Ipoh Part 2: Chicken Rice! Laksa! White coffee! Char Kway Teow with wok hei! And more at The Haven Ipoh and Ipoh Old Town

As a food critic for 8 Days magazine, I’ve eaten all sorts of cuisines in the name of work. My absolute favourite is… drum roll… local food. By that, I mean good quality, authentic hawker food, the sort that is unfortunately getting extinct. Like Singapore, Malaysia has some seriously amazing local food. But not all Malaysian hawker food are created equal. I have my favourites haunts — Ipoh, Malacca and Penang. And my absolute favourites all come from Ipoh, which is also my favourite city in Malaysia. In fact, I like Ipoh so much, I even bought an apartment at The Haven Ipoh. I went up with my family last April to pick up my keys and for some major eating action.

A family portrait against the famous RockHaven, a 14 storey high natural rock that is 280million years old. Our very own fossil!
A family portrait against the famous RockHaven, a 14 storey high natural rock that is 280million years old. Our very own fossil!
My parents and my son enjoying the view from my balcony.
My parents and my son enjoying the view from my balcony.

Here’s a quick peek at the surroundings via my Instagram video, shot from the balcony of one of the blocks. Special request from my friend, Daisy.

Just to side-track a little, friends are always curious about why I chose to invest in Ipoh instead of a sexier city like KL or Penang. As a property columnist with Home & Decor mag, I was definitely exposed to many, MANY investment opportunities but I felt The Haven Ipoh offered me the best bang for my buck. As it is a condotel (hybid of regular condo + hotel) managed by Best Western Premier — a well-known brand name in the hospitality business — I was also able to choose a 5-year ‘guaranteed rental income’ deal when I bought my apartment. If you’re keen to find out more, check out The Haven Ipoh’s website for more info, I hear they have limited units left. It’s my retirement plan. I’m gonna spend my twilight years eating good food in Ipoh while enjoying the scenery from my apartment. (Coincidentally, in a 2014 article on US News website, Ipoh was named the world’s 3rd most affordable city to retire in so I’m on to a good thing!) Meanwhile, I LOVE bringing my family and friends up to Ipoh, so I’ve compiled a mini travel guide:

 

How to get there: If you’re planning a road trip, Ipoh is about 7 hours from Singapore. That’s a little further than KL but nearer than Penang. Otherwise, you can fly in via Malaysia Airlines or Firefly. Or, if you’re feeling REALLY swanky, you can book a private helicopter and arrive here in style. Yup, The Haven Ipoh has its own helicopter pad.

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Zipping into The Haven Ipoh in a helicopter — how cool is this ride?!

Where to stay: Obviously, I’m going to recommend The Haven Ipoh since I’m a proud home owner there. Seriously, this place has an amazing view and is, as I understand, the only rated 5-star international hotels in Ipoh so you can expect great service. The newly-built The Haven Ipoh opened its doors very recently, in 2014, and you can book anything from a one-bedder suite (RM630++) to a 3+1 Bedroom Premier Suite (RM1510++) that can take up to 7 guests (with requested extra bed).

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The living room in one of the smaller apartments at The Haven Ipoh. I took a peek at the 3+1 Premier Suites and it’s huge!

 

The master bedroom and the toilet which has a glass wall (don't worry, you can pull down the blinds to preserve your modesty). I loved soaking in the tub while looking out to the view of the hills!
The master bedroom and the toilet which has a glass wall (don’t worry, you can pull down the blinds to preserve your modesty). I love soaking in the tub while looking out to the view of Ipoh’s famous limestone hills!

 

The well-equipped kitchen. If you stay for a week or longer, you can request for cooking utensils. But why would you cook your own meals on holiday, when you are in Ipoh, the land of amazing food?!
The well-equipped kitchen. If you stay for a week or longer, you can request for cooking utensils. But why would you cook your own meals when you are in Ipoh, the land of amazing food?!

 

And here’s a pic of me enjoying my Ipoh White Coffee at the balcony.

Having coffee while feasting on the best view in the world (in my totally biased opinion). At my resort home at The Haven Luxury Resort in Ipoh. Bliss!!!

 

How to get around: It definitely helps if you’re driving around in your own car, though you can also make arrangements with the hotel for their shuttle service. As The Haven Ipoh is just 15 minutes away from the city center by car, it makes a fantastic base for all the awesome food and fun stuff you can do, even for shopping jaunts at the nearby shopping malls like Aeon (formerly known as Jusco) and Tesco, or Ipoh Parade in town. I like getting the best of both worlds — a little rest n relax away from the noisy town, yet near enough to zip over for shopping.

