Perak derives its name from the rich silver tin ore deposits once so fruitful in the region. Perak translates as ‘silver’ in the Malay language. Major towns within Perak include Ipoh, the administration centre and capital, Kuala Kangsar, the royal town and Taiping.
Dubbed the ‘City of Millionaires’ (due to its tin mining wealth) Ipoh, Malaysia’s third largest city, offers the ghosts of its grand colonial days with the mixture of colonial and modern architecture, the best example of the former is the Moorish and Victorian pastiche of the train station. The city centre also boasts many colonial era shops, which retain their original atmosphere today.
The Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary in Ipoh, is of great interest to all nature lovers. In addition to over 160 different species of birds, lucky visitors may get a chance to see smooth otters, long-tailed macque and ridge-back dolphins. The best time to visit is between September and December when many migratory birds arrive at the sanctuary.
Just north of Ipoh at Jalan Kuala Kangsar, Perak Tong, a limestone cave temple, houses over 40 statues of Buddha. 385 steps in a cave behind the main altar lead up to a magnificent viewpoint, from which to survey the surrounding countryside. Sam Poh Tong and Kek Lok Tong near Gunung Rapat, are impressive cave temples where statues of Buddha stand alongside magical stalactites and rock formations. Both temples have Buddhist vegetarian restaurants in the temple grounds.
Kuala Kangsar is the birthplace of the rubber industry. In 1877, nine rubber trees were first planted here and the industry was born. Three of the town's most beautiful buildings include, Istana Iskandariah, the royal palace, Istana Kenangan, the former royal palace now home to the Perek State Museum and the Ubudiah Mosque.
Although it may be known as the ‘Town of Everlasting Peace’, Taiping grew to fame as a raffish tin mining centre, though the importance of the industry has declined since a major slump in the 1980s. Some of the wealth from the tin mining was pumped into Taiping’s main attraction, the disused mining pools that were transformed in the late nineteenth century to become the stunning, carefully landscaped Lake Gardens. Taiping is also home to some impressive colonial architecture and the charming Ling Nam Temple, which is reputed to be the oldest Chinese temple in Perak. The more sinister history of Taiping emerges in the old prison, that was used by the Japanese in World War II, and the Allied War Cemetery, the last resting place of hundreds of victims of the Japanese invaders.
No longer is Pangkor Island, about 100km (60 miles) south of Penang Island, unspoilt and seldom-visited. Over recent years it has gained in popularity, which has brought better facilities at the expense of increasing crowds and development of the pristine environment. Since 1996, an internal air link to the island has facilitated access for tourists. Innumerable bays boast excellent sandy beaches and all kinds of watersports.
Thirty minutes drive from Ipoh, near Batu Gajah, stands the impressive Kellie's Castle. Surrounded by rubber plantations, the magnificent ruins of the unfinished castle are all that remains of Scotsman William Kellie Smith's nostalgic ambition to recreate an authentic piece of his Scottish homeland. Work halted with the sudden demise of Smith in 1926, and since his death the rumours and mystique surrounding the castle have intensified. Reputed to be haunted, the castle is also believed to possess secret rooms and tunnels, undetected to this day.