Investigating Ipoh's Charms
Ipoh .. oh Ipoh. What does Ipoh remind me of but memories of a time past. I remember numerous trips back to this city which my parents referred to as their kampung (hometown). Both sets of my grandparents had lived and retired in Ipoh, my mum even attended a convent school run by French nuns called Sacred Heart there during her teenage years .
One can't help feeling a bit nostalgic, remembering the numerous trips back to Ipoh as a child. Every couple of years, we would return to Malaysia from London for long summer holidays. After holidaying in KL, we would often go to Ipoh to visit our grandparents.
As a child I wasn't too fond of the long car journeys - there wasn't a north-south highway those days and we used to depend on single car lane roads to travel everywhere. I was also easily prone to car sickness. So add the two together and that's a recipe for disaster! Luckily, now it's only a quick 2 hour drive up the highway to Ipoh.
We've been hearing through the social media vine about how hip and cool Ipoh has become, so Batik&Bubbles chose Ipoh as our first stopover on our road trip to Penang to check out what all the fuss was about!
Arriving in Ipoh one hot and bright sunny morning, we checked into our hotel, the distinctly stylish and design worthy M Boutique Hotel. Yiga has stayed there once before when it first opened, and its trendy interior made a distinct impression and worthy of a second visit.
Walking into the cool and cosy welcoming lobby, which is both rustic and charming with its deep comfy sofas, one can easily imagine happily sinking into its depths, whiling away an afternoon with a book in hand!
After a smooth and fuss free check in, we found our way to our hotel room. We were told that each floor of the hotel, 3 in total, had 3 distinctively different themes. One is the Adventure theme, another Excelsior and lastly the Majestic theme which was the floor we were placed at. The majestic theme is a combination of raw, industrial and concrete themes, yet remaining royal with its warm and opulent colour palette.
There is also a recurrent play of numbers, interspersed within the decor of the floor and in the rooms itself, which apparently is representative of the Asian people's obsession with numbers and numerology as a whole!
We were charmed by our room! It had all the creature comforts, one requires to rest one's weary limbs after a jaunt around the city. From duck feather pillows, to soft comfy beds, flatscreen tv , coffee-tea making facilities, free WIFI, old-time snacks and cozy home decor. The bathroom had everything a gal needs - I loved the strong jet of the rain shower which helped to soothe my sore back muscles after the drive from KL. There's even a 24 hour gym for those gym bunnies not wanting to digress from keeping up with their fitness regime!
It's hard not to notice how everything in M Boutique hotel has been branded so meticulously. From the towels, to the matching dressing robes, shower gels and toiletries, M Boutique has pretty much mastered its branding capabilities, and we can't wait to see how far this will go with their upcoming projects. We understand that other than the M Boutique Hotel Station 18, another property located in Pengkalan Ipoh, there is another hotel opening soon in another precinct in Ipoh, so watch this space for more details!
We later sat down with the personable and affable Raymond Loh who is the General Manager of M Boutique Hotel and his colleague, Joey Chong from the sales department.
Raymond hails from Ipoh himself, having returned to his hometown after spending 20 years abroad in Singapore. He told us how M Boutique was the first of its kind in Ipoh, having opened back in 2013. Back then, there weren't any boutique hotels there, so M Boutique has paved the way for other properties to follow suit.
"The owner of the hotel wanted something unique and different so he gave a free creative hand to the interior designer, Kiat, when it came to the overall branding and style direction of the hotel." said Raymond.
In the past fews years, Ipoh has seen the emergence of well over a hundred new independent cafes. The resurgence of both hipster style cafes and boutique hotels, have given Ipoh a new much-needed makeover. Once thought of as a place for retirees, it now seems as if Ipoh is attracting both domestic and overseas travelers, giving a unexpected fresh new boost to its former dull and old-fashioned image
Raymond continued, "In fact, a lot of travellers who stay at the M Boutique hotel, are local tourists looking for a change of scene. It's a nice peaceful escape, for those hankering for a non-hectic city break. Ipoh seems to offer all that with its calm quiet streets with quirky little cafes and restaurants. In addition, Malaysians will drive anywhere for good food and of course one can't miss out on the famous food here in Ipoh! "
Raymond then went on to tell us that other than food, there are some great geographical spots to visit such as the limestone caves on the outskirts of the city and Gua Tempurung, a famous mountain where one can go caving. It looks as if Batik&Bubbles will need to take another trip to Ipoh to explore all these wonderful sights!
Raymond shared tips on famous Ipoh dishes such as the famous steamed Chicken with beansprouts and flat rice noodles and also Nasi Ganja aka Nasi marijuana! Don't worry folks, we are not talking about the real stuff here! In Malaysia, it is named nasi ganja due to the dish being so addictive and tasty!
As adventurous foodies, we decided to venture out and check out what this dish was all about! Besides, by that time we had built up quite an appetite and needed some fuel to replenish our energy stores!
After a quick 5 minute drive, we arrived at the Rumah Tampangan dan Kedai Kopi Yong Suan on the corner of Jalan Yang Kalsom. There was quite a queue building up while we were there and the restaurant was filled with locals happily tucking into their spicy dishes of yumminess! After managing to navigate our seats, we finally sat down for lunch. The nasi ganja was certainly addictive! It's a rice dish doused with a blend of fiery yet flavourful curry sauces topped with a choice of chicken, lamb or fish on the side. It's definitely a worthwhile stopover if you're in town!
You never know, you might even bump into some friendly soldiers who might accompany you for lunch!
