48 Hours in Ipoh

 

CollageThough still pretty much under the radar, this sleepy town is fast becoming a foodie and adventure destination. On our way to Penang, we stopped by Ipoh in Perak to see what some travel enthusiasts are raving about. We arrived on a Sunday and lo and behold, half of Ipoh was indeed asleep. Shops and quite a few restaurants were closed.

sleepy-town

Steep limestone cliffs flank the capital of Perak, some with cave temples pocketed in the limestone. The state of Perak has much to offer regarding outdoor activities such as white water rafting and jungle treks. Although we skipped that as a previous injury prevented such activities, for now, we will perhaps go back one of these days to explore that part of Perak.

traditional-eatery

We spent the two days centered on the food and exploring the old town with a side trip to Batuh Gajah, just 30 minutes out of Ipoh.

Ipoh is shaped by the 1920s tin-mining boom, its wealth and population however ebbed away after the mine’s closure. It is now better known for its excellent food. Perak’s most beautiful colonial architecture stands side by side with shabby coffee shops.

Old-Town-White-Coffee-shop

We had a blast sampling their food specialties and discovering some fine street arts that scatter around town.

Nga Choy Kai

The first thing we did was to sample Ipoh’s quintessential dish that is bean sprout chicken or Tauge Ayam.

kway-teow-noodle-soup

It is essentially kway teow (flat rice noodle) soup,

Steamed-Chicken

poached juicy and tasty chicken and the most delicious beansprout I’ve had.

beansprout

Lou Wong’s, as recommended by the hotel and some reviews, serves one of the best. As with many of the traditional eateries in Ipoh, Lou Wong was unpretentious with round tables and stools and no aircon. We were there early, but the place was packed not long after we were seated.

Street Art

wall-art-in-market-Lane

Wandering through the lanes of Ipoh’s old town reveals a scattering of stencil art murals. Some quirky and easily spotted while others are subtly woven into the streetscape.

mural

A few were done to decorate establishments. While there are some pieces done by Zacharevic, the mural artist that started Penang’s street art scene, other artists have joined in the scene as well.

Han Chin Pet Soo Museum

A guided tour of the museum will provide a good insight into the history of the Chinese in Ipoh. Originally the house of the Hakka Tin Mining Club founded in 1893.

gambling-set

The unique museum has on display artifacts, collectibles, and photographs from the 19th and 20th century. This gives you a chance to step back in time and see how the Hakka tin miners were tempted and tormented by the 4 evils, which were Opium, Gambling, Prostitution, and Triad.

mural-han-chin-pet-soo

The founder, Leong Fun, arrived in Penang penniless in 1876. With a lot of luck and hard work, he found success in the tin mining industry. Since “Towkay” Leong Fu found the exclusive membership club, it has always been a place of mystery to non-members. Although it has opened its doors to the public now, the entry remains to be special as it is by appointment only.

Appointments can be made via the website or by queuing at the door.

Ho Yan Hor Museum

Ho-Yan-Hor-and-Hand-Chin-Pet-Soo

This two-story shophouse is right beside the Han Chin Pet Soo Museum and belongs to the Ho Family of the famous Chinese Herbal tea brand, Ho Yan Hor. Following the successful restoration of next door neighbor, Han Chin Pet Soo, the family decided to open the shop after it was left vacant for so many years and had ipohWorld run its tours.

ho-yan-hor-owner

Also steeped in history, the visit will reveal the brand’s rise to popularity. Complimentary teas for tasting cap the end of the tour.

Concubine Lane

Concubine-Lane-from-Han-Chin-Pet-SooConcubine Lane in between the two structures as seen from the balcony of Han Chin Pet Soo.

The same “towkays,” mining tycoon Yao Tet Shin, in particular, said to have given away 3 lanes as gifts to his 3 wives. These are Wife lane, Concubine Lane, Second Concubine Lane.

concubine-lane

Concubine Lane or the 1st Concubine Lane is the one that has transformed into a hip street in Ipoh with cafes, boutique hotels, food, and souvenir stalls.

hip-street

Kellie’s Castle

Kellie's-Castle

Two days is really not enough to explore all of Perak. With the limited time that we had, we decided to pay Kellie’s Castle a visit.

Kellie's-castle-ruins-2

The unfinished ruined mansion built by a Scottish rubber plantation owner named William Kellie Smith is located just 30 minutes away from Ipoh. The castle has Scottish, Moorish, and Indian influences and had multiple passageways.

Kellies-Castle-living-room-reolicaA replica of what the living could have been.

