Drive to Ride: Cycling Road Trip in Perak
The end of June 2017 marked the end of the fasting month, and in Malaysia, that meant that many folks would be traveling back to their respective home towns to celebrate Eid with family and friends. A big urban center like Kuala Lumpur would typically empty out as many folks would go on their annual pilgrimage to see family in the many small towns across the country.
Getting out of Kuala Lumpur
As for Nadiah and myself, our families live very close by to Kuala Lumpur so there really wasn't much traveling to be done. But because it was an extremely long weekend due to the holidays, we decided to go for a long drive up north along a stretch of trunk roads that we have never driven through before. And of course, you can't have a decent exploratory trip without bringing the bikes!
The biggest advantage to having folding bikes is that you can bring them anywhere with you and still have extra room to spare in the car.
Folding bikes naturally translate well as really great tools of exploration that give you the opportunity to stop anywhere along your journey and get much closer to the sights of sounds of towns and villages. We brought our Birdy folding bikes with us because they are fairly quick to load and unload and gets you riding within minutes from your stop.
When packing the bikes, make sure that there's some protective layers like bubble wrap or foam padding to ensure the bike frames and wheels don't end up getting scratched or scraped.
We also brought along a third folding bike with us which is my Pacific Reach. When folded down, it is compact enough to fit in one of the back seats, which meant we still had comfortable sitting room for one more passenger. So to summarize, our vehicle was able to fit three folding bikes, and three adults comfortably, along with some overnight luggage in the form of backpacks.
So where did we go?
During the week of Eid celebrations, Maya would be spending her time with her family up north in Ipoh. So naturally, our plan was to take a drive from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh. Instead of taking the main highway, we opted to go through several smaller trunk roads so that we could stop by a few places along the way for a bit of exploration. A quick bit of route planning on Google Maps gave us the general directions we needed.
Our drive took us through the following routes which we really enjoyed:
- The B27 trunk road between Rawang to Kuala Selangor. This is by far one of our favorite roads to drive through as it passes by many fruit valleys, which also presented spectacular vistas. There's even a series of switch backs for some spirited driving fun! We could also imagine ourselves cycling through here in the near future, with plenty of rolling climbs!
- The B53 trunk road between Sekinchan and Sabak along with its many parallel side roads. It's a much slower drive, but extremely scenic as it cuts through traditional villages and homes. The other name for this road is Jalan Lama Kuala Selangor which translates to the Old Kuala Selangor Road. It runs parallel to Route 5 (which is the busier main road). If you are not in a rush, this is quite a pleasant drive with plenty of food stops. If we were to do a cycling trip, this is the road that we would choose.
- Trunk road 109 between Teluk Intan and Batu Gajah. This is another extremely scenic stretch where you will get to see plenty of traditional kampung homes along the way and wide open padi fields in between. This road is also aptly named Jalan Teluk Intan as it starts from the town center and heads northwest towards Kampung Batu Gajah.
Exploring Teluk Intan
Teluk Intan was our first major stop of our drive up north. This town was originally known as Teluk Mak Intan, named after a female merchant of Mandailing descent. This was also the place where the Perak rulers held court from 1528 until 1877. When the British arrived in the late 1800s, the name of the town was changed to Teluk Anson in honor of Major-General Sir Archibald Edward Harbord Anson. He was also responsible for establishing the plan of the modern township in 1882.
In 1982 during the centenary of the town's establishment, the name was changed back to Teluk Intan by the Sultan of Perak to honor its original roots prior to the colonial era. For a small township, this place certainly had quite a bit of history and we would try and explore a number of colonial buildings and Chinese shophouses within the town center.
The Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan
Our journey of exploration started from Malaysia's very own leaning tower. The Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan was constructed in 1885 in the style of a Chinese pagoda and functioned as a water tank for dry spells. It also served as the town's time keeper as there is a huge clock at the top. The clock was made by J.W. Benson of Ludgatehill London and local residents all chipped in to bear construction costs. As to how it began leaning, the weight of the water tank and the uneven soft ground caused the tower to sink on one side, giving it its present day moniker.
The old courthouse
The Mahkamah Lama (old courthouse) was built in 1880 and operated in full capacity up until 1983. On Sundays, the building did double duty as a church until St.Luke's was built in 1911. As of today, it appears to have been taken over by the Army and they have done a wonderful job preserving this heritage building.
The old police station
The single-story Balai Polis (police station) facing the river is the oldest historical building in Teluk Intan from the late 1800s. The architecture combines the local style (traditional Malay roof tops) and British Colonial style (the arch) together. As it is located nearby the river, it was once used as a customs clearance house and later a police station.
As the township was established in the late 1800s, there are many colonial era and Chinese shophouses built all around the town center.
Exploring Ipoh Old Town
We arrived in Ipoh by early evening shortly after sunset. As we only had enough time to stay for one night, we made the best of our evening and focused our exploration primarily around the heritage trail of Ipoh Old Town. In 1937, Ipoh was made the capital of Perak, replacing Taiping.
According to history, Ipoh came into existence in the 1820s as a small village by the banks of the Kinta river, but it only really flourished during the tin rush in the 1870s when the British ruled Perak. The Great Fire of Ipoh in 1892 destroyed over half the town, but also presented an opportunity to rebuild the town in a more orderly grid pattern. Many of the famous heritage buildings were erected during this time and Ipoh was subsequently rebuilt in time for the second tin rush and grew rapidly in the 1920s and 1930s when the tin mining industry boomed. Ipoh was considered to be the "exotic Far East" and attracted business owners and merchants from all walks of life, including the Hakka mining tycoon Yau Tet Shin.
