IPOH City in Malaysia is favored by film directors because of its scenery and its historical, colonial architecture.
This is where director Ang Lee shot "Lust, Caution" (2007) set in old Shanghai and Hong Kong in China's Republican era. It's also where Andy Tennant directed "Anna and the King" (1999) starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. Scenes were also shot in Ipoh for films such as "After This Our Exile" (2006) starring Aaron Kwok, "Indochine" (1992) and "Sepet" (2004).
Visitors in the Old Town of Ipoh get a feel of the nostalgia and romance of the city. Narrow streets are lined with old and colorful buildings and the area is filled with busy traditional Cantonese restaurants.
At a time when people are accustomed to a hectic urban pace, scenic Ipoh remains a quiet and comfortable city, at least its older parts.
The proud daughter
Ipoh, with a population of 702,464 (Wikipedia data), is the capital city of Perak State, around two hours from the national capital Kuala Lumpur in the south and coastal Penang City in the north.
Ipoh is famous for its limestone karst landscape with spectacular hills and caves; it has been compared to Guilin in China's southwest, known for its spectacular scenery.
Around 70 percent of the city's population is of Chinese origin, descended from Chinese immigrants from Guangdong Province who worked in tin mines in the late 19th century and 20th and stayed on.
Many Chinese know about Ipoh because it is the hometown of famous Hong Kong-based Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, star of "The Lady" (2012) about Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's leading pro-democracy politician; "Reign of the Assassins" (2010) and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000).
Another interesting thing about Ipoh is that the city's name is derived from the name of a local tree, Pokok Ipoh, containing poisonous sap used by indigenous people to coat the tips of blow darts used in hunting. Today few trees can be found anywhere in the world.
In Ipoh, one tree can be found outside the old train station, built in neoclassical-Edwardian-Baroque style and sometimes called the Taj Mahal of Ipoh. It's a favorite filming location.
The station is a transport museum where vintage locomotives and carriages are still on one side the platform, which is still in use. The upstairs of the old station is the Station Hotel, known as the Majestic Hotel. It was designed by British designer Arthur Benison Hubback, who also designed the Kuala Lumpur station.
The Ipoh tree stands in an attractive garden in front of the station.
The city is divided by the Kinta River into the Old Town in the west and New Town in the east. The Old Town retains its colonial feel with old architecture and traditional markets. Recommended sites include commercial Leech Street, the Ipoh Town Hall, an Ewardian Baroque structure; Ipoh Field surrounded by the Ipoh Club, FMS Bar, HSBC building and St Michael's secondary school.
The New Town was developed around 1908. The area includes Perak Medical University and the Ipoh City Hall, as well as many shops, shopping malls and hotels.
The food scene is vibrant and diverse, ranging from street vendors to upscale restaurants. Chinese immigrants made Cantonese cooking and family-style Cantonese restaurants predominant. Recommended are Sar Hor Fun; Hor Hee, flat white rice noodles served with fish cakes and/or fish balls; Nga Choi Kai, a chicken fillet with soy sauce, bean sprouts and sprinkled pepper; Hakka Mee, yellow rice noodles served with minced pork sauce; and Heong Peng, a type of biscuit with caramel-like filling and various kinds of tempting dim sum.
In addition to delectable dishes, Chinese brought a beverage known as Ipoh white coffee. It is said that an immigrant surnamed Wu invented the coffee; he made coffee from local coffee beans that were roasted with palm oil and baked at a low temperature to eliminate caffeine and bitterness. The resulting coffee is served with rich condensed milk. The beverage is considered a must-try, a specialty of Malaysia that was featured at the World Expo Shanghai 2010 as the official beverage of the Malaysia Pavilion.
An authentic way to appreciate white coffee is nursing it in an ordinary street restaurant, when it's hot and humid and people speak Malay, English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka and other languages.
Long after the tin industry boom, the city is developing into a manufacturing, educational and investment center, attracting visitors, new immigrants and investors. In recent years, a theme park and world-class spa have opened, as well as luxury hotels and residences.
The Haven Lakeside Residences in Ipoh is widely promoted at big real estate investment exhibitions in China and elsewhere. The project is said to be the first luxury apartment complex in Perak State and it is mainly targeted at foreign investors seeking a retirement or vacation home.
Apartments have spectacular views of limestone mountains. The cost per square meter is less than 10,000 yuan (US$1,579) per square meter (decorated).
These developments have benefited from the government's Malaysia My Second Home Program, seeking to attract foreigners to the country's scenery, good quality of life, clean air and water, plus good Chinese food.
If you go
There is no direct flight from Shanghai to Ipoh. Travelers fly to Kuala Lumpur, then take an electric train (recommended) or drive to Ipoh. By train or car, it's around two and a half hours.
Food is delicious, visitors can walk along a busy street, pick one at random and not be disappointed. Durian vendors are recommended.