Mining Ipoh's old-world charm

Mining Ipoh's old-world charm
Wall murals add a touch of the contemporary to this cafe in a converted pre-war shophouse on Market Street in Ipoh, Perak. The Malaysian city may lack World Heritage status but that has not stopped local entrepreneurs and investors from trying to revive the Old Town’s fortunes by converting shophouses into chic establishments.

First Penang and Malacca went through a heritage boom. Now it is the turn of Ipoh - a tin mining town in Perak that flourished in the early 20th century.

Ipoh's pre-war enclave - known to locals as Old Town - has been a dying town for decades, as the mining business waned and businesses spread outwards to newer parts of town. But some of the bustle is returning to this Malaysian city.

Unlike Penang and Malacca, Ipoh does not have the benefit of Unesco World Heritage status, a sure-fire tourist draw. But some of its old-time charm is being rejuvenated, thanks to local entrepreneurs and investors.

On Jalan Bandar Timah, or Tin Town Road, for example, a three-storey building still houses the famed Kong Heng coffee shop, which has served some of Ipoh's best street food for decades.

In its heyday, most of Kong Heng's patrons were tin mining towkays and traders, who gathered to discuss business deals or to eat after visiting their concubines across the street in Panglima Lane, aptly nicknamed "Concubine Lane".

Today, hawker assistants downstairs still jostle through packed crowds with bowls of steaming hot chicken "hor fun", or flat rice noodles, shouting "hot water coming" in Cantonese to warn patrons to move aside.

But the area upstairs has become an eclectic guesthouse, complete with see-through curtains and thick, wooden ceiling beams - a picture of modern serenity.

The guesthouse is the brainchild of Mr Ng Sek San, 53, a renowned landscape architect and Ipoh boy. He and his three partners acquired the building in 2008 - Mr Ng would not say for how much - to prevent it from being bulldozed and turned into a high- rise commercial building.

"This city has been forgotten for too long," he told The Straits Times. "Being Ipohans, we want to bring back what's special about this place."

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