A Nostalgic Stroll Through Taiping, Perak #CutiCutiMalaysia
As soon as domestic travel was permitted, my mum and I immediately got to planning a weekend trip back to her hometown of Taiping, Perak. It has been a while since I visited Taiping (two years to be exact) and it was one of those towns off the beaten road from Ipoh that has so much undiscovered history. The former capital of Perak is also the wettest town in Peninsular Malaysia, earning it the title of Rain Town.
Fun fact 1: Taiping was ranked Top 3 Sustainable Cities in the world.
We headed down on Thursday afternoon, the traffic blissfully smooth and as soon as we got into town, it was off to the oldest coffee mill in Malaysia, Antong Coffee Mill. By using the most primitive methods roasted coffee beans, the signature charcoal grilled coffee in this 89 years old factory gives wonderful aroma that will make your morning an even better one. They have samples for you to try at their shop, giving you a taste of their caffeinated goodness before buying them.
Insider tip: It's easy to miss the turning to Antong Coffee Mill 安东咖啡厂 as it's right next to a flyover near Taiping train station (KTM). I recommend using Waze to navigate your way to it.
For a quick grab for the cheap local food, Panorama food court in town is the hot spot to go to. You will find many locals dining there, often navigating between two out of three coffee shops that take turns opening. The crowd was a little of the quieter side when i was there but the char kuey teow was as good as I remembered it to be.
Of course, what is a trip to Taiping without taking a stroll through Taiping Lake Gardens. The site used be an abandoned tin mine and was converted into a garden in 1880, making it the first public garden in Malaya. The park is well-loved by its residents for its 64 hectares of wide space, 10 serene lakes that are home to many animals and plants and its huge ancient rain trees.
Fun Fact 2: The average annual rainfall is about 4,000mm in Taiping while the peninsula's average is 2,000mm – 2,500mm. Its unusual rainfall has also led to a fertile collection of flora and century-old rain trees in the Taiping Lake Gardens.
The trees are so iconic that the authorities has opted to close off the road and redirected traffic onto another road. Now park goers, runners and visitors can enjoy walking and take photos under the decades-old trees. Be warned though that it can get very crowded in the mornings and evenings with family and friends. Social distancing was near impossible.
Insider tip: Go in the morning to enjoy the angsana trees and their hovering branches that dip into the lakes. The crowd is relatively smaller and the weather kinder.
Another must-visit in Taiping, especially for families and animal lovers, is Taiping Zoo and Night Safari. Taiping Zoo hit the news during MCO for the birth of its three tiger cubs and was offering 20% discount to celebrate its reopening after MCO. The zoo is one of the best zoos in Malaysia for its well-maintained space with conversation in mind. It's also the first to offer a night experience through its Night Safari. During this time, you would be able to see the nocturnal animals like the porcupine and big cats moving about. I even caught a glimpse of the resident black panthers trying to mate.
Insider tip: If you had to chose between both session, go for the Night Safari for a more cooling experience, fewer crowd and an experience you can't find anywhere else.
There are many things to see in Taiping town itself such as the tourist center set in the historical Clock Tower, near the old wet market which has a history of its own. The clock tower was built in 1881 in wood and rebuilt with bricks in 1890. Between 1908 and 1950, the Taiping Clock Tower building was used as the town police station as well as the fire brigade. After that, it was left abandoned until recently, when it was converted into the Taiping Visitor Information Centre.
Then just a stone's throwaway from the Clock Tower is the new wet market convenient located behind Novotel Hotel. Visitors can enjoy the hustle and bustle of the local morning market here and enjoy Malaysian street food cheaply. Then for a real truly kopitiam breakfast, head on over to Uncle Chuan Kopitam for two hidden gems, their salted coffee and the famous Aunt Mary's Siam Laksa. They also have nasi lemak with fried chicken or fish at only RM3.50!
Insider tip: Aunt Mary's Siam Laksa sells out fast so go before 12noon to sate your cravings.
Taiping is easily an hour's drive after Ipoh and about three hours from Penang. While often bypassed by many heading between Kuala Lumpur and Penang, it's for this reason exactly why Taiping is perfect for a quick weekend getaway. This small town rich with many of Malaysia's firsts, historical landmarks and vibrant natural attractions including Maxwell Hill, can be explored in two to three days and is ready to welcome tourists once more along its lazy, sleepy grid-like streets of yesteryear.