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Welcome to my Ipoh street art guide and self-guided tour!
The small city of Ipoh in central Malaysia is a hidden gem in more ways than one. I’d have fallen in love with it whether there was street art or not… But life’s always better with colour!
Related read: What to do in Ipoh, Malaysia
Intro to Ipoh
Despite feeling small, the capital of Perak state is the third-largest city in Malaysia after KL and George Town. In the early 1800s, it was a small village but, thanks to the ‘tin rush’ of the 1870s, it was a prospering city by the end of the century.
But with the ups come the downs, and when the tin mining industry declined, so did the economy of Ipoh. Residents left to find work in other locations and – were it not for tourism – the city might not be faring so well today.
Today, the charm of this historical city attracts travellers from around the world. With heritage buildings from the colonial train station to grand mosques, and a blend of cultures including Indian and Chinese, the city is overflowing with culture.
The fantastic cuisine, thriving coffee scene and street art only add to Ipoh’s appeal!
History of street art in Ipoh
There’s one character you need to know when it comes to urban art in Malaysia: Ernest Zachareviv, also responsible for most of the street art in George Town, Penang.
He basically brought street art to Malaysia and for that I am grateful! Born in Lithuania, he was dubbed the next Banksy by the BBC after creating 6 pieces of art for the George Town Festival in 2012.
While those pieces are now printed on t-shirts with queues around the corner in George Town to pose with them, the Ipoh mural street art is undiscovered in comparison. No queues here, my friend!
Ipoh’s street art history really began when Zachareviv extended his murals to other cities in Malaysia. His first murals popped up in 2014 when Ipoh Old Town White Coffee commissioned him to complete 7 wall paintings. This explains why there are so many coffee murals in Ipoh Old Town!
Word has it, he smashed them out in 6 weeks. I hope he was suitably fuelled with coffee (and they gave him an endless free supply!)
Other artists have since painted in Ipoh and I’ll cover these as we go.
Read next: How to spend 2 weeks in Malaysia
Ernest Zachareviv’s art
Zach’s work isn’t overly vibrant or abstract: it’s lifelike and shabby-chic. You might describe it as ‘whimsical’, with many of his creations showing children at play.
The main thing that draws me to his art? The interactive nature. Many of his Ipoh murals feature items like bicycles and scooters attached to the wall with painted characters interacting with them.
This has the dual purpose of allowing real people to interact with the items too, making for fantastic photo ops and, better yet, encouraging us to feel childlike curiosity… just like the characters in the murals! Genius.
Once you’ve seen a few of his designs, you’ll recognise his style anywhere.
Map of Ipoh street art locations
Some bits I found on purpose and others I stumbled across while wandering. Ipoh Tourist Information Center offer paper maps with GPS coordinates but, not being a compass-wielding Victorian, I took to Google Maps for the locations 😉
A Yellow Hummingbird
This gorgeous mural has a self-explanatory name: ‘A Yellow Hummingbird’ says it all. For ease, most of the Ipoh murals have simple names describing the image.
Google name + location: Yellow Hummingbird / 37, Jalan Panglima.
If you didn’t know already, coffee (known here as kopi) is a big deal in Malaysia. Kopi-O is the local drink of choice, made from coffee, margarine and sugar.
If you’re like ‘wait, margarine in coffee??’ then I hear you… it IS a bit weird. I can confirm it tastes delicious but you may wish to avoid drinking too many if you’re on a diet!
This easy-to-find mural is in the same car park as the Hummingbird.
Google name + location: A Kopi Break / 73, Jalan Bandar Timah.
Psst – if you love coffee, read my guides to coffee shops in Melaka and coffee shops in Penang.
This giant mural isn’t the only Ipoh wall painting featuring coffee…
Old Uncle Drinking Coffee
This is another caffeine-themed piece of street art in Ipoh Old Town. I love the detail and expression on the old uncle’s face.
It’s painted beside Old Town White Coffee Padang so why not join some real-life old uncles for a cup of white coffee and a custard tart? These beauties, similar to pastel de nata, became popular with the Chinese community after Portuguese settlers brought them to Macau.
Google name + location: Old Uncle Drinking Coffee / 1, Jalan Tun Sambanthan, directly opposite the Ipoh Tourist Information Centre.
Right in the heart of town on popular Market Lane, you’ll find a few quirky Ipoh murals including this one.
When it comes to Ernest Zachareviv street art in Ipoh, this is the only 3D piece. Check the real bicycle attached to the wall or have a go sitting on it. I’ll share some more pieces like this later.
Google name + location: Ipoh Mural – Trishaw / 47 Market Lane.
Not far from the Old Uncle Drinking Coffee is a place I nearly missed. I followed the pin to its location but it was nowhere to be found… Until I looked up! It’s high up on the wall of an old building. Once you know that, you can’t miss it.
Google name + location: Ipoh Mural – A Paper Plane / 35 Jalan Tun Sambanthan.
More street art in Ipoh
Finished with the Ernest Zachareviv murals in Ipoh? Don’t worry, there’s more to see…
Interactive art on Market Lane
Find these pieces on Market Lane near the Trishaw piece. This is a historic street with plenty of uses over the years (no prizes for guessing that holding markets was one of them).
