Set against the backdrop of the mist-laden Bintang Hills, TAIPING – like so many places in Perak – owes its existence to the discovery of tin in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The name is Chinese; it could mean either “Great Plain” or “Great Peace”, though the latter is unlikely given the numerous violent clan wars here between rival Cantonese and Hakka factions during the 1860s. Despite this, mining wealth helped fund many Malaysian firsts at a time when Kuala Lumpur was barely on the map: the first English-language school in 1878; the first hospital in 1880, established by the Chinese; the first rail line in 1882, built to facilitate tin exports; and the first museum in 1883. As Perak state’s capital until 1937, and with the nearby hill station of Bukit Larut (formerly Maxwell Hill) serving as a retreat for its administrators, Taiping was at the forefront of the colonial development of the Federated Malay States.
Nowadays, bypassed by the North–South Expressway and replaced in administrative importance by Ipoh, Taiping is declining gracefully, its streets lined with tattered architectural mementoes of its glory days. Even so, it’s a pleasant place to spend a few hours at leisure, exploring the small, walkable centre and green Lake Gardens, though you’ll need a full day to ascend Bukit Larut or take in the nearby mangrove reserve.