Posts Tagged 'day-tripping'


By Law Siak Hong
Conference and Workshop: Industrial Heritage at Stake
22nd– 24th October 2015, Sawahlunto, West Sumatra


City Cultural Centre: the conference venue

A confession: before the invitation to speak at the conference, I had never heard of Sawahlunto. So, google I did. I learned quickly that it is in West Sumatra, not far from Padang, and it is already tentatively listed as UNESCO world heritage for its authentic historical urban landscape and the industrial heritage of coal mining. For universal significance, they fall in with Criteria (ii) and (iv). It also boasts a contented community: it has the second lowest poverty rate among cities in Indonesia. The people are steeped in cultural history, homegrown and yet well-adjusted to contemporary sensibilities.


The Wayang Kulit Festival Sawahlunto 2015 was on and we caught some of the action after the evening conference session.

Built not only along hairpin roads hugging the hillside, houses and other buildings also line the river banks. Bridges link the various parcels of land, which are shored up by concrete embankments, engineered to impede erosion. Workers quarters are provided by the mining company and they exist now as kampongs in the city. Most of the historical institutional and commercial buildings, relatively small in size, date from early 20th century. Then, there is the viaduct for rail and road, and the triple silos fed by a conveyor belt riding on a tall, skeletal steel structure. They are huge, yet they melt into the landscape confidently. Get up close and you will realize the power of these industrial structures.


Kota Sawahlunto, bridge over the town’s river


Kota Sawalunto, homes on the slopes


Kota Sawahlunto street scene


Kota Sawahlunto triple silos and conveyor belt structure and vip tent for Wayang Kulit Festival.


Former mayor Pak Amran Nur addressing the conference

Started in 1887, coal mining ceased in 2000. People left and the district went into decline. Along came Mayor Bapak Amran Nur (2003-2013), now Director of Indonesian Heritage Trust. Pondering on his hometown’s fate, he began to restructure its economy and effectively eradicated poverty and improved welfare through healthcare and education. To prevent land degradation, he donated rubber and cocoa seeds, even fertilizer, to the people for cultivation and long term income. Small and exotic museums were set up, indigenous performing arts were developed, and tourist spots were generated. In a few years, he turned this beautiful verdant Minangkabau valley into a tourist destination. Already, tourism contributes one-third of the city’s income. But what is the sustainable number of tourists for this constricted valley? If the UNESCO inscription happens, more hotels and eateries will be needed. How would its cultural identity and that all-important “sense of place” survive under the pressure of tourism development?

With the theme of Industrial Heritage at Stake, Sawahlunto is a choice host for this Pansumnet Gathering. The conference attracted over 70 participants from Pansumnet and speakers from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Bandung and Jakarta (Java), and, of course, Sumatra. Led by our president, Mohd Taib Mohamed, the delegation of seven from the Perak Heritage Society arrived in thick smog, which registered an API of 1000, way above the health hazard level of 150! Despite that, clearly, each of us took home memories and knowledge beyond our expectations.


Group caption: While sessions were held indoor, walking to and fro the hotel and the conference venue took us to the street.

Through this encounter with Sumatra, my understanding of its cultural and industrial heritage made a quantum leap. Deeply rooted in culture, Sumatrans are warm and friendly; smiles are everywhere. In Sawahlunto, even boys and young men cruising by on motorbike would greet me with a respectful “pak”.

Sawahlunto awaits a new designation as world heritage. Go visit soon.


Gathering of heritage lovers.

Postscript: PANSUMNET is the acronym for Pan-Sumatra Network for Heritage Conservation. Our heartfelt thanks to: Sawahlunto Municipality, Pansumnet and Heritage Hands-On, joint organisers of Pansumnet Gathering 2015; the convener, Hasti Tarekat; the deputy mayor of Sawahlunto, and all the participants. A special mention: Pak Asdian of SEMEN PADANG, for his warm hospitality and the privilege of witnessing the SP Journalist Award at Basko Hotel in Padang.


