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Ipoh’s “Old Town” To Lure Tourists

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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.

Preserving Old Town (Update)

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In our March 1 issue of Ipoh Echo 116 under the title “Preserving Old Town” we reported on a group of individuals who purchased a prime heritage property in Old Town with the intention of preserving it for the next generation.

Well the group has already started with its upgrade beginning with the lane and the Dramatist Hostel.

The Dramatist Hostel is a 3-storey building. The ground floor houses Kong Heng while the 2nd and 3rd floors were used by the students of the hostel. Currently the 2nd floor is used for boarding by Kong Heng workers while the 3rd floor is an open floor which was presumably used for drama rehearsals. Behind Kong Heng was the hostel’s kitchen.

As at the beginning of May the lane shared by coffee shops Kong Heng and Thean Chun has been resurfaced with a brick pavement and its drains covered except at intermittent intervals all the way from Jalan Sultan Yussuf (Belfield Street) to Jalan Bandar Timah (Leech Street)

Behind Kong Heng a 2-storey building has been built over the old kitchen which is an extension for the 2-storey hostel. The original kitchen has been preserved and still retains its façade.

Ipoh Echo met with one of the owners of the property, Ng Sek San over lunch at Kong Heng.

Sek San, a landscape architect based in KL, explained that he planned to green the lane with suitable trees and wall creeping plants.

As for the 2-storey extension at the back, he indicated that the 1st floor could be used as a multi-purpose hostel while the top floor as a single suite but quickly added “nothing is firm just yet”.

The renovation work is scheduled to take six months. Hence when I requested to view his plans he promptly replied “no point, it keeps changing”.

Undoubtedly it is most assuring to note that there are people passionate enough to walk the heritage talk.

Sek San has a website highlighting his work which can be viewed at http://www.seksan.com.

JAG