Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Updated: 19 August 2017
Been to Ipoh in Perak? Most travellers in West Malaysia usually head to Georgetown, in Penang, or Malacca (Melaka) from Kuala Lumpur, skipping the quiet town that is just an easy two hours away by bus or train. Perhaps the small town has not much to offer travellers unlike the two towns that are jointly designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
Apart from Ipoh white coffee and wide varieties of local food, perhaps the many artworks on the walls of Ipoh can be another wow factor to draw your attention.
A Little about Ipoh
Ipoh is divided into "old town" and "new town" by the Kinta River. The smaller and older town is nearer to Ipoh Railway Station and the colonial buildings and is where most of the actions are (for tourism and local food). The larger new town has more commercial functions (shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, etc) and residential areas.
Regardless of old or new towns, they are characteristically still a large Chinatown with pre-war architectures, like Melaka and Georgetown, and most activities are still pretty traditional. Travellers and tourists usually congregate around the old town, especially the Concubine Lanes on weekends.
Street Arts in The Old Town
Starting in the old town of Ipoh, find the 7 murals of the "Art of OldTown" that is a collaboration between OldTown White Coffee and the City Council of Ipoh. These murals are the works of Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian street artist based in Penang, and are scattered around the old town.
Why not plan a day to hunt for the murals in the old town without looking at the map? You can explore the laid-back town thoroughly this way and at a more leisurely pace to experience what the town has to offer.
Murals Along The Three Concubine Lanes
The above are the 7 designated artworks for the "Art of OldTown" but there are more around the old town. Several pieces were added in recent years. You should be able to come across some of them when searching for Ernest Zacharevic's works.
1. Fruit Seller. The "Fruit Seller" can be found in the 1st Concubine Lane, or Wife Lane (大奶巷), which is along Lorong Hale ("lorong" means lane in Malay). There is not much to see in this little back lane except the lone seller. Do buy some fruits from him while you are here.
2. Man Selling Ice-cream. Close to the "Fruit Seller" and on the outer wall of Milkcow is the "Man Selling Ice-cream". Get some cold milky treats here when the weather is hot.
3. Boat Noodle. The "Boat Noodle" mural is located beside the Baan Thai Boat Noodle Restaurant in the 2nd Concubine Lane (二奶巷) along Lorong Panglima. This lane is the busiest among the three lanes with more shops and restaurants here.
4. Men Drinking Beer. If you are tired and thirsty, grab a "snow beer" at Kafe Yoon Wah (towards the end of 2nd Concubine Lane) and drink with these gentlemen. "Snow beer" is made by pouring ice-cold light beer rapidly into a deep-frozen mug, resulting in large amount of foam that looks like snow covering the beer.
5. Granny Grinding Soy Beans. Just a few steps away from "Men Drinking Beer", this is one of the series of Homesoy and Vilmedia collaborated artworks (another piece is in Georgetown, Penang). Collect both pieces if you can. Sit down and try to hold the soy milk flowing down the grinder.
6. A Bag of Kopi-O. Painted on a blue-and-white metal gate, the small bag of black coffee can be easily missed. It is located right beside Bewtful Cafe.
7. Couple Having Noodle. The "Couple Having Noodle" artwork is right beside Nam Chau Kopitiam (or coffee shop) along Jalan Shala, the back lane of Jalan Market. This is also known as the 3rd Concubine Lane. Sit down and eat your noodle with the couple.
8. Three Kids Jumping. This mural can be found beside the "Couple Having Noodle". For those of you who like to jump when taking photos, do jump with the 3 kids. This is a very popular jumping site, especially on weekends.
After completing the three Concubine Lanes, take a break and head over to Burps & Giggles, a cafe with more murals and coffee.
A Cafe with Murals
Since you are looking for street arts and mostly on the outer walls, don't miss Burps & Giggles, a quirky cafe with arty ambience located behind Plan B in the old town. You can go for pancakes, coffees, burgers and light bites at reasonable prices. There are murals on most of the walls inside the cafe and in its little back lane — called the "Lazy Lane".
This painting of a lady is on the right wall immediately after stepping into the cafe, almost a signature painting for Burps & Giggles.
The mural of three fat ladies in bikinis can be found in the back lane. The stick in the hand of the lady (right) originally carries a transparent handbag with a real bra in it. There are a couple more similar paintings nearby.
Besides Burps & Giggles, in an alley called "Monroe's Place" next to Container Hotel, is this door that obscured "Marilyn Monroe on Bicycle" from being seen from the main road (photo taken in 2017). The original artwork would show the boy using a long stick to lift Marilyn's skirt when she was riding on a real bicycle. Hope that someone can restore this beautifully-naughty art.
The "Farming the Land" painting can be easily found right outside Container Hotel. Very near to "Marilyn Monroe on a Bicycle". Stepping out of Burps & Giggles, you should probably see this artwork first before finding Marilyn Monroe behind the door.
More Murals in the Old Town
Opposite Burps & Giggles is a small lane leading to Birch Memorial Clock Tower. There are a couple of wall paintings along this little lane.
"Deer and Birds" (above) and "Absolut Ipoh Mari" (below). The two murals are very close to one another.
If you able to find the "Paper Plane" mural of the "Art of OldTown", you will be able to see the mural of "Kids Playing with Phones" on the same wall. It expresses the trend that children are playing with phones these days. Not sure if the words "No Future" are part of the original mural.
So far, all the street arts listed above are found on one side of Jalan Sultan Iskandar, a trunk road that divides the old town into two halves. There are a couple of artworks on the other side of the road.
Onion and Potato. The Chinese words on this mural goes like this: "Life is like an onion, full of energy and waiting to sprout".
The "Return Home" ("归家") painting is a long piece of artwork in an open space among a row of buildings. The beautiful paintings of boats at a wharf depict the wishes for folks out at sea to return home safely.
Street Arts in The New Town
After exploring the old town, you can visit the Mural Art's Lane in the new town. It is just a short walking distance away and you will be able to find it along a back lane after crossing Kinta River.
Most of the murals are concentrated in Mural Art's Lane and with more being added in other parts of the new town over the years. There are some that gets damaged too.
If you don't like hunting for street arts in the blind, check out the map for locations of all murals and recommended places
The blue route is the shortest path to the "Art of OldTown" murals.
More Murals at Ipoh Attractions
There are more murals outside town if you have more days to explore Ipoh.
Visit both Perak Tong Temple (霹雳洞) and Sam Poh Tong Temple (三宝洞), which are the two main attractions of Ipoh and closer to town. They are actually cave temples ("tong" means cave) where you can visit the Buddhist temples and explore the caves. The murals on the cave walls depict mostly Buddhist legends.
Apart from Ipoh white coffee and wide varieties of local food, let the street arts be a reason for you to visit the serene town of Ipoh!