Ipoh’s railway station is a fascinating mix of old and new. From the front the building is whitewashed Moorish and British Raj colonial architecture fronted by manicured gardens, in the centre of which is a fine example of an Ipoh tree from which the town gains its name. The leaves from the Ipoh tree, incidentally, are poisonous and are used by the Orang Asli (the “original people”) to make the poison for the darts they fire with deadly accuracy from blowpipes (but not in the middle of 21st centuryIpoh of course).
Walking through the entrance doors and through the main ticket hall, much of which is original, you find yourself in a gleaming 21st-century glass and stainless steel rail station. The effect is quite startling. Ipoh is on the main East Coast railway line which runs all the way from Singapore up through Kuala Lumpur and eventually into Thailand.
In spite of the modernisation of the Malaysian railway system, which is ongoing, there are remarkably few trains. I was looking forward to travelling by rail through parts of Malaysia as a good way of seeing the country close up. I discovered from the station In Kampar that there were only three trains a day which ran from Kampar to Ipoh, and that they were at 6pm 1:30am and 2:30 am! The reason for these unusual times I was told was that the trains start in Singapore in early morning and early afternoon, and this is the natural consequence. A taxi driver told me a different story. He said it was common knowledge that certain people with political influence and money had vested interests in Malaysian bus travel companies and had successfully delayed real development of the railway for years. How true this is I cannot say.
On the upper floors of the station building is the Majestic Station Hotel. Sadly it is no longer very majestic. The paint is peeling and the ornate plaster work is cracked. The rooms would no doubt once have been luxurious. Today they are fairly clean but old-fashioned. There is a shabby but characterful veranda running the entire length of the first floor, where it would be splendid to take afternoon tea in good company or with a good book.
Just across the road from the railway station is another very beautiful building, the Town Hall. The entrance hall is impressive and there are very pleasant views back to the Rail Station and gardens from the first floor.
It is only a short walk to the left side of the town Hall to reach the centre of old Ipoh, arranged around the pedang (field). Here is the exclusive mock Tudor Royal Ipoh Club and the beautiful HSBC building.
Two minutes further on are streets of rickety Chinese shophouses and restaurants. Here you can sample some say the best kway teow in Malaysia and Ipoh’s famous white coffee. Strolling through the streets I found the Thean Chun restaurant.
It was very busy with locals (always a good sign) even if slightly scruffy looking from the outside. The noodle and beansprout soup was just right for a light lunch and an afternoon visit to nearby Kek Lok Si still to come.