Taiping – The historically rich town in Perak, Malaysia

Taiping is a town in the state of Perak, Malaysia. It has a population of 198,112 (2000). It is the largest town in Perak after Ipoh, the state capital. It is also the first Perak’s state capital city which was then replaced by Ipoh. Its development was slowed down after the replacement, but in recent years the town has developed rapidly.

Taiping sits on a coastal plain at the foothills of the Bintang Range. The town also receives some limelight as the wettest town in Peninsular Malaysia. The average annual rainfall is about 4,000mm in Taiping while the peninsula’s average is 2,000mm – 2,500mm. Its unusual rainfall has also blessed its Lake Gardens with a fertile and splendid collection of flora and century-old raintrees.


The name Taiping is made up of two Chinese characters (tai – ‘great’) and (ping – ‘peace’). The area developed quickly in the 19th century when tin was discovered. The discovery of tin deposits in the area attracted settlers from China, who were organised into two feuding groups around the Cantonese Ghee Hin society and the Hakka Hai San society. British intervention in the early 1870’s put an end to the feuding and the town, which used to be known as Klian Pauh, acquired its present name. The British made Taiping the administrative centre for the state of Perak in 1875. The town served this function until 1937 when the state capital was moved to Ipoh.

Taiping town in the early 1880s

Taiping town in the early 1880s. All buildings were with attap roofs, and Taiping town was partly gutted by fire twice in the early 1880s.

Taiping was the town center for the districts of Larut, Matang and Selama in Perak. Before 1937, Taiping was the capital of the state of Perak and was the center of a long drawn out war resulting in a change of rulership for the state. Taiping used to be known as Klian Pauh – Klian means mine and Pauh is a type of small-sized mango. Before the arrival of the British, the district (known in its earlier days as the The Larut Settlement) was governed by the Minister of Larut, Dato’ Long Jaafar (and later by his son Ngah Ibrahim) who was empowered by the Sultan of Perak at that time, to govern that territory.

Long Jaafar has been historically credited with the discovery of tin in Larut in 1848. According to legend, Long Jaafar had an elephant named Larut and he used to take this elephant with him when journeying between Bukit Gantang and Lubok Merbau. One day the elephant went missing and when the elephant was eventually found three days later Long Jaafar noticed tin ore embedded in the mud that was on the elephant’s legs. It is said that this is how Larut got its name. Eventually in 1850, Larut district was bestowed on Long Jaafar by Raja Muda Ngah Ali and the Chiefs of Perak, Temenggong, Panglima Bukit Gantang, Panglima Kinta, Syahbandar and Seri Adika Raja. Some time later, the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Abdullah, died in 1857 and a series of Sultan succession disputes ensued. Unhappy with the abuse and favoritism of various royalties, rival Malay camps took sides with one or the other of the two great Chinese secret societies present in that place.

Long Jaafar established and developed his administrative center at Bukit Gantang and made Kuala Sungai Limau at Trong the principal harbour of the Larut Settlement. In 1857 Long Jaafar was succeeded by his son Ngah Ibrahim. Sultan Jaffar Muazzam Shah presented an acknowledgement letter to Ngah Ibrahim on 24 May 1858. This letter was signed by Sultan Jaffar, Raja Muda Ngah Ali and the Raja Bendahara of Perak. In the time of Ngah Ibrahim the Chinese increased in number and in early 1860 two large groups were formed by the Chinese, the “Five Associations” whose members worked in the mines of Klian Pauh and the “Four Associations” whose members worked in the mines of Klian Baharu.

Mining rights were given to the Hakka “Five Associations” or Go-Kuan and the Cantonese “Four Associations” or Si-Kuan. Chung Keng Quee was leader of the Hakka Go-Kuan and the Hai San society they belonged to and began to operate his tin mines in Larut in 1860. Larut was destined to be plagued by four major wars between members of both the Ghee Hin Society that owned the Cantonese Go-Kuan and the Hakka Hai San society. Many Hakka fled China when the Taiping Rebellion broke out there and found work in the mines of Chung Keng Quee establishing his position over the mining area in Larut as leader of the Hai San from 1860 to 1884.

Taiping Surface Mining

The picture shows the surface mining at Kelian Pauh, by the early Chinese miners. This was the first area where tin-deposits were found. The Founder was the Malay chief, Long Jaafar who is known as (Bapa Bijih Timah, Larut). The rest is all history, and Taiping (known in Chinese as ‘Everlasting Peace’) was given in 1874.

The capital of Perak was moved from Bandar Baru (New Town) to Taiping after Datok Maharaja Lela killed the first British Resident of Perak Mr. James Wheeler Woodford Birch at Pasir Salak in 1875. In 1937 the capital of Perak was moved from Taiping to Ipoh.

