Monday, January 4, 2010

Ipoh Road Trip: Gua Tempurung and Kellie's Castle

The morning of Sunday, 29th November 2009, started a little slower as the group of us slowly crawled ourselves from the bed. Originally aiming to have our go at Ipoh's famous Dim Sum at 8:30am in the morning, our progress was delayed till about 9:30am instead, due mainly to the very long check out sequence we had to endure at Casuarina's counter. To be fair, I guess it was not entirely the hotel management's fault although I did hear something about them losing details of our stay at the hotel desk and that they were a little 'understaffed' at the counter. On our side, it is understood that our Mr. Wei Han made a booking through a somewhat 'unauthorized' agent of the hotel via the internet, thinking that he could utilize some leftover 'points' he garnered while he was in the UK (United Kingdom NOT Ulu Klang). The process in cumulation, took about 45 mins. Once that ordeal was over, we finally set course for the center of Ipoh town in search of Dim Sum, opting not to go to the obvious choice, which is Ipoh's Foh San.
Foh San, where we thought it was...

Personally I didn't find it any better than the ones in KL and the long waiting time needed to get a table renders it even less favorable an option. We therefore went for the 2nd 'best', Ming Court (Ming Ker) Dim Sum located close to the center of the town in the shadow of Excelsior Hotel.
Ipoh's Ming Court (Ming Ker) Dim Sum Restaurant

To our surprise, we found out that Foh San had actually moved their premises from the previous clan center to a large lot almost directly opposite of Ming Court! It has also increased its size although it looked like it was still unable to cope with the huge number of people flocking to have a taste of it's dim sum.
Foh San, where it is now!

There were crowds at Ming Court as well whom I believe belonged to two groups. One being people really coming over to eat here in the 1st place while another group being those frustrated clients unable to get seats at Foh San. We nevertheless got our table after about 15 mins.

Immediately a somewhat elderly lady spread out a mass of circular metal containers, each containing a type of dim sum for us to pick and choose.
So many choices to make!

Some of us who were not used to this style of serving were a bit overwhelmed but we pulled through and made our selections. At this point Wei Han told us an interesting trivia about this shop by first pointing out to us the apparently large number of upper middle age to elderly women working in the shop. According to him, the shop sort of made a preference to hire persons of this age group to be their serving staff. Whether it is a conscious social effort to decrease the amount of jobless 'aunties' roaming the streets of Ipoh town center or a coincidence is anybody's guess though. We didn't dally long, due to the fact that our next destination, Gua Tempurung closes it's doors to visitors at 11:00am! We did however make a brief stopover at the Funny Mountain Soya Bean aka Rabbit Tau Foo Far for some snacks, only to be told to wait till 10:30am for it's official opening to be served.
The signboard to Funny Mountain Soya Bean

Not wanting to be deterred the 2nd time around, we waited, some of us sitting and reading newspapers on a wooden long bench amidst old pre-war buildings looking like old grandpas. ;)
While we waited for our Tau Foo Far, Eric harbored thoughts of escape from the 'cave'. ;)

It was in this position that I unexpectedly bumped into one of my colleagues from my office in KL. Apparently, she too was on the way to try the 'tau foo far' and somehow manage to spot me sitting on the bench from inside the car as she passed by! What are the odds of that happening huh? :p At 10:30am sharp, the store officially opened.
Fresh Tau Foo Far delivered! :D

We took our bowls of precious 'tau foo far' and filled up a couple bottles of soya bean drinks before we set out of Ipoh on a course to Gua Tempurung. We arrived with nary a second to spare! Forking out a total of RM154 for a total of 7 people to participate in the 'Grand Tour', I got the tickets a few minutes before the clock struck 11:00am. The guide for the last group of people to go in arrived shortly after and together with two other sub-groups, we moved into the cave.
The 'touristy' section of Tempurung Cave

