illustrated by @talkingtothewalls

We dubbed Ipoh as ‘the city in between,’ halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Like a middle child, it’s commonly set aside from the spotlight. However, it knows how to be seen without overly standing out or demanding to be the center of attention. He or she always surprises, forcing everyone to look and, eventually, be remembered.

For us, that’s Ipoh.

Encouraged by curiosity, mentioned as soon to be one of the best destinations in Asia by international publications, IWasHere team decided to pay the middle child a vist. To understand it even better, we approached the experts, none other savvier than the locals.

Culinary City

“Usually, the tourists eat at that stall, I don’t know why. But Ipoh people prefer here. I think it tastes more delicious,” said Kuan Ju – usually called KJ- a travel blogger from Malaysia, who was raised in Ipoh. We were standing at a busy pedestrian intersection, when KJ pointed two shop houses, both selling one of Ipoh’s front running dish, taugeh chicken – chicken with bean sprouts or nga choy kai in Cantonese. According to its name, this local dish consists of chicken and bean sprouts, served on separated plates.

“If not with you, how would we know which to choose?” I mumbled. KJ giggled. Enable to follow the local’s palate made our trip felt differently. Not only has KJ tasted almost all of the authentic food in Ipoh, she has also written about it and become a reference to those traveling to Ipoh. “There’s nothing wrong with visiting a restaurant popular amongst tourist,” KJ replied.

After biting into the tasty yet simple soy-sauce braised chicken breast and chewing on fresh and crunchy bean sprout – it is said no one can compete the freshness and crunchiness of Ipoh’s bean sprout – like mostly served on other tables, we ended KJ’s recommendation with an amen. The satisfaction of our first bite assured us that we need not to try the next restaurant, even though it was located about 10 meters away.

The Artsy City

Ipoh is like a monopoly game. It’s so easy to move from one block to another, trying a food stall and jumping to the next, especially within the city center. It’s pedestrian friendly with an easily calculated time and distance span.

For those who enjoy architectures of old cities, every building in Ipoh is like a story lane of time. Ipoh has preserved the old English colonial facades, shop houses decorated with ‘Peranakan’ and Chinese ornaments intercalate amongst them. The alley walls became giant canvases, storytelling media, enjoyed by the local people and the tourists.

“I usually come to the city center and admire the murals,” said a local passing by. We were admiring a long wall, filled with colorful murals. In between picking up his wife who works at the city center, he takes time to walk around and enjoy the murals spread all over town.

It’s no secret that Ipoh is an artsy city. Aside to the beautiful and preserved shop houses, Ipoh is an art pool, especially for its murals.

“Generally, the now generation lack historical knowledge of Ipoh. So, when they were involved in the mural project, they too, were educated,” says Chen Chun Yao, a local art lecturer in Ipoh. Ernest is famous not without reason. His collective of impressive painting has given identity to the city he marked. However, Ernest wasn’t the only artist splashing colors around Ipoh. On specifically drawing on city walls, Chen Chun Yao also laid out the history of the city that can be seen spread across one of the alleys in Ipoh. This wall has become a media to tell the story and aspiration of local artists, a sign of support for Ipoh as a city that should be traveled slowly by foot.

But the story doesn’t end there. Doesn’t the middle child always have something up its sleeve?

Antique Eccentric City

Our curiosity lead us to the outskirts of the city, crawling the high rising limestone walls. “I’ve never been there myself, and I’m very curious. Would you guys want to go there with me?” KJ’s question was our compass in finding other hidden surprises of Ipoh.

Upon the karst, an authentic evidence was carved on the walls. ‘Artsy’ is part of Ipoh’s identity. Ink is no foreign substance for Ipoh’s ancestors and their meticulous eye towards art is a talent they have passed on through their blood.

Ipoh has assured its reputation; not screaming for attention but charming people in its own way. After the sensation of Penang and the urban Kuala Lumpur, people are looking for something else, the calmness of The Middle Child. There has been rumors that an enormous theme park will soon commence, in hopes it will attract more tourists, yet becoming a local argument. The fact is, tourist that flood in Ipoh has caused parking difficulties.

Foodie, vintage, and artsy by heart is what Ipoh’s all about. Who could change the unique-eccentric middle child? Aren’t we all secretly following them?

Full story, coming soon!

Thank you Panorama Tour for entrusting and supporting our 'Ipoh story', during our initial steps on this journey.