Taiping----a town that is purportedly living in its former glory----captivates me in a magnetic way like how one falls in love at first sight at the other half. I have heard about it since young, amongst whispers and hearsay. The first time the name really caught my attention was from the mouth of my wedding clients. Bride is from Indonesia and groom from Taiping. They were contemplating having their prewedding photos captured in the groom's hometown, and more out of disbelief than curiosity, I asked what the draw was. Like a new convert, the bride sang praises about its natural beauty, the lake and the food.
Over the years since then, I have been doing some reading up on Taiping now and then. It is rarely on the radar of Singaporeans, who are more fixated on Penang or Ipoh (Taiping is somewhere between them). I love the former two cities as well, but true to my hermit self, they have grown slightly unlikeable because of their traffic problems. Ipoh is fast becoming a hipster town overrun by weekend day-trippers (mostly from Kuala Lumpur) and Singaporeans who are appreciating the more frequent direct air links. Thankfully, Taiping still retains her sleepy-town reputation and provincial charm.
The driving journey from Singapore, if allowed for just one rest stop, could have taken just 6 easy hours. The town itself is easy to navigate, with historical shophouses, museums, monuments and the lake gardens located on one side of the old town and the newer suburbs, spanking railway station and the more modern malls like Aeon and Tesco located on the northern side. To me, the major draw is undoubtedly the Taiping Lake Gardens. I needed to see for myself its rumoured beauty. And I was not disappointed. I only wished I could visit the lake earlier in the morning, if not for the three lazy pigs in my family who struggled to get out of bed.
There were already many visitors at the lake by 8am. Conscientious joggers----alone or in groups----thronged the paths around the lake shared with walkers and wandering children. In the open grass fields, zumba dancers from all races jiggled to the beat of loud music, while Chinese martial arts practitioners waved their swords and fists more quietly in the leafy enclaves. The carnival-like atmosphere was made more appealing because it was surrounded by mist-shrouded mountains.
My kids are relatively hardy travellers. Since as young as 4 years old, they have been to Sa Pa (Vietnam), Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh City, Sungei Lembing and Cameron Highlands (Pahang, Malaysia), Mount Bromo (East Java) and Bukit Lawang (Sumatra). At the same time, they are also very "sua gu" (not very savvy) travellers (due to parents' making). Because we rarely go on luxury trips, they are very appreciative of every traveling opportunities. We always start from the lowest denominator, so that it is easy to manage their expectations. Call me stingy, mean, whatever you want, we have had as much family fun in Southeast Asia as we could possibly have further from home. Maybe making snow angels rank very high on their list, but my thinking is this: their father's first contact with snow was at a ripe old age of 19 and he was not worse for wear. If they see snow before turning 10, won't it be more and more difficult to outdo the previous trip? So why not we explore our nearest neighbours (which can be exotic if you know where to look) first, and as they grow older we can venture further for a taste of vastly different culture and geography. I tend to look at our family trips from a long term perspective.
Moreover, I really like Malaysia. There is always a hint of homecoming, coziness, and familiarity with the people, the sound, smell and tastes. There are still so many places there that remain to be explored.
More stories to share on this Taiping trip in the next article.