Often overlooked in favour of more popular spots like Penang or Kuala Lumpur, it’s nice to see Ipoh finally having its moment to shine – it was recently named as one of the top 10 places to visit in Asia by Lonely Planet. Quaint and full of colonial charm, this sleepy city has undergone a cultural and artistic revival in the last couple of years, with boutique inns, chic eateries and hole-in-the-wall cafes sprouting up everywhere.
Since my parents are from Ipoh, I am reasonably familiar with the place as we come back every year to visit relatives.
Also known as Bougainvillea City (from its large number of bougainvillea plants), it is considered one of the cleanest in Malaysia and carries an idyllic, laid-back pace. Colonial shophouses are a common fixture, and many of these have been converted into artsy spaces or restos.
One of these spaces is Lorong Panglima, or Concubine Lane (Yee Lai Horng, literally ‘mistress’/’second wife’ lane) This short and narrow street was very rundown just a few years ago, but thanks to restoration efforts, has become a major tourist attraction. A little too touristy, but that’s a small price to pay to preserve the place, which has a heritage dating back over 120 years old.
Beyond the souvenir shops and colourful store fronts, there are a few interesting tales to tell of its history. The story goes that rich Chinese tycoons would keep their mistresses here, hence the name – but another version says that it was all a front for people visiting opium dens, since opium was a vice that was more frowned upon over adultery lol.
It was a very hot day and the crowds made it hard to manoeuvre around. But there are loads of interesting stalls to check out along the way, and most importantly, for our selfie-obsessed generation, lots of props to take pictures with.
A girl waiting patiently for her cotton candy, which the vendor expertly shaped into a pretty flower. It’s nice to be a kid, to be able to ask your parents to fork out RM5 for friggin cotton candy. I could eat a nice big bowl of noodles for 5 bucks. But where’s the fun in that?
Colourful mini lion dance heads hanging from the rafters of another souvenir shop.
Nice to see, nice to hold,
everything is expensive, are they made of gold? once broken considered sold
Some random cactus plants, because why not, right?
You’ll also find food vendors along the street. Stuff is, again, overpriced, but some of these are pretty nostalgic ‘childhood’ snacks like the ‘ear biscuit’ (so named coz it’s shaped like an ear), Ipoh heong peng, lou por beng (Wife’s biscuit, a traditional item gifted during Chinese weddings) and many more.
Some of the spaces have been converted into inns for those who want to stay in the thick of things and soak in the atmosphere.
Based on other online reviews of the place, this shop was supposed to have a large stuffed teddy bear and a giraffe looking down on visitors. They didn’t make an appearance during our visit.
Rewind this back about 100 years and think about how mistresses used to look down those very same windows, waiting for their men to come along.
Exiting from Concubine Lane, there are also other nearby buildings with some very interesting colonial architecture. The Arlene House (above) is reminiscent of early 20th century British architecture and has recently been restored to its current facade.
If you can take the relentless weather, Ipoh is a nice place to stroll around, especially if you love design and architecture. The buildings are unique and can only be found in Malaysia and Singapore, both which were once under British rule.
Concubine Lane is just one of the many stops you can visit while exploring Ipoh. While not the most ‘authentic’ experience, it’s still a great place to visit nonetheless to understand the culture and heritage behind one of Ipoh’s oldest streets. Plus it’s super close to some famous coffeeshops and other attractions. :)