Ipoh Railway Station
The construction of the Ipoh railway station started in 1914 and was supposed to have been completed within the same year, but due to the lack of construction materials and escalating labor costs during World War I, the station was only completed three years later in 1917.
The Ipoh railway station was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, a British architectural assistant to the Director of Public Works credited for designing various public buildings in British Malaya in various vernacular colonial Western styles as well as "Neo-Moorish/Mughal/Indo-Saracenic/Neo-Saracenic" styles that drew influences from British Indian colonial architecture.
Movie trivia: the Ipoh railway station was used as a shooting location for the film Anna and the King, starring Jodie Foster.
Hubback's other notable architectural works also included the neighboring Ipoh town hall and post office, as well as the iconic Kuala Lumpur railway station and the Sultan Abdul Samad building in Dataran Merdeka.
Dewan Bandaran Ipoh
Also designed by Hubback, the Dewan Bandaran (town hall) was completed in 1916. The east end of the building was used as the Post and Telegraphs Office in 1928. This building has had some restoration work done over the years, and although it no longer serves as the official town hall, it is used for concerts, wedding banquets and other official functions.
Old Town White Coffee
When swinging by Ipoh, it is customary to stop by the very first commercial white coffee kopitiam establishment!
It is believed that the term ‘white coffee’ originated from the literal translation of its Chinese name, which was introduced in the 19th century by Hainanese migrants who came to work in the tin mines. The coffee beans themselves are not actually white; rather the color comes from the milk stirred into the beverage.
Apparently, the Hainanese at the time were unaccustomed to drinking western style coffee which is mostly bitter and acidic. But as they had to mingle with westerners for socializing and trade, they had to adapt and managed to create a coffee beverage of their own. The coffee beans are roasted with margarine, and the resulting coffee is served with condensed milk. Therefore, the "white" color refers to both the roasting process, and the final presentation.
Birch Memorial Clock Tower
Situated in front of the Ipoh State Mosque stands the Birch Memorial Clock Tower. It was erected in 1909 in memory of James W.W. Birch, Perak's first British resident.
As luck would have it, he wasn't exactly a well liked colonial figure and was killed in 1875 at Pasir Salak by independence nationalists. The clock tower is more of symbolic architectural tribute to the colonial era, featuring a 6 foot bell and friezes illustrating the growth of civilization. The figures of Moses, Buddha, Shakespeare and Charles Darwin can be seen in the design.
A visit to Ipoh Old Town isn't complete without going through Lorong Panglima, a small alley known to locals as Yi Lai Hong or Concubine Lane. This place has a history that goes back to the late 1800s. In 1892, many of these shophouses were rebuilt by mining tycoon Yao Tet Shin after a great fire. Supposedly, rich men their kept concubines and mistresses in these shophouses, not only in this particular lane, but a few others as well. Not surprisingly, this was probably a smokescreen to the real underground activities here – brothels, opium and gambling dens.
Today, these shophouses have been completely transformed into a trendy open air market with food stalls, boutique inns and cafes. During the day, it is a great place for spending a weekend with friends and family when it is at its busiest. We had the opportunity to explore these lanes in the most quietest of times late at night during the middle of the week, which gives it a very different character. One could almost imagine what this place must have been like back in the day.
Market Lane was also believed to be established at around the same time as Concubine Lane by the same mining tycoon. Coincidentally, Market Lane is also known by its other nickname – Third Concubine Lane. And like its neighboring alley, this one was also brimming with brothels, gambling and opium dens. History has it that the rental income from these properties was managed by Yau Tet Shin's wife and his higher ranking concubines.
Like the neighboring Concubine Lane, Market Lane has now been transformed into a trendy alley of arts and crafts, drawing both local residents and visitors into the community. I suppose if one were still in search of mistresses and concubines, a little bit of art, cafe and culture could help in the modern day. But I digress.
Masjid Panglima Kinta
Masjid Panglima Kinta is an historical mosque located on the east bank of the Kinta river, and just a stone's throw away from the Hugh Low Bridge. Work on the mosque began in 1898, built by Dato' Panglima Kinta Muhammad Yusuff in memory of his wife who passed away that year. Upon completion, it was one of the most beautiful and largest mosques in Ipoh, and to this day it is a living heritage. The mosque has two minarets and a central dome which was recently re-gilded during restoration.
A well-known resident of the mosque was Sheikh Tholji, a Quran teacher from Egypt who was instrumental in popularizing Quranic recitals in Perak. He is buried at the Panglima Kinta's family mausoleum located behind the mosque.
Our 4-wheeled ride: the Mercedes Benz GLC 250
Thanks to Cycling Plus Malaysia and Mercedes Benz Malaysia, we got a pretty sweet ride for our little road trip. Nadiah will be publishing a road trip review of the Mercedes Benz GLC 250 in an upcoming issue of Cycling Plus Malaysia, so stay tuned for that!
This particular trip was more of a short recce exercise and we expect to be doing a much longer and dedicated cycling trip in the near future. Seeing that the Ipoh railway station is a great place to start our journey from, we will most certainly plan a train and bike excursion when we get the opportunity to do so!