Kinta Valley Heritage Loop

Perak is thought to derive its name (Malay for silver) from shimmering tin ore, with much of the area surrounding Ipoh built on the tin trade. The Kinta Valley boom towns that sprang up during the 1870s may have lost their sheen (metallic and otherwise), but they form an interesting day trip from Ipoh by road.

Leaving Ipoh, head southwest on Hwy 5 for 15km to reach sparsely populated Kampung Papan. This small town has some attractive period houses, though most are depressingly dilapidated. Istana Raja Billah (1896), a mansion at the village's northwesterly edge, is now a private home.

Seven kilometres further southeast you’ll reach Batu Gajah, an important settlement since the early 19th century. The town’s name, meaning stone elephant, comes from two pachyderm-shaped rocks submerged in the Kinta River. If arriving in the morning, you can grab fresh roti and coffee at a local Indian restaurant such as Ganapathi.

Batu Gajah is awash in colonial buildings, including a neoclassical Court House (1892), the custard-yellow St Joseph’s Church (1882), the Old Railway Station and Kinta Gaol, built to hold more than 450 prisoners. Other photo ops include the modern, gold-domed mosque and the well-kept God’s Little Acre Cemetery. For an in-depth tour, consult the Batu Gajah Heritage Driving Trail map, available at Ipoh's tourist office.

Leaving town, drive 9km south to the TT5 Tin Dredge. A rusty relic of Perak's tin-mining glory days, this 75m-long, 4500-tonne dredging apparatus is a surprisingly interesting site.

Belly rumbling? Tanjung Tualang is home to a clutch of seafood restaurants such as Luen Fong Restaurant. Settle in for steamed fish or the local speciality, freshwater prawns.

Returning to Batu Gajah, turn east along Hwy A8, where after about 7km you’ll reach Kellie’s Castle. Steeped in tragic legend, this Gothic- and Moorish-style castle was commissioned by wealthy Scottish planter William Kellie Smith and abandoned after his sudden death.

About 500m west of the castle is a Hindu temple, built for the artisans by Smith after the Spanish flu killed dozens of their workforce. The workers placed a figure of Smith, dressed in a white suit and pith helmet, on the temple roof.

Continue east for about 7km until you reach Hwy 1, where you can return north to Ipoh after 13km.

Ipoh-based operators such as Ipoh Secrets and Mr Raja can arrange bespoke tours.

Prehistoric Lenggong

One of the world's oldest complete human skeletons was discovered in the Lenggong Valley, 40km north of Kuala Kangsar. Unearthed in Gua Runtuh ('fallen cave'), scientists have verified the skeleton's age as 11,000 years. Together with other Palaeolithic and neolithic findings, Perak Man brought Lenggong to the attention of scientists worldwide. Outside the African continent, Lenggong's archaeological sites fill in the puzzle pieces for one of the longest timelines of early humans in a single place.

The region is now listed as a World Heritage Site, though Lenggong hasn't attracted much attention from tourists. Ipoh Secrets can arrange trekking tours around the waterfalls, caves and excavation sites of this ancient corner of Perak. Lenggong Archaeological Gallery shines a light on the region's ancient past, but when we passed through, the museum was undergoing lengthy renovation. When it's up and running, it will be a worthy stop for anyone travelling between Ipoh and Royal Belum State Park.