There was 2 weeks left of our visit to Malaysia. We had already planned to head up north to Penang Island and the city of Georgetown. With our recent island experience, we weren’t anxious to get back on another island quite yet – even if it is significantly larger than Pangkor Island. During our Gobi Desert trip last year, our friend Jackie, who is Malaysian, wrote down recommendations of places to visit. Her exact notation was, “Ipoh – good noodles.” It was halfway between Lumut and Georgetown. Why not stop?
After I did some research I found another reason to visit Ipoh – a haunted castle. Shawn is a big fan of horror films and often writes horror fiction (in case you couldn’t tell from our Escape from Rottnest Island post…). As I’ve been adamant against Shawn’s idea of staying overnight in a haunted forest in Romania, I figured this was a good compromise. Ok, it’s not really a good compromise, but baby steps, people.
We only booked 2 nights in Ipoh so, we splurged for a nicer hotel – after 5 days of sharing a bathroom and a room barely big enough to fit us and our luggage, we wanted to be spoiled. It was glorious. The bed was soft (a soft bed in Asia exists!), the internet was lightning fast, the shower was big and had a door…I never wanted to leave. But we were starving, so we reluctantly pulled ourselves away to find sustenance. I’ll save you the details, but we were hungry to the point of being indecisive, so it took us an hour of wandering around in the unrelenting heat to settle on a place. When we finally decided on a restaurant, we ended up ordering an entire chicken. No sides. No sauces. Just a chicken – salt, pepper, cut up in parchment paper – that’s it. Turns out, this is a specialty of the area. They say that hunger makes the best sauce – it was delicious.
A little messy, but after an hour of walking in the sun, it hit the spot
The next day, we stopped by a bakery hoping to grab a quick pastry and coffee prior to negotiating our taxi up to Kellie’s Castle. Our noses told us the bakery was open. The sign on the (unlocked) door said it was not. We entered and tried to order, but were shooed away and told something along the lines of “the boss was not in.” Defeated and uncaffeinated, we wandered around…again. Like an oasis popping up out of the middle of the desert, we found Plan B – literally. Walking in, it felt like being transported to any new breakfast spot in Portland. Delicious coffee, beautiful pastries, and a scrumptious-sounding menu. I quickly chose the breakfast burrito. A burrito. It was exactly what I wanted to eat. Bellies full and buzzed with caffeine, we went out to do our best work at negotiating.
A little taste of home in Malaysia
The ride up to the castle was much longer than we thought and later found out is most of the way up to the Cameron Highlands, about 30 minutes outside of the city center. The bright Malaysian sun and vibrant green grass did not exactly set the scene we were hoping for. A large sign announced that we had indeed arrived at Kellie’s Castle.
The deserted mansion was designed and built by an eccentric Scottish planter named William Kellie Smith who had originally come to Malaysia at the age of 20 as a civil engineer. We were ready to be spooked, and despite the amount of cobwebs forming in the corners of the rooms, the castle was anything but scary.
Thanks to our filters, it appears slightly more creepy
Placards explaining the history of the unfinished castle were supposed to give insight as to why it was haunted, but only served to make the story more confusing. Apparently the Spanish flu wiped out many of the workers, but when the workers asked for Mr. Smith to build them a temple, he did. And so they built him a statue because they were grateful. They’re not haunting this place, are they? Why would they? The wife and kids barely even lived there because William Smith died on a trip to Portugal at age 56 and the family came back to Scotland. And the sign above says William Smith is haunting the place. Why would someone haunt a place across the world from where he died?
Certain stairways leading down into the cellars were a little creepy, but mostly because I was worried there were spiders.
We ascended to the roof where very little has be done to keep people from falling off the edge of the 3-story building. The vantage point at least provided a beautiful view of the surrounding jungles.
Yeah, this seems safe
These dolls we saw in a store window in the city were the scariest thing we saw all day
After an hour, we climbed back into the cab, ever-so-slightly disappointed by the lack of creep factor – even me, who didn’t really want to be scared. Hopefully the other reason we were in Ipoh wouldn’t disappoint. We were off to find the kai see hor fun.
I have this tendency to over research certain dishes. Much like with the chilli crab in Singapore, I spent far too much time pouring over internet recommendations of the place to go for the noodles. And, again, like in Singapore, we just ended up going to the most famous place in town – Lou Wong Restaurant.
At this point in time, we had had a lot of chicken and rice. I wasn’t sure I was ready for yet another rendition of such a plain dish. I’ll be honest – I was pretty sure it would also be underwhelming.
Thankfully, this was a far cry from the usual flavors. Maybe it was due to our overdose of chicken, but the bean sprouts were the surprising winner in this dish. Salty, a little sweet, and with just a pinch of spice, it really helped excel this dish. The noodles, made in house, don’t have a lot of flavor, but in this case, it’s more about the texture, which was silky and light. Outside of just the flavor, the experience made up for a lot. We sat outside just as the sun was going down, surrounded by locals and tourists and soaking in the excited tones of the conversations around us and the smiles of a lot of happy people enjoying a good meal.
I’m not sure that Ipoh warrants a stop for every traveler but in spite of the castle being a bit of a letdown and eating an overabundance of chicken, we enjoyed ourselves. If nothing else, it was worth it for the luxurious bed and a few surprising and delicious meals.
What attractions have you visited that ended up being a bit of a letdown? Would you make a stop just for noodles?