Post conference site visit: in Padang, a special treat awaited. Built by the Dutch in 1905, SEMEN PADANG is the oldest cement plant in Southeast Asia. As technology advanced and plants were built, the old one was abandoned. University groups were invited to study the site and plan adaptive re-use, to turn them into public facilities.

PHS delegation to Sawahlunto



Tourism in Perak

*6 July  201– TaipingBukit Gantang, Kuala Kangsar anBatu Gajah.
Text and photographs by Law Siak Hong, with photographs 12bcourtesy othMinistry oTourism and Culture, Perak Office

What is happening in Perak ahead of Visit Malaysia Year 2014? By all accounts, the initiative which began in 2011 will continue and players are pepped up for success. There are more hotel rooms in Ipoh. There are old buildings being turned into food and hospitality outlets, especially in Ipoh. There is a new state exco who leads a young and enthusiastic team. Things look bright. But heritage tourism is yet to be understood and tapped into. Read below a couple of stories for an uplift of spirit.

Homecominfor thMinisteof Tourism and Culture

Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Tan Sri Abdul Aziz, the Member of Parliament for Padang Rengas came home for his first official visit as Minister of Tourism and Culture. Appropriately, his itinerary covered the most important triangle of heritage towns in Perak, from Larut to Kinta: Taiping, Bukit Gantang, Kuala Kangsar and Batu Gajah (just outside Ipoh). PHS President Mohd Taib Mohamed was the tour guide at Kellie’s Castle in Batu Gajah, where the Minister officiated the opening of the new Tourist Complex.

Naturally enough for the Minister, having only visited Sabah and Sarawak, his objectives were familiarization with the agencies while seeing some tour destinations in Perak. The most remarkable thing was, as Mohd Taib recounted, that he took the wheel to arrive at his destinations; his driver and aides were the passengers. Even the police outriders had not realized the minister was in the driver’s seat. Standard operation procedure was dropped unceremoniously. That set the tone of his homecoming.

In Taiping, the Minister visited the recently refurbished Perak Museum, the oldest museum in Malaysia, and the new exhibition at the Zoo on Taiping heritage walk, which was opened earlier in the day by another VIP. What a day for Taiping heritage! Later, in Bukit Gantang, he was welcomed by over 200 kampong folk, including the hosts in the homestay programme. He was treated to the local specialty: durian, which he must know well. That was topped by a “gazal” party: a traditional musical in modern costume.

A cruise on the majestic Perak River led to the evening’s highlight: the opening of the Sayong Riverfront Recreational Complex “Persisiaran Sayong”, which kicked off the “VISIT MALAYSIA YEAR 2014” campaign in Perak. The big crowd was entertained by traditional dances: Malay “Tarian Dabus”, Chinese lion dance, yo-yo play-dance, fan dance, Bangra dance, and a percussion band of drums from different Malaysian cultures. The legendary Dato’ M Daud Kilau, a native of Teluk Intan and pop diva, Azlyn were the singers who lighted up the stage.

Boost for tourism at Kellie’s Castle

The following day, Kellie’s Castle in Batu Gajah was the star feature. While various schools of thought perpetuate, Kellie’s Castle remains an eye-catching edifice despite questions about its heritage value. Money has been splashed on the site, so the least we can do is go and see for ourselves and rate what has been done before we make our own judgment. For sure, personal experience underlies heritage tourism.

1  Mohd Taib briefing the Minister and his entourage.

2  An enthusiastic Minister captures an audience.

3+4  The display on William Kellie-Smith and the history of Kellie’s Castle inside the unfinished castle. Mohd Taib makes a point. In blue batik is the D.O. of Batu Gajah, Dato Haji Jamrie

Under 10th Malaysia Plan, RM5 million was allocated by the Tourism Ministry to upgrade Kellie’s Castle as a tourist destination. With the Works Department as the lead agency the project was completed early this year.

To refresh your memory, our national daily The Star had made a report back in April 2011. The Batu Gajah District Officer then, Dato’ Razali Othman was quoted: “Among the upgrading works are landscaping, setting of a walkway and new stalls while the present outlets would be demolished… The castle is one of the top 10 must-visit places in Perak and
we want to ensure the premises are well maintained.” Indeed, the eye-sores of sub-standard service buildings are gone but one wonders about the wisdom of such an “activity centre” for a destination which has not achieved critical mass in terms of sustainable visitation.