 

What to do: At the resort: My main agenda at The Haven Ipoh on my last trip was to attend the gorgeous wedding of Jeffrey and Syvonne, and to chill out and relax. But there’s plenty to do at The Haven for everyone, from couples on a romantic getaway, to families having a weekend of fun, to companies (or even schools or church groups) organising a bonding session.

 

#1: Swim in the seahorse-shaped pool

View of the pool from the balcony of one of the units. Can you spot the seahorse? The seahorse’s eye (on the left) is the water fountain, the jutting ‘snout’ is an infinity pool that hangs over the lake, the rounded belly is a lap pool for those who want to swim laps, and the slide (at the far right) is the curled up tail. Someone once asked if this seahorse is male or female. Look at the pool carefully before you answer. Hey, maybe the hotel management should give a prize for the correct answer, at their next function held here!

 

View at night
The pool view at night. Spot the seahorse!

My favourite part of the pool is the heated jacuzzi (at the left of the picture), where you can stretch out on the individual beds and luxuriate in the warm, bubbly water.

Super shiok jacuzzi to soak away your aches after a day of fun and eating.
Super shiok jacuzzi to soak away your aches after a day of fun and eating.

 

Kids zipping down the slide. I wanted a go too, but was too embarrassed to jostle with them, ha.
Kids zipping down the slide. I wanted a go too! But I was too embarrassed to jostle with them, ha.

 

View of the infinity pool overlooking the lake. The swimmers were watching Jeffrey and Syvonne's garden wedding.
View of the infinity pool overlooking the lake. The swimmers were watching Jeffrey and Syvonne’s garden wedding.
This is the view I see every morning from Cuisines, the hotel café. That dreamy mist cloaking the limestone hills and RockHaven! So, so pretty.
This is the view I see every morning from Cuisines, the hotel café. That dreamy mist cloaking the limestone hills and RockHaven! So, so pretty.

 

#2: Work out in the gym in style. Or play a game of badminton and squash. Or chase after your kids in the playground.  

Working off the flab after all that eating? Well, at least your eyes get to feast on the view.
Working off the flab after all that eating? Well, at least your eyes get to feast on the view from the comprehensive gym, fully decked out with American-imported equipment.

There’s a squash court and a badminton court too, which I didn’t check out since I don’t play both. I spent a lot of time here instead, thanks to my 6-year-old son:

The outdoor playground -- Ayden's favourite spot.
The outdoor playground — Ayden’s favourite spot.

There’s a new indoor playground too, at the ground level of Tower C. We’ll check it out on our next trip.

The new indoor playground at Tower C's ground floor, where the kiddies can have fun in a safe, comfortable environment.
The new indoor playground at Tower C’s ground floor, where the kiddies can have fun in a safe, comfortable environment. Great for parents with toddlers.

 

#3: Test your guts at The Haven’s ‘Captivating Adventure’ site.

An adventure site at a 5-star resort? Now that’s a first for me. They have various programmes for both kids and adults, including the very first Via Ferrata in Peninsular Malaysia. This is a climb up to the top of the 250ft high (76m) Mount Haven. No worries, you don’t need any climbing experience, and there are professionals to guide you. The 3-hour ‘The Ultimate Challenge’, which will bring you from the starting point to a Rope Traverse, Wall Creeper, Rope Bridge, Gecko Trail, Vertical Ladder, Narrow Descent and Staple Descent, costs an affordable RM55++ for kids and RM65++ for adults. They also offer Challenge Courses at RM40++ (RM50++ for adults). The ‘Overcoming Obstacles’ obstacle course that involves tricky bits with names like The Web, Commando Crawl, Wild Woozey, 12ft Wall, Giant Finger, The Tyres and The Beam. Or go for ‘The Ascender’ rock climbing/rappelling over low and high rock walls. Each of these sessions lasts between 2 to 3 hours. A full package, which includes both as well as the High Flyers (Wobbly Log, Rope Climbing, Multi-Vines, Rope Traverse, Boardwalk, Rope Climbing, Giant Ladder, Burma Bridge, Flying Fox and Abseiling) costs RM150++ for kids and RM180++ for adults.

