Ipoh’s “Old Town” To Lure Tourists

By Jerry Francis

The proposal by the Perak Government to turn the “Old Town” sector of Ipoh into a heritage attraction to draw domestic and foreign tourists is perhaps the right “tonic” to rejuvenate the ailing business sector.

It is likely to inspire owners of old buildings in the sector to restore their premises to their original state and carry on with their trading. Thus, the heritage buildings will be preserved.

Since the collapse of the tin mining industry in the mid 80s, this part of the city centre has been severely affected as business activities tapered down, causing many premises to close.

Perak Hydro building

Being the sector on which the city was founded, it has the largest concentration of impressive heritage buildings of Colonial, Islamic and Chinese architecture built at the turn of the last century. It is also a commercial hub of the city where most of the leading banks and old trading companies are located.

Among other heritage buildings are the Railway Station, Town Hall, High Court, mansions of old local chieftains and businessmen as well as the well-known Lorong Panglima or Concubine Lane – homes of mistresses of some of the rich miners at the height of Perak’s tin-producing days.

Describing the Old Town sector as “unique and historical”, State chairman for tourism, Dato’ Hamidah Osman, said the state government would undertake a study with various agencies, including the Ipoh City Council.

“We want to revive Old Town which was the heart of Ipoh at one time. We will look into the installation of street lights and arches and upgrading of facilities, such as the Heritage Trail which has been in place,” she said.

Chung Thye Phin building

The State government would also set up a tourist information centre at the railway station, which will be manned by multi-lingual experienced tour guides, as a value-added feature of the Old Town project.

The move is a clear indication that the state tourism committee has come up with a viable proposal to promote tourism in the city through history. It will also ultimately result in the beautification of the city.

The plan is to spruce up this sector, including revitalising the once beautiful garden in front of the railway station, which has become an important entry point of the city.

Such a project should get the full backing of the city council, business community and residents to ensure that it would be successfully implemented and sustained through proper maintenance.

This was why in May, last year, I posed the question – “Are We Ashamed of Ipoh’s Glorious Past?” My intention, then and now, is to promote our city for its history and heritage.

HSBC Ipoh

I suggested the four-word slogan “City That Tin Built” to be effectively used to promote the city as it sums up its history and heritage, reflecting the glorious past of an important centre of the tin mining industry, which had been so significant in the economic development of the country and as the centre of the once world’s largest alluvial tin deposit area.

The slogan, which is unique, could also be easily and aggressively marketed to capture the imagination of the tourists and lure them to Ipoh and the Kinta Valley. Why this slogan has not been endorsed is beyond my comprehension.

How do we expect a slogan “Bersih, Hijau Dan Membangun” (Green, Clean and Developing) to attract tourists to the city? Perhaps we could learn from the success of Malacca, which has developed tourism around its slogan “Historical City”. Among its projects is “Jonker Street” that has transformed the old Chinatown into a successful heritage tourist spot with art galleries, souvenir shops, and eateries of various popular local cuisines and cakes.

I feel Ipoh too can successfully promote its history and its well-known delicious hawker food and iconic products. It can be one big living monument to the tin-mining industry, which would be educational as well as a tourist attraction. The theme of the city’s tourism projects should be a showcase of the tin-mining industry, the life of the pioneering tin-mining community, various mining methods and its heritage.

These should be supported by the establishment of a tin-mining museum, and preservation of its heritage such as the last dredge, mining towns such as Papan, and a gallery of leading pioneers of the tin-mining industry in the Kinta Valley – a history of which we should be proud. Only then can we expect the “Old Town” sector to recover from its present situation, where many of the business establishments are moving to new growth areas due to lack of activities and business opportunities.

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8 thoughts on “Ipoh’s “Old Town” To Lure Tourists

  1. I felt like Ipoh has lost it’s precious time in last 3 decades , following the collapse of tin industry. Most people has left Ipoh to seek better life else where. What we are lacking are people to come back and rejunrevate Ipoh. I know many complaints this and that , but how many are willing to take over the responsibility ? We could not just blame the government or MBi, beware that you have chosen them. Do mind that there are good people in government and MBI ! Let’s be constructive and contribute if you love your home town enough

  2. I was born and raised in Ipoh and now am living in Singapore. The other day I noticed that the Tourism Board of Malaysia in Singapore is carrying brochures promoting the Ipoh Heritage Trail. Seeing that one of the listed sites (Stated as Malay House, Kampung Kuchai, No. 21 on the pamphlet) is a house built by my great-grandfather. To this day, the property is still owned by my relatives. However, on the pamphlet, it is stated that the house “may be owned by a wealthy Malay”, as quoted on the pamphlet. Kampung Kuchai was/is also inhabited largely by the Chinese community although it is near to Jln Masjid and the masjid there. As this information is incorrect, I feel that the Tourism Board should really do a proper research. As an authority, misrepresenting history which it set out to promote is rather unacceptable.

