Known to his many fans on Radio Roaming as Grumpy, one would think that travel broadcaster-cum-writer Steve Collins has many a thing to complain about in life. But the jolly 65-year-old who hails from Perth, Western Australia is in fact, friendly, humorous, and chatty, which was probably how he amassed a great fan base in his home country.
Although a frequent visitor to Malaysia, usually for his work on the promotion of tourism for the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, Collins has only visited Ipoh once. As a train enthusiast, he had heard about Ipoh’s majestic railway station, the local version of Taj Mahal, years ago and had even passed through several times while enjoying rail travel between Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
However, during his visit to Ipoh, the trip made a great impression on him having been fortunate enough to be hosted at the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, a five-star luxury resort in Tambun.
He said, “It was an unforgettable experience for me. In my field, you can imagine that I have stayed at the best of accommodations. At Banjaran, while the facilities and services were already expected to be top-notch, it was the setting, amidst magnificent limestone hills that was truly stunning for me. It is a retreat where one could simply sit and do nothing but enjoy the picturesque surroundings.
“It took great effort to tear myself away from my lodging to check out the city and indulge in an array of local food. I am no stranger to Malaysian cuisine, and in fact am addicted to roti canai! Don’t ask me why! I also have the habit of shunning Western food when I am in Malaysia. I’d say Ipoh food was a revelation, and I had a good share of bean sprouts chicken and sar hor fun.”
Another positive impression on Collins was the friendliness of the locals who made him feel welcomed. Unfortunately, he was less than impressed with the Sam Poh Tong cave temple. He said, “It looked unkempt and dirty. I could see that it is badly neglected and is in dire need of someone to start taking care of it. It’s a far cry from Gua Tempurung, which I also visited. I was amazed by its immense size and spent an enjoyable couple of hours exploring its caverns.”
Despite the setbacks, Ipoh’s landscape especially the forested monolithic pinnacles which rise out of the plains left him in awe. Compared to Kuala Lumpur, it is not as frenetic and yet boasts interesting architecture to be admired.
Speaking like the tourism promoter that he is, Collins felt that tourists should consider having a few days’ break in Ipoh to absorb its food and ambience. He said, “It’s a pity that there are far too many tourists bypassing Ipoh when they plan their Malaysian itinerary. It is still an undiscovered gem to many.”
Having only spent two nights in Ipoh, Collins promised to return to further explore the city during his next trip to Malaysia, scheduled for the end of the year.
The new Electric Train Service (ETS) between Kuala Lumpur and Padang Besar would be of particular interest to him. Moreover, he confessed, “My long-suffering wife Heather has put immense pressure on me to treat her to a well-deserved vacation at Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat as well, after seeing my photos of my accommodation here!”
Note: An edited version of this article [The Roaming Grump] was published on 5th March, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.