The state of Perak in Malaysia, and by extension, its main cities of Ipoh, Taiping and Kuala Kangsar, is a somewhat underrated destination despite being one of Malaysia’s gems. While many flock to the nearby city of Penang or head down to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, Perak is only starting to gain recognition as a tourist destination in its own right. This corner of the peninsula is a personal favorite and I love the wealth of heritage architecture, delicious food, friendly folk as well as the overall variety of attractions in Ipoh and the state of Perak.
This itinerary for Ipoh, Taiping and Kuala Kangsar shows you how you can combine these cities on a trip that lasts from 3 to 4 days. This itinerary is also flexible in the sense that if you only have 2 days to spare for a weekend trip and are only interested in Ipoh, you can easily trim this itinerary depending on your needs. Aside from providing the recommended places to visit, I also documented some of my favorite places to eat in these cities.
Table of Contents
Day 1 – Ipoh – Old Town & New Town
Your itinerary starts in Ipoh – Perak’s largest city. Ipoh was once one of Malaysia’s most prosperous towns and the amount of shophouses with intricate facades at the city center attest to that. Ipoh’s glory days however, came to an end when the tin boom collapsed in the 1980s. After decades of stagnation, the city has regained a new lease of life – this time as an up-and-coming tourist destination.
As of this writing, Ipoh’s tiny airport has direct flights to Singapore and Johor Bahru while it’s roughly a 2 hour drive / 2.5 hour train ride from KL. Regardless of the destination, most of the incoming flights to Ipoh arrive in the city in the morning or by noon at the latest, with the exception of 1 daily flight from Singapore that arrives in the afternoon. From Ipoh Airport, it is an easy transfer to anywhere in the city via a ride-sharing app such as Grab. I paid about 10 Ringgit for my ride to Ipoh’s center.
After dropping your bags in the hotel and depending on your time of arrival, it may still be a good idea to catch a late breakfast at one of Ipoh’s old school cafes. Said to be the best place for Ipoh’s famed white coffee, Sin Yoon Loong (daily, 6:30AM to 2:30PM) is as old school as it gets with coffee served in ceramic cups with floral motifs. Go for a kaya toast or even an egg custard (flan) for your morning meal. Alternatively, Nam Heong (daily, 6:30AM to 4:30PM) just next door is a worthwhile alternative.
Ipoh is known for its street art an insta-worthy back lanes. From Sin Yoon Loong, walk north a couple of blocks to reach Market Lane with its red and white umbrellas strung up from above. If you come here early enough in the mornings, you’ll find the lane all to yourself. Otherwise, you might have to compete for photo-taking space with a number of tourists getting that perfect instagram shot.
A few blocks north is Ipoh’s Concubine Lane. This is where wealthy merchants of yore used to house their mistresses back in the day. Today, this narrow alley is busy with souvenir shops, eateries as well as drinks/dessert stalls. Despite probably being Ipoh’s most touristy spot these days, there are a number of noteworthy eateries here for a light meal. Worthwhile places to check out include Kong Heng (daily except Thursdays, 7AM to 5PM) for its egg custard and Sin Lean Lee (open daily except Tuesday, 6AM to 2PM; 6:30AM to 1PM on Mondays) which is known for the city’s own rendition of char kway teow which is topped with a fried egg.
Ipoh has plenty of hipster cafes to choose from, and the most prominent one seems to be Plan B (75 Jalan Panglima, 10AM to 10PM daily) with its large indoor space and voluminous menu. Alternatively, if you prefer the clean and minimalist look with a strong focus on the coffee itself, Jalan Theatre Coffee (76, Jalan Theatre, Taman Jubilee; open daily 10AM to 6PM) is a good option.
The old part of town has plenty of heritage buildings and one thing you shouldn’t miss doing while in Ipoh is to go for a heritage walk. You can choose to DIY or go with a tour. The advantage of going with a tour is you don’t need to worry about hailing a Grab each time you finish exploring one attraction. This tour focusing on Ipoh’s heritage sites also includes stops that are farther afield such as Kellie’s Castle. There is a detailed map with more than 2 dozen buildings to check out in Ipoh city center itself but if you have time to only check out a few, make sure to stop by the impressive Ipoh Railway Station as well as the block of buildings by HSBC, OCBC, Standard Chartered, etc. This area is only a block or two away from Concubine Lane.
After having your fill of Ipoh’s old town, it’s now time to cross the Kinta River and head to the “new town.” Don’t be misled by the name however, the new town is only named as such because it was built after the old town but the new town itself dates from the early 20th century, making it not really new at all.
