IPOH, Nov 29 -- Malaccans love walking. Growing up in historical Old Malacca Town, you could say tackling heritage trails is in our very nature.
But did you know that Ipoh, merely two hours away from KL by train, also has a great heritage trail waiting for adventurous visitors to discover?
Consider this Malaccan boy game.
My guide for the day, Law Siak Hong from the Perak Heritage Society, and I start our trek by filling our bellies. In Ipoh, this means a soupy bowl of silky noodles topped with shredded chicken meat, shrimp and spring onions. The sar hor fun at Restoran Ipoh Kong Heng along Jalan
Bandar Timah (formerly Leech Street) fits the bill perfectly.
Law informs us that the Kong Heng building (which also houses boutique hotel Sekeping Kong Heng) used to be the Dramatists’ Hostel. Built in the 1920s, the hostel accommodated actors from the Chinese opera theatre next door which has since been demolished. Today, Plan B Ipoh stands in its place.
Across the road is Lorong Panglima, a small alley known to locals as Yi Lai Hong or Concubine Lane. Rich Chinese tycoons were supposed to have kept their concubines and mistresses in the townhouses here.
Law opines that this was a smokescreen. “This area was actually infamous for opium and gambling dens. Somehow it was less disreputable to tell folks you were visiting your mistress than to admit you were smoking opium.”
The lane is currently in a state of disrepair though plans are underway to redevelop some of the townhouses. One local resident, Dr “Mike” Gurmail Singh, has bought seven lots to restore into new businesses, including a stylish pub and a homestay.
As we exit Concubine Lane into Jalan Bijeh Timah (Treacher Street), we are greeted by an imposing three-storey building that stands apart from the rest of the shophouses. Han Chin Pet Soo was a Hakka tin miners’ club set up in 1893 but this clubhouse was built in 1929 by Yau Tet Shin and Leong Fee, influential towkays of the period.
Law points out the arched entrance and how the clubhouse features glazed bars in geometric patterns on its door and windows. Colourful patterned tiles are used, including a striking peacock motif. Certainly this was a good way to advertise the miners’ growing wealth and prosperity in the then tin-rich Kinta Valley.
Further down Jalan Bijeh Timah is the Chinese wholesale district, or what locals fondly call Ham Yu Gai (literally “Salted Fish Street”). The pungent aroma of salted fish and other dried goods is unmistakable. Open sacks of spices and trucks unloading their wares are a common sight.
Nearby is Paloh Ku Miao, said to be the oldest Chinese temple in Ipoh. Originally founded in 1872 and dedicated to Tua Pek Kong, the temple was rebuilt in 1894 with a decorative roof ridge, ceremonial bell and a pair of stone lions.
Law notes, “Observe the fine craftsmanship on these stone lions. You can’t find the like in many places nowadays. It’s a dying skill.”
Turning into Persiaran Bijeh Timah (Patrick Street), Law pointed out the colourful metal folding doors of Swee Tin Tea Merchants, an old-school tea trading firm. He shares, “The paintwork is done by sign painters from the Au family, one of Ipoh’s traditional sign makers. They apply a new coat every few years and keep to the original design which had weathered a good 40 years now.”
We stop by Sin Yoon Loong at Jalan Bandar Timah for our afternoon cuppa. Established in 1937, the coffee shop is considered the first to produce the famous Ipoh white coffee. Rich and frothy, Sin Yoon Loong’s coffee uses both evaporated and condensed milk. Opposite is rival coffee shop Nam Heong, known for their famous Old Town White Coffee outlets countrywide.
In nearby Little India, we locate the heart of the Indian community in Ipoh. Law says, “Most of the early migrants were Chettiars from South India who acted as moneylenders to the Chinese tin miners, many who couldn’t get loans from the colonial banks.”
The Ambika Estates Office over at No. 4, Jalan Sultan Iskandar (Hugh Low Street) is another building that has stood the test of time. It was originally owned by M. Meyyappan, a Tamil Chettiar who held very large interests in rubber plantations and landed property.
We are fortunate enough to be invited by caretaker Mr Sambanthan to have a look at the well-preserved interior.
Next is the colonial portion of our walk. Law guides us to the ever-busy Club Road, now called Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab, where on one side is the majestic Railway Station, and on the other are the Town Hall, Old Post Office and High Court. All the resplendent white buildings are in the Neo-Classical style.
Walking down Jalan Dewan (Post Office Road), we come upon the Birch Memorial, erected in memory of J.W.W.Birch, the first British Resident of
Perak assassinated in Pasir Salak in 1875. Built in 1909, this clock tower’s façade is surrounded by illustrated panels portraying 44 famous historical figures from around the world.
Our last stop is the Ipoh Padang, home to the Royal Ipoh Club. Overlooking the field is the beautiful Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building.
Built in 1931, this Neo-Renaissance style building was the highest building in Ipoh until post-independence.
Perhaps more so than my walks in my hometown, this heritage walk has been so fulfilling because I realise I know so little about Ipoh. Now that
I’ve walked the walk: how about you?
Put on a pair of comfortable sneakers, slap on the sunblock and explore Old Town Ipoh. This town is made for walking.
To learn more about the Ipoh heritage walks, visit Perak Heritage Society (http://perakheritage.wordpress.com) or contact Law Siak Hong at 017-506-1875 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on November 28, 2013