Ipoh. Famous as the birthplace of White Coffee, Famous for Dim Sum and surrounded by limestone hills hiding a plethora of temples in caves. How could we resist that combination…..
The first thing we see of Ipoh is the huge mural of a man drinking a cup of coffee which is right opposite the tourist office. Apparently Ipoh is home of the white coffee, We ask the tourist man what is white coffee – It is not coffee with milk, and it is not the colour, but he cannot tell us what is it. He does tell us that there are a number of murals around town and gave us a map. They are all sponsored by the White Coffee company, so the mystery deepens just at the point we loose all sense of direction and any ability to read a map. We found a few of the 12 street art murals but lost many more.
Everywhere we go we get lost and every time we get our map out and stand looking at it, the same thing happens: Within a minute someone approaches us and asks if they can help. What lovely friendly town. On the first such occasion, the man even drew us a map and gave us restaurant advice. He tells us of the famous Dim Sum restaurant that draws in the gourmands to this town. He also tells us that better dim sum can be had in the smaller restaurant opposite. We are skeptical, but his map got us to where we wanted to go and the dim sum restaurant opposite the famous big posh one gets mentioned again by another helpful local, who told us to go early morning as it gets really crowded. So we tried it. And loved it. More of that later. The next time we got our map out a lady actually left her job and escorted us around the corner, and down the road so that we were in sight of our destination. And so on : Each time, a lovely helpful person miraculously appears. I like it here – if the tourist office map could did accurately show all the roads,we would never have known nice the people of Ipoh are. Everyone who sees our map, helps us and also gives us restaurant advice. We must try the famous Chicken and Beansprout Restuarant we are told over and over, So we did that too.
Feeling like we were on an eating expedition, it was decided that we should see some sights. The sights are not in town, but surrounding the town and are interesting quirky caves in limestone hills which have been converted to homes or temples or other uses. We chose to visit a temple called Perak Tong a short bus ride away. The bus driver was incredibly helpful and stopped exactly opposite the entrance, gestured for us to cross the road in front of the bus and literally pointed us into the front drive.
Perak Tong is amazing. This is just a small selection of photos from this massive cave. In the dark recesses of the cave are huge statues, giant murals and a set of steps leading up through the cave, outside and up, up, up to the top where a small pagoda for meditating is perched. It is a hard climb to the top in the heat of the day and I feel the warning sign at the beginning had been placed there for a reason. Some easy steps to begin with lull you into a false sense of confidence. Perak Tong is privately owned, charging no entrance fee, set up by a family who created this in the 1930s. Some of the murals are by master artists, some by family members. Monkeys live on the side of the hill, the goddess of mercy looks in from the front and Buddist symbols abound inside.
The dim sum restaurant we tried the following morning was chaotic but such good fun. Extremely busy as we had been warned. People hovered by diners at tables, waiting to sit. We were the only foreign looking faces in this noisy place that probably seated two hundred people and we got shepherded in to share a table with three local ladies, two sisters and their mother. As can be expected from Ipoh, they were lovely people and started chatting to us as much as language barriers allowed. They come for a meal every week here. When we ordered tea to drink, everyone seemed confused. Tea is not just tea here. We were advised that you need to choose which tea leaves you require to complement your meal. Feeling already out of our depth, one of the ladies ordered a good tea for us and pointed out where we top up the water when required. Obviously we are helpless foreigners so they then showed us how to eat, got the ‘aunties’ to stop at our table so that we could try all the different food and generally encouraging us to eat everything, dipping in each appropriate dip. The way it works is that you hail an Aunty, carrying food and they show you what they have. If you like it, they put a plate on your table and mark it on your sheet of paper for billing later. I asked what a normal amount of food was and apparantley it is about 7 plates. Per person or per table I am not sure, we certainly had a wide variety and when these ladies left, we were joined by some more regular local patrons, men this time, who were equally friendly and equally helpful. Ipoh is a town where you are definitely made to feel welcome.
PS. White Coffee? ………. When the coffee beans have been roasted in margarine.
Where we ate :
Dim Sum at the Mong Court Hong Kong Tim Sum Restaurant (opposite the Foh San Restaurant)
Chicken and Beansprouts at Lou Wong Restaurant