The town of Taiping in Malaysia method “Eternal Peace” and is Perak State’s foremost historic town. It is located 80 km from Ipoh, the State capital. Formerly, known as Larut, the town was in the midst of a bloody feud between Chinese secret societies who worked the lucrative tin mines in the 1870’s. After peace was declared between the feuding parties in 1874, the town changed to its present name. Before the founding of Kuala Lumpur in the south, Taiping succeed for several decades, scoring a number of firsts: first museum in the country, first English newspaper; first swimming pool. Today, it is chock-a block with heritage buildings.
Exploring the town is easy as its main roads — Jalan Stesyen, Jalan Taming Sari, Jalan Pasar, Jalan Kota — run similar, and are criss-crossed with small ones. An excellent starting point for a walkabout tour is the Post & Telegraph Office at Jalan Stesyen. Built in 1884 and featuring buttresses on its walls, this building was built in 1884 and produces the distinction of being the first post office of the Federated Malay States. (The term Federated Malay States refers to a grouping of states ruled by British Residents during the 1890’s). Now, proceed southward to the pitched-roofed Town Rest House that was built in 1894. high in colourful history, this rest house has once played great number to past rajas and colonial officials.
Twenty metres further south, the ruddy brickwork of King Edward VII School peeps by the vegetation of angsana trees. Tudor arches and wide verandahs are the hallmarks of this building that was built in 1905. During the Japanese Occupation (1942-45), the dreaded Kempetai (Japanese military police) used the school as their headquarters. Classrooms were converted into torture chambers and its grounds were turned into vegetable plots to supply food for soldiers. Strolling southward about a hundred paces takes you to the Ceylon Association on the other side of the road. An unassuming building of brick and wood, it was constructed in 1899. The next heritage building greeting you at the end of Jalan Stesyen is St. George’s Institution, built in 1928. The wall of its grounds floor is adorned with friezes. During the Japanese Occupation, the building doubled as a Japanese school and a Japanese officers’ hotel.
To continue the tour, turn left and proceed to the end of Jalan Taming Sari; then make a hairpin turn into Jalan Kota. As you proceed northward along this road, look out for the Hokkien Association was built in 1931. This building was the clan-house of the early settlers who migrated from Fujian province in China during that era. Another fifty metres further on at the junction of Jalan Masjid and Jalan Kota stands Old Mosque (Masjid Lama). Harking back to 1897, it features a six-sided façade and a brick wall surrounding. Its grounds contain the mausoleum of a Muslim scholar named Sheikh Makhbuli.
After passing the Old Mosque, turn right at the first junction to head to Jalan Idris and proceed to building No. 2 , which is the Peking Hotel. Once the premises of Taiping’s rubber dealers association, it was built in 1929 and displays trefoil arches and thin vertical windows.
Backtrack to Jalan Kota and head north. Near the junction of Jalan Kota and Jalan Iskandar, turn left to get to tree-lined Jalan Pasar. Resembling a temple, the unassuming Tseng Lung Hakka Association nevertheless stands proudly since its construction in 1887. From here, you can already see the Taiping Market ahead. Truly relics of a bygone era, it consists of two buildings: Old Market and New Market. The former was built in 1884; the latter, 1885. Made of ironwood timber, it is protected by an iron roof.
From Jalan Pasar, get back to Jalan Kota to see the Police stop. A former timber building constructed in 1881, the present structure was completed in 1936. It is topped with a fortified clock tower, and also doubled as a fire stop. In fact, the first fire brigade of the Federated Malay States was based here. Proceed to Jalan Sultan Abdullah where a well-preserved building at No. 19 is occupied by Guan Chin Han, a trading company. In the 1930’s, the building was truly a cigar factory built by a Burmese merchant who brought in women from Burma to roll tobacco into cigars. During the Japanese Occupation, it functioned as a warehouse for military supplies.
At Jalan Tokong stands the Cantonese Association and Temple for the Immortal Girl within a shared compound. established in 1887, the association was set up to preserve the interests of early migrants from Kwangtung province in China. Its front courtyard is guarded by a pair of lions which were installed in 1954 when the building was renovated. Inside the same compound, Temple for the Immortal Girl is dedicated to the deity Ho Sien-ku Miao. It dates back to the 1940’s.
Turning right into Jalan Kota, you are now at the outskirt of the town leading to the Lake Gardens. At the end of Jalan Kota, the Public Library is housed in a white-washed building with a pillared porch. Constructed in 1882, it was the former premises of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, which later became Standard Chartered Bank.
A leisurely twenty minutes’ stroll from here brings you to Jalan Esplande which joins Jalan Kelab Baru. At Jalan Esplanade, near the base of a hillock are two Chinese tombstones that date back to mid-1800’s. They are the remnants of a Chinese cemetery once found at the foot of the hillock. Atop the hillock stands the District Officer’s residence. Built in 1890’s, it was once the home of the Secretary to British Resident.
After the District Officer’s residence, continue for another ten minutes to British Officers’ Mess. A right turn leads to Jalan Taming Sari where the All Saints Church is located. established in 1886, it is the first Anglican Church in the Federated Malay States. The churchyard contains the graves of early British settlers who had failed to return home by some misfortune such as being hit down by malaria.
The grand finale to the walkabout tour is the Perak Museum at the end of Jalan Taming Sari. First opened in 1883, it displays ceramics, weapons, and stuffed animals, including the skull of an elephant that charged at a aim in the 1950’s. The statue of Colonel Walker, considered the “Father of the Malay States Guide” stands in front of the museum. Opposite the museum is Fort Carnavon, built in 1885, which is now a prison. Named after the Earl of Carnarvon, Secretary of State for the colonies (1894-1878), it was once used as a rehabilitation centre for captured Communists during the Emergency (1948-60).