Taiping, August 2020

After our trip to the Cameron Highlands had shown us that traveling in Malaysia was possible again after the lockdown, a visit to Taping was of course my first priority. I booked four nights in my favourite hotel Furama, we drove to Taping on Thursday 13 August, Aric went back to KL on Saturday, I stayed two more nights and went back home on Monday by ETS. Here is a report.

My friend George was also in Taiping and suggested that we could have lunch in a Tupai food court, Sin Wong Kok, where they had the best popiah in town, according to him. When we arrived , my friends were already waiting for us, George and Jenny, and also Suet Fun and Peter. A nice start of our trip and the popiah were delicious indeed.

Of course we took off our face masks during the lunch, but in public we were good citizens.

After checking in at Furama and taking some rest, we went out in the evening and drove to Simpang for the famous char koay teow prepared over charcoal fire. Char koay teow is a favourite of mine, I had visited this stall before, but for Aric it was a first. The shop has been operating since 1972, nowadays the son has taken over from the father. The char koay teow was perfect, we also had very nice stingray.

On our way back we stopped for a while at the Lake Gardens and had a look at the Chinese Pagoda bridge. That the bridge is illuminated is in itself not a bad idea, but the gaudy and continuous change of colors is ugly, IMHO. Judge for yourself.

The next morning we had chee cheong fun for breakfast at Tong’s stall in the small food court in front of the Novotel hotel. That has become a routine for me when I am in Taiping 😉 .

Back in our hotel, we noticed a group of monkeys in the huge tree opposite the hotel. Spectacled Langurs, we were quite surprised to see them there, and were wondering how they would go back to the Lake Gardens, where they probably came from.

Our first stop this day was in Barrack Road where we visited Mrs Long, the sister of our Singapore friend ST Lee. Another tradition. During my last visit I had promised her a photobook with pictures of Taiping.

Our next destination was the Taiping Aerodrome. There was some activity at the entrance, friends told me later that they were preparing for a skydiving event on Merdeka Day.

I had asked Aric to bring his drone, here is the first result. The former runway is clearly visible.

I am working on a blog about Isabella Bird in Taiping and one of the targets for this trip was to visit places related to her visit in February 1879. AFter crossing the Straits from Penang and entering the Sg Larut, she landed in Teluk Kertang, from where she continued to Taiping. In those days this was the main port to ship tin to Penang!

Now it is a romantic stream, with quite a few shipyards and charcoal kilns on the opposite bank of the river

We continued to Port Weld (Kuala Sepetang), the successor of Teluk Kertang, where we had the famous curry mee for lunch.

On our way back to Taiping we stopped at Kota Ngah Ibrahim, mentioned by Isabella Bird in her book The Golden Chersonese. Next to the fort is Speedy’s bungalow.

The fort is now an interesting small museum, free of charge and worth a visit. The centerpiece on the ground floor is a statue of an elephant . According to legend this elephant came back from the jungle in the 1840’s with tin mud on its legs, starting the tin mining in the Taiping region. The first floor tells the history of the court case against the murderers of J.W.W Birch, the first British Resident of Perak, who was killed in 1875. The trial took place in this fort.

The Kota has also been used as a school, a teacher training college and it was the HQ of the Japanese army during the war. Because of his involvement in the murder plot, Ngah Ibrahim was exiled and died in Singapore. His remains were brought back to the fort in 2006 .

A drone picture of the complex.

Our next stop was at the pillars in front of the ruined Casuarina Inn. The Taiping Heritage Society (THS) is planning a gotong royong (cleaning) operation of the pillars. The bungalow still existed in 1961 and has been used as accommodation for visiting Residents and Governors. Some of the (34) pillars are completely overgrown, cleaning them will be a formidable job.

A drone picture of the hill with the pillars and the ruins of the Casuarina Inn (originally the Taiping State Rest House).

From the same location the drone took a nice picture of the Lake Gardens. Just visible in the bottom right corner is the former Residence of the Assistant Resident, now the DO’s bungalow. Speedy started building it, Maxwell lived there and received Isabella Bird as his guest in 1879. Of course in those days it was only a simple bungalow, as described in her book.

We decided to have dinner in Yat Sun, one of Taiping’s landmark restaurants. It has now two branches, both in Jalan Pasar. The original establishment was closed that day, so we went to the new one. A bit lacking in atmosphere, but the Hainanese chicken chop was still very good.

After our meal we were looking for coffee and cake. We tried Yinn’s but found it closed. The owner told me later that they close earlier these days because of the covid19 crisis. So not everything is back to normal yet. The beautiful illumination of the facade (the former town house of the Hai San leader Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee) deserves a picture.

During my last visit to Taiping in February I had a look at a bungalow in Tupai, near my hotel, which had been overgrown for years, but recently cleaned. The building intrigued me and with the help of a friend I found out who the owner/caretaker was. Yeap, the president of the THS contacted this Dalbir Singh, who was willing to give us a tour of the inside.

