Concubine Lane: Falling in love with an Ipoh of yesteryear

Concubine Lane is one of Ipoh’s most visited tourist attractions.

IPOH: Ah, Ipoh! Once a former mining town and retirement home for elderly folk, now an attraction with tourists near and far flocking to see the sights.

There is a reason why Ipoh was listed by Lonely Planet as one of the 10 best Asian destinations to visit back in 2016. With unique, local delights such as salt-baked chicken, white coffee, “nasi ganja” and chee cheong fun, it should come as no surprise that Ipoh is considered a holy site for food lovers.

Why else then, would those as far away as Singapore make the pilgrimage to Ipoh have their fill of its culinary tradition?

Colourful umbrellas add to the vibrant atmosphere of Concubine Lane.

But Ipoh isn’t just about delicacies, it’s also about colourful and curious sights. Almost always making the list of curious sights is the strangely named Concubine Lane.

What’s the story behind its name? That’s the question almost always asked by bewildered tourists.

Unbeknownst to most, there is actually a total of three similarly-named lanes, namely Wife Lane, Concubine Lane and Second Concubine Lane.

Murals found all along Concubine Lane draw in shutterbugs and Instagrammers eager for a good photograph.

As to how these lanes gained their unusual name, you will have to take a step back and travel to the distant past of the colonial days when Ipoh was reeling from the Great Fire of 1892 that left the town in ruins.

A mining tycoon named Yao Tet Shin assisted in reconstruction efforts and as a gift to his three wives, gave each the right to collect rent from one street.

The three streets where the wives lived and presided over are thus named after them.

It is also said that these streets, like their names imply, were used as the hiding places for the concubines of Ipoh’s citizens.

In any case, Yao certainly did not lay idle with his three wives, garnering a total of 14 sons by the end of his life.

Delicious traditional baked treats are sold in the stalls of Concubine Lane.

Of the three lanes, it’s Concubine Lane that is the tourist hotspot, though the two others have pretty sights of their own.

So, what is there to see in Concubine Lane? Well, for one, the pre-war shophouses that line the lane have a quintessential charm that makes you feel like you are literally taking a walk through history, back to the days when these shophouses were an emblem of the old century.

They have since been repurposed as a variety of business establishments, including restaurants, cafes, dessert parlours and stalls selling snacks.

With this new breath of life in them, they have since been the draw of hungry tourists and eager Instagrammers looking for a good photo opportunity.

The colourful cotton candy of Concubine Lane can come in various shapes, including hearts and flowers.

There is a variety of foodstuff here, ranging from sinfully sweet, pastel-coloured cotton candy to melt-in-mouth pastries to traditional Chinese desserts.

Snacks of yesteryear can also be found here, with Malaysian ice cream in its distinctive plastic tube wrapping and flavoured ice balls.

While ais kacang remains a popular dessert throughout the country’s hawker centres and brick-and-mortar restaurants, the flavoured ice balls have since become a rather scarce find.

Just ask your parents and grandparents and they’ll recount how they used to buy these palm-sized balls of ice to cool down on blazing hot days.

With how unforgiving the heat is nowadays; these ice balls are a good and tasty way to keep cool while on holiday.

As every lot has a pop-up stall or shop of some kind, it’s hard not to be distracted while strolling down Concubine Lane, since each has something to catch your eye.

The colourful signages, delectable smells, the lanterns hanging above and the cries of stall owners hawking their wares just add to the rich and distinct atmosphere of this little corner of Ipoh.

If you are looking for an interesting insight to the cultural side of Ipoh with the added bonus of some serious snacking, Concubine Lane is the right place to be.