Today its primary purpose is tourism with a collection of rainbow umbrellas hanging above the street. They make for a fun colour pop (and Instagram backdrop) but they can’t compete with the cute wall art.
These murals are designed for interaction. One of a waiter serving food has a spare seat… and it’s a real one you can sit on! Although this isn’t an Ernest Zachareviv piece, it’s clearly created to mimic his style.
Like much of the lighthearted, playful street art nearby, this image shows three kids jumping for joy. If you do the same next to them for a photo opp, I can guarantee you’ll feel upbeat.
The result? Art spreading joy into this often serious and scary world we call the modern-day.
Location: Market Lane.
Ipoh Booth Cart
Ipoh Booth Cart is a centre for indoor murals with a couple of souvenir stands. It’s a bit of a random place (on the second floor above a restaurant) and was deserted when I ventured inside.
The highlight was the art outside, namely the tiger and swing murals above. I learnt that the tiger art references the sad fact that there are only a handful of these Malaysian mammals left in the wild. They may soon become extinct 🙁
Location: Ipoh Booth Cart, 11A Jalan Bijeh Timah.
Unlike the many murals in Ipoh featuring people going about daily life, this piece shows a simple fruit tree. Well, kind of. With jackfruits, durian and rambutan growing from the same plant, it must be a mythical breed!
Motor Wall Art
While admiring the Hummingird mural, I stumbled across this cool piece beside a local’s home. It’s slightly hidden away in an alley off the car park but it’s not hard to find. Look for it in between the Humminbird and ‘Kopi’ Break murals.
Google location: Motor Wall Art.
I stumbled across this piece accidentally and have to confess I fully made up that title. Find it by following the link below. It’s by Yip Yew Chong, a Singaporean street artist who specialises in murals, canvas, sketches and installations.
Location: Jalan Bijeh Timah.
The big one – Mural Art’s Lane Ipoh
This might be the final location in this blog but it’s no afterthought. If you want to see a lot of mural art in Ipoh, this is the place!
The project was initiated by Eric Lai, a local artist and teacher from the Bercham area of Ipoh who runs ArtGene Studio. Apparently, he was commissioned to paint one mural and when he got started, just couldn’t stop and painted the whole street for free! Read more about Eric’s story in the Malay Mail.
Location: Mural Art’s Lane.
It was important to Eric Lai to celebrate diversity in Malaysia and ensure that all demographics were represented on Mural Arts Lane.
Many of the murals tell stories about Malay culture, depicting Chinese lion dances, traditional Indian dance, musicians, pottery makers and more. All of these trades and crafts contribute to the richness of Malay society.
How to get around Ipoh
Wondering how best to move between the places listed above?
On foot: this is the easiest way to explore the Ipoh street art. Most of the murals are close together and designed to be discovered during an easy walking trail. Mural Arts Lane is the furthest away location from the Zach murals, around a 15-minute walk.
By taxi/Grab: if you get tired, hail a taxi or use Grab mobile app to call a car. These are affordable and may save your energy compared to pavement-pounding on a hot day.
Tips for exploring the Ipoh street art
- If possible, do your walking tour early in the morning or in the late afternoon. Ipoh can get very hot in the middle of the day.
- Pack enough water, sunscreen and a hat.
- Charge your camera! You’ll want to remember this vibrant place.
- Don’t forget to use the Google map I created! It will make finding the murals much easier.
What else to do in Ipoh?
Once you’ve finished with the art, there are plenty of other places to explore in Ipoh. These include…
Cave murals at Perak Cave Temple
Perak Cave is a fascinating place to explore with some detailed cave paintings and an impressive panoramic viewpoint at the top… If you’re willing to climb 450 stairs!
More cave temples
Although you won’t find any murals, there are two other sets of caves with temples in Ipoh. Kek Lok Tong has spectacular grounds to wander, while Sam Poh Tong has colourful statues depicting Buddhist and Greek mythology.
Read next: my guide to the Ipoh cave temples
The ‘grammable basketball court
If you’re reading, it’s a safe assumption you like colourful, photogenic places. This iconic basketball court gave me ‘Hong Kong vibes’ and made for a great photo stop.
Thanks for following my Ipoh street art walk!
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See you next time for more adventures,
Ps. Liked this
Malaysia quick links
Flights – I use Skyscanner and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Stay connected with E-sim data plans that don’t require delivery or collection; just span the QR code.
In my opinion, Lonely Planet offer the best guidebooks. Get the latest Copy of Lonely Planet Malaysia.
For Malaysia buses and trains, I use 12GoAsia. The search feature allows you to compare prices and durations.
I use Booking.com for accommodation. They have the best range of hotels and self-catering apartments, plus you can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
For activities, I use GetYourGuide and Viator as they both have a huge range of affordable tours.
Need travel insurance? I use True Traveller (for UK & Europe residents) since it’s affordable but covers everything you’d need including various activities, valuables and pre-existing conditions. Unlike some companies, they insure you if you’re already travelling / don’t yet have your flight home booked. Get a quote.
For travel insurance for other nationalities, I recommend Hey Mundo and for long-term digital nomad travellers, I suggest Safety Wing.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and tips!