A stopover in Taiping reveals many appealing attractions that warrant a revisit, writes David Bowden

Taiping supposedly has the highest rainfall in Malaysia, but it hasn’t rained at all during my stay there. 

The closest I come to a “rain” is the Raintree Walk at the Lake Gardens. And while admiring the sturdy girth of these expansive trees, I appreciate how they can flourish in an abundance of rain. 

I am on my way to Penang to discover more of Malaysia and unsure where to stay overnight after visiting Kuala Kangsar in Perak. Ipoh is a possibility, but I haven’t been to Taiping for a long time. So the decision is made to stay there for the night. 

After a few hours of exploring, I am delighted with what I see and realise that, while Taiping may be neither here nor there, it actually has a lot to offer.

HISTORIC SETTING

The place is originally known as Larut, a rowdy tin town famed for its lawlessness and rival gangs of miners. 

Recently, Captain Tristram Speedy, one of Taiping’s colourful characters from the past, has made the headlines. An image of him was used to adorn bottles of the controversial Timah whiskey, and this caused a nationwide uproar. 

While exploring parts of Taiping’s Lake Gardens, I find out about Captain Speedy’s exploits as he and some Indian soldiers under his command were brought in to suppress rebellious miners in Larut. 

Speedy arrived in Malaysia in 1871 to work as a police superintendent. By 1872, the 40,000 Chinese miners in Larut were mainly members of two rival clans, both trying to control the lucrative tin mining operations. 

The Malays also benefited as they collected taxes from the mining, but they too fought among themselves. This all ended up in an open conflict known as the Larut Wars, and Speedy was speedily brought in to resolve the volatile situation, which disrupted the supply of tin to a growing and demanding global market. 

Peace was restored with the signing of the Pangkor Treaty in 1874. The treaty resolved these mining disputes, but it also saw the introduction of a British resident. British administrators took control of Larut when it was the largest town in Perak, but by 1890, Ipoh had overtaken it in size.

Speedy was appointed assistant British resident of Larut, and he held the position from 1874 to 1877. He set about erecting public buildings, including his own grand residence.

Today, 34 pillars are all that remain of the former assistant resident 
and his wife’s house within Taiping Lake Gardens.

The site is strategically located on a small hill in Jalan Kelab Baru overlooking the lake. The house was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the construction of a small hotel, but the pillars remain untouched. 

There have been calls for the site to be preserved and restored, but nothing appears to have happened.

FAMED GARDENS

Being one of the first settlements in Malaysia, Taiping is a town of firsts. It has the first museum, first railway (to Port Weld or now Kuala Sepetang), first English newspaper and first zoo.

The 62ha Lake Gardens or Taman Tasik Taiping is formerly a tin mining dam and its surroundings. The gardens were created in 1880 on what was then the edge of town. 

I venture into the gardens in the late afternoon and am surprised as to just how crowded the well-formed pathways are, with people jogging, walking and cycling as others go kayaking on the lake. 

Most are sheltered beneath avenues of tall raintrees with their extensive raised roots spreading out like the tentacles of an octopus.

I walk past Taiping Zoo and Night Safari, but with limited time available, I make a mental note that the town and its zoo deserves revisiting. Information signs tell me that within its 14ha site, the zoo houses animals from Africa, Australia, the Amazon and, of course, Malaysia. Taman Botani Perak, with its themed botanical collection, is also located nearby.

RAILWAY HERITAGE

Taiping plays an important role in the country’s rail history as it is where Malaya’s first railway was opened in 1885. What was known as the Larut Railway extended for some 13km to Port Weld (now Kuala Sepetang). 

Work on another line began in 1891 and was completed in 1895. This second 80km stretch of railway extended from Teluk Anson (now Teluk Intan) to Ipoh. 

The original station is just west of the gracious King Edward VII School in Jalan Stesen. Electrification of the railway line necessitated a new station adjoining the old one, with the latter now converted to dining outlets.

All that remains of this old railway line is the old station sign of Port Weld in nearby Kuala Sepetang and some carriages of the Perak State Railway at the Perak Museum.

Although my time is limited, I visit the museum anyway to look at some of its outdoor displays. The train carriages, an old American Sabre jet fighter and some antique cars, including two Rolls Royce limousines, seem to impress me. 

These displays have informative signs in both Malay and English, and I look forward to returning soon to explore the museum’s interior. Finding the museum is easy; it’s just across the road from the infamous Taiping Prison.

PLEASANT STAY

Lake Gardens is the biggest attraction in town, so staying as close to it as possible makes good sense. There are a couple of hotels here, but my choice is the Novotel Taiping Perak as it offers international branding and an excellent location beside a mall and close to hawker stalls and is just a short walk to the Lake Gardens. 

The high standard of this four-star hotel is another pleasant surprise. It is very well maintained, has excellent facilities and very helpful staff who are happy to make dining and sightseeing suggestions. 

A glance at the menu in the Food Exchange Restaurant entices me to dine in the comfort of the hotel. I am more than pleased to find that the dishes are priced affordably, such as spaghetti bolognaise at RM16 and fillet mignon steak at RM45. 

The hotel’s breakfast is just as good and competitively priced.

DINING OUT 

The Larut Matang Hawker Centre located opposite the Novotel has stalls selling char kway teow, chicken rice, ais kacang, claypot noodles and wantan mee. 

Cendol is another treat that is taken seriously in Taping, with locals arguing whether if it’s Bismillah or Ansari that is the best outlet serving the iced dessert. They are close to each near Jalan Barrack in the town centre. It’s better to try both and decide for yourself. 

Hor ga sai, a mix of Nescafe and Milo, is a favourite local beverage. I have also heard people ordering cham; a mix of tea, coffee and condensed milk. 

Another interesting outlet is the Antong Coffee Mill just behind Taiping railway station. Charcoal-roasted coffee was first served here in 1933 and it still manages to attract the curious with its unique aroma and flavour. 

Next door is the Antong House, where Chinese Kuomintang leader Dr Sun Yat-sen, who went on to become the first provisional president of the Republic of China, stayed during his visit to Malaya in the early 20th century. 

Taiping really surprises me and I’m sure others will find many appealing attractions in this town of firsts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *