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Ipoh, Malaysia: White Coffee and Limestone Cave Temples

Some of my best experiences in Malaysia took place during our two-day jaunt in the charming city of Ipoh. The bite-sized creamy egg tarts, elaborate limestone cave temples, and decadent white coffee were too irresistible to pass up during our travels in Southeast Asia.

On the surface, Ipoh seems a lot like George Town. Both cities have pockets of British colonial architecture, colorful street murals, and flavorful cuisine. Brad and I were on the fence whether or not Ipoh was worth a special trip for these reasons. So what was the deciding factor? My travel intuition nudging me to have a bit of faith I'd find something different. Thankfully, it was right!

Below I've shared my favorite restaurants and things to do in Ipoh to help you plan the perfect itinerary. Let the mini adventure begin!

Where to Stay

Base yourself in one of the beautifully restored rooms at Sarang Paloh Heritage Stay & Event Hall. Built in 1930, its central location is within walking distance to the attractions in Old Town and New Town. Brad and I adored the Great Tit room off the garden featuring a spacious bathroom with glass shower, queen-sized bed, and sitting area. Waking up every morning with a complimentary cup of traditional hot white coffee was a great start to the day!

Old Town & New Town

The Kinta River divides the heart of Ipoh into two sections: Old Town and New Town. One day in downtown is all you need to see the sights and wander the gritty streets. The Heritage Trail is a great route for architecture enthusiasts. Follow along to admire buildings and monuments such as Han Chin Pet Soo, Birch Memorial Clock Tower with historical figures, and Perak Ku Kong Chow Association.

Ipoh's laidback vibe is the polar opposite to George Town's upbeat atmosphere and touristy crowds. You can choose to visit during the week for a quiet experience or explore on the weekend when the craft fairs and souvenir stalls are in full swing.

Mural's Art Lane

Head to Mural's Art Lane for a magical stroll bursting with imagination. This section in Ipoh is constantly evolving with new street art painted against crumbling walls covered in mildew. Unlike George Town, you won't have to maneuver around others to take photos and may even get the opportunity to appreciate the murals all by yourself!

White Coffee

If you need a jolt of caffeine, try Ipoh's famous white coffee served in any of the numerous cozy cafés! The drink is served hot or cold depending on your preference. Coffee beans are roasted with palm oil margarine resulting in a nutty taste. The rich brew is combined with sweetened condensed milk creating a frothy top. Sip a hot white coffee at Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong or iced version with adorable bears at Nam Chau Kopitiam.

Egg Tarts

Pair your cup of joe with egg tarts! These little golden pies are baked fresh in the morning and will satisfy any sweet tooth. Based on my experience, each one is a tad different. Some have a more eggy flavor while others have a hint of vanilla. Crusts vary between flaky and crunchy. Don't fret if you fall in love, you can find egg tarts all over Malaysia and nearby Singapore!

Concubine Lane

Perhaps the most funky avenue in Ipoh is Concubine Lane. In the early 20th Century, wealthy businessmen profiting from the nearby tin mines designated this area of shophouses for gambling, opium smoking, and solicitation. Now the alleyway is lined with souvenir shops, food vendors, and picturesque red lanterns.

Market Lane

Another spot previously reserved for Chinese tycoons and their mistresses is Market Lane. The thoroughfare is a fun photo location containing rows of rainbow ribbons and a wall of vibrant Asian conical hats. Don't miss Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic's three-dimensional mural Trishaw, which depicts a man collecting recyclables onto a bisected trishaw.


Dining in Ipoh will make your tastebuds think they won the lottery! Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures reflected in its cuisine. Add these eateries to your list for an explosion of spices, textures, and sauces!

• Lunch - Order a plate or two of the signature dry curry mee at Yee Fatt Curry Mee with sliced tender pork, crunchy bean sprouts, and chewy noodles. The complex curry was one of the best meals of my life! Pair a freshly brewed pot of tea with your dim sum at Foh San Restaurant. Our favorites among the overwhelming options were the A1 supreme shrimp dumplings and G5 Szechuan dumplings.

• Dinner - The hearty plate of chicken curry mee with yellow noodles, bean sprouts, and green beans at Lim Ko Pi was simply delightful. Ipoh Tuck Kee Restaurant serves one of the most notable local dishes, yu kong hor. Stir-fried chewy flat rice noodles are tossed with shrimp, dark soy sauce, greens, and pork. We opted to leave out the raw egg, which is typically placed in the center and mixed in to add a layer of silkiness.