  3. Two news article in the past week show the problems that conservation of heritage buildings in Ipoh is facing.

    In one news article, the MB said that he wants more tall buildings in Ipoh. This is odd when all existing tall office buildings are half or less than half occupied. Or perhaps he was only referring to tall hotel buildings. In either case, new buildings (tall or short) will only hasten the problems facing old buildings, especially in the Old Town. Another news article lamented the lack of plans from the government, ie local councils, for the rejuvenation of older parts of towns and cities under their jurisdiction.

    DBI must have a focus plan on how Ipoh is to be developed. Ipoh is growing haphazardly with no particular focus. DBI once touted Ipoh to be a garden city but more trees are being chopped down and plants being replaced by pavement tiles. The city centre is hotter than ever because of the lack of trees and plants. So many areas are cleared for new developments without much thought for nature.

    Ipoh is experiencing an urban sprawl, where the city’s boundary slowly creeps and expands outwards. Why? Does a bigger Ipoh mean better for her residents? The bigger size has increased the load for services such as rubbish collection as garbage trucks have to cover much bigger collection areas. Also, there are more roads or repair and resurface, more clogged drains to clear, higher electricity bill for streetlights, etc. Is DBI coping with the extra demands? There are now more public complaints than before when Ipoh was smaller.

    One vociferous group of residents wants to preserve heritage while DBI seems to be more interested in modernization. The demolished former Yau Tet Shin Market is being replaced by a modern ordinary-looking tall building that is at odds and sticks out like a sore thumb with its surroundings. YST Market was famous of its design. 100 years from now, YST Market will still be remembered in history books but the new building will not even be mentioned.

    New developments in Ipoh don’t create new businesses but cannibalizes from other parts of the city. This creates a scenario where new developments are busy but old parts of Ipoh are slowly dying off. Yet DBI has not come up with plans to rejuvenate these parts of the city. If nothing is done soon, these parts may become slums. Merely sprucing up these areas is not enough. Oddly, buildings become dilapidated faster if not inhabited.

    DBI has said that the major issue is that many of the building owners are not cooperative. This may be true but asking building owners to spend a lot of money to repair/renovate their buildings and yet unsure of recouping their costs of course will not work. DBI must provide more concrete plans on what will be done, eg a pedestrian zone, that will persuade the owners’ to repair/renovate their buildings. Incentives such as low-interest loans (from the state government), waiver of assessment fees and quit rent, etc, should be considered.

    Government departments should be encouraged to use these old building (after repair and renovation of course), such as the Perak Tourism Council. There must be a leader and when others will follow. Good rent collection will make building owners repair/renovate their buildings on their own.

  4. The Chung Thye Phin building has never been ‘restored’ but ‘renovated’. The facade is in fact a bastardised version of the original. The pretty and essential window hoods are missing, and aluminium-framed windows and tinted glass have replaced the original wood-framed shuttered windows.
    We are not informed what has been done to the inside of the building. It is now a pub. I have been informed that it has been re-sold after the renovation, which was several years ago (2002-2003).

  5. The Chung Thye Phin Building has been fully restored and now stands pretty as a lighting centre. The photo as it appears in your article must be a file photo.

  6. Be careful what you wish for. Does the State Government have the sophistication not to turn this into a Mickey Mouse development like the chinatown in Kuala Trengganu ? Which state government led tourism development has not turned horrendously wrong and off putting to the sophisticated traveler ? Show me one and I will hold my bated breath !

  7. i agree with the writer that the proposed plan can be the right “tonic” to rejuvenate the city’s old town sector. much of the old town sector is rather quiet most of the time, particularly in the evenings, and therefore needs some planning to infuse some forms of business activities.
    the availability of new business opportunities will automatically ensure that the heritage buildings will be preserved.
    the potential of the old town sector becoming a tourists area could be seen by the confidence shown by businessmen in buying up a number of the old buildings with the view of preserving them.
    the city council could spruce up the area and close some roads as pedesterians’ mall at certain time of the day.
    the question is, can the city council initiate some viable plan?

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