After lunch, we decided to explore the city streets of Ipoh. We'd been advised that it's best to explore the famous Old Town Keng Heng area, which is synomynous for its cool and artsy vibe. I just loved the quaint streets and surprising decor which just seemed to pop up out of no where.
We couldn't help noticing how clean and pedestrian-friendly the streets were when compared to KL. It was a spectacularly hot day, so we took shade through some quiet streets and alleys and came across the Big Group's Plan B cafe. There were also some cool shops in the area worth exploring!
Yup, these streets and cafes are definitely Instagram-worthy so camera and smartphone lovers, this is definitely a place you shoud check out to get that Instagram-worthy shot!
Naturally, we took advantage of the aesthetics and surroundings to get that perfect visual! Thankfully I had my trust Sony Alpha 5100 in hand which takes amazing pictures. A great camera for a photog newbie like me!
We sought refuge from the sun at the Everyday Lifeshop, a cafe/shop on Jalan Market. Here, you can grab a quick coffee, or in our case, an icy cool drink. They have a lovely range of apothecary type shower gels and home scents as well as homeware and clothes.
It so happens that the company behind this brand are the same people who are the interior and creative designers for M Boutique Hotel. It's a small world indeed!
We then found ourselves in the central square of Ipoh old town called 'Padang Ipoh' or 'Ipoh field'. It was cute watching the kids play football after school, working up a sweat outdoors, however, we didn't envy them playing in this incredible heat!
Walking around, we couldn't help noticing how there were so many gorgeous and grand historic buildings that have been quite well preserved!
After rambling around the streets of Ipoh old town, we decided that the perfect way to end the day would be by having drinks at the rooftop of Weil Hotel. So we hopped into an Uber (yes they have Uber in Ipoh - fantastic!) which is an easy and affordable way to travel around Ipoh.
After peeking at their rooftop infinity swimming pool, we went to The Deck Gastrobar to check out the sweeping green views of Ipoh and of course, to watch the sunset. What a wonderful way to wind down a busy day. In fact, for me it was quite a different way to look at the city from a bird's eye view.
Our Uber driver had recommended we try a Mexican restaurant called Konda Kondi on Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, which was packed with young Malaysians enjoying themselves. Ipoh definitely felt alot "younger" than I had imagined, I guess in the past it always had this fuddy-duddy image which seems to be fast disappearing with all the cool boutique hotels and cafes popping up. I am not sure if they are existing Ipoh-ites or people coming back to Ipoh but it sure makes a refreshing change for this city!
Soon after, we returned to our hotel and were charmed at how the light flooded foyer drew in the weary wanderer. I can understand why they are considered a design hotel, as there were so many beautiful backdrops and facades in the hotel to take some pretty awesome pictures. Apparently, the hotel attracts a lot of wedding couples who use M Boutique as the venue to stage their wedding photos. From Sunday to Thursday, couples can take their pre-wedding shoots for free around the hotel by booking a room at the hotel (this is limited to 2 couples a day). This seems quite a bargain as it can be costly to book a venue for interesting photos.
The M Boutique does seem like a great hotel that would appeal to couples and those seeking a romantic getaway. You can feel how friendly and personal the attention is at M Boutique. There's definitely an added value when you stay at a small charming boutique hotel as compared to staying at one of the bigger hotel chains.
I also really loved their boutique, M Shop which holds some great hand-made and custom, quirky items to take home . Me, being a big fan of shower gels, picked up a bottle of their M Boutique Verbena Fresh shower gel, which contains verbena and other essential oils such as lemongrass and lime oil to name a few. It only retails for RM 25 which seems to me a bargain indeed and besides, it's a good way to remember the great time we had had at M Boutique whenever I use it in the future!
After a good night's sleep, we popped downstairs to the signature Old Town White Coffee Grand restaurant for breakfast.
You get to choose from a selection of dishes for breakfast. Yiga had the Kaya Toast with soft boiled eggs ensemble while I had the Prawn Mee breakfast which appeals to the asian side of me that loves noodles any time of the day!
Apparently there are only three Old Town White Coffee Grand outlets in existence, the other two being in Malacca and Johor.
I really loved the grand yet serene ambience of the restaurant. The cozy and comforting decor and soft lighting just added to the whole old-world meets new-world charm of the hotel! If you don't fancy asian for breakfast, one can also choose to have a western style breakfast at the Myth Eatery and Bar, which is located on the other side of the lobby.
All in all, it was a fabulous time visiting Ipoh and getting to understand my parent's hometown a little better. It definitely makes a difference, seeing the city through the eyes of a blogger, as now I look at things more closely and appreciate things that in the past I wouldn't take a second glance at. I can't wait to return to Ipoh to explore the rest of its addictive charm!
We'd like to take this opportunity to thank Raymond and his wonderful team at M Boutique Hotel for hosting us. We're looking forward to share our experience with our readers and look forward to returning once again!
M Boutique Hotel is located on 2, Jalan Hala 5, Ipoh. Website: www.mboutiquehotels.com. Tel : 05 255 5566.
Everyday Life Shop is located on 29, Jalan Market, Ipoh. Website: www.lifeshopatelier.com Tel: 05 241 2197 Business hours : 10am-7pm, closed every Wednesday.
Rooftop Deck Gastrobar is located on the rooftop, level 13, Weil Hotel on 292, Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, Ipoh Tel: 05 208 2228 Business hours: Sunday-Thursday: 5-12pm, Friday-Saturday & Public Holidays: 5pm-2am
Old Town White Coffee Grand is located on the lobby of M Boutique Hotel. Tel: 016 526 6897 Business hours: 7am - 12.30am