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Cover Story: Ipoh Boutique Hotels Making Its Mark

By Tan Mei Kuan and Chris Teh

Ipoh Echo checked out some of the most unique boutique hotels in Ipoh, most of which are recent additions to the accommodation scene, to find out how the love for their hometown drives their respective brand story and vision creating a stay that is second to none. You do not want to miss out!

Defining a Quality Boutique Hotel

Ban Loong Hotel

Ban Loong Hotel is a painstaking restoration work of a 104-year-old heritage building hailing from 1915 in Old Town by the Loh family team as the ancestral home has witnessed five generations of the Lohs to date.

In the olden days, the Loh family operated many types of business at the 20’ x 120’ shop, dealing with weighing machines, tin, hat making, iron galvanising and hardware among others under the name, Ban Loong Hardware.

“The restoration works started in 2015. We managed to preserve the original 104-year-old timber beams installed together with brick walls and salvage the 80-year-old signboard. The engineering solution applied was by erecting another complete steel structure within the historic pre-war building to strengthen it, thus creating a shop within a shop. This would take the burden off the existing 104-year-old brick structure and reduce the settlement of the building,” explained 48-year-old Loh Ban Ho, the fourth generation of the Loh family also an engineer.

As for the foundation of the building, the family decided to use raft foundation or ship foundation, in order to avoid pilings within the heritage zone as neighbouring pre-war buildings could be shattered by the vibration of piling.

The family team was led by Ban Ho’s father, Michael Loh Yoon Khoon who grew up in this building.

According to Ban Ho, the most meaningful way to preserve the building is to convert it into a boutique hotel. It is aimed to bring back the glory days of Ban Loong Shop and at the same time allow the future generation to learn the rich history of Ipoh.

“Every quality boutique hotel has its own uniqueness. As for our heritage boutique hotel, it’s got to be the way the restoration work was done. We have very reasonable rates so much so that some visitors nickname it as ‘the best value for money hotel in the world’. Judging from the interior design and facilities we offer, we are definitely on par with some big names in town. Open for business in 2017, we have managed to obtain rating of 9.0 from Booking.com, which is a great achievement for our little hotel,” he enthused.

Plus, the restoration project has been shortlisted in the Malaysian Construction Industry Excellence Awards (MCIEA) 2019 by Construction Industry Development Board Malaysia (CIDB). The Institution of Engineers Malaysia was the first to conduct a technical talk on this restoration work in September 2017.

Here are his thoughts on the boutique hotel industry: “Boutique hotels are definitely the trend in the western countries but they are priced really high. In Malaysia, this trend is definitely here to stay because tourists can experience 5-star hotels everywhere in the world but not a boutique hotel.”

It is located at 51, Jalan Bandar Timah (Leech Street), 30000 Ipoh. For more info, visit the Ban Loong Hotel Facebook page or its website at: www.banloonghotel.com

1969 Business Suites

A fusion of the nostalgic and modern chic, 1969 Business Suites is one of the first boutique hotels focusing on communicating two-fold principles – architectural identity while accentuating the luxury and quality of services offered. It was unveiled officially in June 2018.

The row of traditional shophouses at Bandar Botani was recrafted into a classy 42-bedroom hotel serving both leisure travellers and business executives looking for homey comfort and convenience of a luxury hotel at affordable prices.

With its logo representing the iconic Ipoh Tree (Epu Tree), the space is brimming with gold, black and earthy tones to reflect the affluent ethos of modern architectural style and create nostalgic ambience.

Datin Kelly Yang, CEO of 1969 Business Suites told Ipoh Echo, “The co-founders and I are Ipohites and proud of our heritage. Which is why without any doubt Ipoh is our preferred choice to create our first boutique hotel. The exclusivity and individuality of a boutique hotel are key combinations compared to a conventional hotel.”

Upon entrance, one would not miss the glistening masterpiece listed in the Malaysia Book of Records in 2018 as the biggest backdrop display made of one-cent coins measuring 5.7 metres in length and 2.6 metres in height.

“The standard of quality and personalised services are among the important factors in creating the distinctive overall experience. For instance, 1969 Business Suites is crafted with a story to tell. From our 1 cent mural to our rustic metal and earthy tones, it epitomises the nostalgic era of the 60s in Ipoh. The idea of the 1 cent mural came about when the co-founders and I were reminiscing about the good old days when our 1 cent coins were still usable,” she recalled.

“Hence the thought of collecting these coins, displaying them and leaving a legacy for our future generations to come. It is also a message to the current and younger generations to appreciate what we have in front of us, especially our elderly parents and our loved ones,” she added.

The culinary experience here features CawanMu which serves Malaysian signature savoury favourites in addition to its gourmet bakery and sandwich bar. There is also a gym studio.

“The boutique hotel industry is growing in prominence in Ipoh. They are branded as lifestyle products which display unique features in terms of architectural design, interior decor and customised, polished quality service to guests and customers. At 1969 Business Suites, we wish to see strangers coming in as our guests and leaving as friends, this I believe boutique hotels like us are able to offer,” she concluded.

Find 1969 Business Suites at 2, Jalan Lapangan Siber 9, Bandar Cyber 31350 Ipoh. Interested readers can call 05 313 1969 or check out its website: www.1969businesssuites.com.my

Happy 8 Cafe and Retreat

Established in 2013, Happy 8 owned and operated by Tan Kai Lek is an art piece in itself. Wood with all its myriad guises is used in its natural beauty or polished to a high sheen, exposing the natural grain. Handcrafted furniture and artefacts, murals on walls, combined with clever use of junkyard discards (think old zinc roofing as a canvas for interesting paintings) create a magical atmosphere, an almost ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feel and touch.