The great thing about the “new town” is that many of the restaurants here are open in the evening, unlike many establishments in the old town which shut down by mid-afternoon. You can cross the Kinta Bridge to get to the new town, where you’ll find the Mural Art’s Lane in the next block to the south parallel to Jalan Sultan Iskandar.
If hunger strikes by this time in the afternoon, the nearby Seong Man (124 Jalan Sultan Iskandar, open Thursday to Sunday 11am to 6pm) is a worthy stop for its quaint kueh (traditional rice cakes) and tea.
Another worthwhile afternoon stop is Woong Kee Beancurd (Jalan Ali Pitchay Taman Jubilee, daily except Wednesday, 11:30am to 6pm) especially if you’d like something refreshing to counter the punishing heat. Sit by the counter with a window overlooking a lorong (alley) while sipping on a refreshing and smooth beancurd. I loved it so much that I went for two consecutive days! Ipoh is very popular for its beancurd desserts and other places to try include Big Mom (daily except Thursday, 12PM to 6PM) for its more atmospheric setting and presentation and Funny Mountain Soya Beancurd (daily except Tuesday, 10:30AM to 7:30PM) which has the smoothest beancurd among the three most popular brands.
For dinner, stop by Lou Wong (open daily except Wednesday, 10:30am to 9pm) for its famous beansprouts chicken rice. Ipoh’s water purportedly has a mineral quality to it which supposedly makes the beansprout more fragrant in these parts. End your day with some shopping in the night market in this area. Most travelers would be shopping for traditional snacks to take home such as tau sar piah (salted bean biscuit). If you do not mind queuing however, check out Cowan Street Tauge Ayam and Koitiau Restaurant (Thurs to Sun, 6PM to 12AM; til 10PM on Sundays) where I thought the chicken was slightly more flavorful. The carbohydrate of choice here is the kway teow, made savory thanks to the fragrant chicken stock.
Day 2 – Ipoh – Caves & Lost World of Tambun
Start your second day by partaking in one of Ipoh’s most beloved morning rituals. Having yum cha in a dimsum restaurant is a common weekend morning activity here. While the dimsum in Ipoh is not typically as refined as what you’ll find in Hong Kong or Singapore, prices are very reasonable and there is also quite a bit of variety. One can also still see the use of dimsum trolleys – a practice which has just about disappeared in major capitals. The area around Jalan Leong Sing Nam has a couple of dimsum places, including two that are situated across each other. Ming Court (36 Jalan Leong Sing Nam, daily except Thursday, 6am to 2pm) and Foh San (51 Jalan Leong Sing Nam, daily except Tuesdays, 7am to 2pm) are among the most popular options.
Alternatively, go where the locals go and head to Restoran Moon de Moon (Wed to Sun, 7:30AM to 1PM) for its Kai See Hor Fun (Flat Noodles with Shredded Chicken). Located in a residential area in the outskirts of town, the place makes for a worthy detour. You’ll have to come here early (think: 8AM or before on a weekend) to get a seat without having to queue. What makes this a winning dish in my view, is the prawn flavored broth which went well with the oh-so-soft flat noodles and moist shredded chicken.
Your second day in Ipoh can be spent exploring the outskirts. Surrounding the city are plenty of karst limestone hills that don’t look out of place in areas such as Guilin or Krabi. Some of the caverns found in these hills have been turned into temples and the likes of Perak Cave, Sam Poh Tong and Kek Lok Tong are visited by tourists.
For nature lovers, some of Perak’s caves (which have NOT been turned into temples) can be entered and explored if you have a guide. Tempurung Cave in Gopeng is probably the most popular in the area. A typical tour involves 3 hours of exploring the cave’s many chambers and rock formations and takes only slightly more than half a day door-to-door.
Once you finish your cave exploration, you can enjoy a late lunch in Gopeng itself. The town of Gopeng used to be quite important and was even more prominent than Ipoh until the turn of the 20th century when Gopeng fell into rapid decline. This is why you’ll see some unusual quirks here such as finding rows of charming shophouses that abruptly lead to a dead end. Popular eateries here include the High Street Kopitiam and Heritage Town Cafe Gopeng. The latter only opens at night.
If you are traveling with kids, a trip to the Lost World of Tambun (discounted tickets available here) is perhaps necessary. This theme park is likewise located amidst these limestone hills which makes it quite photogenic even for those not coming with kids. The Lost World of Tambun aptly has “old tin mining town Ipoh” as its theme – something more realistic and close to home – which makes for a nice departure from the “fantasy world” of bigger and more established theme parks in the region.
Allow for a day to finish the caves and the Lost World of Tambun.
Day 3 – Kuala Kangsar and Taiping
Kuala Kangsar, the royal capital of Perak, is a mere 30 to 40 minute drive from Ipoh or a relatively quick train ride through one of Malaysia’s modern ETS trains. Accessible through private transport or through a pre-booked tour, this small town is well worth a day trip.
