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Ipoh Railway Station

Discovering Ipoh: Old Meets New

By Lloyd Green

There’s a sense of East meets West in Malaysia. A lot of old versus new as well. Ipoh is no different with a unique blend characterised perfectly by its people; a community moulded from the tin mining boom of the 19th century and its position as Malaya’s second greatest city. There’s remnants of that era littered everywhere as well as evidence of a concerted effort to place Ipoh back in the limelight. For a writer and observer, it’s actually quite difficult to articulate this character into words. I see it and I feel it, but it’s like I’m witnessing Ipoh’s transformation as it happens. In the words of a local, “We’re trying to copy Malacca in portraying Ipoh as a popular historical destination, but we’re doing it in our own unique way.”

As such, tourism exists in Ipoh, but not quite in the sense there’s a dedicated industry to cater for it (not yet anyway). For years Ipoh was seen as a ‘passer-by’ town; the post-independence economic decline in the 1960s after the British left rendering Ipoh a shadow of its former self, only frequented by visitors on their way to and from Penang and the Cameron Highlands. It sort of still feels like that — a stopover town — with backpackers staying a maximum of two nights en route to somewhere else. But now locals are open to utilising that rich history to give it a much needed facelift and enticing people to explore Ipoh’s hidden gems.

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There’s a bevy of museums highlighting the migration of the Hakka-Chinese to Malaysia in the 19th century and their extravagant behaviours at clubs gambling, smoking opium and entertaining girls. There’s also the emergence of urban street art to depict this period through the preservation of historical buildings plus the city’s famous Old Town White Coffee and delicious food, all of which are easy to find. I guess what makes it feel ‘un-tourist-like’ is a lack of designated tourist area and tourists themselves — which for me is a good thing as there’s no threat to its natural appeal.

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Sure, there’s Old Town, home to archaic colonial buildings and snippets of cultural treasures — grand British buildings such as Ipoh Railway Station and Ipoh Town Hall remind you of Ipoh’s once iconic standing as Malaya’s second administrative capital — but rather than the city’s famous eateries targeting foreign tourists (think Jalan Alor in KL), they are frequented by proud locals enjoying the cuisine.

There’s no real sense of Old Town as a touristy area; more an enjoyable place to explore. There’s no heckling from the streets, instead a nod of the head and pleasant smile and when you do venture into the circus of the night market in search of food, groceries, toys, clothes and household items, there’s a less forceful form of heckling and bargaining. What’s better is there’s that same personal connection with the locals in the suburbs than in the city.

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Ernest Zacharevic, the Lithuanian artist who made a name for himself in Penang and Singapore has offered his artistic genius to Old Town’s history-steeped walls. Recruited by Old Town White Coffee company to showcase the heritage and history of the city, the eight unique murals give great insight into life here. There’s s also Mural Lane, a series of paintings by renowned local artist Eric Lai, highlighting the many cultures of Malaysia: lion dance, kuda kepang dance, Indian dance, plus a pinch of cheekiness with popular childhood games such as hide-and-seek and mother hen as well as a beautiful waterfall scenery amongst others.This has also transcended into the cafe and juice bar scene with many new venues combining the city’s affinity with coffee and modern artistic influences. Places such as Bougainvillea City Cafe and Happy 8 Retreat Cafe head this list with murals depicting Ipoh’s strong Chinese flavours. Photo source from ernestzacharevic.com.

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Ipoh is famous for its food and in particular Ngah Choi Kay or chicken and bean sprout. The best places for this are Lou Wong and OnnKee near the main Chinese market and on Cowan Street. Old Town White Coffee is a must and there’s plenty of family owned Chinese shops specialising in this including Nam Heong which is the original exponent of Old Town White Coffee (and its egg tarts) located on the corner of Jalan Bandar Timah and Persiaran Bijeh Timah. If you’re keen for an adventure, head out of town five minutes to Buntong for Ipoh’s famed Kacang Putih (Indian snacks). This area is famous for the manufacturing and retail of Kacang Putih and makes millions each year selling these savoury treats to England, New Zealand and Australia.

 

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Photo by Abd. Halim Hadi / Shutterstock.com

For accommodation, I chose a conceptualised ‘self-sustaining’ hostel called Bed Bike Backpackers Studio. It is what it says it is; a studio apartment with modern stylings and is supervised by fellow travellers on their way through Malaysia. There is no reliance on permanent staff with the owner popping in once a week. Information about the city is passed on via a traveller’s journal and the building itself is located within minutes of both Old Town and Ipoh Railway Station. Also check out 27 @ Concubine Lane — a themed residence showcasing life as it was for the Hakka people during the 19th century.

