Visit Ipoh: Is Ipoh Old Town The New George Town?
We’ve visited Malaysia a few times. Sometimes just stopping in Kuala Lumpur for a few days before catching a connecting flight, other times travelling up and down the country. The first time we explored Malaysia was way back in 2006 so we like to think we know it pretty well by now. So why had we not heard of Ipoh Old Town until our recent trip this year? Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, we were finally able to visit Ipoh Old Town.
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When we started to look into Ipoh old town, it was clear it had some similarities to George Town in Penang, one of our favourite cities in South East Asia. George Town also has an old town. In fact, George Town’s old town was crowned a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 making it a very popular destination for travellers exploring Malaysia. So, does Ipoh old town compete? Is it as beautiful as George Town’s historic centre? Does it offer the same attractions that make George Town so popular? We had to visit Ipoh to find out.
Visit Ipoh: Where is Ipoh Old Town?
Ipoh is the capital city of the state of Perak, Malaysia. It’s around 200 KM north of Kuala Lumpur and 130 KM south of Penang. This makes it a natural stop if travelling between Kuala Lumpur and Penang on the North-South Expressway or by train. Ipoh is also bordered by the popular Cameron Highlands in the east, making it easy to visit Ipoh from there after one too many teas.
Ipoh centre is split in two by the Kinta River with Ipoh old town on the west side and Ipoh new town on the east.
Visit Ipoh: What’s Ipoh Old Town Like?
Ipoh is the third largest city in the country after Kuala Lumpur and George Town. From up in the air, Ipoh is a sprawling city, but it doesn’t feel like that on the ground. At all times of the day, Ipoh felt extremely sleepy. Streets were almost empty with pedestrians and you don’t start to see and feel an atmosphere until you enter the historic streets of proper Ipoh old town.
Once in Ipoh old town, you start to see and feel the similarities to George Town. The streets are lined with ancient Chinese shophouses, street artists have made their mark on crumbling walls and there are plenty of cool coffee shops for a hit of Ipoh white coffee.
Although much quieter, Ipoh old town, in places, does have the same vibe that makes George Town so popular. It’s laid back, creative, trendy and all set amongst interesting heritage architecture. The only downside was at night when Ipoh old town feels a bit like a ghost town. Most businesses seem to close after dark.
Visit Ipoh: Things To Do In Ipoh Old Town
Ipoh Heritage Trail – Ipoh old town is full of heritage buildings covering the town’s 130-year history from a small Malay village to what it is today. There are free maps which point out the best buildings on the 4-mile walk.
Ipoh Street Art – Like George Town in Penang, Ipoh old town has plenty of street art to spot. Grab yourself a street art map and have fun making your way to each piece. It’s also worth visiting Mural Art Lane in Ipoh new town. A lane covered in murals from end to end.
Little India – Wander the streets of Little India to find colourful sari shops, aromatic spices, Indian music over loudspeakers and some awesome Indian eateries.
Drink Ipoh White Coffee – No visit to Ipoh old town is complete until you’ve had a cup of the famous Ipoh White Coffee. You can choose from dozens of hipster coffee shops or settle in one of the traditional Ipoh Kopi shops. Ipoh White Coffee is one of the best-tasting coffees in the world. Seriously!
Desert Street – Not actually in Ipoh old town but not far away in new town, Desert Street is where you should go to try many local dishes from mains like Seng Kee Curry Mee to desserts like the area’s famous Ice Kacang.
Kong Heng Square – Our favourite spot in Ipoh old town is beautiful Kong Heng Square. The fashionable square is full of vine covered ruins and renovated buildings occupied by stylish boutique shops, colourful market stalls and the trendy Plan B coffee shop.
Concubine Lane – A cute and narrow lantern decorated lane lined with cafes, restaurants and hostels. The best time to visit Concubine Lane is at weekends when market stalls join the lane’s traders.
Visit Ipoh: Best Hotels Near Ipoh Old Town
Like George Town, Ipoh has some fantastic accommodation options. We were lucky enough to stay at three great hotels near to Ipoh old town. We can recommend the following if you also visit Ipoh.
French Hotel – Budget
A modern and clean hotel right in the middle of Ipoh new town so location does not get any better than this. It’s surrounded by local amenities and just a 10-minute walk to the Kinta River bridge which leads into Ipoh old town on the other side. French Hotel also has the lovely Jose and Deli Cafe on the first floor for cake, coffee and breakfast.
M Boutique Hotel – Mid Range
It’s unique and trendy approach to interior design makes M Boutique Hotel a special place to stay in Ipoh. Situated just a 5-minute walk to Little India and a further 10 minutes into Ipoh old town. The hotel has it’s own Old Town White Coffee Cafe on site, gym, free laundry and plenty of cool chill out spaces.
Weil Hotel – High End
If you like your hotels with plenty of stars, then 4 star Weil Hotel is for you. Huge rooms, a variety of restaurants, tea lounge, rooftop bar and infinity pool overlooking Ipoh old town. The hotel even has its own private entrance into the adjoining Ipoh Parade Shopping Mall!
Visit Ipoh: How to Get To Ipoh Old Town
If you want to visit Ipoh old town, it’s extremely easy to get to.
How To Get From Kuala Lumpur To Ipoh
BUS – Make your way to Kuala Lumpur’s TBS Bus Terminal and book a seat on any of the many bus companies providing services to Ipoh. These are comfortable, spacious and air-conditioned coaches.
Cost – 40 RM
Duration – 3 hours
TRAIN – Head to KL Sentral train station or the old Kuala Lumpur train station and book a seat on the ETS Train service. The trains are modern, super clean and comfortable. Ipoh train station is in Ipoh old town, making it very convenient.
Cost – 25-35 RM
Duration – 2.5 hours
How To Get From George Town To Ipoh
BUS – At your accommodation or tour company, book a bus ticket to Ipoh. For an extra 3 RM, they’ll pick you up from your accommodation.
Cost – 29 RM
Duration – 2 hours
TRAIN – You can catch the ETS Train service to Ipoh old town but you’ll have to make your way to nearby Butterworth first. If coming from George Town, we recommend taking the bus. It’s much easier.
How To Get From Cameron Highlands To Ipoh
BUS – The only option from the Cameron Highlands is to take the bus and it’s easiest from Tanah Rata. You can buy tickets from any of the transport services in town and the journey starts from Tanah Rata’s bus station.
Cost – 20RM
Duration – 90 minutes
NOTE FOR ANYONE ARRIVING BY BUS – The bus will drop you off at Amanjaya bus terminal which is 12 KM from Ipoh old town. Remain at the same level and hop on any of the local buses heading to Ipoh old town. This part of the journey takes around 40 minutes. Cost – Approx 2 RM.
Visit Ipoh: So, Is Ipoh Old Town The New George Town?
You probably want to know if you should visit Ipoh? Ipoh old town offers many of the great things that make George Town so popular but on a smaller scale. Creative street art, heritage architecture, trendy coffee shops, a Little India, excellent places to eat great food, awesome places to stay, fantastic shopping and a vibe that’ll keep travellers coming back for more.
Yes, we can definitely confirm that Ipoh old town is the new George Town. Everyone should visit Ipoh. It has a few years to go until it offers the same lively yet peaceful vibe of George Town, but this is also the appeal of Ipoh. With few tourists around, it’s easy to feel that you’re ahead of the crowd and visiting somewhere off the beaten path.