“Let’s meet halfway,” said a friend in Kuala Lumpur upon learning that Bryant had arrived in Penang. Bryant opened the map and the name Ipoh popped up. “It was just about midway between our two cities,” recalled Bryant, whose full name is Jordan Jefferies Martin Bryant, but goes by the childhood nickname of Jub.
Since that very first trip to Ipoh in August 2016, Bryant visited again and during his third visit, he spent a month in the city, putting up at a popular backpackers lodge. It was the longest stay in a Malaysian city for Bryant, although he was no stranger to the country, having transit via Kuala Lumpur often thanks to the budget-friendly airline and a stint in Penang.
During that one month, Bryant managed to tick many items off his list of things to do in Ipoh for a tourist, from visiting the limestone cave temples of Perak Tong and Kek Lok Tong, to hanging out at Kinta River Walk. “I spent the majority of my time in Old Town. It is a quaint section, very charming in its own way. I was also surprised by the varied and vibrant café scene.
“One café that stood out for me was ‘Hello Elvis’. The décor looked like it came straight out of Melbourne, with friendly enthusiastic staff and a generous cup of tea. Didn’t hurt that the internet speed was good too!
“Looking back, I wished I had dug into the café scene more. There are probably tens more that I have yet to explore but would love to. These will have to wait till my next trip to Ipoh,” lamented Bryant, whose favourite dinner place was at Gerbang Malam for fried rice at a roadside stall.
“The hawkers, their servers and fellow customers were very friendly and always happy to have a chat with me. I find that people were usually interested to know about my home country, New Zealand,” Bryant added that it was the friendliness of the locals who caused him to end up spending a month in the modest city, extending his stay from the initial plan of merely a couple of weeks.
Travelling by public transport in Ipoh, and particularly in Perak, was a real pain due to its unreliability. Nonetheless, Bryant managed to cover a fair amount of attractions within the state. “It goes without saying that without a car, it was not easy. Fortunately, there were people who willingly picked me up as I hitchhiked around the area. Between the bus and thumbing for a lift, I was able to make my way to Teluk Intan’s leaning tower, Pangkor Island, Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island and Lata Kinjang.
“I was rather surprised that some of these destinations aren’t on the backpacker’s trail yet. More people should know about them. Perakians should really be proud of their state and shout about it from the rooftops. It is an awesome place to be in, with so many things to see and do,” declared Bryant.
Indeed, during the 28-year-old’s stay, he was roped in to be an extra for a British comedy show, Gap Year. The show had been filming across Asia for a few months, with the final shooting location at Gaharu Tea Valley in Gopeng. “The scene was related to a music festival at the Great Wall of China and it was simply eye-opening and fun to see what was involved in making a television show, first hand,” Bryant shared, excited to see his first appearance on British television, still stoked about making the cut.
Bryant sees Ipoh receiving more and more international visitors now as word continues to spread about her similarities with Penang. He observed, “Although Penang is a great city, backpackers are always trying to ‘one up’ one another and get off the beaten track. Still, popular as it is, many people still look at me confused when Ipoh is mentioned in general conversation. Debating which city has the best food, street art and the level of friendliness of locals will go on for years to come in hostels around the world.”
Having accumulated such rich travel experiences, Bryant will surely share his stories, as well as his TV appearance on his blog, Tiki Touring Kiwi, even as he continues to traverse to different parts of the world. There is a high chance he will be returning to Malaysia in late May for a short stay after finishing up his current adventures in Sumatra, Indonesia.
Note: An edited version of this article [Charmed by Ipoh] was published on 27th May, 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.