As for the new garden of Kellie’s Castle, despite the annoying “cow grass”, it is best experienced. It features outdoor signs with historical images of the various buildings in the romantic setting. Go see it, and let us know what you think. Extra parking bays have been added to cope with the expected increase in tourist arrival. Here are some photographs to give you some idea of the new works.

5  After some rain, a puddle would form at the entrance to the Complex.

6  Blooming pink tabebuia shade the pavilion by the car park.

7+8  The commemorative plaque which marks the official opening and a board with detail “directional signs”.

9  Without critical mass (of visitors) the stalls of the cafeteria are not viable.

10  The display at the gallery comprises a few pieces of handicrafts. Are these samples of the souvenirs on sale and why is labu Sayong not featured as our iconic product?

11  A covered patio looks up to Kellie’s Castle (see photo 12), with a map of attractions in the environ of Batu Gajah (see photo 14).

12  Settings for “I was here” and wedding shoots are the latest additions to this tourist spot. Note the gentler hexagonal garden pavilion in the background.

13  The ticketing kiosk next to the footbridge which takes you across the river to Kellie’s Castle.

14  Map of “tourism products” in the environ of Batu Gajah.

We wonder how the current management company would deal with the new amenities for lecture, exhibition and “thematic activities”. It seems the District Office is still “looking at appointing a new management company to look after the castle”.

15  A view of the new Tourist Complex from the road.

16  Less than one kilometre away is the Arulmigu Maha Mariamma Temple. Contributed by Kellie Smith to calm his builders as a rash of sickness downed the workers at the “castle”, the family (his wife and daughters in Indian attire) are commemorated in figurines surrounded by other figurines of Hindu significance on the parapet wall of the temple.

PHS anHeritagTourism

Since becoming PHS President, Mohd Taib has focused on tourism and intangible heritage, working with various authorities. Worthy of note is the Director of the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural, Perak office, Shahrudin Abdul Hamid, who managed the official visit of his No.1 boss. To be given the honour of being the guide to the Minister on his official visit means that PHS’ hard work has not gone unnoticed. It may be wishful thinking, but we hope one day the Ministry will make decisions with due respect to our recommendations on heritage tourism. That’s one way an NGO in heritage (and tourism) like PHS can contribute to society.

Postscript: That same Sunday evening in Damai Laut and over the following two days, 140 persons attended a “Perak Tourism Retreat” held at Swiss Garden Hotel and Spa, for tourism players in Perak, destination operators, tour guides and relevant NGOs. The aim was for the new state exco for health, tourism and culture to get to know the tourism players and chart the course of tourism development in Perak. Mohd Taib was the facilitator for the session on Heritage.

Raya In Chemor

Text and photography by Lau Sook Mei

Hundreds of steps ruled the day! That surely worked up an appetite for the Raya treat in Chemor.

Fourteen trail-blazers: five PHS members, new friends and a 3-month old baby took the trail on Saturday, 10 September. Hong was our guide.

Faces lit up with excitement when Gunung Panjang, Tambun, famed for its rock paintings was named as the first stop. It was PHS’ second visit for the year but for most getting so close to the paintings was an awesome experience. Cathy Yap’s million-dollar question of how the paintings were done at different heights remains unanswered to this day. Having sweated all the way up the 128 steps we made it worthwhile by taking time to soak in the surroundings before we moved on to another hillside destination. Eyes widened. What…more steps?

Looming ahead along Jalan Tambun-Tanjung Rambutan, the stairs going up Tung Wah Tong Temple resemble the body of a dragon on the limestone cliff.

We made our way up the 168 steps, pausing to catch our breath and to savour the picturesque view of layers of signature limestone hills of the Kinta Valley.

The cave chamber with the main altar is situated midway up the cliff. This is unique amongst the cave temples in the Kinta Valley. Philanthropists fund the maintenance of both the temple and the meditation centre further up, accessible from the chamber.

