April is within the inter-monsoon period, although there could be short showers, weather can still be hot. The saving grace is the overcast skies do give some shade. At Ipoh, mid-afternoon temperatures were 32°C and night temperature averaged 27°C. There was some light drizzle in the late afternoon and evening.
For the uninitiated cycling in foreign lands can be a daunting experience, especially when one can only speak a smattering of the local language or if there is no common language to speak to each other (like English). Most Malaysians can speak fairly good English; but in the rural areas the locals speak only some rudimentary English, so learning some basic phrases in Bahasa Malaysia will be helpful.
This could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
And do install memory-resident translation apps into your mobile phone.
6. Staying in Touch
When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost or just to share photos and moments. Pre-paid phone sim-cards are easily available from most phone shops in the main towns.
The drive up was easy, being a week day traffic was not heavy; and a beautiful blue sky filled with cottony swabs of puffy clouds, balanced by a pronounced silhouettes of trees, herald good times ahead for us!
Parking at Ipoh Old Town often is a head-ache, especially during peak hours. This time I was lucky, after dropping the girls at Kong Heng, I drove further ahead and found an open car-park manned by a couple of senior citizens. It's located at the junction of Jalan Bandar Timah & Jalan Sultan Idris Shah. It's opposite Wisma Chye Hin which houses the Ipoh Heritage Museum; and the ground floor is Hashim Enterprise, a shop that sells a wide range of beautiful & authentic rattan goods (mental not to self, must visit the shop and get stuff! 😂). And there was an added bonus, the old car-park attendants seeing that I am also an old guy, directed me to park in their limited two rows of covered bays! Yahoo.... we old guys do stick together 😁.
Immediately, I made bee-line for Kong Heng Coffeeshop - my tummy was growling after getting a whiff of the food when dropping the girls.
We had the must-not-miss Ipoh Chicken Hor Fun (Kai Si Hor Fun), with it's tasty prawny and chicken soup it's good but not as good as the one next door at Thean Chun. We use to eat at Thean Chun, but these days the place is packed and hard to find seats, unless one comes super early - SO Kong Heng it is.
We also had the Kangkong Cuttlefish, there ones here are slightly different as it uses a satay sauce. Being health conscious, we asked for less cuttlefish and more kangkung; the sweet and lightly spicy sauce went well with the veggie. We tried the Custard Caramel too, but being to firm it lacked smoothness and lost out to the original one from TC.The Pohpiah was okay only.
See our family have been eating this satay since the decades ago when we followed our grandfather on his regular business trips down to Teluk Anson (that's what Teluk Intan was called back then) and Sabak. Back then it was the grandfather selling to my grandfather, late it was the father serving to my father; AND NOW it's the grandson preparing the satay for me.
It's still good, but my only complaint is that now the little cube of fat in between the pieces on the skewer is not there anymore. According to the grandson, many complained that the fat piece was not healthy. But I found that those little piece makes for a better satay - while the satay is barbecued, the fat melts and lends a helping hand to the to the cooking process to ensure that no over-burning at the meat tips occur and thus gets that better aroma too. One don't have to really eat those fat pieces, yah?
Kong Heng has changed a lot since my grand-father's days. Back then the upper floors of the building housed a hostel for the actors who performed next door at the Chinese opera theater. The original theater dated back to 1891 and was rebuilt in 1906. The theater has since been demolished. Now upper floors has been converted into a boutique hotel called Sekeping Kong Heng which has been designed to retained some of it's old world charm. The buildings beside and behind the coffee-shop has now been converted to a charming artisan market area called Kong Heng Square.
We popped over to the lane opposite, officially it's now called Panglima Lane, a grand name a panglima means a royal commander of troops. But it had a seedier past as the rich tin miners of old that used to keep their kept ladies (i.e. mistresses & concubines) at the houses on this lane, hence its pseudonym Concubine Lane.
Hey! That stern looking guy in picture is not a rich tin-miner with his concubine, but me (with my better half) with a pensive look of wishful thinking of having many concubines 😎😂.
..... Ipoh White Coffee! There are a couple of shops here selling this favorite drink. Most will go to Nam Heong, but we opted for Sin Yoon Loong, as it is purportedly the original shop of Ipoh White Coffee. Traditionally, Malaysian style ‘black’ coffee roast (Kopi-O) is produced by roasting the beans with sugar, margarine and wheat.‘White’ coffee, on the other hand, is produced with onlymargarineand without any sugar, resulting in a less dark roast.
The coffee here was strong and with a distinct caramelized flavour... YummY!
Old Town is full of many beautiful heritage buildings, many have been refurbished, others waiting their turn.
The Sitting Buddha here is fairly large, about 15 metres tall, with stairs flanked by dragons to bake it all the more impressive. It's a unique silver statue with Buddha sitting in the Vajrasana pose, also called the adamant posture, lotus, or diamond, depicts the legs folded over each other with both soles of the feet turned upward.
