Once it was considered the tin capital of the world, and dubbed the City of Millionaires due to the tin wealth concentrated there. Today, Ipoh, a mid-sized city 200 km north of Kuala Lumpur, is attracting visitors for its up-and-coming entertainment scene and enchanting beauty.
The capital of the northern state of Perak is set amid steep limestone hills. Residents, who number about 770,000, have a 360-degree view of the magnificent, verdant massifs.
A number of temple-caves are embedded in these hills, such as the Cavern of the Three Precious, a century-old Chinese Buddhist temple in Gunung Rapat, and Perak Cave, famed for its calligraphy and art.
The hills are no less than 400 million years old, formed by the compressed skeletons of dead sea creatures and shellfish and pushed into heaps by land movements, Hymeir Kamarudin, president of the Malaysian Karst Society, told Khabar Southeast Asia.
"What we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg," Hymeir said of the town's scenic peaks. "The hills can still 'grow' as 95% of the limestone hills are still underground. This will happen over time with land shifts."
The modern generation may no longer believe in the spiritual powers of the limestone hills, but many say they are responsible for making Ipoh a food paradise.
William Low, 44, owner of Yummy Duck, a restaurant in Kuchai Entrepreneurs Park in Kuala Lumpur, attributes it to the water from the limestone mountains.
"It is no secret that food made and grown in Ipoh is somehow tastier. Case in point are the flat rice noodles (called 'kway teow' in Cantonese). There have been many attempts to imitate the Ipoh kway teow but few have succeeded. While manufacturers may get the dough mixture right, they cannot replicate the mineral content in the water," said Low.
A favourite nook for kway teow connoiseurs is the Thean Chun Coffee Shop in Jalan Bandar Bijih Timah, set in the old part of Ipoh. Here is where visitors can get a glimpse of the town's heritage buildings.
One street, Concubine Lane in Lorong Panglima, was infamous as a red light district during the 19th century, rumoured to house mistresses of yesteryear's tin tycoons.
Today, prewar buildings in this area are a mix of homes and trendy commercial outlets. One of the lots houses a deejay academy. Just a few doors away is Plan B, a New York-inspired deli. Next to it is an art gallery and a row of quaint Parisian-styled cafes called Burps and Giggles.
First time visitors will attest to the lively nature of Ipoh's entertainment scene.
The clubbing scene has grown from two discotheques in the 1980s to no less than 60 fun pubs and bars, mostly cloistered around the Ipoh Garden East area.
Making Ipoh a draw for property investors is a growing market for luxury projects, targeting local and foreign buyers.
Case in point is The Haven Lakeside Residencies, a luxury condominium overlooking a 14-storey limestone rock in Tambun. Named Malaysia's Best Condominium at the annual Southeast Asia Property Awards last year, units cost between RM 250,000 to RM 1.4m ($76,276 to $427,147).
The target market for such luxury developments are believed to be Singaporeans. Of the 800,000 foreign tourists who visited Perak in 2012, a preponderance of visitors was from Singapore, state tourism committee chairman Hamidah Osman told The Star in January.
They are likely using Ipoh as a transit point to Pangkor Laut, a luxury resort on a private island, and the Lost World of Tambun, a RM 65m ($19.8m) theme park surrounded by limestone hills with hotels and a restaurant set inside a cave. The amusement park is also home to a unique limestone formation, a must-see attraction, politely referred to as "The Needle of Tambun".
But you won't see luxury cars and flashy handbags on the streets of the City of Millionaires, which has managed to retain its glamorous moniker despite the collapse of the tin market in the 1980s.
"Ipoh folks, the older generation at least, hold firm to the concept of ‘value for money' instead of paying inflated prices for branded goods and services," said Micheal Yeap, 65, a former construction firm owner who runs a dance studio here.