Some 100 years ago, Long Jaafar arrived at a valley overshadowed by the Bukit Larut mountain and discovered tin embedded in the soil. Taiping prospered, they made the verdant jungle black with industry’s soot, Chinese immigrants moved to the area bringing with their customs and traditions and soon legendary feuds between different clans began. Then the British arrived and the rest is history: Taiping, meaning “everlasting peace”, fell into its aforenamed tranquillity.

This is a city where people usually stop on the way to somewhere else, a nowhere land in the shadows of great hills. A place where either the young people have left, or stayed on to work long tiresome hours in the family business. Nowhere else in Malaysia is as wet as Taiping, which has an annual average rainfall of 3,000mm. The rain usually falls in the afternoon and lasts for about an hour. Huge rivers of warm dirty water run down the roads flood the drains and splatter onto cars. Then the rain stops and thick humidity rises out of the gutters and descends onto the streets. The air is claustrophobic, perspiration clings to the skin, everyone is slow. It is intoxicating.

Taiping may be smaller and slower than other cities but there is something undeniably beautiful about this town. In the twilight the sky has been cleaned by a day of rain and it becomes the softest of blues. Lesions of mist cling to the hills and a glowing blue light engulfs the city, as though we are submerged underwater. Taiping is also unexpectedly lush; avenues are lined by fan palms with huge leaves that shadow the streets, and magenta flowers spill their petals like confetti. It is a nature lover’s dream: with picturesque gardens, epic hikes and natural springs in easy reach of the city centre. Taiping city can also become surprisingly congested, and the shop fronts are faded by years of pollution. These buildings are as impressive as nearby Penang: post-modern houses have been built next to prestigious clan houses, iron and wood are used in abundance and traditional wooden shutters still hang over every window. These beautiful blinds are hand painted with the shop’s name, or detailed adverts for Milo and Nescafé.

Taiping has some of the best street food in Malaysia. Roti canai and murtabak are handmade every morning at the Larut Matung Hawker Centre, where you can also try typical Malaysian dishes like popiah and nasi lemak. You might be surprised at where you will find yourself eating when highways yield to street stands selling fresh mango pulp, nasi campur and ais kacang. Some of its best-known restaurants have been running for over a hundred years. Many of these eateries are a gateway to Chinese lore, decorated in didactic paintings explaining traditional folk tales. The genuine hospitality of the ageing local community is heart warming and you’ll feel the generosity in their smiles as they offer you homemade sweets and bao buns, or proudly explain the history of their traditions and town. You will easily fall under Taiping’s spell. It is a city drenched in a daze from the past, with one foot in historical China and one in modern Malaysia. It is a city in harmony with nature, a fanciful place – how could you not be enthralled?



Soujorn Hostel and Cafe

This thoughtfully designed guesthouse has three dorm rooms with bunk beds and periwinkle-blue sheets, as well as two double rooms that have been treated with the same care. The hostel has been decorated using antique Chinese furniture, while various paintings and hand-embroidered tapestries depicting nature and birds hanging on the walls. All of the communal areas (which include a terrace covered in potted plants) are well-lit, with plush sofas to lounge on. This is a great place to spend a few days – or even a few weeks if you have the time.

Nest Bungalow Maxwell Hill

Stay close to nature at Nest Bungalow run by the Wesley Methodist Church. It’s fairly basic but clean, and as meals are included it’s great for anyone on a budget who also wants to experience living in the forest. Bring your own towel, toilet rolls and toiletries.

Nest Bungalow Maxwell Hill

Soujorn Hostel and Cafe

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