Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Malaysia Trip // Ipoh's Three C's: Culture, Caves, & Chicken

From Penang I took a bus to my next destination: Ipoh. The bus was a relatively pleasant ride and I arrived at the Ipoh bus terminal several hours later. Now for the real challenge: getting to my hotel.

But first, a bathroom break haha. I come out and some guys were loitering in front of a table they had just set up right outside the bathrooms. One approached me, speaking Malay while motioning to the box on the table. I saw everyone else exiting without paying so I didn't even acknowledge his presence and continued on my way, though secretly I was scared he'd come chasing after me demanding pay. Luckily that didn't happen, but Malaysia is a place where opportunism is king and I'm pessimistic about how much influence law enforcement has.

Outside of KL, public transportation is practically nonexistent in Malaysia. And might I add quite crappy. After running around the bus terminal for too long, I finally found the right bus, paid my exact fare (no change provided), and was given these bus tickets.

We arrived at another bus terminal and everyone got off, including the bus driver. I felt quite intimidated since I was the only foreigner, had no clue what was going on, and okay....the picture doesn't fully capture how ghetto this bus terminal was. But I was certain that this was not my destination so I stayed on the bus and waited. Thankfully the bus driver came back, got more passengers, and we were off.

There is no bus route information posted inside the bus so I relied on the GPS in Google Maps to know when to get off. Don't expect the bus driver to tell you when to get off even when you explicitly ask for him to.

As far as accommodations go, star ratings are very generous in Ipoh. D'Eastern Hotel, where I stayed, is rated as 4 stars online, but in reality I'd give it a 2. Would highly not recommend staying there.

Another thumbs down that I want to give is to this place: Ayam Garam's salted chicken. The Internet included this as one of Ipoh's "must try" dishes, but I was not impressed. I also didn't realize I'd be getting a whole chicken when they handed me my bag. Maybe I'd like it more if I had other dishes to eat it with or someone to share it with, but it's a pretty plain taste too. Tastes literally like....you guessed it! Salt and chicken.

Now Lou Wang's bean sprout chicken on the other hand was mind blowing. I will even go as far to say that it was my favorite meal in Malaysia (sorry Penang I still love you too!). The dish itself is very, very simple and something I could easily prepare myself at home. The secret to the deliciousness are the bean sprouts. I've never had such fat, juicy, and crunchy blanched bean sprouts. Combined with the rice noodles and chicken, we're in food heaven.

Another awesome meal I had was dim sum at Foh San. Clean interior, great variety, fresh, and the cheapest dim sum ever. I ordered a pot of tea and probably around 10 dishes for around $8 USD. Even cheaper than Hong Kong and definitely comparable! Make sure you get there before 8am or else you'll have to wait for a table.

A pleasant surprise I found was that Ipoh has night markets. This one was on the street that Lou Wang is on. A lot of counterfeit items, clothing, shoes, toys, even massages were offered but surprisingly no one was selling food. 

For tourist spots I visited the many caves that Ipoh has. They're all scattered in different areas of Ipoh and far away so taxi is the only choice. (Uber and Easy Taxi are not available.) The hotel recommended a taxi driver and they convinced me to hire him by the hour, which was a complete rip off. I agreed, thinking I could finish everything within two hours and reasoning that it would be annoying to wait for taxis. Little did I know that he would drop me off, leave to go pick up other passengers, then come back when he wanted to and send me to the next destination. Luckily some friendly grandpas I met at the caves gave me the number of a reliable taxi service.

Saw Macaque monkeys hanging around Kek Look Tong. They seem cute at first, but then you see how aggressive they are and they lose the cuteness factor pretty quickly. 

Besides caves I also visited Concubine Lane which was a street filled with restaurants, kopitams, and shops. Lots of good photo spots but I was too lazy to take photos.

Ipoh is the birthplace of white coffee, which has a creamier texture than normal coffee and is sweeter. Found this mural right outside a Old Town White Coffee shop. Must say that cheaper food stall versions of everything still prevails in both taste and price.

And that's Ipoh in a nutshell! I'd visit again for the bean sprout chicken. It seriously was that good.

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