Through the open door of an empty shop, I see a family in the middle of a redecoration.
A woman is putting small paintings on the wall, arranging them in a cool pattern so they form a shape…
A boy is sweeping the floor..
Leaning up against a stool is a larger painting with the words, “Always give in to your dreams”.
Who knows whether it’s always been a dream of this family to turn their shop space into a trendy café, but that’s what’s happening here. They’ve seen the writing on the wall (so to speak) and they’re going with the movement that’s taking over the Malaysian city of Ipoh.
Ipoh is about 200 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur. It’s the third largest city in Malaysia but, with a population of less than 700,000 people, never feels too crowded and busy.
Known as the ‘City of Millionaires’ because of its rich tin mining past, it has all the right elements to foster its latest incarnation.
Ipoh has become the city for hipsters.
I don’t know this when I first arrive. Ipoh hadn’t really been part of my travel plans at first so I hadn’t done much research. It is just in a good location for a stopover and as a base for some other things I want to see.
Straight away, though, as I walk into the grid of streets in the Old Town on the way to my hotel, I notice the cafes.
There are more than usual – that is my first observation. But then I also realise that I recognise the typography being used, the colour schemes, the approach to design.
They look like the cafes I am used to seeing in Shoreditch in London or Surry Hills in Sydney.
The boom times of Ipoh, when the wealth was made on the back of tin mining, has left behind a city with a colonial charm to its centre.
The old buildings – once used as shops, public buildings and craft factories – had been slowly falling into disrepair since tin prices collapsed in the 1980s.
What I notice when I look closely at the cafes is that, although the interior decoration may be modern in its hipster style, they are housed within these heritage buildings. Buildings that have been given a new lease of life.
When I get a chance to explore a bit more, I find that this approach to an emerging culture has spread beyond the four walls of the cafes and onto walls all throughout the city.
Street art has blossomed, from small paintings next to windows to enormous murals across whole buildings.
The local authorities – city and state – have embraced the hipster movement and have been actively encouraging new businesses, supporting cultural events, and bringing in artists.
Ipoh has a series of street art pieces made by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacherevic. He was financed by a local cafe chain, Old Town White Coffee, but had the support of the relevant government bodies.
I guess they probably saw what his murals in George Town have done for the reputation of the city and were hoping to replicate that.
I have put together a map with the best pieces of street art and some of the other hipster cafes and shops, if you’re interested in visiting some of them yourself.
As I explore, I seem to find myself always gravitating toward a particular block in the Old Town – hipster central, I dub it in my mind. On one corner is a cafe called Plan B that has an indoor boutique market attached to it. There seem to be more people taking Instagram photos than actually shopping.
Heading out towards the back of the market, I find myself in an alley with pieces of art on the walls, as I head down the alley, I notice a gallery (with inconvenient opening hours – so trendy!) and then I find myself at the Container Hotel.
This hotel chain has budget and boutique options and has popped up in a few locations across Malaysia. It symbolises the normalisation of the hipster trend in the country more than anything else I’ve seen.
Ipoh probably doesn’t have enough to offer foreign tourists to justify a stay of more than a day or two. Even the trendy historic centre can be seen within a few hours.
If you’re interested in checking out Ipoh as a day trip from Kuala Lumpur, that’s a good idea and this day tour will help you do it.
Although, it’s not always simply about the sights, is it?
Ipoh is certainly a nice place to relax and enjoy the culture that developed. It’s a cool change on the road north from Kuala Lumpur.
How do you get to Ipoh?
Ipoh is on the main train line between Kuala Lumpur and Penang (Butterworth) and this is probably the easiest way to arrive in the city by public transport. The railway station is a beautiful old building and is a short walk from the Old Town.
There are also a lot of bus connections that go through Ipoh. The problem is that they drop you at the new bus terminal, which is nowhere near the city.
From there you need to take a taxi for about 25RM or wait for one of the local buses which come every 30-60 minutes.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN RIGA
You’ll be able to find some hotels in gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings and there are lots of affordable options in Riga’s historic centre.
If you’re looking for a cheap option, I would suggest 27 Concubine Lane.
For something affordable but comfortable, Hotel Cheqinn has lovely rooms.
For a real hipster experience in Ipoh, try the M Boutique Hotel.
And for an upmarket hotel in the centre of the city, you should go for the WEIL Hotel.
6 thoughts on “Hipsters in Malaysia”
My late father work in ipoh n I spend a few yeats th ere with my mother n family. Nice quite town I went to school. Wish my father had stay in ipoh n not move around due to his work.
really awesome place.lovely blog
Wow! What a wonderful pictures and place you shared… This photos are just incredible. Thanks for sharing it.
Hipster style is wondrous and you have shared a great blog thanks for sharing this loving and attentive post with thrilling pictures.
Pictures are awesome in the blog.
Hipster Art and Cafes are just one of the many attractions in Ipoh.
Ipoh City center is compact and comprised the Old Town and the New Town. Both sections separated by the Kinta River have pre-war buildings and places of worship more than 100 years old worthy of a visit. British heritage and old millionaire mansions of the tin-miners and colonial schools are all over Ipoh New Town.
You may note the absence of big shopping malls in the city center. The are not enough of land to build big shopping malls. The modern and big shopping malls are all located outside the city center. Anyway, visitors don’t come to Ipoh for shopping. Ipoh’s No 1 attraction is Food. Ipoh is the unofficial food capital of Malaysia.
Beyond Ipoh city centre are the attractions of the Kinta Valley with many small former tin-mining towns, numerous century old cave temples, hidden lakes and waterfalls, caves, the greens and the great outdoors, haunted mansions, place and castle, award winning golf courses, food gems, caves to explore, theme parks and many more depending on your interest.
Ipoh and its surroundings have been movie locations for local and foreign movies.
Ipoh is ideal as a travel based not only to sight see the attractions of the Kinta Valley, but also to Coastal Perak with nice beaches and islands better than Penang Island as well as North Perak attractions of Royal Town Kuala Kangsar, Taiping and Sepetang, Lenggong Unesco Perak Man, Royal Belum Rainforest and Kuala Kurau (most pretty coastal village town). You can even make day trip to Cameron Highland.
Ipoh is a newly discovered tourist destination. However, transportation can be problematic. Moving around with own transportation is ideal.
If you just want to explore the attractions of Ipoh city center, an over-night stay should be enough.