This laidback northern Malaysian town’s rich history can be seen in its beautiful heritage buildings and storied spots
Much of Taiping’s heritage sites are tied to its status as one of the early administrative capitals for the northern Malaysian state of Perak, until it was replaced by Ipoh in 1937. Visiting this town feels very much like stepping into a page of Malaysia’s history; beautiful heritage buildings like Malaysia’s very first museum and railway station as well as its oldest hill resort are some of its must-see spots. Read on for the best places to explore, eat and stay in Taiping.
What to see in Taiping
1. Take a self-guided historical tour
Take the Heritage Trail, a self-guided tour comprising about 40 buildings and landmarks to see these sites. While some buildings have seen better days – and others are being restored – the Victorian, colonial and pre-war Malayan architecture offers a glimpse into its history.
Start off at Taiping Clock Tower at Jalan Kota (pick up the Heritage Trail map at the tourist information centre inside), before making your way to the old railway station, Perak Museum (the oldest in Malaysia) and the Taiping Prison. Still in use, the complex can only be viewed from outside, but you can pop into the gift shop and gallery across the road.
Visit the Telegraph Museum, housed in Malaysia’s first Post and Telegraph office, then grab a bite at the kopitiam of Peace Hotel while appreciating the elaborate pre-war shophouse and its ornate Peranakan tiles inside. The buildings accommodating the Larut, Matang & Selama District Office and the two schools, St George’s Institution and King Edward VII School, are well-maintained.
2. Visit the postcard-perfect Lake Gardens
Taiping’s Lake Gardens were created on abandoned tin mining ground and are among the oldest public gardens in Malaysia. The 67-hectare park is particularly picturesque; centuries-old rain trees arch towards the lake, their branches appearing to dip into the water, forming a natural canopy over the road.
Located within the park, the Taiping Zoo and Night Safari are also worth a trip if you’re travelling with your little ones. Make a brief stop at the War Cemetery, where Commonwealth soldiers killed during World War II in Malaya were laid to rest. After a hot day, cool off at the Coronation Swimming Pool. The man-made pool at the foothill of Bukit Larut is fed with natural unchlorinated water from a stream. Or head to Burmese Pool, a swimming hole that is part of a fast-flowing stream in nearby Taman Sentosa.
3. Hike Bukit Larut (formerly known as Maxwell Hill)
Nature lovers should head up Bukit Larut (formerly Maxwell Hill), the country’s first and smallest hill station, where a stomping grounds for the British to escape the sweltering heat. At 1,250 metres above sea level, it can only be reached by government-owned 4WD Land Rovers. Tip: Tickets can only be bought from the base station, so go early as they are limited to 200 issues per day. You can also hike up the hill via a jungle trail or walk along the 13-kilometre road — but watch out for the Land Rovers as they whizz around the 72 hairpin bends. Bungalows and chalets on the hill resort are available for overnight stays.
4. Check out Kuala Sepetang’s mangrove reserves
Just outside Taiping lies Kuala Sepetang. Previously called Port Weld, it is now a fishing village home to mangrove swamps, a charcoal factory and boat rides. At the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve, a network of boardwalks allows you to walk through some of the 40,000 hectares, but access may be limited due to ongoing repair works on the wooden walkways.
The forest is managed to allow the sustainable harvesting of mangrove wood for charcoal production in the traditional way. Visit the Charcoal Factory Kuala Sepetang for a tour that takes in how the logs are brought in by boats, to the firing process in the beehive-shaped kilns. After, hop on a boat ride along the Sepetang River to view the fish and cockle farms, eagle and freshwater dolphin watching (if you’re lucky) and after dusk, fireflies.
What to eat in Taiping
At the Larut Matang Hawker Centre on Jalan Panggung Wayang, order Taiping’s unique fishball kway teow; the flat rice noodles are fried with fish balls, fishcake slices and char siew. There are a variety of stalls to choose from, including one selling a smorgasbord of nyonya kuih. While here, be sure to try a uniquely Taiping beverage concoction of Milo and kopi called hor ka sai. Also popular is Hua Soon’s Fireworks Char Kway Teow in Simpang. Open only in the evening, the cook’s fanning of the flames from the charcoal stove sets off spectacular sparks around the wok, hence the name “fireworks”. Kuala Sepetang has several seafood restaurants, but on the way in, stop for seafood porridge served in claypots at Light House Seafood Restaurant in Matang or the popular Mee Udang Mak Jah stall offering prawn noodles.
For something sweet, try the cendol at either Ansari or Bismillah. Here, the green jelly shaved ice dessert can be ordered with options to add red beans and pulut (glutinous rice). The competing outlets (established in 1940, Ansari is the older of the two) are also known for their pasembor (Indian-style rojak). Drop by the 100-year-old Ipoh Bakery for old-style buns, buttery cakes and fondant iced cakes that look more like works of art than dessert.
And if you fancy coffee with a side of history, head to Antong (Aun Tong) Coffee Mill to discover how Malaysian-style coffee is brewed, starting from the woodfire roasting of the beans to the grinding and finally, sampling. The company office was reportedly the residence of Chen Cuifen, a companion of China’s first president, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, and where he stayed while he was in Taiping.
Kuala Sepetang has several seafood restaurants, but on the way in, stop for seafood porridge served in claypots at Light House Seafood Restaurant in Matang or the popular Mee Udang Mak Jah stall offering prawn noodles.
Where to stay in Taiping
Accommodation abounds, from hotels such as Novotel to the quirky Happy 8 Retreat @ Kuala Sepetang. In its town, the recently-refurbished Peking Hotel is listed on the Heritage Trail. Built in 1929, it once housed the Rubber Association and was also used by the Japanese military police during their Occupation of Malaya.
Tips and facts to know
1. Taiping means ‘everlasting peace’
Originally named Klian Pauh, the town has a violent past, with Chinese triad gangs fighting for control of its rich tin deposits, compounded by clashes between rival factions within the Malay state royalty. The British intervened and forced a treaty in 1874 that divided up the tin mines and led to the British administration of the state. The town was renamed Taiping, which means ‘everlasting peace’ in Mandarin.
2. Schedule your outdoor activities in the morning
It rains almost every afternoon in Taiping, earning it the title of the wettest town on the peninsular. In fact, rain betting actually became a unique and popular activity in the past, where people would place their bets on the number of times a day it would rain and even the volume of precipitation!