A small park at the bottom is with cooling lily ponds, is ideally quiet and serene to gather one's thought, especially after a long drive from Kuala Lumpur 😌.
This will be the Kek Look Tong. As the crow flies, this huge cavern is very close to all the above-mentioned famous temples, which are on the southern outskirts of the city. But this other temple is located on the other side, i.e the eastern side, of Gunung Rapat. And it is not that easy to find, requiring a lot of zig-zagging through residential backstreets before arriving at it's car park. The stairs from the car park are actually on the rear side of the cave.
The floor of the cave has been leveled and paved, and much of the lower walls are lined with marble tiles.
The roof and upper walls however remain in their natural state with some impressive stalactite formations, and lovely stratified pattern lines of the limestone formation. Up in the nooks and crannies of the roof, some swallows roost, but since this is a temple, now traders come harvest the nests.
There's a floating platform at the lake end of the tunnel. From there one have a panoramic view of the lake.
It was drizzling when we got here, but we did still get good, if not the best, reflections mirroring from the dark waters.
Previously entry was free, but these days there is a charge of RM1 per pax; which is a good thing as it means the state government has recognized the heritage value of the place. And the very affordable entry fee will go towards the maintenance of the lake and pays for the tour guide that takes tourists in and give a history of the place. According to the guide there is another connecting lake (can't be seen from the platform). Another tunnel to the right of the car-park leads to this other lake (see top-most map).
The green, serene surrounding makes one get into a romantic mood!
But we were in for a rude shock! We did not know that almost all shops in Old Town are closed on Tuesdays! We circle the old town a couple of times looking for the favourite places for renown Bean Sprout Chicken like Lou Wong but were disappointed to find all these places closed and the streets there dark and quiet! But it was a blessing in disguise, and Lady Luck led us to a good foodie find at Durbar at FMS, FMS stands for Federated Malay States, attributing a link to their colonial past.
Here's some photo of their dining hall, the place was packed when we arrived, but they accommodated the three of us by letting us have a table at the far end, which was good as it afforded us some privacy. We were later to find out that this was actually their staff table, how kind of them! The restaurant's setting is very cozy, clean and comfy, and decorated & set up with paintings that transported us into the bygone British colonial era days!
On the walls were hung nice paintings, including this nicely done one of a beautiful, young Queen Elizabeth II.
A friendly staff, Susan, help us with our orders, making some good recommendations. She also suggested that we go up to their mezzanine floor as they were more things to admire there. True enough, there were more paintings and knick-knacks. I especially liked the paintings of Old Ipoh, done in sepia, they brought back nostalgic feelings of gone-by days while also indicating the names the old colonial names of Ipoh roads.
Okay, okay.... better get to the food, which we must say is very good, on account that their chef is a Hakka, people who are renown for cooking up good food. In the past many colonial establishment have their kitchen headed by a Hakka chef. So we can expect nothing less than the best here at Durbar.
A must-order is their Wat Tan Hor; literally translated it means "Smooth Egg Flat Noodles" and the ones here is really smooth and tasty, with the egg added just as the cooking for the dish is done.
Halibut is a white fish with firm flesh very suitable for grilling. The one here were grilled with the skin intact, which was a nice touch as it provided a balance of crispiness that contrasted well with the fish tender flesh. Served with spears of asparagus, broccoli, chunky carrot, and soft mesh potato to complement the crispy grill.
This is a traditional Nyonya dish. With the seasoned chicken sun-dried so that it'll turn out more crispy but with a colonial influence - i.e. that is the kicker for this dish is the dipping sauce that is made form Worchester Sauce!
Baked Stuffed Crab is one of my favorites. We went for the traditional choice, i.e. one cooked without cheese. Often the crabs is stuffed with a mix of crab-meat and pork; the ones here are stuffed with a crab-chicken mix, nonetheless they are very tasty.
I love this one, the bananas used were Pisang Raja, a smaller but sweeter variety of banana. The ones used to make the fritter were just ripe enough to be sweet but not overly soft. The fritters were served with two varieties of ice-cream, i.e. vanilla and coconut (the whiter one seen above). I was asking whether their coconut ice-cream was milk ice-cream with coconut added OR made with coconut milk (i.e. santan). I think it was made with santan, as we could taste the distinct coconut milk creaminess. Anyway, when we mentioned that we like santan ice-cream very much, they gave us additional scoops without charge..... How kind of them 😋😊!
Good food and good times here. A memorable "mirror' selfie of us, Susan is left-most, and Wee Liam (the owner) is far-right.
Established in 1906, FMS is the oldest bar-restaurant in the country; older even than Coliseum (KL) which was established in 1921. FMS closed in 2008, when the latest generation of the founders did not continue on the business. Wee Liam, a trained architect, took over and re-opened it under the banner Durbar at FMS.
Aren't we glad he did! Now many of us can continue to savour these enjoyable food from days past!