It was intriguing and eerie to wander around the ruins. It was never completed because Smith suddenly died of pneumonia in Lisbon. His wife, Agnes later packed up and left Malaysia with her children and never returned.

Kellie's-Castle-ruins

She sold the castle to a British company. The only thing left of the home is the covered walkway, an open courtyard, and part of a crumbling wall. Kellie’s castle has been refurbished and was even used as a set in the 1999 film Anna and the King.

A friend mentioned that a foodie will always find their way to Ipoh and Penang, but I say that a non-foodie who loves adventure and history will find Ipoh to be worth a visit. But definitely go for the food.

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Temple Hopping on E-Bikes

With thousands of age-old temples, Bagan’s Archeological Zone is Myanmar’s Must-See. Although it is not yet recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to poor management strategies and legal frameworks, it still is a sight to behold and not to be missed.

hot-air-balloon

To explore, one can choose to go by horse carriage, car, balloon, bike or an electric bike. We chose the latter (for a change).  It’s like riding a motorbike, except that the battery is charged by electricity and a fully charged battery will last for 8 hours (more than enough to get you by for the day). It can go up to 40km/h making your way to the destination quicker than riding a bike. And besides, foreigners are not allowed to drive motorbikes or scooters in Myanmar making e-bikes the popular choice.

E-bike

So at 9AM, right after breakfast, our guide talked Anton through the mechanics of operating the bike, which is basically like driving a scooter. And then we discussed the day’s itinerary and requested that we start the route from the end – our way of avoiding the usual crowds. That was how we found ourselves (alone) in the midst of temples and stupas sprawled across the Bagan plain.

temples-spreadout

guideOur guide

Lying on the bend of the Ayeyarwaddy River, spanning 26 square miles, Bagan was once an ancient city that was the capital of the prosperous Bagan empire that dates back to the Christian era. At the height of the empire’s power, more than 10,000 temples and pagodas were built. Over 2,200 temples and pagodas still exist today.

Starbeam-Bistro

In between pagodas, we had a delightful lunch at the Starbeam Bistro, and we likewise managed to visit a market (my all-time favorite activity).

market

pya-tha-da

Our first stop and closest to New Bagan, where we were staying, Pya Tha Da had a fantastic panoramic view of the area and is said to have one of the best sunset spots around.

view-from-the-pya-tha-da

We didn’t get to see it, but we luxuriated in the sight all by ourselves.

Thatbyinnyu-Phaya

Thatbyinnyu Phaya, our next stop after lunch, is one of the highest monuments.

Thatbyinnyu-Phaya-up-close

It towers above other temples nearby and can be seen from much of the Bagan plains.

Thatbinnyu-from-PyathadarThatbyinnyu Phaya from Pya Tha Da

Ananda-Temple

Adjacent to it is the Ananda Temple. Considered to be one of the best surviving masterpiece of the Mon Architecture and one of the 4 surviving temples of Bagan.

Ananda-Temple-door-detail

Ananda-Temple-details

Well preserved and most revered, the impressive temple has been called the “Westminster Abbey of Burma.” This is my favorite.

Shwezigon

Last but not the least is the Shwezigon Pagoda, a Buddhist temple in Nyaung-U, a town just outside of Bagan. A prototype of Burmese stupas, it’s circular stupa is gilded in gold leaf. Among the 4 important temples of Bagan, Shwezigon is the most essential reliquary shrine of Bagan.

Other temples seen only from afar:

DhammayazyiDhammayangyi Temple
Gawdawpalin-templeGawdawpalin Temple

First Impressions

It started in this guesthouse, my fondness for Mandalay, where we were greeted with grace and elegance.

Big-rooms-at-Mama's

The tastefully built B&B has three floors of spacious rooms and a dining area on the roof deck.

hallway-at-Mama's

Once owned by the mama, Wyn and wife, Sue, now run the place. With her immaculate English and years of experience, mama still plays host and entertains with grace. We asked for a good referral on where to eat, and mama volunteered to prepare our first meal in Mandalay and truth be told, hers was one of the most memorable of our ten days in Myanmar.

Meal-at-Mama's

Talk about first impressions.

With half a day to explore the city, we decided to explore the area on foot. Good idea as we were able to witness every day Mandalay life unfolding walking along 62nd street.

pedestrian

street-food

The 2nd largest city and the last royal capital of Myanmar, Mandalay is not exactly pretty at first sight, but its charm grows on you as it slowly reveals itself.

planter-on-the-side-of-the-roadInnovative plantbox sighted along the roadside.

It’s a relatively new city, built in 1857 when King Mindon was trying to re-establish Burmese prestige after the country’s defeat in the 2nd Anglo-Burmese War. If you take the time to explore, there is much to be enjoyed. You’ll need at least two days.

