You know how you sometimes stumble across a town while on your way to somewhere else and discover it’s a hidden gem? Ipoh is not one of those places. The guidebook says it is used by most travellers as a transport interchange, but if you stay around there are some good things to see. There are some fine old colonial buildings in the Old Town, but they take all of five minutes to enjoy. The rest of this area is faded, grimy, often derelict and choked with traffic fumes. And apparently this is the good side of town: the New Town across the river is where most of the modern hotels and restaurants are, but it’s also the heart of Ipoh’s reputation as a prostitution hotspot. Hence I’m staying on the old side…

The day started lazily enough, and though my bus here was almost an hour late it was worth the wait. There were just 27 seats in it, each a full-sized armchair recliner with good aircon and window views. I can’t read on buses, so after a quick doze I woke to notice our driver was weaving erratically across lanes and following the vehicles ahead far too closely. It was hard to relax when he was forced to stomp heavily on the middle pedal whenever the vehicle ahead feathered their brakes.

After two hours there was a driver change, and the second guy could read the traffic better and followed at a safe distance. But he was hell-bent on making up lost time and was travelling too fast for the conditions (it was raining heavily the whole way). I was screaming mentally in my head “slow the fuck down!” every time we lurched or bounced harshly, which was every few minutes. It was enough to keep anyone awake, except for the first driver who snored like a drain directly behind me for the last three hours of the journey.

Anyway we made it in one piece by 3.30pm, and I was thoroughly underwhelmed by my first look at Ipoh. Even though I was tired of travelling I resolved to get the flock out of there and head straight on to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, only to find the 5pm bus was full. A short trip to the other bus station where there was another option to Tanah Rata, but not until 6pm. That would see me arriving around 9pm, in the dark, without anywhere to stay. I opted to overnight in Ipoh and get the 8am bus tomorrow.

I’m staying at the Majestic Station Hotel in the train station because it’s the closest place to tomorrow’s bus, and it’s an opulent if somewhat tired remnant of past prosperity. It’s known locally as the “Taj Mahal” because of the giant dome above its all-white exterior, and the room is nice enough. The guidebook proved useless for evening options as all their recommendations are either closed down or awful, so I’ve hunkered down in a modern franchise cafe with fast wifi to do this post. It’s lucky that all I wanted to do tonight was curl up with a good book – there truly is little else to do here. I was warned on check-in that there is a function tonight on the vast terrace outside my room, fingers crossed that the warning is misplaced!

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