“Searching the internet for major cities to visit in Malaysia and had the results narrowed down to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh, I came across a local blog when researching on transportation options to get to Ipoh,” shared American Ken Hasner, 56.

The Somerset, New Jersey native who was on his first major Southeast Asian solo adventure took a bus from Penang to Ipoh and as luck would have it, met the local blogger and her father, Johnson, shortly after his arrival.

 at Enlightened Heart Tibetan Buddhist Temple

at Enlightened Heart Tibetan Buddhist Temple

Said Hasner, “It was a charming encounter. I was subsequently taken on a temple tour by Johnson and his son who gave me a history of each place we visited and some of the background of both Buddhism and Taoism, for which I am thankful. It was an eye-opener for me to be exposed to different cultures and religions and that was by far the highlight of my trip to Ipoh.”

The layout of the city made it easy for Hasner to move around. He added, “I also enjoyed the restaurants and eateries along Jalan Raja Ekram where I was staying. It was safe walking around alone at night and I was never once worried about crime or getting lost. Ipoh felt like a provincial city with a hometown feel and after a week, I thought to myself that I could live here long term. I may retire in Ipoh one day.

visiting Ling Sen Tong

visiting Ling Sen Tong

“The thing that failed to impress me was the lack of any real public transportation in the city like those shuttle buses in Penang. I think a better system of tourist transportation and also maybe a campaign to clean up some of the litter which seems to accumulate in the city would make it an even better place to visit, or live in.”

Having spent most days exploring the city centre on foot, Hasner was delighted to discover that Ipoh actually has two sections; the new and old town, divided by Kinta River. He suggested, “Visitors should try to stay in both areas to really get a feel of what the city has to offer. It’s a huge contrast between them, but as the names indicate, New Town is the modern section of town while Old Town is where all the heritage buildings are located.

posing with the ancient bell at Nam Thean Tong

posing with the ancient bell at Nam Thean Tong

“I personally prefer New Town because aside from Greentown, the New Town is a combination of older buildings and newer businesses. New Town feels like a real working class city, where people struggle to make a living and at the same time try to enjoy life, the essence of what a city should be.

“Old Town, on the other hand, is beautiful and tells the history of Ipoh as a tin mining giant, but for me it felt a bit too touristy and reminded me of many similar places in the USA. I know I am in the minority but I prefer the real over the reconstructed.”

Visiting Ipoh, one should not miss out on the local food. In a quest to hunt for the list of food recommended on the internet, Hasner found himself trying out bean sprout chicken, Hakka noodles and char kway teow from different vendors. Smiling sheepishly, he said, “Suffice to say, I ate far too much of each!”

Note: An edited version of this article [Ipoh, an eye opener] was published on 22nd August, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.

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