Resident Minister. Totally disrespectful of local customs, he lasted a year before his assassination in 1875.
By contrast, the blindingly white railway station would fit well in India, and in fact, Hubbard, its designer, had served there and employed a NeoMoorish style for what was originally a hospital. The locals call it the Taj Mahal of Ipoh. Easy to find, it is set apart with a marble forecourt and lawns and two other things to note, both connected with death.
In front of the station stands a flourishing ipoh tree, the poisonous sap of which was used by the indigenous people to tip their hunting arrows. Not far away is the War Memorial with its tragic inscription recording the deaths of around half of the 170,0000 Asian labourers (many of them Malays) who were conscripted to construct the infamous ThailandBurma Death Railway in World War 2.
But there’s a lighter side, too. Facing the Ipoh Field,an “old uncle” drinks his coffee in a wall mural. Ernest Zacharevic, who painted much of Penang’s street art, now shares his talent on walls around Ipoh.
For the active visitor, there is Lost Worlds hot springs and theme park on the edge of town, and beyond, mountains to climb and limestone caves (some with temples) to explore. In town there are huge shopping centres and the recreational Coronation Park with a newly landscaped Japanese garden.
One night we hungrily cruise the town looking for dining options, and across the river we find plastic tables and chairs have overtaken several streets. Family groups tuck into huge bowls of those famous sar hor fun noodles, unique because of Ipoh’s mineral-rich water.
A bicycle vendor, ringing his bell, sways between diners with his load of dumplings and soup while nearby, globes of green-skinned pomelos swing above baskets of chrysanthemum and rosebud teas.
The affordable, uber-trendy M Boutique hotel (mboutiquehotels.com) surprises us most. Ultra-smart, packed with memorabilia, accented with bold colours and quirky signs, it has the feel of a big city brand – one that could replicate throughout a country. Our tiny room has everything we need, and the sparkling Old Town White Coffee Restaurant next door provides excellent authentic meals.
Appropriately, M Boutique’s motto is “Strangers as Friends”. Guests come as strangers and leave as friends. We certainly did – and that’s how we felt about Ipoh, too.
Ipoh time … the city’s Old Clock Tower (previous page); retro cases stacked at the M Boutique Hotel; street eats; the front desk at the M Boutique Hotel; street mural showing the old uncle.