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Zip through The Haven on the Flying Fox — gotta be the coolest way to enjoy the scenery!
tightrope
Slow and steady does it on the Tightrope. That’s one walk you won’t forget anytime soon.
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This takes ‘crossing the bridge’ to a whole different level.
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Climb every mountain… the cast of The Sound of Music will surely approve.
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Wall blocking your way? Climb over it!

The Haven can customize Team Building programmes for Family Day Out events companies, church groups, youth groups, schools etc. By the way, my corporate clients may be interested to know that The Haven also offers both indoor and outdoor event management. Several international companies such as Shell, Petronas, BASF and OCBC have already held their corporate events here. Emirates Airline also recently conducted a successful recruitment drive at The Haven Ipoh, where candidates came from all over Malaysia, Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. I bet the hotel guests must have been busy eyeballing all the potential air stewardesses!

 

#4: Take leisurely walks around the lake. Do yoga. Or pack a picnic basket.

My favourite part of the hotel, besides the pool, is the beautiful hotel grounds. I’ve seen early morning joggers, yoga practitioners, spritely elderly and whole families enjoying walks, and it feels really good to see that. Gets the kids off the iPads and iPhones for a while too. I’ve posted plenty of pics of the beautiful grounds already so here’s one of goodlooking models practising yoga. (I don’t want to be doing the Upward Dog pose next to them.)

Doing yoga at such a tranquil site makes a wonderful change from squeezing into a tiny studio. I think my yoga-practising friends will love it here.
Practising yoga at such a tranquil site must feel so much better than squeezing into a tiny studio. I think my yoga-loving friends will really like it here. Sorry, I can’t remember any of the moves, except Savasana — the corpse pose. Ahahaha.

 

#5: Eat at The Cuisines — don’t miss the Ipoh Chicken Rice and the Laksa!

The fragrant rice and smooth, tender chicken aside, what I really liked was the accompanying soup. This free broth is usually an afterthought and most chicken rice stalls don’t bother much with it. Cuisines uses the ‘double chickens’ method. There’s chicken used to cook the stock, which is then used to poach the chicken that you eat with the rice. The soup has a slightly thick quality — all that collagen! — and is perfect for washing down the yummy meal.

Their amazing (and free!) chicken broth is not pictured here but it comes with your chicken rice. Make sure you finish every sip.
Their amazing (and free!) chicken broth is not pictured here but it comes with your chicken rice. Make sure you finish every sip.

I also enjoyed their Laksa. They have different versions: Singapore Laksa, Penang Assam Laksa and Ipoh Curry Laksa. I had the Ipoh Curry version — thick, lemak gravy with plenty of ingredients. Helps that it is served by a cute K-Pop ish waiter. Haha!

Curry Laksa -- one of my favourite hawker foods! Here, you get a premium version with crunchy fresh prawns, steamed chicken chunks, boiled egg, dried beancurd to soak up all that gracy, and more.
Ipoh Curry Laksa — one of my favourite hawker foods! Here, you get a premium version with crunchy fresh prawns, steamed chicken chunks, boiled egg, dried beancurd to soak up all that gravy, and more.

 

My affable and boyish waiter, who gamely posed with my laksa on my request. He must get these requests a lot. Heh.
My affable and boyish waiter, who gamely posed with my laksa on my request. He must get these requests a lot. Heh.
Cuisine' take of the local Fried Kway Teow, with a good smoky wok hei.
Cuisines’ take on the local Fried Kway Teow, with a good smoky wok hei, lots of greens and crunchy, fresh prawns. The quality is comparable to those I’ve tried in Penang except the prawns are much bigger here.

Cuisine also serves Western food like a pretty darn good steak. I was pleasantly surprised that they are also one of the rare few Mediterranean restaurants in Ipoh. These flat breads and dips were goooood. mediterranean

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Flat breads and Mediterranean-style dips.

The breakfast buffet spread was decent too. My favourite dishes are the local ones, especially the rendang chicken. This is my breakfast plate.

 

Breakfast for champs!
Breakfast for champs!

 

What else to eat: PLENTY. Won’t cover all of them here, but I’ll include my old favourites and a new discovery I made on this trip. They’re all along the same street at Ipoh’s Old Town area (Ipoh’s town centre is divided into ‘Old Town’ and ‘New Town’, separated by a bridge.) So handy for lazy foodies!

 

Sin Yoon Loong / Sun Yuan Foong White Coffee

Add: 15-17 Jalan Bandar Timah. Tel: 05-241 4601

Opening hours: 6am – 6pm (safer to go earlier in the day!)

