Move over Penang, Malaysia has a new street art darling. Yup, Ipoh, the former capital of Malaysia has a burgeoning street art scene that should have most travellers adding the city to their Malaysia itinerary. Ready to explore? Here’s your ultimate guide to Ipoh Street Art, including a handy map!
Ipoh Street Art Map
Now if you really want a physical map, you just head over to the Ipoh Tourist Information Centre on Jalan Tun Sambanthan, and collect an Ipoh Guide to Street Art leaflet. That said, this map doesn’t document all of the pieces dotted around the city. Here’s our own map of where to find the art:
An introduction to Ipoh
You’ve probably landed on this article because you’re particularly interested in the street art. That said, if you wanted a bit of background on Ipoh, it’s worth delving into that.
The city is the third largest in Malaysia and the capital of the Perak state. It began its ‘life’ as a small riverside village in the 1820s but really boomed during the 1870’s and the tin rush as the town suddenly became a hotspot for tin mining and the population blossomed to support it.
Unfortunately the decline of that industry meant Ipoh went into stagnation, with residents leaving in droves in the late 20th century, looking for jobs and fortune in other large cities like Kuala Lumpur. Luckily, Ipoh has started undergoing a revival, mainly due to the influx of tourism.
Today Ipoh still feels like a smaller town and we really enjoyed the atmosphere of this wonderful city. It feels off the beaten track and you won’t see many western tourists flanking its streets yet it has the infrastructure of high-end hotels and lovely boutique eateries that many crave. We enjoyed rubbing shoulders with local residents in the mornings at Nam Heong, drinking white coffee and devouring our egg tarts, but also going for a cocktail at Bricks and Barrels, or a plate of scones at Six and a Half coffee shop.
Whether it’s hawker stalls or high-end dining, street art or temples (and there are many of them), Ipoh is a great stop. Plus, it’s the perfect place to break up an itinerary between Kuala Lumpur and George Town or Penang).
History of Street Art in Ipoh
In 2014, prolific street artist Ernest Zacharevic headed to Ipoh on a commission: to main eight murals in collaboration with Old Town Coffee, the coffee chain (do try their signature Ipoh white coffee!) across the city.
Zacharevic, of Lithuanian descent, had made quite a name for himself in Malaysia at the time after painting a series of six murals in nearby Penang, as part of the George Town festival. That collection won him international praise, including the BBC calling him ‘Malaysia’s answer to Banksy’.
Zacharevic’s first murals started a culture of street art that is uniquely Malaysian – oils, installations, stencils and spray paint that are outdoor pieces which ‘interact’ with the landscape, similar to his ‘Children on Bicycle’ piece that is so famous in George Town.
Ipoh Street Art – the different areas
So, like any hot street art scene, Ipoh has heaps of different places you can experience it. Here’s the lowdown on the different regions:
Old Town – Ernest Zacharevic works: These are the original eight (well, now 7) commissioned pieces and street art trail
Old Town – Other works: A selection of other works, on nearly every second corner
New Town – Mural Arts Lane: Newer works mainly located near the Mural Arts Lane
Ipoh Old Town Street Art – Ernest Zacharevic Trail
While Ipoh now boasts a lot more than those original eight commissions, the art of old town Ipoh is still the most famous. Because of Malaysia’s humid climate, mould and weather have almost improved the original art, making them feel incredibly authentic.
What we liked about the trail – and Ipoh in general – is that unlike George Town, the murals are really easy to photograph. You won’t be standing in a queue since you won’t find hordes of tourists doing this trail, which is a nice change from most large cities and attractions.
Anyway, here’s a rundown of his different pieces to add to your Ipoh itinerary:
Old Uncle Drinking Coffee
If you did decide to get the physical map at the Ipoh Tourist Centre, this one is impossible to miss. Directly opposite the building is this large wall mural, which is incidentally the first stop on the Ipoh Mural Trail.
As we mentioned above, Ipoh is pretty famous for it’s ‘white coffee’, and since the original murals were commissioned by a coffee chain, its no surprise that a few of them are caffeine-themed.
Location: Jalan Tun Sambanthan
Just around the corner is the pretty renowned Paper Plane mural. Other than coffee, you might know that Zacharevic often uses depictions of children and childhood in his pieces, and this one is no exception, showcasing two kids in a paper airplane. Similar to Old Uncle with Coffee Cup, this one is a pretty large mural and so easy to spot.
