My ex-schoolmates from Methodist Girls School (class of 1977!) in Perak and I decided to swap our stiletto heels for trainers one fine Saturday morning. We wanted to go on a whirlwind adventure to Kinta Valley in our home state.
Armed with enthusiasm, our group of boisterous ladies gathered at the base of Gunung Panjang in Tambun to have a glimpse of one of Malaysia’s national heritage sites, only a stone’s throw away from Ipoh. We met up with a few archaelogists, led by Dr Goh Hsiao Mei from Universiti Sains Malaysia, who were conducting monthly workshops at Gua Tambun, a prehistoric rock art shelter.
We joined another group and together, we hiked about 1km to a prehistoric cave dwelling, and climbed up a steep concrete stairway that was about 60m, before reaching the peak. We got a beautiful view of Ipoh from there.
The archeologist enlightened us about the rock shelter and the intriguing Neolithic period hematite rock paintings which were splashed across the limestone cliff. Different types of rock art can be seen on the walls and we were told that there were more than 600 art forms at the site.
As we looked at them, we could almost hear whispers from the distant past. Our guides asked us to locate specific rock paintings and mark them on cardboards. They also gave us round molds of gypsum plaster and hematite so that we could draw our own Neolithic images; we took these drawings home as souvenirs.
After that, we took off to Gunung Rapat, a township in Ipoh, to see Tasik Cermin or Mirror Lake. To access this hidden gem, one has to trek through a quarry and look out for a manmade tunnel. This tunnel leads to an area filled with unique geological formation of limestone hills. Try to get there before noon to get a really magical view of the place. Images of limestone cliffs are beautifully reflected on the surface of the water.
We got pretty hungry after Mirror Lake. So, with bellies rumbling, we headed for the town centre of Gunung Rapat to search for heong pneah or fragrant biscuit. This delicious treat is one of the must-have items from the town. The aroma of freshly-baked flaky biscuits wafted in the air as we made our way to Yung Boon Enterprise. The company makes heong pneah, which is filled with a sticky, chewy filling of onions, sesame seeds and maltose, the traditional way so if you are interested in seeing the process, go early and simply ask the boss for a short tour.
Fresh from the broiler, just one bite of the rich caramelised onion biscuit will let you understand why Ipoh is a foodie city.
After we’ve had our fill, we searched for a place to relax and unwind. Kledang Saiong Forest Eco Park in Meru Raya, a township adjacent to Ipoh, was our top choice. Admission to the place is free, unless you want to check out the Nepenthes Garden (RM5); I thought it was worth a visit.
There is ample parking space and the lush forest is just adjacent to the car park. You can have a picnic, go trekking, do off-road cycling and even camp at the park, although you would need to have a permit to stay overnight.
It is also a good place to practise your macro photography as mushrooms of different sizes and vivid colours carpet the forest floor. Due to the thick canopy of the forest, birds are rarely seen but their melodious tweets can be heard.
Sah River runs through this park, too. With crystal clear water gently flowing over rocky path, shallow jacuzzi-like wading pools are formed. Young families were seen frolicking among the rocks while we had a great time soaking our tired feet.
With the night still young, a few of us decided to head for Kuan Ti Temple in Batu Gajah, about 20km south of Ipoh. An opera show was held at the Chinese temple which is more than a century old. Actors in colourful costumes and painted faces captivated the audience with their lively act.
With fluttering sleeves, high pitched vocals and creative body language, the dramatic opera artists managed to breathe life into a language that we did not fully understand but still appreciated.
Looks like after four decades leaving school, we aunties still know how to enjoy life and love each other’s company.