There are a handful of architectural highlights in Kuala Kangsar and first on that list would most likely be the stately Ubudiah Mosque. This is undoubtedly Kuala Kangsar’s most recognized building. With its bulbous dome looming even from a distance, this place of worship is notable for its striped facade and combination of Moorish and British design features. It was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, the same person who designed Ipoh’s and Kuala Lumpur’s railway stations.
Other highlights of the town include Galeri Sultan Azlan Shah, a museum dedicated to the current sultan of Perak as well as Istana Iskandariah, the current royal residence of the sultan. The Istana Kenangan, which perpetually seems to be under refurbishment is a worthwhile stop even if the inside is off limits. The palace is notable for having been built without using a single nail with its floor raised from the ground using stilts, in traditional Malay style.
Kuala Kangsar can be done in about 2 hours. It will be close to noon by the time you finish but I would recommend having your lunch at the next town, Taiping.
The sleepy town of Taiping is probably one of Malaysia’s most underrated destinations. Lying about 30 minutes away from Kuala Kangsar and an hour away from Ipoh, Taiping feels even sleepier with its centuries old buildings and arcades with barely any foot traffic. The highlight here is undoubtedly the Lake Gardens – a tranquil expanse located at the edge of town with views of Maxwell Hill in the distance. The lake gardens are best explored later in the afternoon or early in the morning when it is cooler. Check out the decades-old rain trees here which have branches almost touching the lake.
As one of the major settlements in Malaya during colonial times, Taiping has a fine collection of 19th century and early 20th century buildings. The Taiping Land Office building is among the city’s finest, and seems almost too grand if you consider the population of Taiping today.
Many of the architectural highlights of Taiping can be done on foot or via a series of rides on the ride-sharing app. Other highlights in town include the Taiping Hokkien Association and Perak Museum.
You can have dinner at the restaurant inside the Shun Tak Association, an old clan association, for an atmospheric dining experience.
For coffee lovers, a stop at the Antong Coffee Mill (open daily 8:30AM to 5:30PM) at the city outskirts is worthwhile. You can witness coffee beans being roasted the traditional way and buy some to bring home. Dating back from 1933, this is supposedly the oldest coffee mill in Malaysia.
Another dinner option is Golden Corner (open daily except Monday, 4PM to 9:30PM) for its curry mee and chicken noodles in clear soup.
Day 4 – Taiping
Start the day early and explore Maxwell Hill (Bukit Larut) for some cooler climes as well as awesome views. You can choose to go up on foot. It’s a 2 hour climb this way. Alternatively, you can also get a seat on one of the Land Rovers that make the trip up. You will have to queue relatively early to get a guaranteed seat. You can buy tickets near the entrance. Some folks come here the day before to buy tickets for the following day.
At the top, you can expect to find a view point as well as well-manicured gardens and some walking trails. There are also chalets which can be rented for the evening, though facilities are a tad basic and you are better off in one of the hotels in Taiping itself.
It will be close to / around noon by the time you finish the Maxwell Hill hike, provided you manage to get a seat at the lorry. From there, you can make your way back to Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur or Penang to catch your flight back to your home destination.
Getting To Ipoh from Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru or Singapore
Ipoh has a small airport with international flights to Singapore as well as domestic flights from Johor Bahru. If you are coming from Kuala Lumpur and do not have your own car, you can rent one here or take the ETS trains instead. Malaysia’s ETS trains are thoroughly modern and clean with several departures a day from Kuala Lumpur. The ride lasts roughly 2.5 hours each way.
Where to Stay in Ipoh and Taiping
Lodging options in Ipoh and Taiping are inexpensive, even if you go with the big name brands. Ipoh is now dominated by boutique names while Taiping has 2 hotels managed by Accor. Kuala Kangsar can be done as a day trip so you are better off staying in better hotels in either Taiping or Ipoh.
Ipoh – I have been to Ipoh a couple of times and stayed at different placed. I can recommend M Roof Ipoh for a unique view of the city’s limestone hills from its rooftop pool. Otherwise, for options closer to town, French Hotel is noted for its proximity to many of the city’s recommended eating places while MU Hotel is close to the main road leading to the old town. You can book other Ipoh hotels here.
Taiping – It is not the highest rated hotel in Taiping but if like me, you were captivated by the Lake Gardens, you might want to stay somewhere near it. Flemington Hotel is just across and some rooms even offer fine views of the lake. Otherwise, Novotel Taiping is the best all-around option in town and is adjacent to Taiping Mall. You can book other Taiping hotels here.