Location: Jalan Tun Sambanthan
We didn’t really understand this one at first, until we took some time to research it when back at our hotel. Continuing the coffee theme, this massive piece is meant to show a very traditional part of Malaysian life: buying your coffee from a street hawker and receiving it in a little plastic bag with a straw, and tied with string.
Location: 73 Jalan Bandar Timah
A stone’s throw from Kopi-O is the baby blue and green hummingbird piece, almost overshadowed by a large tree (which seems to be part of the fun). There isn’t much known about this one except that Ipoh is located in beautiful natural surroundings including amazing flora and fauna, like hummingbirds!
Location: 37 Jalan Panglima
Bonus: right opposite the hummingbird is a piece by a local artist, apparently called ‘Struggle’ with a whole lot of cars perched on top of the each other. We liked this one since it is literally in a car park, so interacts well with its surroundings.
Set on the side of the Ho Yan Hor museum, this large piece directly speaks to the tin mining history of the town. Using a different style that is almost reminiscent of a Chinese watercolour, this monochrome mural shows workers in the foreground and a tin dredge behind them.
Unfortunately, the mural is not in the best of states as the plaster is starting to fall off the wall.
Location: Jalan Bijeh Timah
Probably our favourite piece in Ipoh (and arguably his most famous), this is a great example of a mural interacting with its surroundings as a local man collecting garbage is juxtaposed with a real-life rickshaw (which, of course, I had to climb on to!).
Apparently the piece is also veiled reference to ‘street art being rubbish’, as many people still regard murals and street art as a lower form of artistic expression.
Location: Market Lane
Girl (now defunct)
Don’t be like us and spend an hour in search of this mural because, unfortunately, it no longer exists. At time of writing it was still prominently on the physical map given out by the Tourism Centre but was actually painted over by the owner of the building.
We were disappointed not to see it but, as Zacharevic himself said in this article, “the temporary nature of street art is a part of its charm.”
Bag of Coffee / Small Kopi-O
We’ll admit, we didn’t find this one. Its notoriously difficult to find so – we wish you luck! If you do find it, please do get in touch and let us know.
Also, if you’re looking for number ‘9’ on the physical map giving to you by the Tourist Centre, that’s technically the New Town mural lane – read on for more info on that below.
Old Town – Other works:
Part of the charm of sauntering the lanes of Ipoh is street art hunting! Yes, it’s great to see those original works from 2014 but the city has so much more to offer than that collection.
We really enjoyed just walking around and trying to spot some other pieces that were ‘not on the map’. Our suggestion? Keep your eyes peeled!
Here are a few of our favourites. Beware – these are not official names but just what we have decided to nickname each piece!
We have a feeling this one was commissioned by Uber, which is prominently portrayed in the piece (albeit that Uber has been subsequently replaced by other ride-hailing app, Grab, in Malaysia).
A cool piece that interacts with the environment, this has a permanent motorcycle fixture which you can perch yourself on for that perfect Instagram shot.
The Booth Cart Stairs and Swing
Just underneath the Ipoh Booth Cart is this great stairs and swing installation. Of course I posed on the swing but could have just as easily done a weird stair walking shot.
Location: 11A Jalan Bijeh Timah
Eating dinner on Market Lane
If you head down Market Lane (two streets over from Concubine Lane), there are a few great pieces. Our favourite was this one of a waiter serving two women, which also had a seat in front of it – a great interactive piece again!
Location: Market Lane
It’s one of the most popular streets in Ipoh (although, to be honest, we are not sure why) and Concubine Street Ipoh doesn’t just have souvenoirs and crafts on offer, but a smattering of street art pieces.
The bigger one is this one, a couple pictured drinking coffee.
Location: Concubine Lane
Marilyn around every corner
Around the corner from very cool hipster café, Plan B, is this alleyway piece. Essentially it looks like a traditional door but, when you swing it open, you see a very coy Marilyn Monroe, complete with billowing skirt.
Location: Behind Plan B, 75 Jalan Panglima
New Town – Mural Arts Lane:
The New Town of Ipoh also has its fair share of wall art, a fair portion of which were painted by a local art teacter, Eric Lai, inspired by Zacharevic himself.
The best place to head is the Ipoh Mural Art Lane, an alley nestled between Jalan Sultan Iskandar and Jalan Masjid, where you’ll be blown away by the sheer number of installations and pieces available to you.