Temple volunteer, Mr Wong took us to the upper cave chamber with a simple meditation hut, kuti, and we could feel its cool tranquility, perfect for those seeking enlightenment.

The 1897 Tanjung Rambutan Railway Station, soon to be demolished. The new double-tracking project will by-pass the existing station and the train will not be stopping in Tanjong Rambutan anymore.

Ravenous after all the exertions, we looked forward to a traditional Mandailing lunch at Kak Nadimah’s in Kampong Mandailing, Chemor. For Chika, a Japanese expat, being in a traditional kampung house was a dream come true.

Mohamed Jamil Haji Mohamed Noor, Kak Nadimah’s father was born in this house in Kampung Mandailing, Chemor in 1898. He went to school in ACS Ipoh, was a good student and taught for a couple of years before he took over the running of the household at the death of his father. By the age of 30, he was already a ketua kampung.

Kak Nadimah, a descendant of Raja Bilah of Papan,  is steeped in Mandailing customs. By coincidence, two babies turned up at the house: the Yap’s Alexis and Hanizah’s Asha Nor. As if on cue, Kak Nadimah brought out a plate of salt and sugar to bless the visiting babies – salt for all wishes to come true and sugar, to grow up ‘sweetly’. Of course, the babies were spared the tasting. It was merely symbolic, but for us all, this was a wonderful moment.

The menu: ulam with sambal, cucuk ubi tumbuk, rendang pedas ayam, daging masak kicap, toufu and tempe with vegetables. We could not ask for a better Raya lunch.

She also made a desert, pengat pisang, with bananas from her garden, and kuih makmur, Kak Nadimah’s specialty raya cookie.

After the satisfying meal, Kak Nadimah guided us to her collection of old tekat, a traditional embroidery, which she had meticulously displayed in the rooms. We admired  her collection of family heirlooms.

Station Master, Encik Hassan Salleh greeted us on arrival at the Chemor Railway Station. Opened in 1896, this old station is also doomed. It is a part of our industrial heritage. Our plea for its preservation had fallen on deaf ears. What a shame. (Photo courtesy Foong Thim Leng)

Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta will celebrate its centennial in November. Huge transformation had taken place since my first visit in 1970s. The ‘prison cells’ were a thing of the past. We were impressed by the tranquility of the place, the open dormitory, the cleanliness of the wards and its surroundings. At the Garden Wards, patients were happy to chat with us and gave us souvenirs as we parted.

Mr James Anthony, the Supervisor of the hospital was our guide. He had organized a mini coach to take us around; the hospital covers 500 acres.

Here are the oldest buildings on the hospital grounds: the kitchen (left)  and the Director’s residence, now a medical store.

Charming hornbills decorate the garden. It is a happy sight.

Two of the more interesting old buildings, circa 1950. Over time, the staff quarter is now a forensic ward (above) and the doctor’s house has become a staff quarter.

For related stories, please go to A Tale of Two Stations and Prehistoric Treasures and Material Culture.


Trying Out the Electric Trains

Text and photos by Lau Sook Mei

The majestic Ipoh Railway Station.

Since its maiden run from Kuala Lumpur (KL) to Ipoh on 12 Aug 2010, the Electric Transit Service (ETS) has been popular for weekend hiatus away from the maddening crowd and the stress in KL. Four months later, during the December school holidays, I decided to do my Christmas shopping in KL together with my brother’s family and took an early transit train there.

That's my Ipoh-KL Sentral-bound train at the station.

It was all hustle and bustle at the departure hall of the Ipoh Railway Station, a majestic colonial, Mogul-style edifice completed in 1917. The Monorail Café, though odd is its name, is where you could enjoy nasi lemak and teh tarik for breakfast while you wait for the train.

For refreshment head for the Monorail Cafe.

Slow train to KL

This is my first train ride in twenty years and so I waited anxiously like a child. At 9.15 a.m. sharp the whistle went and the train began to pull out of the Ipoh Railway Station. Looking out of the window, I saw the pre-war shophouses known as “sap sam kan ” (Cantonese, meaning “thirteen shops”) on Jalan Fryer. The train rumbled past a saw-mill, Muslim burial grounds and the Clearwater Sanctuary Golf Resort. Traditional Malay houses with decorative features dotted the country in vivid colours.