The town’s mining industry continued to thrive; the country’s first railway was built to transport tin from Taiping to the coast (Port Weld. Now is known as Kuala Sepetang) for export. The first train in Malaysia took its schedule was at June 1st 1885. By 1900, an English language school, a newspaper, and the Perak Museum (the oldest in Malaysia) had been established.

Although Taiping’s economy declined with the dwindling tin deposits, the metal still remains an important industry in the area as do rubber and rice.

How to get there

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By air

Penang International Airport is about one and a half hour’s drive from Taiping. A couple of daily flights to Kuala Lumpur depart from Ipoh Airport, about an hour’s drive from Taiping.

By road

Taiping is easily accessible from the PLUS North-South motorway. From Penang (90 km) Kamunting is the nearest exit, whilst Changkat Jering is the most convenient exit from the motorway if you are travelling north from Ipoh (70 km). Taiping is well connected to the rest of Peninsular Malaysia by express buses, which arrive at and depart from the long distance bus station at Kamunting (6km from the town centre) as well as Simpang (7km from the town centre). Buses also travel direct from Taiping to Singapore and Hat Yai. Southbound buses usually depart from Kamunting and call along Simpang (Medan Simpang) to pick up a few more passengers from Simpang before heading to the highway via Changkat Jering interchange. Bus tickets are available from counters located at Medan Kamunting and Medan Simpang.

By rail

Keretapi Tanah Melayu (formerly known as Malayan Railway) operates a number of daily services along the main north-south line which stops at Taiping station. One service, the Ekspres Langkawi, connects Taiping with Hat Yai.

Get around

The compact town center is easily explored on foot. For trips further afield (e.g. to Maxwell Hill, the long-distance bus station at Kamunting, the Matang Mangrove Reserve), taxis are available for hire. Stage buses reach out in all directions serving the suburbs and the rural areas.

Places of interest

These are some of the interesting places to visit while you are in Taiping:

  • Taiping Lake Garden is donated by Chung Keng Quee’s son, Chung Thye Phin. It is serene, tranquil and peaceful. The man-made lakes were former tin mines.
  • Bukit Larut (formerly known as Maxwell Hill) is a hill resort. Currently, tourists reach the top of Maxwell Hill by 4WD vehicles.
  • Perak Museum is the first museum in Malaysia.
  • Kwan-Tung Hui-Kuan (Cantonese Association), founded in 1887 by Chung Keng Quee and others.
  • Taiping Zoo & Night Safari
  • Esplanade – for sports activities
  • All Saints Church, Taiping
  • Commonwealth War Cemetery
  • British Resident’s Residence (1877)
  • Kapitan Chung Keng Quee’s Townhouse on Barrack Road. It is now an antique shop.
  • Bukit Jana Country Golf Resort, Kamunting
  • Bukit Merah Laketown Resort
  • Burmese Pool. It has a natural water slide.
  • Tupai River(SG Tugoh). Man made swimming pool using river nearby Chinese Tiger Temple.
  • Austin Pool. There is a very deep square granite pool with a waterfall flowing into it.
  • Taman Suria streams. Cool streams flowing from Bukit Larut.
  • Buddhist Retreat in Tupai Cemetery. Travelling to this retreat requires semi 4-wheel drive vehicle but the view from retreat is spectacular and very peaceful.
  • Chinese cemetery at Tupai Hokkien Tiong – Situate One huge grave for Chinese those who lost their life during Japanese invasion
  • Coronation Swimming Pool. It is located at the foothill of Bukit Larut It has very cold mountain stream water even on hot days.
  • Taiping Public Library has numerous old and new book collection. The library is located near Taiping Lake Gardens.
  • Taiping Airport holds monthly (sometimes twice a month) parachute jumping programme organised by Parachuters Club.
  • Stadium Sultan Yusuf – Taiping football league important venue.
  • Hot water well (Air Panas) – Batu 9 off Jalan Trong (near Changkat Jering)
  • Kuala Sepetang Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Kota Ngah Ibrahim – in Matang

The many firsts of Taiping town

Due to the booming tin-mining industry in the 19th century and its previous position as capital of Perak, Taiping is the pioneer in many fields achieving many ‘firsts’ in the country. The list given by Taiping Municipal Council records a total of 40 firsts in the country under Taiping’s belt. Dated as early as 1844, these firsts are either in monuments or events.

    • Set up by Capt. T.C.S. Speedy, who also acted as the magistrate. A timber building with attap roof, at the same place where the present court stands.
  • PRISON – 1879
    • