Once a tin-mining boom town known for its seedy nightlife, Ipoh has remade itself. Stellar street-art, Western-Malay fusion cuisine, and a clutch of elegantly dilapidated galleries and cafes make this one of Malaysia’s trendiest cities.
Ipoh is a city built on tin. Huge deposits of the stuff were found in the area during the 1880s, and within a few short years this village backwater had become a mining boomtown, known for its seedy nightlife, cabarets, and conspicuous consumption. After the collapse of tin prices in the 1980s Ipoh’s fortunes faded – but not for long. Today, this former frontier town is one of Malaysia’s trendiest cities, known for its British colonial buildings, its delicious kopi putih (“white coffee”), and its thriving street-art scene.
Part of the draw of Ipoh is its lush, forested limestone mountain setting. This is the place to whitewater raft down thundering rivers and visit cave temples where bronze Buddhas and Zodiac animals hide amongst the stalagmites. What’s more, it’s only a couple of hours’ drive to the rolling tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, where you can spend the day eating strawberries in the cool air and be back in time for a dinner of Ipoh’s signature bean-sprout chicken washed down with a frosty Snow Beer.
But as attractive as its natural surroundings are, the real reason we keep coming back to Ipoh is the city itself. This is one of the coolest destinations in the country, drawing crowds with its exceptional Western-Malay fusion cuisine, shabby chic patisseries, and cafés as artfully dilapidated as any hipster haunt in Berlin or Copenhagen. As you follow the local heritage trail along alleys festooned with Chinese lanterns, you can stop along the way to eat salads out of mason jars and drink coffee to a soundtrack of old French music. KL eat your heart out: all the cool kids are going to Ipoh.