What was once a tiny mining town, Ipoh has metamorphosed into a quiet place for seniors to escape the city’s hustle and bustle.
The ever-popular travel destination is stocked with a variety of local delights, including white coffee, salt-baked chicken, beansprout rice, white coffee, and more. And it was this that made Ipoh a popular choice for foodies who love unique dishes. It was, therefore, no surprise that Lonely Planet listed the town as one of the top ten best places to visit in Asia in 2016.
The laid-back town then experienced a boom in tourism. This was the beginning of Ipoh’s reinvention to its present state (prior to the world shutting down). The rise in wanderlust-chasing tourists led to the establishment of many boutique hotels and hipster cafes within the borders of Ipoh’s township. Its century-old buildings transformed into beautiful interactive art installations not dissimilar to those found in Georgetown in Penang.
Most commonly, visitors are attracted to Ipoh’s colourful facade and its curious food scene but apart from that, it is the charming streets of Ipoh that have captured the hearts of many urban travellers and street photographers. In particular, the mysterious Concubine Lane is a street that is both rich in history and shrouded by mystery and is a favourite spot for Instagrammers and shutterbugs alike.
What’s In A (Street) Name?
Concubine Lane is probably the most famous street in Ipoh. However, there are actually three similar lanes here with a rich and intertwining history behind them. They are called Concubine Lane, Wife Lane, and the Second Concubine Lane.
The 120-Year Old Story of A Mining Tycoon With Three Lovers
Ipoh was devastated and nearly fell in ruin after a devastating fire destroyed the old town in 1892. Yao Tet Shin, a mining tycoon, then stepped in to help with the reconstruction of the town. He donated lanes of shops for the rebuilding effort and as a gift to his wives, he also bestowed each of them a lane and the rights to collect rent.
The names of the three streets that the wives ruled in those days were known, and are still used by the wife/concubine moniker.
According to local folklore, another version of the story involves wealthy Chinese tin mining tycoons as well as British officers. It is said that these streets were used as hiding places for concubines/mistresses of the rich and influential. The lanes also had a history of being home to gaming and opium dens. The name Concubine Lane was thus born from this idea.
Concubine Lane (二奶巷) AKA Lorong Panglima
Concubine Lane is the most popular of the three lanes and is by far the most visited. The lane is full of shops, stalls and restaurants. And there are even boutique hotels, which adds to its popularity as a tourist hotspot.
But apart from that, what makes Concubine Lane so unique?
For one, the prewar shophouses that line the streets offer a fascinating look at Ipoh’s rich history. The olden shophouses are also a great backdrop for street photography or Instagram-worthy photos.
Also, Concubine Lane is the perfect place to showcase Ipoh’s unique food culture. There are many local foods available here, including delicious pastries, traditional Chinese desserts, and delicious local seafood.
We recommend that you try Ipoh’s local cuisine at Wong Koh Kee Restaurant. This eatery is not only famous for its delicious food but also because it’s one of the OG oldest shops on Concubine Lane.
The street’s vibrant atmosphere is enhanced by the colourful signages, delicate aromas, and traditional Chinese lanterns that hang above. At night, Concubine Lane is lit up with a scarlet façade which gives off an eerie, red-light district vibe.
Wife Lane (大奶巷) AKA Lorong Hale
Although logic would dictate that the lane of the first wife should be longer or have more shops or be more populated, this is not the case. Wife Lane is quiet, narrow, and almost empty.
The only point of interest here is the mural of a fruit vendor painted on one the yellow semi-dilapidated shophouse walls. You can take a picture and then move on to the next lane.
Second Concubine Lane (三奶巷) AKA Market Lane
A unique scene unfolds in front of your eyes as you enter the Second Concubine Lane or otherwise known as Market Lane.
You’ll see colourful umbrellas above the narrow skyline that runs between the two rows of shophouses. Here, the three distinct art pieces lining up along the streets will definitely brighten up your Instagram feed.
The first mural shows a typical scene from a traditional Chinese coffee shop. This mural can be found outside Nam Chau Coffee Shop, one of two shops in Market Lane. Another is iJuicy which sells fruit juices and has a shop face with a particularly peculiar design.
Nam Chau is a great place to eat. We recommend the Ipoh white coffee and traditional pearl milk teas. Dry curry noodles are another popular option. It’s spicy, savoury, and delicious!
A group of children jumping with joy is the second street mural in Second Concubine Lane. This painting can be found just a few steps from the coffee shop mura and is a popular spot to take a photo, especially on weekends.
The third and final mural can be found at the end of the lane. This interactive mural was created by Ernest Zacharevic, a world-famous street artist whose other works can be found in Penang and Johor as well as Kuching in Sarawak. This artwork, like many other Zacharevic masterpieces, features both a painting as well as a real-life object. In this instance, the mural includes half of a tricycle.