IPOH, around halfway between KL and the Thai border, is named after the upas tree which once thrived in the area, whose sap was used by the Orang Asli for blowpipe-dart poison. But like the rest of Perak, Ipoh’s wealth – and position as Malaysia’s third largest city – comes from tin mining. With the discovery of a major field here in 1880, Ipoh became a prime destination for pioneers, merchants and fortune-seekers from all over the world. To accommodate the rapidly increasing population, the city expanded across the muddy and lethargic Sungai Kinta into a “new town” area, its economic good fortune reflected in a multitude of colonial buildings and Chinese shophouses. Now the Perak state capital and home to half a million people, Ipoh’s low-key, likeable historic streets make for an appealing day’s stopover, with the bonus of the outlying Chinese cave temple of Perak Tong, and the anachronistic ruin of Kellie’s Castle.
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