 

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A budget guide to travelling Malaysia

By Lloyd Green

Okay, if you’re coming to Malaysia to spend two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands, you’re probably not going to do it on the cheap. But there’s also plenty of people who pass through Malaysia on their way north from Singapore en route to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

For these people, every dime is important and in a city like KL where extravagance is flashed in your face on every corner, finding things suited to your budget can be difficult. This also applies to travelling across Malaysia, with knowledge of how and when to travel, important to your attempts at saving money.

So let’s start with your arrival.

If, like most people, you arrive in Malaysia by air at either KLIA or KLIA2 terminals and have booked accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, you will have a few options of varying cost and duration to reach your destination. Often backpackers fly blind during this process and can waste money without even knowing it. The KLIA Express train is the fastest way to and from the KLIA airports from KL Sentral, but it is not the cheapest.

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The cheapest route to Kuala Lumpur is by bus with a one-way ticket for adults from KLIA or KLIA2 terminals to KL Sentral priced at 10 Ringgit. Peak hour traffic in Kuala Lumpur can cause lengthy delays, so if you are on a tight schedule and want to get to the city as soon as possible, KLIA Express train is the best option. It takes 28 minutes and is RM55. If you want to save five Ringgit make sure you pay with your credit card at the kiosk and not at the counter. It will be RM50.

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(Picture by Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com)

In terms of accommodation, there are two main places to stay for backpackers; Changkat in Bukit Bintang and Chinatown not far from Pasar Seni LRT station. There’s a host of backpacker accommodation in both areas with single rooms as cheap as RM40-50 and dorms beds priced at around 20 Ringgit. Of course, the quality of your hostel will vary with price. Changkat is closer to KL’s nightlife, KLCC and the Petronas Twin Towers, but Chinatown is more conveniently located near the city’s main transportation hub — KL Sentral. Many coaches to Malacca, Johor Bahru, Penang and Ipoh now leave from TBS bus station, which is approximately 20 minutes from KL Sentral.

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Jalan Alor off Changkat is foodie-central with Chinese seafood restaurants and hawker stalls selling an array of local delicacies and international cuisines until the wee hours of the morning. Petaling Street in Chinatown is also famous for food with its night market chock-full of shops and stalls selling goods and street food. Be aware, both of these areas are aimed at tourists and as such prices can be inflated.

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(Picture by Calvin Chan / Shutterstock.com)

Most of KL’s main attractions are aimed at families, couples and those who are dazzled by the bright lights, so if you prefer a bit of adventure but want to stay within in the perimeters of the city I suggest you check out Petaling Jaya and in particular areas such as Subang where an urban youth culture has evolved. If you are able to make friends with locals, that’s even better and ask them to take you out of KL City. The food in areas such as Klang, Petaling Jaya, Ampang and Cheras is just as good (and cheaper) and is where most of the locals eat. Also keep an eye out for local night markets known as Pasar Malam. They offer amazing delicacies and fresh produce and are more authentic than the ones in the city. If you want a quiet night at the cinema, Wednesday is the cheapest evening with tickets as cheap as 10 to 12 Ringgit.

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Just a stones throw away from KL are a places such as Chilling Falls and Broga Hill. These are quite popular amongst locals and provide a nice respite from the concrete jungle of the city. They are free and relatively easy to get to by car. Check out the best places for hiking, camping and waterfalls in and around Kuala Lumpur here.

Budget guide 3(Picture by Travelblog.com)

The bus and train are the cheapest options for making your way around Peninsular Malaysia. For Ipoh, catch the rain as Ipoh Railway Station is located in the centre of town, whereas the coach terminal is some 15 minutes away. You will only save five Ringgit if you catch the bus. The bus from KL to Penang is the best option as it takes you directly to the island and within five minutes of George Town. If you want relax on Malaysia’s famed beaches like Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands, the bus and ferry is the way to go.

shutterstock_115589299For those interested in checking out Borneo’s wildlife, make sure you book your flights to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in advance as flights to East Malaysia can be expensive.

Strangely, food prices also vary between Sarawak, Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia with Indian food slightly more pricier in Borneo. Popular music festivals such the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak and the Penang Jazz Festival on the mainland are relatively cheap compared to other international events, but again book in advance to save yourself some cash.

A great, inexpensive way to see Malaysia is to volunteer. Malaysia offers volunteering opportunities for every taste and interest: from wildlife projects in the untamed jungle of Borneo to teaching English to children in urban and rural environments. Most places provide free accommodation and sometimes food and you’ll have access to remote communities you probably never knew existed. Read more here.

