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 many interesting natural attractions found here.
This itinerary aims to show how you can combine Ipoh, Taiping and Kuala Kangsar on a trip that lasts from 3 to 4 days. 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
Start your trip in 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 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, 6AM to 5:30PM except Sundays til 1PM) 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 except Monday, 7AM to 5:30PM) 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 Restoran Thean Chun (open daily except Thursdays, 8AM to 3PM) for its chicken hor fun or Kong Heng (daily 9AM to 4:30PM) for its egg custard. Just a block away, Sin Lean Lee (open daily except Tuesday, 6AM to 2PM) 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 11PM daily except for Sat and Sun until midnight) 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 11AM 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 2pm to 7pm) is a worthy stop for its quaint kueh (traditional rice cakes) and tea. For dinner, stop by Lou Wong (open daily except Monday 10:30AM to midnight) 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).
Day 2 – Ipoh – Caves & Lost World of Tambun
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 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.
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. 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.
For dinner, check out Golden Corner (open daily except Monday, 5PM to 11PM) 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 lorries that make the trip up. You will have to queue relatively early to get a guaranteed seat in the lorry. 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.
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 an option closer to town, French Hotel is noted for its proximity to many of the city’s recommended eating places.
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.