At this time of the year, it is common for heavy downfalls to occur in the afternoons, so for safety reasons we were instructed to start the journey through the 'wet' passages first instead of the standard overhead 'dry' walkways. Travelling through the wet passages were as my previous number of experiences, some passages requiring us to duck and others literally requiring to crawl on our bellies over sand to get through. Needless to say we soon got drenched although the water was refreshingly cool. We spent about an hour wading through the water before we reached the midpoint, represented by an opening that provided us a view of the jungle. We rested here for 15 mins before heading back in to commence the 2nd 'dry' leg of the journey through which we found ourselves sliding down slippery slopes, squeezing down a hole in the ground and scrambling up muddied inclines in the darkness.
Sliding down the incline. The boy is scared. :p I was too ;).

All throughout, our guide was somewhat silent, with nary a word of explanation as to the features in the cave. :p After about 2 hours, we exitted through the dry 'touristy' walkway, passing through the 'Top of the World' and a small Chinese wording inscribed rock that was shrouded in darkness and which our 'guide' again did not say anything.
As you might have noticed now, the cave photos are not from our trip. (My waterproof Olympus Nu camera was commandeered by my aunt for her China trip) Rather, they were 'lifted' off from the web, with some surprising and 'familiar' results! ;)

For the benefit of those not in the 'know', the Chinese wordings on the rock were left behind by the last permanent occupants of the caves, that is the members of the Communist Party of Malaya which fought the Japanese, British and then the Malaysian government in the 1940s to the 1970s.

We took a refreshing bath at the nearby toilet before getting ourselves into the car after paying RM0.20 at the entrance.
Photos of the ladies outside the cave, with OUR camera! :D

Customary group photo taken, we went on to our next stopping point, Kellie's Castle. Located along the road to Batu Gajah from Gopeng town, it's previously vine entwined facade has been completely cleaned and the surrounding undergrowth cleared, removing somewhat it's romantism, making it look now like some unfinished theme park setpiece.
Kellie's castle in Batu Gajah

Still, it's all for the best I guess as the roots would have destroyed the castle eventually. A small booth was located close to the bridge overlooking a river that divided the parking lot from the castle. In Malaysia, this would only mean one thing, that you have to PAY to get across. :p Entrance fees for adults is RM4.00, Secondary School Children RM3.00 and Primary School Children RM2.00. We didn't pay the fee and stood on the opposite side of the Kinta River, taking pictures of the castle from our 'free' vantage point. A large number of people did however paid the fee and can be seen milling about the battlements and halls of the castle. Detailed information and history can be found here (
By the time we had finished taking our photos, it was time to take our leave. But stomachs were beginning to growl and it was time to look for food. Heading south, we dropped by at Bidor's famous Pun Chun Restaurant (they even have a website! check it out at, located on the town's main road in a pre-war shop (38-40, Jalan Besar, Bidor, Perak).
Pun Chun. We have one closer to home, in Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam as a matter of fact! :)

It is home to it's signature duck leg served with herbs in a metal bowl as well as it's 'Wu Kok' and 'Wan Tan Mee'. You could also get Kampar Chicken Biscuits and other tidbits as you dine in the shop.
Pun Chun's famous duck meat soup

However, it was not the food that attracted my attention as I walked into the shop, rather, it was the familiar looking person browsing through the items there: We met our friend, Hee Yau with his most mysterious girlfriend! Heading to Taiping the same time as us heading to Ipoh, we just about miss visiting him there due to time constraints (or so said Wei Han), but surprise-surprise, we met him here with his girlfriend in of all places, Bidor! A hasty introduction and an excuse to leave (due to a wedding) saw him and his partner zipped through the shop, paid their wares and dissappeared into the dusk even before Eric, Vincent and Fei managed to catch a glimpse of him (or more importantly his mysterious girlfriend). We headed back to KL from here, crossing the Perak-Selangor border in the night. Half an hour later, as I drunk my teh tarik, watching the Liverpool vs Everton game in Kota Damansara's Kayu with Eric and Vincent, my thoughts aside from 'Goal! Liverpool won!' was... 'Mission accomplished'. ;) Until next time...

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