• Cocktails - Add a bit of flair to your night with a speakeasy bar! Brad and I mistakenly overlooked the entrance to Tiga a few times, but were rewarded with an intriguing cocktail menu once we finally arrived. The Writer, served in a coconut shell, featured mezcal, fig leaf infused gin, coconut aged Campari, and basil vermouth. The refreshing Ipoh Chic contained pomelo rum, cucumber, lime, mint, and plum. Wowza!

Limestone Cave Temples

Reserve another day for the magnificent cave temples which blend art, nature, religion, and architecture in a show-stopping way! Take an affordable Grab (similar to Uber/Lyft) to get to the following places near the outskirts of Ipoh.

Begin your self-guided tour in the morning at Perak Tong Temple in the north and break for lunch afterwards. Continue south to explore Sam Poh Tong Temple. Check out the adjacent shrines of Nam Thean Tong Temple and Ling Sen Tong Temple before returning to downtown. Entry is free, but donations are appreciated.

Keep in mind most Buddhist and Taoist temples require visitors to dress conservatively. Opt for items that cover your shoulders, knees, and chest. Loose and breathable fabrics are crucial to keep you comfortable in the humidity!

Perak Tong Temple

Out of the staggering 50 cave temples in Ipoh, the largest and most impressive is Perak Tong Temple. Walk alongside the koi pond surrounded by pink bougainvilleas and whimsical willows to reach the three-story façade leading to the narrow entrance. A glorious 12 m (40 ft) tall golden statue of Buddha sits upon a lotus flower beneath an elaborately painted alcove with dragons.

Peek around dimly lit corners to find imposing figures and dynamic murals featuring characters from Buddhist scriptures and Chinese mythology. Wisps of incense smoke mix with the musty smell of the cave creating a spiritual ambience. Notice the ornate calligraphy and altars with fruit offerings and candles.

Climb approximately 450 steps to reach pavilions with vast views of the surrounding landscape. Keep an eye out for Java Sparrows preening in the trees on the way up. Brad and I purchased a tiny ceramic statue of Buddha at the gift shop to remember our mini pilgrimage.

Sam Poh Tong Temple

The oldest cave temple in Ipoh was discovered by a traveling Buddhist monk from China in the late 19th Century. Sam Poh Tong Temple has a lush garden designed around an algae pond full of koi and lazy turtles. Look for glazed figurines, statues of Buddha, and Japanese pagodas on the artificial rock formations.

Step inside the shallow cave to find murals representing themes from Taoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The multicultural fusion shows the harmony of different religions in the region. Observe colorful statues and bountiful altars on your way to the red rectangular pagoda surrounded by majestic limestone cliffs.

Nam Thean Tong Temple

Pay your respects to the five bearded Taoist deities dressed in elegant robes in the main sanctum of Nam Thean Tong Temple. Honor the dragon relief plaque with glowing lightbulb eyes by giving a small token. The exterior dazzles with modern murals depicting good fortune, Confucius, and wildlife. Seek counsel from the golden statue of Taishang Laojun, a Chinese philosopher, if you have an existential question on your mind.

Ling Sen Tong Temple

The primary hues of Ling Sen Tong Temple drastically pop against the backdrop of green limestone cliffs! Colorful abstract figures from Chinese mythology and animals representing the 12 Chinese zodiac signs surround archways and pavilions. Notice the stoic golden guardians and reclining statue of Buddha on the rooftop.

Towering statues, such as the Goddess of Mercy, bless worshippers with different symbolic hand gestures, known as mudras. Say hello to the sunbathing turtles, which symbolize the universe and longevity, in the reservoirs flanking the cave entrance. The main shrine is tucked inside an alcove covered in black soot from burning joss sticks, a type of special incense used by devotees.


Ipoh's location midway between George Town and Kuala Lumpur makes it an easy pit stop and gateway to the Cameron Highlands. Easy-to-follow bus and train schedules with affordable tickets take the stress out of planning your trip.

Malaysia's public transportation system is a breeze to navigate. Brad and I purchased bus tickets with CS Travel and Tours online via redBus from the Penang Komtar/Prangin Mall station to the Ipoh Amanjaya station. The journey took approximately 2.5 hours. Make reservations in advance to guarantee a seat, especially on weekends and around public holidays.

Final Thoughts

Fortunately, my travel pendulum swung in the right direction. Ipoh turned out to be an excellent destination to experience Malaysian culture. The laidback atmosphere, remarkable cave temples, and diversity of food proved to be an inspiring sensory overload.

Ipoh's special heritage is gaining popularity with travelers for all the right reasons. If time is on your side, I highly suggest making room for Ipoh in your itinerary. You won't regret spending a day or two in this gem of a city!