A 3-4 hour drive from Kuala Lumpur will bring you to Taiping. Located in the state of Perak, and an hour away from the capital city of Ipoh, Taiping is a laid back town with a rich history and many heritage buildings. Taiping makes for a nice stopover on the way to another northern destination like Penang.
But when you travel with kids, what do you do here? Well, for starters set their expectations right. Instead of a jam-packed weekend, they’re going to have a chilled one. Instead of eating out at cafes, they’re going to be dining at the many food stalls. Instead of walking around a mall, they are going to be outside in the Lake Gardens, or hanging out with the primates at the Taiping Zoo.
What to do in Taiping
First stop, the Taiping Lake Gardens. I know what you’re thinking. There are a plenty of Lake Gardens in KL. But really, none of them have these magnificent raintrees that are over 120 years old and that arches from one end towards the other end of the Gardens’ water’s edge. They are simply stunning, and you should grab the opportunity to take as many pictures with the family as possible.
Continue strolling around the lake and just enjoy the serenity of the lush green surroundings as you cross over the bridges and walk by the gazebos.
As the kids get restless, introduce the idea of boating. Yes! There is a boathouse counter otherwise known as Taiping Lake Gardens Ride & Cruise where, for a fair rate, you can rent paddle boats and take the little ones on a ‘cruise’ around the lake. Before they strap on their life jacket, maybe get them to feed some fish in the surroundings.
As your kids wolf down a snack or two, head to the playground in the vicinity for more fun! Besides the regular swings and seesaws, you can’t miss the giant slides that dot the playground. These slides are made out of stone and have been there for some time. Siblings and (sometimes) parents can squeeze in too and slide their way down together.
In the Lake Gardens you will also find the Taiping Zoo which is one of the main attractions in Taiping. Kids will have a field day spotting all kinds of animals such as tigers, lions, elephants, giraffes, orang utans, deer and many more. I would suggest if you have young kids in tow, to take the tram. This way you can sit back and enjoy the tour.
Photo: Taiping zoo
The zoo is open every day from 8.30am-6pm. It also runs a Night Safari for those interested in an after-dark adventure from 8pm-11pm and 8pm to midnight on Saturdays & eves of public holidays.
One must not have any high expectations at the Night Safari as really it’s very difficult to spot any animals (from experience) and the ‘adventure’ was hardly that. Nonetheless, if you think the kids might enjoy something different it might be worth a trip.
If you wish to skip all of this and still be one with nature and your kids, then head to Bukit Larut or Maxwell Hill. There is a jeep service to and from the hill station. Spend a couple of hours enjoying the scenic views of the mountains. There are also trails to be explored. On weekends be sure to head there early as you will need to secure a ticket to get on the jeep. Counters open at 8am.
Another place to visit is Bukit Merah Laketown resort which is abut half an hour away from Taiping town. There is a simple eco-park and water park (which is currently closed for upgrading). My kids always love going cycling and kayaking! We have not made it yet to the Orang Utan Island and are not sure how the animals are treated there but we do hear it is quite an experience.
Taiping is one of the first tin mining towns in the country (think opium laced dens and clan wars!) It also experienced many other firsts, such as having the first railway, telegraph office and prison in the country. The Perak Museum near the prison is also the oldest museum in the country and houses some interesting early artifacts and natural history diplays, worth a trip if your kids don’t balk at the idea of a museum. There is a small playground in the vicinity as well.
What to eat in Taiping
Taiping food is in short yummy. You can find all the local delectable dishes here. From air-conditioned eateries to open-air food courts, eating here is an adventure in itself.
For Chinese dishes, you can opt for the ever popular chicken or duck rice. A plate of steaming hot char kway teow is a must in Taiping. As for side dishes, order a plate of popiah (soft skin spring rolls) or loh bak (meat rolls).
If you’re looking for some fusion food, there is the perennial favourite, chicken chop. A piece of de-boned chicken thigh usually slathered with a savoury sauce and served with crinkle cut fries and steamed vegetables.
For dessert, opt for the creamy concoction known as cendol. Fragrant red beans and sometimes pulut (sticky rice) accompany the green jelly like noodles with coconut milk to form an interesting combination which you must try. The best place for cendol is Ansari Cendol at Jalan Barrack.
Places to eat in Taiping
For a comfortable dining experience with kids where there is air conditioning, head to the cafes or restaurants in either Panorama Hotel or Flemington Hotel. Their menus consist of both local and Western cuisine. Soon Lee Seafood and Kong Xing also offer air conditioned ambience with good and reasonably priced seafood. Another favourite spot of ours is the restaurant at the New Club Taiping.
If you want to experience the buzz and savour the delicious local hawker fare head to the food court at the Lake Gardens or Taman Tasik Taiping. The food here is value for money, the service is fast and there are plenty of choices. Doli Char Kueh Teow at the Medan Taiping hawker centre is another solid favourite.
For a nice breakfast before heading out to start the day, try Yut Sun. The restaurant retains its colonial charm while serving excellent coffee. We love eating here as though there is nothing fancy about their breakfast menu, the fare is delicious as both kids and adults will agree.
Tips for visiting Taiping
Get your hands on some traditional biscuits known as tau sar piah (a type of fluffy pastry with bean paste filling) before you leave Taiping.
If it’s raining and the kids need somewhere to burn their energy, head to Aeon Mall where there is an indoor kids playground and arcade.
If you want to make it more adventurous for the kids, hop onto the electric train, ETS. You can book tickets online. The trip to Taiping takes three and a half hours on the ETS.
Taiping is a great pit stop destination and you don’t need more than two days here. You can either plan your Taiping trip with a few days in Ipoh or onward to Penang. There are a few other sleepy hollows nearby that may pique your interest like Kuala Kangsar or Teluk Intan.
Hotels in Taiping
If you are staying overnight, three hotels stand out in Taiping: Flemington Hotel, Sentosa Villa Resort and Novotel Taiping.