“There is an obvious difference between local and international tourists,” Tan said.

Elaborating on why he chose to run a boutique hotel, he added, “For instance, if there is a Balinese-style hotel in Ipoh, local tourists will certainly be attracted to what it can offer. That is because they have not seen authentic Balinese-style hotels in the first place. The same cannot be applied to international tourists. Let’s say that these tourists are from Australia. They can always go to our neighbouring country to experience a true Balinese-style hotel.”

“The issue about Ipoh is that there are tons of marketable tourism elements available but tourists do not know how to find them,” Tan lamented. “This is because some Ipohites barely even understand enough of Ipoh’s rich history.”

“I chose to run this art stay, as a standard I set for myself, because I would like to give customers a different experience, whilst telling them a story,” he explained. “Conventional hotels do not appeal in the long run. There may be 5-star hotels around but those are catered to individuals who are on a business trip.”

Asked on what defines a quality boutique hotel, Tan stressed that one should be representative of Ipoh.

“Present-day tourists really know how to enjoy a trip filled with different experiences,” he added. “That also means they would like to know about the history of the place they are staying at. Vacation today is no longer only about food and entertainment.”

“If a hotel does not have a signature style that can capture the eyes and hearts of tourists, they will rapidly lose interest,” Tan highlighted. “A boutique hotel should have elements of what the locals can relate to.”

Asked on the status of Ipoh’s boutique hotel industry, Tan expressed that there is a high market demand for it.

“The most attractive element about Ipoh is its slow-paced life,” he mentioned. “That in itself is a value that most Ipohites overlook and underappreciate, which can be an excellent selling point in the hotel and tourism industry not only in Ipoh but also to tourists worldwide.”

Concluding his take, Tan said, “With Happy 8, I offer not only privacy to customers that need it but also relaxation and reflection from the fast-paced world.”

For more information or bookings, go to their website www.thehappy8.com.my or call 05 242 3188. The hotel is located at this address: No 46, Market Street, 30000 Ipoh.

Indra Hotel

Established circa February 2016, Indra Hotel is a family business owned by the Chin’s, featuring a crossover between simplicity and vintage-style decorations.

“The trend now is that tourists get to snap Instagram-worthy photos,” mentioned Gwen Chin, general manager of Indra Hotel. “This is why our investments focused primarily on decorations.”

Explaining why the family chose to operate a boutique hotel in Ipoh, the 28-year-old said, “My father, Chin Kok Keong who owns the hotel, wanted to manage the business within family members only. It is much easier that way. If it was a conventional hotel, the decision-making process will be lengthy instead because individuals other than family will be involved and the common understanding is usually hard to attain.”

Elaborating further, she stated, “Besides that, there is much more motivation for me to oversee my very own family business. The fact that my father invested in expanding the hotel into a boutique-style hotel inspired me to not only maintain the business but also to improve it.”

“Also, owners of any business play an important role in upholding a good impression,” Gwen stressed. “This is why I tend to customer feedback as soon as possible. That reflects back to my dependability as a hotel manager.”

Asked on what defines a quality boutique hotel, she opined that cleanliness always comes first before anything else, apart from having its own speciality.

“It does not matter what style a hotel is. Clean and pristine looking premises dominate the overall impression in a hotel,” Gwen explained. “One can invest heavily on beautiful decorations and offer top-notch customer service, but if the place is dirty, the impression will drop tremendously.”

Worth noting about Indra Hotel is its multipurpose hall, which is perhaps one of the few boutique hotels in Ipoh to have one.

“The hall can fit a maximum of 150 individuals at a time,” Gwen said. “It’s considered the signature element of Indra Hotel. We also offer catering services if the hall is booked for dinner purposes.”

Running a hotel is definitely not an easy one. The hotel operates 24 hours and some customers check in late at night.

“I’m really lucky because my residence is just around the corner. If there are any emergencies in the hotel, I can always stand-by to deal with any problems,” she highlighted. “Furthermore, there are 45 rooms in our hotel. The rapid turnover of customers per day means necessary rapid cleaning of rooms between check-in and check-out.”

Gwen felt that the boutique hotel industry in Ipoh is increasingly thriving.

“Boutique hotels have been a trend for the past couple of years or so. The thing about tourists is that they are looking for new and exciting elements in their trips,” she said. “As a lover of vacation myself, I understand that the overall impression and a different kind of experience matter most to present-day tourism.”

Gwen added, “This is part of the reason why I support the notion of operating a boutique hotel. In my case, Indra Hotel being my family business is much easier to manage than a conventional hotel and a good choice for investment.”

Go to their website www.indrahotelipoh.com or call 05 549 1333 for more information or booking purposes. The hotel is located at this address: No 29, Lengkok Tasek Timur 1A, Pusat Perdagangan Tasek Indra, 31400 Ipoh.

So next time you have visitors, book them into these boutique hotels and let them experience some different elements in what is creating the buzz in Ipoh.

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Tan Mei Kuan

Tan Mei Kuan graduated with first-class honours and book prize from University of Malaya majoring in languages and linguistics (English). She is proficient in both written and spoken English and Malay. She is also conversant in Mandarin and has knowledge of Japanese and Korean languages. Mei Kuan has been on the Dean’s List for three years running. Having written for the campus newspaper and residential college magazine, joining Ipoh Echo has helped utilise her writing and language skills. In her spare time she enjoys running (races).

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