When exiting Malaysia, consider the bus trip north to Hat Yai in Thailand. It is less than 60 Ringgit and you can split the journey up by stopping over in Penang for the night. Cheap flights from KL to popular tourist destinations in Asia such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines can be found via Air Asia, but any additional items such as luggage over 20 kilograms can increase the price.

In summary, Malaysia is a wonderful place to explore and the more adventurous you are, the better your experience will be. Doing it on the cheap is possible but having a friend to show you around or give you advice definitely helps with your budget.

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Why you should move to Malaysia in 2016

By Lloyd Green

Good news! If you’re thinking of relocating to Malaysia — maybe to volunteer, work at an NGO, study, join a big company, intern or simply enjoy your gap year — now is the best time. According to the 2016 global Cost of Living Index report collated by Numbeo, Malaysia is the 29th cheapest country to live.

Despite boasting one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant economies, Malaysia is an incredibly affordable place to live, retaining a Consumer Price Index of just 37.47. Remarkably, this is lower than neighbouring Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

 So, if you’ve just graduated, have the time to do something life changing, or are looking for that extra zest in life, why NOT come to Malaysia? We’ll tell where you get cheap food, eat out for less and rent a house for next to nothing?

What’s Cheap In Malaysia?

Johor Bahru is Malaysia’s cheapest city on the Cost of Living Index table with a CPI of 40.61. A one bedroom apartment here averages MYR1,325.00, while out of the city it drops to MYR833.33. JB also has the third least expensive McDonald’s combo meal in the world at MYR10, which is equal to $US2.50. In fact, Malaysia is one of the cheapest places in the world for eating out with Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur all polling in the Top 50 on the Restaurant Price Index list.

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On average you can get a meal at an inexpensive restaurant for MYR8 or $US2. Coffee is also cheap averaging $US1 in most places. Do expect to pay more at fancy shopping malls and outlets like Starbucks.

Is KL Really That Expensive?

shutterstock_150586619Kjersti Joergensen / Shutterstock.com

The cost of living in Kuala Lumpur is slightly higher compared to other Malaysia cities, but with a CPI of 44.48, it’s still 54 per cent cheaper than Singapore and has roughly the same CPI as neighbouring Asian capitals like Jakarta, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.

You will likely need at least $US400 to $US500 per month to cover all of your expenses in KL, with a room to rent as low as MYR800 ($US200) per month. This price can vary drastically depending on your location, with a one bedroom apartment in the city averaging MYR2400 per month, while out of the city the median drops to MYR1200.

Kota Kinabalu is the cheapest city in Malaysia for accommodation according to Numbeo, with its Rent Index at 7.63 (37th in the world), compared to JB at 12.24 and KL at 18.55.

The cost of transport in Kuala Lumpur is very competitive with a one-way ticket using the LRT or KTM less than $US1. If you commute every day, count on $25 per month for transportation.

Get Me Out Of The City

Transport between urban cities in Malaysia is also affordable, ranging between $5 and $15 for a bus ride, depending on the destination. A bus or train ride can take you to the green mountains of Cameron Highlands or the heritage listed cities of Georgetown, Malacca and Ipoh.

For Ipoh, catch the train as Ipoh Railway Station is located in the centre of town, whereas the coach terminal is some 15 minutes away. The tickets are MYR25 to MYR30 and you’ll only save five ringgit if you catch the bus.

The bus from KL to Penang is the best option as it takes you directly to the island and within five minutes of George Town. Tickets at MYR37 to MYR42.

Flying to Sabah and Sarawak can be expensive, but Air Asia offers deals all year round. Right now you can fly from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan for $US16 with the airline.

blogjun22Kota Kinabalu, Sabah 

Staying Long Term

Most people can enter Malaysia on a Short Term Social Visit Pass, which can be obtained upon arrival at the airport. Normally, this visa is valid for three months, but the visa conditions vary depending on your nationality.

If you plan to volunteer in Malaysia for longer than three-months, you might wish to apply for a Professional Visit Pass (PVP). This must be requested by the NGO you intend to work for while you are still in your home country

If granted, this visa is valid for up to 12 months and can be renewed for another 12 months, but only after a three-month break in between.

Contacting Home

Internet and mobile packages are also relatively inexpensive in Malaysia, with a minute of prepaid mobile averaging RM0.26 and 10 Mbps Internet with unlimited data priced at RM160.

So, whatever it is you decide to do in Malaysia, your time here be an exciting time in your life, and a great chance to stretch your own limits and discover your potential!

Check out the Top 30 Cheapest Countries to Live in 2016.

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