I am not surprised when I read that the USA News considers Ipoh as one of the nine most affordable cities in the world to live in. Being born and bred in Penang, I had wanted to return to Penang but I was asked to take over a practice in Ipoh. I had few relatives or friends in Ipoh then and I had limited command of Cantonese.
When I moved to Ipoh in the early eighties, the town was rather boring. There were no supermarkets, playgrounds or even decent cinemas. The Ipoh pretty girls had already moved to Kuala Lumpur, not that it really mattered, as I was already happily married! Membership in some of the clubs was still affordable. Playing golf was among the cheapest in Ipoh.
Houses in Ipoh remain affordable until the last few years. Yet they are at least 30-50% cheaper than corresponding houses in KL or Penang. Food still remains cheap and delicious, so much so that these outlets would be overcrowded during the festive season when many Ipohites return home. It has excellent medical facilities whose charges are lower than in KL and Penang.
In spite of its population of about 400,000, it never feels congested or disorganised. There are few tall buildings. Traffic jams are unheard of. Most of us are able to return home to see our families and enjoy a home-cooked lunch during the hour-long break. There is never any water shortage and only the occasional blackout. The haze is usually bearable even when unhealthy levels are reported in other parts of the country. Since the last ten years, several shopping malls and cineplexes have been built. New restaurants, some with fine dining, have introduced new cuisines.
Ipoh also enjoys a strategic location. It is only about two and a half hours drive by the highway to Kuala Lumpur and less than two hours to Penang. The new electric trains provide another convenient link with KL and soon to Penang. Another 90 minute-drive can take us for vacation in Cameron Highlands or the beach resorts in Lumut and Pangkor. The only transport lacking is by air as the only airline landing in Ipoh is Firefly from Singapore.
While Ipoh has many good schools, it is certainly not the best city for young people looking for higher education or challenging careers. Many of our young people have gravitated to the Klang Valley if not abroad. However, the exasperating traffic jams in KL and the crowded streets in Penang are not conducive for a quiet living. Ipoh is however the best city to bring up young children and to retire with a relaxing and affordable lifestyle. Cemetery plots are still among the cheapest, ranging from just RM500 for a Christian burial plot. At my age, I am less concerned on the leasehold title of my house than the price of the cemetery land!
Dr Teoh Soong Kee