Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh
A sleep in – yay! Maura was already packed and ready to head to KL Sentral for the 11am train to Ipoh. Terry still hadn’t packed like smarty pants Maura, so he was up busy throwing things into his back pack. We had heard about the fabulous flavours of Ipoh and were eager to get there.
Time to leave our gated apartment. So many levels of security. The security guard at entrance, swipe card for our level only, plus gated front door, locked front door and then door to apartment. We felt like the jailer!
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However we did enjoy using Airbnb and having the use of this fabulous apartment so close to great street restaurants and local transport.
We had planned to catch a train at the nearby station but when we got to where we thought the station was, there were only buses. We soon worked out that the huge empty development next door was the train station we were looking for, it hadn’t been built yet! Our GPS was looking into the future. Oh well, a 1.5km walk to the next station was required, fortunately, we had allowed plenty of time. We got to KL Sentral with enough time to get an Indian breakfast.
The train started boarding at 10.45am so we made our way through the final ticket check with staff decked out in smart uniforms that reminded us of an older period of train travel, almost like air hostess uniforms.
We took our allocated seats with maybe six other people in our carriage. When the train pulled out we were able to switch seats to ones facing the direction of travel. This is a relatively new electric train that hit speeds close to 150km/h and is very comfortable and clean.
We were served a small snack, and for entertainment, they played the first Harry Potter movie! The two hour non-stop trip cost US10 each. It was well worth it in comparison to the previous bus trips we had taken.
If you want to know the essentials we packed in our small 10kg backpack, click this link 8 Essential Items to Pack.
Arrival in Ipoh
We arrived at Ipoh a little on the tired side. With Evelyn’s mothers address not showing on our GPS we took a taxi. We agreed to a NZ$10 fee – way too high! But we got there and were warmly greeted by Judy who welcomed us into her home. It was 35degC so enjoyed a cool drink and the fans blowing. We had a good chat with Judy and were invited out to dinner with her good friends Lim Bo Seng and his wife Siew.
First meal out in Ipoh
Lim and Siew picked us up at 7pm and explained about the village they lived in – Kampung Sungai Rokam. Back in the 1950s with the threat of communism, Chinese were moved from the hillsides to gated wooden villages on small land plots. The gates were closed at night at 6pm for safety. While the gated area no longer exists, most individual houses are securely gated.
A Thai restaurant was chosen for dinner, but unfortunately, it was closed. After a quick discussion, we were on our way to another local restaurant. Stopping for a quick photo of the sun setting with an incredible deep orange colour.
We arrived at the local Chinese Restoran Shiong Mun Lau. While we were settling in, the order was placed and we had no idea what was being said, but trusted our hosts.
Tiger beers arrived – a good start. Then a small bowl we filled with a chicken meat soup that included rice wine and ginger – very tasty. Apparently taken by women in their confinement (period/monthly) not a bad drink to have during that time 😀. Also two plates of vegetables – one was morning glory and the other Ipoh famous bean sprout, so flavoursome.
The main dish was Fish Head Curry. Doubt was soon replaced with desire as the wonderful contents were tasted. This was a superb dinner and we left feeling very satisfied full of the fabulous flavours of Ipoh.
Night views of Ipoh
After dinner, we headed to the train station to get tickets for our next trip, 2 hours to George Town, Penang on Saturday. We wanted the 11.30am trip, but that was sold out as Penang is a very popular destination during the weekend. Our other options were 11.30am Friday, 8pm or later Saturday, or the one we decided on, was 5.30am on Saturday!
While Terry and Lim took the half hour to sort out the tickets (another ticketed queue), Maura and the ladies took some photos of the impressive colonial railway station and civic buildings.
Next we took a walk alongside the Ipoh riverbank where it had been previously lit for the Chinese New Year, and looked quite vivid.
Back to home for a cup of tea and a chat with Judy, and to sleep with the temperature still in the 30’s! Terry slept part of the night on the tiled floor where it was cooler, but less comfortable than the bed.
Exploring Ipoh and its Caves
The next morning we were up at 7.30am to go for a drive with Lim and Judy to see some local sights, but first to breakfast. Lim suggested Dim Sum City where we were treated to a variety of Dim Sum and sauces, a very good start to the day.
Terry only managing to use the chopsticks at the end of the meal. For a highly co-ordinated athletic guy, he is so unco with the chopsticks, lol. The day was sunny and would be another mid 30deg day so an early start was a good idea.
After our Dim Sum breakfast, we headed to one of the local cave systems that border the city. Surrounding Ipoh is an impressive range of limestone hills riddled with caves, many of which have shrines within them.
We made the 25km trip to Gua Tempurung only to find it was closed for maintenance until April – this is becoming a common theme! We had a quick look around before heading to cave option 2, not far from Judy’s home.
On the way, we stopped at a Pomelo farm for a coffee, well no coffee today, but we did see Pomelo’s (giant oranges) and humongous Jack Fruit! Many of these are produced and consumed for Chinese New Year.
We arrived at Gua Kek Look Tong and took a walk through the cave viewing its impressive formations, right through to its rear exit to a lake containing turtles, a fast-moving reptile, and small monkeys playing on the grass. Within the caves, there were several shrines to various deities and Buddha, well worth a visit even if it was one of the smaller cave systems in the area.