Honestly, its difficult to take just a few photos and we almost filled our camera’s SD card. Here are a few of our favourites:
This gorgeous piece of an ‘origami bear’, one of the first pieces as you start the Mural Lane
This image depicts two Malaysian sports personalities, Lee Chong Wei and Nicol David
Can you guess this game? It’s called Eagle Catch Chicken
This ‘zoo’ scene got us smiling, just because the ape looked pretty cute and the little cat jumping off the roof reminded us of our own at home…
It was a little different but we enjoyed the use of real life windows to create this city scape.
Another slightly unique style compared to other pieces we had seen – Dragonman was a prominent piece on the Mural Lane.
Getting around Ipoh
Let’s be honest, most of the street art you’ll want to see in Ipoh is in the Old Town and is entirely walkable. Actually, it should be walked. That said, if you’re wanting to check out some of the fresher art in Ipoh New Town, there are a few ways to do it
Taxi / Grab
If you’re not situated near the Old Town, we suggest you get yourself a taxi out there. Malaysia, like most of South East Asia, uses Grab as its main ride-hailing app so make sure you download it and use that to get a ride.
To be honest, we don’t recommend driving yourself around Ipoh. While the streets aren’t difficult to navigate, there is a real lack of parking! Hence that artwork called ‘Struggle’ that we referenced above ?
We didn’t visit Ipoh on a weekend but apparently the city operates a tourist bus on the weekends (Saturday and Sunday) called the Perak Hop-on Hop-off bus. A 1 day pass is 35 MYR (8.50 USD / 6.50 GBP) and the bus operates from 8.30am until 9.30pm, covering 12 stops from Terminal Meru to Ipoh Old Town and New Town to Gopeng and Batu Gajah. Find the latest details and prices on their website.
Getting to Ipoh
Luckily Ipoh is smack bang in the middle between George Town in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, so is in easy reach of both major cities.
Your options include:
Self-drive: Conveniently situated on the AH2 highway, Ipoh is three hours from Kuala Lumpur and two hours from George Town.
Train: There are quite a few direct trains each day connecting Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur and George Town, which the journey taking 2 hours 30 minutes. Check out the timetables on the official KTM website.
Bus: There are a number of great bus options connecting you to Ipoh taking about three hours. We used a local operator, Sri Maju, many times in Malaysia and while the busses aren’t luxurious they are clean, comfortable and quick (while safe). We booked our tickets on 12go.asia and it all worked perfectly – check out the latest prices here.
Where to stay in Ipoh
Budget: We stayed at the Brownstone Hostel which, although its slightly further out of town (15 minutes walk from the Old Town), is a great, modern hostel. It has a lovely courtyard, nice hot showers and the private room we got was lovely and large.
Mid-range: It might be slightly out of the city but you’ll get phenomenal value from The Tudor Hotel. This exceptional property has gorgeous furnishings, well-appointed rooms and a top notch breakfast, all at pocket-friendly prices.
Luxury: Probably the best hotel in Ipoh town is The Haven Resort. This incredible resort is nestled within limestone mountains and beautiful scenery with gorgeous rooms and even a 5 level swimming pool!
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a tour guide for the street art in Ipoh?
Definitely not. If you follow our map (or the physical one from the Tourist Centre), or just follow your nose in the old town, you’ll be bombarded with incredible street art.
What are other things to do in Ipoh?
Actually, more than you would think! You need to drink traditional Ipoh white coffee, do a self-guided tour of the fragrant hawker food stalls, traipse the Ipoh Heritage trail to see the colonial buildings. But our favourite Ipoh Attraction? Probably the cave temples dotted around the city. You can also head about 20 minutes out of town to see the renowned Kellie’s Castle.
What should I pack for my Ipoh street art tour?
- Even though it’s very manageable in terms of distance when walking the Old Town, Ipoh is hot most days of the year. Pack water to keep hydrated
- Similarly, don’t forget the sun protection! You don’t want to get sunburnt on your walk.
- It goes without saying but you’ll be wanting to take a lot of cheesy photographs next to the various installations. Make sure your camera or cameraphone is fully charged and at the ready!
- Sturdy shoes. Now this one is up to you. We did the walk in flip flops but we are intrepid travellers used to wearing slip slops while walking around. So perhaps sneakers are a better choice…
So, that’s it! Congratulations on making it to the end of this article and we hope we’ve satiated your appetite for street art with this epic street art in Ipoh guide. Have we missed anything? Has something changed? Please do get in touch or let us know in the comments – we want to keep this guide as up to date as possible for avid street art viewers heading to Ipoh!
And if you’re interested in other unusual street art – check out our Yangon Street Art article!
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