The city of Ipoh is located about 200 km north of Kuala Lumpur. Journey through the North South Expressway (NSE or PLUS Highway) takes a breezy 2 1/2 hours through scenic rolling valleys, palm oil plantations and limestone hills of Peninsula Malaysia. Distances from other major cities: Penang (2 hours), Johor Bharu (6 hours), Singapore (6 1/2 hours) and Kuantan (5 hours).
The highest concentration of limestone hills in the city can be found around suburban areas like Tasek, Bercham, Tambun, Gunung Rapat and Simpang Pulai, mostly to the northeast, east and southeast of the city.
I recalled when I was studying in upstate New York, the landlord I was renting a house from had asked me about the limestone hills that can be found in Malaysia. Apparently he had seen them on TV shows or movies or something. To me, born and bred in Ipoh, these protruding calcite structures are often overlooked by the locals, including yours truly of course. Yet, I guess they carry a certain fascination to those who have only seen flat farmlands and regular tree-clad hills back home.
Limestone hills are the new "in" thing in Ipoh, judging from the growing interests from locals and foreigners for their aesthetic values. Caving, boating, and rock-climbing are often featured in travel itineraries for adventure seekers. The new Lost World of Tambun (the sister theme park of Sunway Lagoon in Selangor) makes the limestone hills as one of the feature attractions in the vicinity of the well-known Tambun Hot Springs.
While the growing eco-tourism value is hard to be missed, the fact is that these limestone hills have played significant roles in contributing to the state economy. Some of the limestone hills are mined for marble manufacturing. You can see the voracious appetite for this lucrative decorative stone along the PLUS Highway from Simpang Pulai to Ipoh Selatan toll exit. In Tasek town, on the other hand, the limestone hills are blasted off as a raw material for cement manufacturing. In fact, Tasek Cement is quite a well known brand in the country in the construction industry.
While the rapacious hunger of economic wealth may seem to take down the limestone hills one at a time, all is not lost for the city, really. Most parts of the city still boast untouched calcite formations with serene lakes and original forests. In fact, there are a number of prayer houses are built inside the limestone hills. These are known as cave temples, such as Kek Lok Tong, Sam Poh Tong, Perak Tong (also known as Pi Li Dong), Nan Tian Tong (a Taoist temple), San Bao Tong (Mahayana Buddhist), Ling Xian Yan, etc. Touring all these exotic cave temples may take you the whole day and highly worth it, considering the intricate designs and timeless efforts that were put in to built these prayer shrines. Not to mention their serene and peaceful qualities that they offer to worshippers.
If you come to the city not for soul-searching in one of those cave temples, the limestone hills of Ipoh offer one of the best cave systems in the country. The most popular one definitely goes to Gua Tempurung (Gua means "cave", Tempurung means "coconut shell") which is located somewhere between Gopeng and Simpang Pulai (can be seen along the PLUS Highway just outside of Ipoh). Parts of the cave is now being showcased with electric lighting and wooden walkways for the not-so-adventurous types.
A popular belief among the locals is that the existence of these calcium-rich structures has contributed to the overall health condition of the city dwellers. It is often said that the nutritious water supply promote healthy skins and make the food taste a notch better than the rest of the country (though I am sure Penangites will beg to differ on this).
Beautiful and unique hill formations not many places in the world can offer.