We passed the quaint 1894 Batu Gajah railway station, now abandoned. All talks of turning it into a railway museum remained just that, mere talk. The train stopped at the new Batu Gajah station in Kampung Pisang to pick up passengers. Right next to it, the RM430-million Kompleks KTMB Batu Gajah is constructed on 160-hectare of ex-mining land. It encompasses the KTMB’s Central Workshop and Railway Training Centre.

Vast tracts of rather barren sandy land and mining pools dominated the landscape, but I could see sand-mining activities, duck farms and lovely lotus ponds that mirrored the clear blue sky. Though the train ran rather slowly I was glad for the view of our natural landscape of tropical greenery.

Banana plantation.

After leaving Kampar, agricultural land with rubber, oil palm, banana and other crops spanned the horizon for as far as the eyes could see. Leaves shimmered like silver coins in the sun. Here and there, oblivious to passing trains, cows and buffaloes grazed.

Acres of oil palm plantations along the way.

At Tapah Road, the humble old timber railway station stood forlorn, dwarfed by the new one. Built in 1893, rail linking Ipoh to Tapah Road and the port of Teluk Intan made more efficient the export of tin from the Kinta Valley to Penang.

The new Tanjung Malim railway station.

All along the way, I noted railway quarters and Hindu temples close to the stations. Not surprising, since railway workers brought in from India in the 1880s were Hindus. Generations had lived and worked for the Malaysian railway; they are the community behind industrial heritage of our railways.

Kuan Tee Temple near Tanjung Malim.

I was hoping to see more stunning buildings, but all along the railway, it was all crops and the green, green countryside in Perak. This is in stark contrast to the dense industrial development across the border in the state of Selangor.

It was noon when the train pulled into KL Sentral, the largest railway station in South-east Asia. My group took a KTM commuter train to Mid Valley Megamall. We shopped till we dropped. Then, lugging all our Christmassy stuff, we rushed back to Sentral to catch the ETS back to Ipoh at 5.35 p.m.

"Toys-tastic" - the theme for this year's Christmas decoration at Mid Valley Megamall.

Quick ETS to Ipoh

I was impressed; the interior of the coaches was spick and span. The luxurious coach came with comfortable airliner-seats, ample leg-room and luggage stowage, a pantry and large sparkling clean windows. Washrooms were clean and spacious with “Auto Door”.

Inside the ETS.

Large storage space for your belongings.

Right on the dot, the electric train rolled out of KL Sentral, picking up speed as skyscrapers flashed past.

Green, green vegetable farms.

Shortly, out in the rugged countryside, the late afternoon sun cast a shadow of the train along the tracks as it sped past durian orchards, vegetable farms, and plantations. It was magnificent, thanks to the large windows. By 7 p.m. the setting sun had created an artist’s palette: radiant hues in the western sky. Gradually darkness closed in as the train made pit stops at Tanjung Malim, Kampar and Batu Gajah before grounding to a halt at the Ipoh Railway Station at 7.40 p.m., a journey made in good time.

Colours of the setting sun reflected in the eastern sky above oil palm plantations. The blurry photo is due to the speed of the ETS.

The development of the railway in Malaysia has come a long way. It would be worthwhile experiencing a ride on the ETS before the promotional period ends in February, before the offer at RM30 go up to RM45, it is rumoured.

A brief history of Malaysian Rail

The appearance of railway and steam locomotives in the Malay Peninsula marked the modernization of Perak. Sixty years since their invention, on 1 June 1885, the first railway line in Malaysia opened to serve the rich tin fields of the Larut District. Trains ran for 12.8km to transport tin from Taiping to Port Weld (today, Kuala Sepetang).

In 1896, the Federated Malay States Railway was created to manage four railway lines: Port Weld-Taiping, Kuala Lumpur-Klang, Seremban-Port Dickson and Ipoh-Telok Anson (now Teluk Intan) via Tapah Road.

