Is Ipoh the most underrated town in Malaysia?

Malaysia is famous worldwide for it's incredible cities and beautiful beaches - places like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and the Perhentian or Langkawi islands.  Some may even be familiar with the mountains, centrally located in Malaysia; Cameron Highlands.  But on a recent trip to those mountains we passed through a small city and I vowed to check it out.
A cricket game being played with limestone cliff backdrop
Ipoh, halfway between Penang and Cameron, was a booming tin mining town in the 1800's.  Since then it has become a locals getaway renowned for having incredible restaurants, hawker markets, and delicious local foods.  It's rumored to be a popular retirement area for expats, but they must stay inside because we did not see a single Western tourist the entire time we were there.  It seems the tourist scene skipped over this gem of a town.

The real lure for us was when passing by the limestone caves on our way out of town. Homes, businesses, and temples spectacularly carved into the cliff side.  On the bus ride up to the Highlands, D and I looked at each other and both agreed, we are stopping here on our way back to Penang!

So, sure enough, three weeks later we took the bus to Ipoh.  A beautiful scenery filled trip just about 2 hours from Cameron Highlands and 2 hours from Penang.  The buses are ultra comfortable here in Malaysia.  Large seats, plenty of leg room even for my giants, individually controlled AC, and some even come with wifi, and individual televisions.  Needless to say, it is quite relaxing for a 2-hour journey.
Riding in style in Malaysia
We found a great spot to stay that offered a 2-bedroom apartment for around $55 a night.  Of course this was not the advertised price but as we were staying a week they were able to offer a discount.  Osborne Homestay and apartments (found on or is brand new and beautifully decorated.  We stayed in the 2-bedroom Jr suite but they also offer slightly smaller and slightly larger units.  There was a large fridge, coffee maker, 2 baths, balcony, TV/DVD, terrific AC and very helpful staff.

Tip:  We have found that if you are staying 3-4 days or more they will bargain with you for a better daily rate.  Also if you find a new hotel, you also have some extra bargaining power and you know the facility will most usually be clean.

Now that the logistics are out of the way, you may be interested in what there is to actually do in a town that has escaped the tourist draw.

Cave Temples
The temples are what drew us in to begin with and once we actually got to explore them we were not disappointed.

First stop was Perak Tong, which is conveniently located less than 5 minutes from Gunung Park.  As both sites are roughly 20-mins from our hotel, it makes a great combination trip.

Entrance to Perak Tong

Perak Tong was founded in 1926 and has an impressive array of tunnels and grottos.  More than any of the other cave temples we visited.  There are also several beautiful Buddha statues and murals painted on the walls.  A large stairway leads through the cave to the outside and up the mountainside to an stunning lookout!

Going up, I think it was 500 steps
Worth every step
The next temple we explored was Sam Poh Tong.  We decided to explore this one because of the large turtle pond we heard about.  Buddhists release turtles to attract good luck.  In fact, while we were there we saw a young family bring a turtle in and release it.

They actually came "running" when they saw greenery to eat!
The gardens, statues, and actual temples are also quite worth seeing.  As you head back towards the main road there are a bunch of other temples all worth exploring.  Beautiful statues, intricately carved temples, a crematorium, and so much more.

Ornamental garden at Sam Pah Tong


All the temples in a row
We decided not to explore any of the other temples but when driving past they look beautiful.  After 4 months in Thailand my guys are really done with temples. I can't say I blame them, this was #299 or so they tell me!

Gunung Lang Park

A beautiful recreational park built on the site of an old tin mine.  It offers stunning views, 3 beautiful lakes filled with large fish and turtles, a playground, animals, lookout towers, thieving monkeys, and a stunning waterfall.  A ten-minute taxi ride outside of Ipoh center.  Buy your tickets at the counter (entrance for 4 of us was slightly over $5 US) and as you wait for the boat to ferry you across to the park. Be sure to stock up on some drinks (there are no vendors on the other side) and feed the fish, they are enormous and the food only costs about $.30!  You then head over on the boat where you can climb the tower, walk the paths, or play on the dinosaur themed playground complete with a mini zipline.
Playground and watchtower from the boat dock

Large dino themed playground

Tip: It is hot in Ipoh and most of the park is laid out in the sun and also backed up to the woods so sunscreen, water, and bug spray are must bring items.

Lost World of Tambun

Part waterpark, part amusement park, part hot springs, and part mini zoo, Tambun is a perfect day trip from Ipoh.  Only 30 mins away from the city and you find yourself sitting on a lovely piece of property seemingly in the middle of no where.  Our day spent at Tambun was perfect!

The park is just the right size to feel that you are getting your money's worth but never overwhelming in any way.  We went on weekday which I think really helps in keeping the crowds down, another great benefit of homeschooling.  For the entire day we spent $60 for 2 adults and 2 kids, including drinks, snacks, a huge tube rental for the lazy river, and all the entrance/ride fees.  There were no hidden charges at all!

We started at the petting zoo which is quite large and inviting.  Animal keepers are stationed all around to help you interact with the animals and explain points of interest about the animals.  This is no goat and bunny petting zoo either.  There were snakes, turtles, exotic birds, cats, monkeys, etc. We easily spent over an hour in the petting zoo alone.

Next stop was the wave pool, then the larger slides, where a certain 4-year-old was not tall enough and very distressed upon hearing this news.

Kiddie pirate area

One of the 5 bigger slides
Demonstration on how tin mining is done
Tiger feeding
He brightened right up when we discovered the tiger area, then the amusement park with swings and a pirate ship ride, the awesome smaller kids play area with another pirate ship and a variety of slides that release into shallow water.  We also enjoyed the huge wave pool and the hot springs, but we learned that 40 degrees Celsius is too hot for our bodies!  There are nice bathrooms, changing areas, showers, lockers, and restaurants to enjoy.

Overall our stay in Ipoh was wonderful.  If you get a chance to visit while in Malaysia, you should go for it!  You'll be glad you did!

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  1. Wow, Ipoh looks great! I've never even heard of it before! Another place to add to our list!

  2. Thanks for this Mary, we'll be checking Ipoh out on your advice.

    1. No problem. We had never heard of itbut drove through on the way to Cameron Highlands. It looked so cool we decided to stop on the way back. So glad we did! Enjoy it!

  3. Referring to your blog above, i saw you mentioned about osborne homestay and apartment. is this - you mentioning?

    1. Yes, its not the best location but the room itself is awesome and the price is really a bargain. We loved our week there!