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Taking the rose tinted glasses off in Malaysia

March 7, 2009

Not everywhere in this world can be a wonderland of treasures and impressive experiences. Perception, timing, attitude all effect the way we view things. Seeing the world through rose tinted glasses can turn a dull place into a magnificent dream; or sometimes let you ignore the underlying decay or poverty of a developing country.

Other times, the glass lens breaks and those true colours of realism come through. Throughout my years of travel around Asia, I have been lucky to have worn the same pair of rose tinted glasses with no breakages; up until my recent travels to Malaysia. In a small city two hours north of Kuala Lumpur, my glasses broke, and reality shone through.

Ipoh – a town with a thriving past and drifting present. Colonial and mining, boom and bust. Today the city sits in what my first impressions would label it as: quiet indifference. A patina of indifference that wherever you go, affects you.

The best way for me to portray my feelings about this town is through the photos I took.

by Cate

by Cate

Transport around Ipoh comes from a different era. Ipoh once boasted to have the highest number of luxurious cars per capita, until the mining industry fell apart.

by Cate

by Cate

Monuments of an old empire, buildings of wealth, remnants of Ipoh’s once prosperous past stand bravely, exposed to the elements and vandals. Ipoh has on offer a fine collection of colonial buildings. Most suffer from neglect.

by Cate

by Cate

Some buildings are fortunate to have undergone small makeovers. Makeovers in an attempt to save their honour. The Majestic Hotel and train station is one example. Famous in guidebooks for being a tired grand old lady. The reality differs: she is run down, in desperate need of building collagen and botox filler.

Patch up the rose tinted glasses and things in Ipoh look brighter. The town is slowly attracting hotels and niche businesses. Marriage is big in Ipoh, next to MacDonalds, bridal shops are found on literally every corner.

by Cate

by Cate

Ipoh has potential, it just needs to let go of it’s past. Would I recommend staying here?

On the outskirts of the city are some scenic karst caves with temples and shrines. The biggest problem is transport. You can take a taxi anywhere around the city but expect to be ripped off. Taxi drivers know the transport demise of the visiting traveller. Local buses are cheap, but these are old, run down and lack air conditioning.

Ipoh is where you transfer from one destination to another; from KL to Penang, Cameron Highlands, Butterworth. It’s a place where you won’t find tourist traps. In fact, you probably won’t see another tourist at all.

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. March 7, 2009 3:55 pm

    And despite all of this – despite the pictures you took, the view you accrued, and the ideas that came to you – that wasn’t a great place to visit? I would think that this, being alone and away from all other tourists, and having a bit of gritty realism open wide before you would make for a desired experience. Tined, perhaps not? But still a fantastic experience.

    • March 8, 2009 1:32 am

      You would think that it would make a great experience, which is why I was drawn to Ipoh in the first place. Building up too many expectations often leaves disappointment along the way. I was mainly disappointed with the peoples attitude:unhelpful, couldn’t care less about their town. The town itself was boring to be in – full of emptiness.

  2. March 8, 2009 2:40 pm

    Unlike Singapore, public transport system is very poor through out Malaysia. Unless you have a friend, or someone who can introduce a reasonable charging taxi driver, chances of getting cheated is very high!

    Here in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh white coffee is quite popular. As you are the “Caffinated traveller”, I was expecting something about this in your post. Did’nt you get to try it?

  3. Bear permalink
    March 9, 2009 1:07 am

    A nice post because it is informatve and contemplative, thank you. I’ve been to many ex-mining towns. They thrived until the lode ran out or became uneconomical to continue operations. Those that didn’t turn into ghost towns survived because of a niche — tourism, arts and crafts, scenic locations for a vacation home are a few examples. Since Ipoh has the colonial architecture they may be blessed and cursed. It’s attractive but expensive to restore. But without restorations or developing another economic base Ipoh may languish I’m afraid. It’s too bad about the dodgey taxi rates — that will keep most outsiders away as well. Still, the colonial architecture is becoming less and less available so Ipoh has possibilities I would think.

  4. March 9, 2009 4:24 am

    Vaish – thanks for your piece of information. Please take some time out and look at my other posts on Malaysia to see whether you share a smiliar view as me.
    White coffee was high on my list for Ipoh. Yes I tried it, and to be frank, it wasn’t worth writing a negative comment about it; taste and look. If you took some time to read about me and my caffeine posts, you will see that I write about good coffee, tea (Cameron Highlands) etc. Which is why I don’t blog about instant coffee or drinks from Starbucks. Now if you have a had a great experience with white coffee please pass it on including photos and I will gladly post this on my site.I always welcome positive advice and tips

    Bear – I agree with cost of restoration. I saw smiliar problems with towns in Florida after hurricanes wrecked havoc on them. I think guidebooks have warned about the taxis in Ipoh. From my experience these were more likely to fleece you than in other areas.

  5. Erica Johansson permalink
    March 12, 2009 1:50 am

    Interesting post. It just hit me how well you write. Are you doing any professional travel writing on the side?

    • March 13, 2009 9:49 am

      Thanks Erica, I think you paid me that compliment some time back, but I’m greedy and will take the compliment again. The idea of writing professionally is there with me at all times, just haven’t found any spare time to carry it out at the moment. But I plan on changing withing the next few months.


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