Malayan Railway Administration took over the management in 1948; it was renamed Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) in 1962. In 1992, the KTM became Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB). It is wholly owned by the Malaysian government, and is the main operator for inter-citytrains for both passengers and freight.

It was in 2000 that the double-tracking and electrification began on the West Coast line as a privatization project. The single-track line was replaced and with that we lost all the old bridges and stations, most of them over one hundred years old. Perhaps the few remaining stations could be retained to undergo rehabilitation and adaptive re-use to accommodate a new purpose. They are the heritage and historical evidence of the humble beginning of our railway history.



Let us go paint the town red… err, yellow!

by Lau Sook Mei, with a little help from Hong; photos by Sook Mei

One sunny afternoon, Hong and I went ‘heritaging‘. Day-tripping, he said, taking off the title of a Beatles’ hit song, from his vintage years!

From Ipoh , I drove us 40km south-west. Excited by their rustic beauty, I stole long glances at the traditional Malay houses dotting the trail and had a tough time keeping my eyes on the road. Well, there was hardly any traffic to bother me. Our destination is the quaint little riverine town by the name of Parit, meaning ‘ditch’ or ‘canal’.

What’s the oral tradition on the town’s origin? Well, the most popular version is this: the town was founded at the start of the 17th century by Tok Parit, who hailed from Kampar, Sumatera. The area where he and his men settled was named after him. One interesting version recounts a moat (canal) around the fort which deterred the Achehnese’s attack. So where is the site of this fort?

Anyway, as we reached Parit town, we were taken aback; the town was swamped in lemon-yellow! In bright yellow, four blocks of 1920s and 1950s shophouses meet at the cross-road. Here is the only set of traffic lights in Parit. Here, too, is the town’s Clock Tower, erected to mark Merdeka in 1957. It has, mercifully, remained in cream. What’s the story?

Bright lemon-yellow shop-houses with wooden windows in 'Disney'-colours.

As usual, we headed to the kopitiam – the place for local gossips. At No.1 Jalan Besar, Yi Fatt is the age-old family-run kopitiam known for its ‘steak’ (no longer on the menu) and ‘chicken chop’, among other delectable dishes. It is halal. We got into a chatter with the locals and found out that Perak Menteri Besar Dato Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir came to town on 11 March, 2010 to officially open the Jambatan  Cempakasari. Is that why the local council painted the town bright yellow, for free? How frightfully interesting!

Yi Fatt the kopitiam.

The sturdy wooden staircase in Yi Fatt goes up to the living quarters.
Small town hygiene: your cutlery comes in a mug of hot water.

Ravenous by then, we ordered our lunch from the menus on the wall. Typically country, the servings were very generous. To burn off the calories from our lunch, we took a walk in the kampung on the other side of the river.  We crossed the majestic Sungai Perak on foot via the new bridge.  It connects the town to Kampung Belanja Kiri, a little Malay kampung that comprises a primary school, a surau and dozens of houses.

Jambatan Cempakasari as seen from a neglected jetty.

The bridge, 378m long and 3.4m wide, was completed on 18 Oct 2009 at a cost of RM5 million. Benefiting 3000 villagers from 10 villages in Mukim Belanja, it is the first concrete bridge in Perak built for only motorcycles and pedestrians.

The majestic river – Sungai Perak

But Parit has its own kind of rustic charm. It is a great place for tourists and casual visitors alike. Pulau Cempakasari, the little green island in the Sungai Perak, is a breezy picnic spot just a few steps down from the bridge. Regrettably, the serene beauty of Parit was marrred by the stench of garbage, made worse by the unusually hot weather. Would the local council do something about this? Because, until then, how can tourists come to enjoy this tranquil riverine country town?


Perak Heritage Society

Persatuan Warisan Perak
(Reg. No. 1254) was registered with the Registrar of Societies in August, 2003.

Office and Postal Address:
85C, Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil,
30300 IPOH, Perak, Malaysia.
(opposite the Syuen Hotel)

Fax: 05-253 5507


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