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.
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.
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).
And here’s a pic of me enjoying my Ipoh White Coffee at the balcony.
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
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.
#2: Work out in the gym in style. Or play a game of badminton and squash. Or chase after your kids in the playground.
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:
There’s a new indoor playground too, at the ground level of Tower C. We’ll check it out on our next trip.
#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.
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.)
#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.
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!
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.
The breakfast buffet spread was decent too. My favourite dishes are the local ones, especially the rendang chicken. This is my breakfast plate.
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.
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.
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
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.
This uber old-school kopitiam and family business is helmed by a third-generation chef who looks more like a cool ramen chef.
I also bought freshly baked pastries and cakes here, which I lugged back to Singapore the next day.
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