Fuelled by the fortunes of the world’s largest producer of tin, Ipoh’s notorious past was a hotbed of opium dens, nightlife, and cabarets clubs with beautiful mistresses aplenty kept on three separate lanes in the city!
According to folklore, a mining tycoon, Yao Tet Shin once gave away three lanes to his three wives as gifts; hence the names, Wife Lane (Lorong Hale), Concubine Lane (Lorong Panglima) and Second Concubine Lane (Market Lane). This is where wealthy Chinese merchants and British officers kept their mistresses safe from angry wives.
Ipoh evolved from a sleepy village to the “town that tin built,” until the collapse of tin prices in the 1980s when quiet neglect and decay set upon the pre-war buildings.
As the glitzy nostalgic era of conspicuous consumption faded, its old buildings reduced to an eyesore, the city was relegated to a pleasant place to retire. It became an eating pit stop for travelers shuttling between Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur and the island of Penang.
Murals ignited the invasion tourists to Ipoh Old Town
In 2014, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was roped in to beautify a cluster of pre-World War Two buildings with a series of murals.
The luster began to shine again in the city with the greatest change propelled by homegrown talents in the Ipoh Heritage Quarter, a short walk from the Ipoh Railway Station.
One of the earliest to be converted into a homestay, 27 Concubine Lane, had a missing first floor, no cement floors, no water or electricity, an open drain that ran the entire length of the house and without a roof!
The 3 meters wide Concubine Lane is the most vibrant of the three “mistress” lanes; the Chinese family houses here are fully restored and converted to house homestays and businesses where many pop-up stalls emerge selling cheap souvenirs, colorful ice balls, and sweet “thong suit” soup desserts with the weekend vibes of flea markets and craft bazaars.
Youngsters enjoy walking this Heritage Trail around the cluster of restored buildings in the heavily commercialized, Kong Heng Square Artisan Market.
There are three shops which carry hand-crafted and custom-made items. The rests are multiple kiosks and booths selling all sorts of knick-knacks, souvenirs with an art gallery, a barbershop and an antique and sundry store.
There are plenty of Instagram-worthy spots, props and even “Talking Trees” with motivational quotes abound for inspiration to any social media influencer wannabes who want to be Insta famous!