Heritage Walk – Concubine Lane & Kong Heng Square, Ipoh

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Last year, Ipoh was listed as one of the Top 10 Places to Visit in Asia by Lonely Planet. It’s not hard to see why. The city has a quaint, laidback charm, with its colonial-style coffeehouses, beautiful architecture and unique, natural attractions. In recent years, the city has enjoyed a surge in popularity – especially among the younger crowd – and along with it came the hipster cafes, Instagram-worthy nooks and crannies, creative art murals, etc.

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One of these must check-out spots, a favourite hangout of youngsters, is Kong Heng Square. The term ‘old is gold’ never seemed more apt, as the cluster of restaurants, vintage stores and hip cafes are surrounded by giant trees with vines, buildings faded with age and overhung by carpets of ivy but revamped on the inside.

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Art pieces are displayed periodically to go along with permanent fixtures. During our visit, they had put up some pieces done by local art students, which used recycled items such as old bottle caps and CDs.

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Made from discarded bottle caps.

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Just a few steps away is Concubine Lane, which I’ve blogged about previously Here. Since it was a holiday, the street was packed with tourists. Stalls were selling all sorts of knick knacks, from souvenirs to handphone accessories, hair clips to biscuits and cookies.  The street was also decorated with red lanterns and hangings to suit the Chinese New Year mood.

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Literal jelly fish

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Also nearby are two museums – Hor Yan Hor (a local herbal drink) and the Han Chin Pet Soo, which I visited the last time I was in Ipoh (blog post Here). It’s a good idea to spend half a day just hanging around the Kong Heng/Concubine Lane area! 🙂

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Concubine Lane, Ipoh

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Outside a toy store.   We went in to check out what they have, but everything was so overpriced we left in a hurry lol. 20161002_092448-tile

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?

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Colourful mini lion dance heads hanging from the rafters of another souvenir shop.

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Nice to see, nice to hold, everything is expensive, are they made of gold? once broken considered sold

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Some random cactus plants, because why not, right?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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. 🙂