Next stop lunch – well food is one of the reasons we chose Asia for this trip. Lim took us to The Andersonions Club, a very British name for an Indian restaurant. We were delivered a banana leaf for our meal to be served on. Rice was placed on the centre then a choice of three curry sauces (chicken, seafood or vegetarian) was offered and ladled on to the rice, followed by the chicken, fish or veges. Also offered were four condiments – red kidney beans, a cucumber mix, morning glory, and um another one plus the best tasting pappadum.
This was a truly superb meal and we both agreed the favourite of our trip to date. As we had been so well looked after, we overruled Judy’s offer to pay, we were quite surprised with the RM59 NZD22 bill which included coffees for all 4 of us, what great value for money you get here!
Back home for a sleep in the afternoon heat. After our nap we got up and did a little planning for our upcoming next few stops – 6 nights in Penang followed by 7 nights in Phuket. After all of our 3 night stays it will be good to spend a bit longer.
Judy had taken some time while we slept to prepare a meal for us and it was a very tasty curry with chicken, rice and vegetables, soooooo good!
Botany in Perak
Lim had invited us out to the Perak Academy to listen to a speaker talking on the subject ‘The Importance of Botany in Perak’, given by Professor Emeritus Dato’ Dr Abdul Latiff Mohamad, FASc.
Perak is the state in which Ipoh is the main city, and has some amazing ecosystems. They include the limestone hills surrounding Ipoh; jungle areas containing tigers, rhino’s, tapir, guar and other mammals; a lakes district, highlands, and the best-managed mangroves in the world.
One of the main discussion topics was the Rafflesia flower which has a huge blossom but no stem, leaf or root. These massive flowers are the largest in the world and part of the talk was how to generate Eco-tourism dollars by implementing a system whereby landowners notify hotels of Rafflesia coming into bloom, the hotels communicate this to guests who then pay a charge to go and view the flower during its 4-5 day bloom.
Of course, this is all about creating a sustainability model to preserve the future of the environment in which these flowers grow. So we learned about local botany, met some interesting people and had a good supper!
What a really good day! Off to sleep after a cup of tea with Judy, oh yes it’s another hot night.
Another Day and more Fabulous Flavours of Ipoh
The next morning (Friday) we awoke around 8.15am to find Siew had dropped by with some breakfast for us. This was Chee Cheong Fun, a ground rice mix that has been rolled flat then filled with prawns and then rolled and cut into pieces. This was topped with a spicy red paste, sesame seeds and fried shallots – omg!
We followed this with coffee and three variants of deep fried Asian style doughnut. Some plain and some with glutinous rice, it sounds indulgent, but it was very light and delicious. What a great way to start the day. 😛
Siew dropped by around 11.15am to be our guide for the day, how generous they have been with their time. Siew and Judy had decided we were going to the old part of town for lunch, but first a walk through the lanes where old residences had been transformed into very cool shops.
The first lane we went down was called Concubine Lane, the history tells us that this is where the tin miners came to see their favourite women while away from home. It was funny to be told of the spiral ‘escape’ staircases out the back built for a quick exit should the miner’s wife make an unexpected and unwelcome visit!
The new shops were a mix of the upmarket (Abercrombie & Fitch) to the ordinary, we were never sure what was in the next lane. We did spend some time in a shop dedicated to ginger and were educated in its great powers to heal, aid digestion and improve blood flow.
Will we ever tire of the wonderful food?
We then had another incredible dining experience at Restoran Thean Chun, a Chinese restaurant. Once again we ordered our drinks but let our lovely hosts do the food order. Pieces of fruit with a thick sweet soy sauce for dipping, turnip filled pancake roll then a yummy chicken, prawn, noodle soup arrived (Maura’s favourite) and made by an elderly gentleman for the last 30 years – yum.
The satay sticks kept coming but Siew explained they ensure you always have hot satay and you only pay for the sticks you eat. We then agreed to Siew ordering pig intestine and liver satay – liver is liver but the pig intestine was nice and chewy. Terry must have been hungry as he had 11 sticks himself to everyone else’s 8 combined!
We were offered more dishes to try but declined as our tummies are full. Our next stop was an historical tea shop and herbalist museum across the road. It was great to watch Judy and Siew laughing, reminiscing and telling us stories of the items they found in the kitchen area, especially the old iron they filled with charcoal.
Back in the car and the heat so intense, we headed to a Chinese limestone cave shrine. Although neglected, we did find a pond full of tortoises and fed them some morning glory the old Chinese woman at the gate insisted Siew buy.
We all decided a cold drink was needed and stopped at the local food market. The drink turned out to be Ais (ice) Kacang – crushed ice in a bowl with a sweet red syrup and evaporated milk topped with red beans, corn, green and black soy jelly and capped off with peanuts. We certainly cooled after that and headed back for our afternoon siesta.
After not seeing any rain since our first night in KL a thunderstorm struck in the late afternoon. This lasted for a couple of hours which helped cool the temperature. This was the first rain in Ipoh for 3 weeks, so the locals were happy.