Exploring the cave temples of Ipoh

(written by Nancy)

We were up relatively early this morning, trying to beat the heat of the day.  Our plan for today was to visit the Perak Tong cave temple, one of several cave temples around the area.  The temple is about 6k north of the city so we had to take a bus to get there and as our favourite Oldtown Coffee was on the route to the bus station we of course went there for breakfast.  So much for an early start, they didn’t actually open until 9AM.  Malaysia is fairly slow to get going in the morning, though to be fair, many shops stay open until 10:30PM.  We only had to wait a short while and we were definitely the first customers of the day.

As we made our way to the bus station we were stopped by three young Indian/Malay men.  They wanted to have their picture taken with us for some reason – they each swapped places and took photos with their phones.  No talking really, just took the photos and said thanks.  We had no trouble finding the bus station and even less getting someone to help us once we arrived.  Several folks approached and asked where we wanted to go.  Our bus was leaving in minutes so our timing was great.  Once on the bus, we had to sit about 5 rows back.  Everyone in row 1 through 4 again offered assistance on our route.  By the time we sat down, the driver, the ticket collector (different people) and everyone on the bus knew we were headed for Perak Tong.  The nice older man in the first row turned around every couple minutes and said, “temple, you pray”, each time with a nice smile and hands in prayer position.  There is no way we were missing our stop.  Everyone waved to us as the bus drove off.  One of those, “feels like a rock star” mornings.

We debated yesterday whether we should take a day off to see a temple.  We were soon very glad that we did.  The temple goes deep into the limestone caves – what you see from the street level is just the beginning.  The Perak Tong has 40 Buddha statues, including a 12.8 metre Buddha as it centrepiece.  It is actually not too old – initially built in 1926 by a Buddhist monk from China.  There are many passageways in the cave, most with paintings on the walls and more statues at every turn.  The are stairways up through the caves and out to the top of the hill, where there are ornate platforms where you can rest and look out over the city of Ipoh.  In some spots the stairs are a bit more like a ladder – by the time we got up to the top we were both sweating buckets!

We headed back down and stopped at a little store down at the bottom of the temple for a cold drink.  The lady running the stall talked us into trying a pomelo, a citrus fruit native to SE Asia that is a bit like a sweet grapefruit, though much larger.  It was quite good with a very mild taste.  As we ate it sitting at one of her tables, her husband sat playing some kind of board game with another fellow while she worked very hard cleaning and organising and running around.

We intended to take the bus back into town but after standing in the sun a bit waiting for it a taxi came by so Dave flagged it down.  A bit more expensive than the bus ride back but the Indian taxi driver gave us a nice running commentary about the state of the Malaysian government and took a detour to take us to a Hindu temple to show us around a bit.

We headed to the shopping mall to get out of the heat and had lunch and hung out a coffee shop for much of the afternoon escaping the rain showers that came through.  Nice and relaxing.

For dinner we headed to “Restoran Lou Wong”.  We had read that this was the place to go in Ipoh for kway teow, a famous rice noodle dish.  Apparently the locals here think the food tastes different here in Ipoh due to limestone deposits in the water.  The general way of ordering this dish is with a side each of steamed chicken and bean sprouts – both covered in a savoury mix of oil, soy sauce and some other unknown ingredient.  They don’t hide anything as the kitchen is right in from of the shop where we sat.  Nothing like the sound of chicken getting cleavered while you eat (it was already boiled for the squeamish who might be thinking the worst).  At any rate, dinner was great.  The secret sauce was very good.  Hard to say if the kway teow was best ever, as I’m pretty sure that we’ve not tried it previously.  It certainly was tasty though.

Tomorrow we are off to Pangkor Island, a small island off the coast a bit south of where we are at now.  It is supposed to be a nice spot, quiet with nice beaches and good weather.  We have booked a place to stay for a few nights right near the beach so fingers crossed it will turn out to be a nice spot.

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