Here is the bungalow, looking glorious in the bright morning sun.

The bungalow is in good condition. The house has not been inhabited for a long time, but it looks like the last residents moved out just recently.

Hopefully this house, built in the 1930’s, will get a new lease of life. I would not mind living there 😉 .

Next we visited Crystal Creek. A larger contrast is hardly thinkable. We wanted to have a look to see if apartments here could be a good investment.

We had a look at a penthouse, apparently never inhabited yet, so a massive “renovation” would be needed. The view from the balcony is spectacular, but we found the general atmosphere of Crystal Creek disappointing. Many condo’s are for sale, or used for AirBnb. A bit of a failed project, despite its own waterfall?

We had lunch in the Peace Hotel, char koay teow again. Notice the nice decorations on the pillars. Built it 1928, it is one of the many decorative buildings in Taiping.

After lunch Aric drove back to KL and I took some rest. These days I am a volunteer gardener at the TTDI edible garden, so I was interested when my friend Lay Chun told me that she had started a garden behind her house a few months ago. She showed me around, I was surprised how much she had achieved already in such a short time.

Taiping is called “Rain Town”, but during this visit there was not the usual afternoon rain. It was a Saturday, many people were at the Lake Gardens, boating, walking or just relaxing in the grass. Taiping, my 2nd hometown 😉

When I visit the Lake Gardens, I always have a look at my favourite cannonball trees. For those Taipingites who don’t know the location, here are the coordinates: N 4° 51.05′ E 100° 45.10′

One problem I have in Taiping, is paying the bill after a dinner with friends. They are hospitable and generally faster. This time I was the host at Restoran Yes and I found a trick, by warning the waitress halfway the dinner that the bill was for me. It worked.

We had pig trotter, fish curry, sotong, tofu and veggie. Total bill RM 119.80 for six pax. Amazing 🙂

Halim had told me that he was free for a trip on Sunday, did I have an idea? I suggested that we could explore Kuala Kangsar and surroundings and he agreed.

Actually I wanted to visit two places related to Isabella Bird. In February 1879 she travelled (by elephant!) to Kuala Kangsar to meet the Resident Hugh Low. She stayed a few days in his Residence, a simple bungalow on a hill top. This bungalow was demolished in 1904 to make way for the King’s Pavilion, designed by  Arthur Benison Hubback in 1906, and meant as a residence for visiting Governors of the FMS. Now it is a school.

Nearby is one of Hubback masterpieces, the Ubudiah Mosque, completed in 1917, in my opinion the most beautiful mosque of Malaysia.

Next to the mosque is the Royal Mausoleum of Perak, built in the same period. The two tombs in the right picture finally gave the answer to a question I have often asked (in vain) my Muslim friends :-). Graves have either two round tombstones or two flat ones. What is the difference? The answer is, the round tombstones are for males, the flat ones are for females.

After Kuala Kangsar we went to Kota Lama Kanan. Ever heard about it? After Birch was killed in 1875, the Brits retaliated of course with the Perak War as result. The decisive battle of Kota Lama Kanan was fought against Maharaja Lela and his army on 4 January 1876.

Nowadays Kota Lama Kanan is a peaceful rural district. We went to the mosque and were pleasantly surprised to find there a cannon, according to the caretaker dating back to the battle.

Why was I interested to visit this place? Because Isabella Bird also went there on 16 February 1879. Riding an elephant and crossing the Perak River on it. At that time, three years after the battle, the region was still a “black area”. Detailed story in my forthcoming blog about Isabella in Taiping.

From the mosque you can walk down to the mighty Perak river. It looks impossible to cross this river on the back of an elephant.

We were intrigued by the mention of a Batu Peringatan (memorial stone) on the signboard, looked around for a while, but could not find anything. Finally we asked the caretaker of the mosque who told us that the memorial stone was actually inside the mosque. He allowed me to enter the mosque, after washing hands and feet. A very nice guy.

Mansur Shah I was the 2nd sultan of Perak (1549-1577), he had his residence in Kota Lama Kanan, and in 1577, during Friday prayers in the mosque, he disappeared without leaving a trace. This memorial stone (round and only one!) has been placed in the mosque in 1916. Probably the sultan was kidnapped by the Acehnese. Interesting story.

Our last destination had nothing to do with Isabella Bird. I wanted to show Halim the Suka Suka Lake Retreat of my friends Aziz and Asiah, because I was sure he would love the place. I had stayed in this peaceful resort five times between 2010 and 2014, and it was nice to visit Aziz and Asiah again after a long time. Aziz buys old Malay houses, disassembles them and then rebuilds them on his resort. Halim liked the place very much and I think he will come back soon.

It was a wonderful day, full of variety, really grateful to Halim, hope we can do something similar during my future Taiping visits.