The 62nd Street led us to the Shwenandaw Monastery.

Shwenandaw-Kyaung-2

Made entirely from teakwood with intricately carved façade, the monastery also known as Shwenandaw Kyaung provides one of the most exceptional examples of traditional 19th-century Burmese architecture.

traditional-19th-century-Burmese-architecture

This is the only surviving structure from Mandalay’s Royal Palace. King Mindon initially used the building as his personal apartment and died here in 1878.

Shwenandaw-Monastery

His son worried that his ghost still resided there dismantled the structure and transported beside the Atumashi Monastery.

Atumashi-Monastery-2.jpg

While most of Mandalay is flat, Mandalay Hill (where the city took its name after) offers a stunning bird’s eye view of the city. We planned to walk up the hill, but we were tired of walking, so we hailed a taxi instead to take us to the lift (one could scale up the 240-meter hill by taking the long stairway up to the summit).

view-from-peak

At the peak is the Su Taung Pyei Pagoda. On its terrace, people stay to wait for the sunset and take in the panoramic view of the Mandalay plains, how expansive the city is.

crowd-waiting-for-sunset

sunset-from-mandalay-hills

The pagoda itself I find gaudy with over the top mirrors that sparkle and shine at every turn and the LED lights that adorned the Buddha shrine.

Su-Taung-Pyei-Pagoda

On our way back, we passed Mandalay Royal Palace, as time prohibited us from entering the palace, we admired it from the road.

Mandalay-Royal-Palace

When the taxi driver dropped us off at the restaurant recommended by the guesthouse, he made us take a photo of his contact details. I found it amusing and very enterprising.

taxi-diver-contact

Traditional dinner and a puppet show after capped our first day in Mandalay.

tea-leaf-saladThe very traditional and iconic Tea Leaf Salad (must try!)

mandalay-beer

Traditional Burmese puppetry, called Marionettes, is an art form using wooden puppets to entertain Burma’s royalty.

puppet-show

It also served to communicate news, stories and moral lessons to its people. Today, as with many cultures, it is a dying art.

Tomorrow, we explore more of the beautiful outskirts and downtown of Mandalay.

 

 

 

 

The Train Station and The Ramen

steel-and-glass

It is a feast of steel and glass with a concave shape interior that opens to the sky, massive with a 60-mile long atrium and 171 steps of stairs.

171-steps

With a hotel, a shopping mall, a movie theater, a department store, a food court and 2 tourist information centers in one roof, the Kyoto Train Station is a splendid example of modern architecture and somewhat controversial when it was built in the mid ‘90s.

hub

It is, nevertheless, a chic way to enter or leave Kyoto.

platform

It has an old fashion charm to it, but I am partial to traveling by train because not only is it easier on the budget, it is also less of a hassle and more flexible in terms of schedule.  However, purchasing train tickets and finding your way around stations can be confusing if English is not spoken fluently.  We believe that being there a day before to get the tickets and familiarize ourselves with the place makes it less stressful on the day itself.

modern-art

And spending the morning at the incredible Kyoto Train Station was enjoyable.  With the essentials done and over with, we explored the building.

view-from-the-top

stairs

The Cube is a shopping mall that starts at the basement and goes all the way up to the 11th floor.  Kyoto Ramen Koji is on the 10th.  It is a “ramen alley” with seven different ramen shops and a coffee and dessert station.  Choosing a place was a daunting task – never thought ramen could be so complicated.  So we decided to choose the one with the longest line – the popular one, we thought.  The problem was we needed to order through a vending machine, which was all in Japanese.  The restaurant staffs do not speak English and therefore, could not explain the process.  We finally chose Hakata Ikkousha because:

a) girl at the door knew some English.

vending-machine

b) they had the 2nd longest line

waiting-in-lineIt was a long line… really!

c) it also has an English name and it promises to make people happy with their dish.

ikkousha

No way of comparing, we decided that the ramen we had was fantastic, though I could go without the rice with fish roe, which came as a set for  ¥1,000.

ramen

The pork literally melts in the mouth; the broth flavorful and the noodles are al dente.  It could be, by far, our cheapest meal in Kyoto.

chasen

display

On our way out of ramen alley, I could hear the desserts at the corner ever so softly but persistently calling my name.

green-tea-ice-cream-with-mochi

Thank you Chasen, for calling out to me.  You did not disappoint.  The mochi was exceptional.

Useful Info

Kyoto Train Station
901, Higashi-Shiokojicho (JR west)
1-3, Higashi-Shikoji Takakura0cho (JR central)