Ipoh is, of course, home to the famous Ipoh White Coffee. In my opinion, Sin Yoon Loong’s version is superior to Nam Heong (just across the road), which is the birthplace of the famous Old Town White Coffee chain. You can do what I did: drink at both kopitiams and cast your vote. Here’s a pic of Ayden stealing my Iced Ipoh White Coffee, slurping it like a boss. He was about 4 years old then.

Ayden at Sin Yoon Loong on another trip. Too busy finishing up my coffee to even flash a thumbs-up.
Ayden at Sin Yoon Loong, where he first discovered his love for coffee.

Sun Yuan Foong next door (related to Sin Yoon Loong) also serves up a good variety of kueh-kueh. We bought these cute Angry Bird paus from them once.

angry bird stella
Too angry (and cute) to eat.

 

Nam Heong (aka the ‘ancestral home’ to the ‘Old Town White Coffee’ chain)

Add: 2 Jln Bandar Timah. Tel: 016-553 8119

Opening hours: 630am – 5pm

Ayden (aged 4 then) giving Old Town Coffee's Iced White Coffee the thumbs-up.
Ayden (aged 4 then) giving Old Town Coffee’s Iced White Coffee the thumbs-up.

There’s plenty to eat at these kopitiams too. Homemade kaya toast, chee cheong fun, the kueh-kueh and even roasted pork at Sin Yoon Loong/Sun Yuan Foong. The Ipoh Hor Fun and Char Kuay Teow at Nam Heong is good too. No pics, sorry. Ate everything too quickly.

 

Hoong Tho Restaurant A

dd: 20 Jln Bandar Timah, 30000 Ipoh. Tel: 05-254 9673.

Opening hours: 1oam – 930pm. Closed Tue.

After a lovely western-style wedding lunch at 's ballroom, we went local for dinner! Check out this super old school Hoong Tho Restaurant. This locals' fave is going on my must-eat list. Food pics on the way!
After a lovely western-style wedding lunch at The Haven’s ballroom, we went local for dinner! Check out this super old school Hoong Tho Restaurant. This locals’ fave is going on my must-eat list.

This uber old-school kopitiam and family business is helmed by a third-generation chef who looks more like a cool ramen chef.

The wok-wielding Chef Andy who cooked my delicious meal. He is the 3rd gen chef at this family restaurant that's been dishing up yummies for the tummies since the 1950's! Thanks to uncle Peter Chan from The Haven Ipoh, who took me here  for an old school gourmet adventure!
The wok-wielding Chef Andy who cooked my delicious meal. He is the 3rd gen chef at this family restaurant that’s been dishing up yummies for the tummies since the 1950’s! Thanks to uncle Peter Chan from The Haven Ipoh, who took me here for an old school gourmet adventure!

Check out the interior. It’s like time stood still here since the 1950’s. IMG_1660 IMG_1662 IMG_1665 IMG_1682   They are famous for their hand-made Saito Fishballs, slippery Hor Fun and other delights. We ate them all.

Hand-made Saito fishballs, eaten dipped in a pretty good chilli sauce.
Hand-made Saito fishballs, eaten dipped in a pretty good chilli sauce.

 

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Hoong Tho noodles, their specialty seafood noodle dish in thick gravy sprinkled with dried squid powder. Next time, I’ll eat it with a drizzle of vinegar.
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A Stewed Pork dish with a good proportion of delightfully jelly-ish fat and meat.
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The star of the evening: Fish steamed in black bean sauce. Lovely with rice!

I also bought freshly baked pastries and cakes here, which I lugged back to Singapore the next day.

An unusual Cempedak cake (top), chinese wedding pastries (with the red Double Happiness stamp), and assorted cookies, puffs and other goodies.
An unusual Cempedak cake (top), chinese wedding pastries (with the red Double Happiness stamp), and assorted cookies, puffs and other goodies.

There’s still plenty to explore in Ipoh, which I will write about next time. With the March school holidays coming up, Ipoh offers an affordable and fun holiday destination for parents. Companies/organisations on the look out for a short department or company-wide getaway may also find this mini guide useful, in case you’re looking for ideas. Here’re some useful links: Hotel booking: The Haven Ipoh’s website Airline booking: Malaysia Airlines or Firefly   Drop me a comment if you have other good food and fun places to recommend! I’ll check them out on my next trip! Stella

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