The International Steam Pages

Kinta Heritage Trail 2017 Part 1
Ipoh's Built Heritage
Colonial Magnificence

See also:

There are downloadable version of the Ipoh Heritage Trail Maps, click the links for more information. Map 1 and Map 2.

We stayed in the Reintree Lodge (Budget) Hotel, cheap and cheerful, with good sized rooms which were clean and well maintained and with excellent Wifi. It's a bit out of the way opposite the Methodist Girls School, but the nearby Curry Mee coffee shop provided an excellent breakfast. There's not much else in the immediate vicinity but plenty of choice if you walk some way north. We would particularly recommend the Ipoh Restaurant at 33, Jalan Masjid where we had three excellent Cantonese meals at a very reasonable price. The place was packed with families every evening so you can safely ignore the Tripadvisor reviews. If we were to return we might consider staying at the Abby Hotel by the River which is also competitively priced and more central.

The three great north Malaysian Colonial / Chinese urban areas of George Town, Taiping and Ipoh all have a great deal of surviving built heritage comprising public, commercial and domestic premises. It is a fact of life that tourism, both domestic and international is vital if they are to be preserved, particularly in a country where poisonous racial politics means that there is little by way of public funding available. Penang has the inestimable advantage of having been a recognised tourist destination for many years and is now a World Heritage Site. This has allowed many small tourist related businesses to spring up in its core area catering for everyone from the budget traveller to the high spender and in the last few years significant progress has been made. As we saw in Taiping in 2016 and now saw in Ipoh in 2017, the numbers of visitors to the other two is really quite small in comparison and while this makes them very attractive to us, it's bad news for those trying to generate the funds to conserve and restore buildings which quickly decay if left at the mercy of a tropical climate.

Ipoh World who run the Hakka Tin Miners Museum (Han Chin Pet Soo) and no doubt the Tourist Information Office have two leaflets produced by the Kinta Heritage Group which detail heritage trails around the city - each has 24 selected sites and we saw most of them in a very hectic couple of hours - the leaflets actually suggest double that time to take everything in. I have presented what we saw in roughly the order they appear in the publications, necessarily the light was not perfect for each one we saw although fortunately it was a bright sunny morning which showed many at their best.

In the old days, most visitors would arrive at Ipoh Railway Station which was designed by A. B. Hubback who was also responsible for its more famous counterpart in Kuala Lumpur. The main building has survived the modernisation of KTM (the Malayan Railway as was) but the operating area has been completely transformed and the old hotel no longer operates. In front of it is a traditional British style war memorial.

Across the road is the Town Hall (left below) and the Old Post Office (right below) - the new one is next to the station at its south end.

Next door on the north side is the High Court where lawyers can be seen immaculately turned out in their British style uniform, some 60 years after independence. Most of the classic colonial public and commercial buildings here were constructed in the boom period roughly between 1928 and 1931.

Next door, is the Royal Ipoh Club founded in 1895 and today apparently unchanged from when I used to occasionally pass through Ipoh in the 1970s (I don't think I ever went inside). The rear backs on to the Padang where generations of planters played cricket and rugby and which is still used for team sports. 

Across the road is St. Michael's Institution, a school founded in 1912:

The next two pictures pair somewhat bizarrely, the Indian Mosque of 1908 and the FMS (Federated Malay States) Bar of 1906. The latter was reported 'under restoration' some years ago and sadly the interior remains gutted...

There next follow a sequence of commercial buildings from a time when no one doubted that shareholder's money was well spent trying to outdo the opposition in terms of splendour and the grandest of these is the HSBC from 1931 at the south east corner of the Padang.. 

By way of contrast next door is the S.P.H. De Silva Building, one of the oldest of Ipoh's commercial buildings. Arlene House is better known as the Chung Thye Phin Building named for the last Kapitan Cina of Perak and erected in 1907. What is now the OCBC (Oversea Chinese Banking Corporation) was formerly that of Straits Trading (1907) who bought tin ore to send to their smelter in Penang. In my time, I had an account with the Chartered Bank in Penang, they have long since joined with the Standard Bank which was to Africa what the Chartered Bank was to Asia. 

The former Mercantile Bank (of India) building has changed ownership but the name and its 1931 date remain on the shaded facade. The Perak River Hydro-Electric Power Company was formed in 1926 and constructed a dam on the Sungai Perak. This resulted in the rapid expansion of domestic electricity in Ipoh and the surrounding areas, more importantly it meant that electrical power could operate the mines and dredges in the Kinta Valley, today it is occupied by Tenaga the national power company.

Finally, we have the Birch Memorial, erected in 1909 to commemorate J.W.W. Birch the first British Resident of Perak who was assassinated in 1875. Widely recognised as being insensitive, he was succeeded by others who applied a more appropriate lighter touch. The panels around the sides portray famous figures from history - the choice reflecting the times in which it was erected.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson