Ipoh Old Town has undergone a makeover over the past few years (see this list of 34 Cafes in Ipoh and you would know what I mean !). Hipster cafes and boutique hotels flourished when the old became the new fab. The Concubine Lane (or Panglima Lima, “二奶巷” , “Er Nai xiang”) was the next to follow suit. Other than the Concubine Lane that most people know of, there are two other related lanes in the vicinity – the Wife Lane (or Lorong Hale, “大奶巷”,”Da Nai Xiang”) and the First Concubine Lane (Market Lane， “三奶巷”， “San Nai Xiang”).
These concubine lanes have history that goes all the way back to 1892, when parts of Ipoh Old Town were rebuilt after a fire in 1892. The Concubine Lanes were part of the rebuilt and were owned by mining tycoon Yao Tet Shin. He gave away the houses on the lanes to his three wives, and hence the locals named the lanes accordingly – Wife Lane, Concubine Lane and First Concubine Lane. There’s another version of story where common folklore has it that these were also the lanes where rich men hid their second wives.
Today’s Concubine Lane is the most transformed lane among all three. There’s probably only one house in Concubine Lane that’s in its original state, but the rest is history.
Concubine Lane is the most vibrant on weekends, holidays, where many pop-up stalls gather. You’ll find cacti on sale, colorful ice balls, flower-shaped cotton candy and more.
It’s easy to get distracted while walking on Concubine Lane, because, how could you not ? With little pastel-colored windmills, sunflowers and unique signages, there are lots to marvel along this short, cheerful lane.
Oh and don’t forget to look up to see the amusing sight of teddy bear and giraffe gazing at you !
One of the stores on concubine lane, Meiko Kaiso Shop, has embraced the concept of vintage fully. The downstairs section sells souvenirs which is very common, but the upstairs section is an awesome place to explore (and to take Instagram photos), with a RM 3 entrance fee.
Even if you don’t love antiques, the store’s interior architecture is worth checking out. From the outside of the store, it looks like any two storey building, but once you get to the first floor, you’ll be surprised to see that there are a few internal lofty decks to climb to get to the top floor.
If you are visiting Concubine Lane, you should definitely visit the other two lanes; both are much quieter compared to the Concubine Lane but just as charming. The Wife Lane now has a proper signage; you can easily recognise it from the lanterns and the fruit seller mural on a yellow wall.
First Concubine Lane now also has its own signage, a sky full of red and white umbrellas, and a mural of people eating curry noodles. The mural could not be anymore appropriate because it is indeed on the side walls of Nam Chau Kopitiam, which is famous for its curry noodles. On the other end of First Concubine Lane is one of Ernest Zarcharevic’s murals of old man with trash .
While it’s a good sign that Ipoh’s Old Town is attracting lots of visitors, and Ipoh is getting international attention as it has recently been ranked by Lonely Planet as No. 6 in a List of Best Places to Go in Asia for the Next 12 Months, I enjoyed Ipoh Old Town as is before it came under the spotlight; while merely 2 years ago Concubine Lane was a hidden gem with forlorn beauty where people rarely went. If you appreciate little things and enjoy little places, it’s good idea to visit Wife Lane and First Concubine Lane as they are still relatively untouched and “original”, before they become too similar to Concubine Lane.
If you are traveling to Ipoh, consider booking your Ipoh Hotel with Traveloka. I’ve been using traveloka.com a lot lately, for booking hotels and flight tickets because it’s excellent for comparing rates side by side, and it’s easy to filter your selections. The best part is, it shows the Final Prices of the hotels /flights, as opposed to adding on taxes and any extra charges at the end and you realise it’s actually much more expensive once you decide to book.
If you happen to be travelling to Ipoh soon, have fun and bon voyage !
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