Whenever or wherever you have an open mind, a sense of adventure and a spirit big enough to embrace something new or different, there you will find gold. Cultural gold, spiritual gold, relational gold, any type of gold really, just probably not the gold you buy with cash and weigh in ounces.
We have been abroad in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for almost eight months whilst my husband completes a work contract. As it is only a short-term project, he works very hard and sucks the marrow out of every minute he’s permitted to be in his work compound. Days are long – especially if we’re talking about the Malaysian way of life – staying up late, eating dinner, then supper, then something else at midnight! When the weekend comes, he is exhausted, as he spends the majority of his week solving World Peace and I am exhausted because homeschooling our kids by no means contributes to the aforementioned utopian concept.
Whilst Malaysians are granted A LOT of Public Holidays – even more so when a governing coalition is overthrown after 60 years (more on that in another blog), my husband’s employer and work project have not aligned well with these days off – except for the trip to Laos last week that I’ll talk about in my next blog and our trip to Ipoh at the end of January this year. Ipoh (pronounced, ee-poe) is about a two-hour car drive north from Kuala Lumpur. In my honest opinion, it’s a little place of travel gold.
When I told a local Malaysian friend that we were going to Ipoh on a holiday, she very matter-of-factly queried, “Why?!” She then went on to explain that a good Malaysian holiday equates to a place where quality shopping can be done. I told her that I wanted to be as far away from a mall as I could get so Ipoh sounded like the golden option!
To be fair, we didn’t exactly travel to Ipoh because it was our destination of choice. It was a long weekend – one that my husband was free – and it was the first long weekend of the new calendar year and it seemed everyone in Malaysia wanted a local getaway too! Penang, Langkawi, [insert other popular Malaysian holiday destinations here] were either sold-out or heavily inflated. That’s why we chose Ipoh.
Apart from The Cameron Highlands and some outer-reaches of Greater Kuala Lumpur, that’s all of Malaysia we have seen in eight months. So, when people say, “Where’s the best place to travel in Malaysia?” I say, either 1. Merdeka Square or 2. Ipoh. Sometimes I swap the order of the two but at the moment I’m on a bit of an election high after the opposition won the election for the first time in 60 years since Merdeka (transl. “freedom”) – more on that in another blog!
So, what was gold about Ipoh?
1. Excellent family/kid-friendly resort gold. Just follow this link and view the first image: https://www.thehavenresorts.com/ It’s enough to convince you to go AND, the reality fairly well aligns with the insta-worthy image in this instance!!! NB: If you don’t have kids and don’t want to be around ANY kids, then go here: https://www.thebanjaran.com/ #couplesonly #notsponsored (obviously, because I have kids with me, like all of the time!)
2. Food Gold. For a very quick cultural lesson, I’ll tell you this: Malaysia is made up of three main people groups: Malay, Chinese and Indian. Each group has a different take on the Malaysian food scene. I particularly like the Chinese-Malaysian food as it’s a bit different to Mainland China, where I spent a month eating (and travelling) before I became a pro at either. A lot of Chinese people migrated to Ipoh during the tin mining booms of the previous two centuries. Ipoh, therefore, has a very strong Chinese heritage and cuisine. It is said that in Malaysia that if a food venue (café/restaurant/makan) is full then it might not necessarily be because the food is good but because it’s cheap! We stumbled across an amazing Dim Sum place that was PACKED. It wasn’t particularly cheap but the food was so good. Go figure! Google Search: Restoran Chooi Yue Dim Sum
One day, we purposefully, rather than accidentally as with the Dim Sum place, negotiated our way through the more commercial part of Ipoh town in our hire car and called upon a couple of friendly local fellows to help us buy and use our “scratchie”-like parking coupons to get to this one little café called “Yee Fatt”, whose specialty is a dry curry noodle dish with char siu pork. We got the impression, that save for the new 100 Plus (Malaysia’s version of Gatorade) Fridge in the corner, the establishment and the dish served, probably had not changed since pre-Merdeka! It was worth the effort and the experience was gold.
I really fell like we struck gold with our kids’ sense of adventure in Ipoh too – especially since the “Hor Fun” noodle moment in a very sweaty and very busy little Chinese place, just off Concubine Lane (read up on why it’s called that – I dare you!). We ate there just before driving back to KL and, to be honest, I was pretty keen on grabbing something quick and familiar for lunch but my husband insisted we eat some more local food. I feel that by pushing ourselves in this instance, we found gold of the resilience and adventure kind in our kids – worth digging for when new foods, eating out and travelling places is the norm for us right now.
3. Old Town Gold. We, as a family, have had to swallow the hard pill of modernity in our living quarters in Malaysia. Everything we use/own/rent is brand new. Most things we use and own and borrow in Australia are old, very old, like antique old. We’ve missed old things so Ipoh Old Town was the perfect antidote for our new life. The place is the original old buildings – which were built so well that they’re cool, even at midday in the topics! Markets, stalls and food vendors weave their way through lanes overgrown with moss and vines. Wooden shutters partially close due to their age but then open up to a whole other world that was. There’s hidden street art, the friendliest of people and a little pocket of a developing nation that is very different to a burgeoning, modern city like KL. Old Town is gold.
So, why Ipoh? It was the gold we dug up when there weren’t many other options of places to go BUT, we made sure that we embraced every minute of being outdoors, eating local dishes and digging for the gold even in our own familial relationships.
A little place like Ipoh (even though it’s the third largest city in Malaysia!) with its history, quirks and unique culture really does make me think… what towns lay two hours just outside of Paris or where’s the nugget of gold to be dug not far for the main attraction people fly from all over the world to see?
Wherever that place is, I want to find it because it will be gold.
Author’s note: At the time of publishing, no links are sponsored – but, I’m open to sponsorship ; )