to book online in advance, and so I did. The tour was led by a local Hakka Malaysian-Chinese, naturally as the museum is about Hakkas, who did a very good job telling everyone about the mining club’s history and members, as well as the Chinese community as a whole.
It was amusing to learn that some of the local Chinese magnates had multiple wives AND mistresses (this seems to be a common old Chinese custom), what the different Chinese groups who came to Malaysia did (Hakkas and Cantonese went into tin mining, the Hokkienese opened shops etc), and what the Hakka club members did at the club – gambling, smoking opium, playing mahjong, and even enjoying the company of prostitutes. You might be able to tell that the miners’ club was men only and the wives were not allowed. While all of this sounds quite raunchy, I don’t want to give people the wrong idea, so let me assure you that our guide was a humorous and friendly guy who wasn’t bawdy or anything like that.
Meanwhile, besides the giant murals spread out across the Old Town, there is an entire lane filled with beautiful wall murals across the Kinta River from the Old Town. The Mural Arts’ Lane features colorful depictions of local Malaysian people and culture. It doesn’t seem to be as well-known as the Old Town murals which were done by a well-known Lithuanian artist, but that suited me as I didn’t mind being one of only two people there. However the lane of murals has another surprise – an attractive blue and white mosque tucked into one end, the Panglima Kinta mosque.
When I walked inside the mosque’s compound to take pictures, two girls suddenly called out to me from the mosque. I was a little surprised when they asked me if I wanted a free tour inside, but I agreed and met A and R, two local Malays who were mosque volunteers. They showed me around the mosque, including the worship area, and told me about the rituals for worship. The mosque was right next to the Kinta river, and back in the old days, worshippers would actually come on boats to the mosque. We ended up having a good discussion about different things, including that A was interested in Chinese and could actually speak some Mandarin. Though the two of them wore hijabs, the traditional Muslim women’s veil that covers the head and body, they were quite friendly.
That was a very memorable experience, and I have to say, maybe there is something good in the air about Ipoh. I already talked about the city having Asia’s nicest Cantonese in my previous post, and these two girls were like the nicest Muslims I’ve ever met while traveling. To be fair, in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, when I visited the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, three men came up to me and started telling me about Islam. In Kuala Lumpur, while visiting the National Mosque, a woman volunteer (one of several there) spoke to me about Islam as well. I did tell them I was a Christian but I didn’t mind hearing about Islam. An amusing thing that both the Kuala Lumpur mosque lady and A and R mentioned was why Muslims segregate men and women while worshiping – to avoid being distracted by the opposite sex while praying. It’s a reasonable point, I suppose.
Moving on from Islam to Buddhism, I visited three Buddhist cave temples. Two of them were south of Ipoh while one was north of it. Perak Tong is a large cave temple, but even more relevant to me was that it was located in a hill from which you could ascent to the top and enjoy a sweeping view of the surrounding area.
Back in Ipoh, one unexpected artistic discovery was a building in which each floor was lined with colorful murals showcasing local lifestyle from the 1920-60s. These murals featured mostly Chinese while the murals on Mural Arts’ Lane were Malay, Indian and Chinese. It was free to enter though on one floor, there was a small concubine (mistresses of Chinese men) museum. The building, Wisma Chye Hin, was mostly empty but it was a new venture aimed at creating an artistic and shopping center. I hope they succeed because they really put a lot of effort into it as the murals were fantastic.
I like museums a lot and I tried to visit one in Ipoh, but it was closed, which I only learned when I arrived at the museum’s closed gate (the guard told me it was being renovated). This was the second time it happened to me in Ipoh, the first when I walked up to the Sam Poh Tong cave temple and saw the gates were shut though it was 2.30 pm. There was a security guard and when I asked him why it was closed, he said, “because the workers decided to get off work.” That was very annoying but I had no choice but to leave. That said though, the positives in Ipoh outweighed the negatives by a lot.
What looks like dirty, rundown houses overrun with vines are actually modern boutiques set in a picturesque complex (mentioned in my previous Ipoh post). Next to these shops is the restaurant below.
Continue reading “Malaysia travel- enjoying art, religion and scenery in Ipoh”