The next day I took the train back to KL, but in the morning I still had meetings with friends. First breakfast and an interesting chat with Anand in Lian Thong. Later, after checking out at Furama, my friend Bok Kin picked me up for lunch, again at Lian Thong. Bomb Mee this time.

After lunch she dropped me at the station. It was a wonderful visit, looking forward to go back soon.

Very convenient way of traveling with the ETS, and no problem with social distancing 🙂

Here is a short video taken by the drone. It shows the Taiping Aerodrome, the Kota Ngah Ibrahim and the Casuarina Inn with the the pillars.

12 thoughts on “Taiping, August 2020

  1. Hi Jan,

    I am from the UK and I have retired to Taiping – it is my wife’s home town.

    I bought a condo at Crystal Creek off plans many years ago. I cannot argue that the finish to the public areas and the recreational facilities is very disappointing. But, and it is a big but, our condo and life in this location is fantastic!!

    Durring construction it became obvious that the finish was going to be disappointing. I reassured my wife by pointing out that once we were in our space the memory of the outside would fade. it has proved to be so.

    From listening to the monkeys in the morning from the hill behind, to enjoying the sounds sometimes heard from the zoo, until the frequently stunning sunsets, our overall feeling is that we have made the best move for us.

    Congratulations on the fascinating blog – bookmarked already! – but no share button. Alemah…

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, the view and the surroundings are beautiful. Actually we also wanted to have a look at a “normal” condo, but the tenant was not at home during our visit. I am sure that a nicely furnished condo will give a much more favorable impression than the barren penthouse we visited. Maybe during a next trip, I can pay you a visit 😉
      About the share button, thanks for the suggestion, I will try to add one, never thought about it.

      • You would be very welcome Jan! I don’t have any coffee melk, so coffee and cake cannot, but English tea can!! Send me an email a week or two before hand – no problem.

        The finish and furnishings in the rental properties will not be to the best standards – the landlords are looking to make a few bob after all. You have to view a residents property to see the full potential.

        If you are interested then I could send photos via email or Whatsap if you would like to send me your contact details.

        You might also want to consider an automatic notification when you post a reply – I didn’t know you had responded until my wife mentioned it over dinner! Both that and a share button will improve your Google rankings if the is a consideration for you,

  2. Thanks for your detailed account of your short stay in Taiping. As always, interesting and jalan, jalan, cari makan with history on the side. Keep on blogging!

  3. Jan, as usual you have turned a short stay in Taiping into a small adventure complete with an interesting, informative write up. Even I am learning new things from this.

    Its been more than a decade since your first visit to my old hometown, and your love for this place has not diminished Keep coming.

    I have always loved the ambience of that area around Crystal Creek. I often go to the cemetery area for its solitude and to watch birds in the daytime. My father, grandparents amd many ancestors are buried there. My mother’s remains are in an urn in the Columbarium.I am making arrangements to buy a slot near my mum’s niche too. Some of my favourite coffee shops , including the one with my favourite popiah run in a row along a road almost perpendicular to the Columbarium’s entrance 😉

    • Thanks George for your nice comment. And for introducing me to Taiping, many years ago.

      Yes, it is useful to have makan near your last resting place. Especially in the month of the Hungry Ghosts 😉 😉

  4. A very good picturesque account of Taiping. Thank you very much for your kind posting. Makes me want to catch the next train there ASAP !!!

  5. Hi Jan, Always nice to read your trip reports.
    Unfortunately my few trips back to my hometown doesn’t coincide with your stay in Taiping.
    Anyway, just to share some interesting spots around Taiping that you and fellow readers might want to check out on your next visit.
    1) WonderFarm mushroom (GPS: 4.8751297,100.6736618)
    Other than to see how they grow fresh mushroom, this is about the very few places that you can see the highly illusive, mysterious and sought after mushroom, the Tiger Milk mushroom. Legend has it that it will only grow in the spot where the milk of a female tiger is spilled onto the ground. The mushroom crackers made in the farm are also delicious and unique. Entrance is free with guided walks around their facility.
    2) Mi Tuo Shan. (GPS: 4.8949054,100.6894813)
    A Buddhist temple with a setting like a theme park. Currently closed due the COVID 19 pandemic. Entrance is free.
    3) Gulou Farmstay, 古楼农家乐民宿. (GPS: 5.0115345,100.4006014)
    Hidden in the deep coastal town of Kuala Kurau is a seaside resort located near the vicinity of Ban Pecah. The owner constructed some art installations (infinity stairway, beach swings and a golden statue of a mermaid) making his resort a very photogenic place to visit and take photos. Entrance is free but need to make appointment with the resort owner.
    Finally…How about asking Aric to take video shots of waterfalls using his drone? Should be interesting to view the waterfalls from the drone.
    Thank you for your efforts to promote Taiping.
    Soon Lay sends her best wishes to you and Aric.
    Best Wishes, Henry and Soon Lay

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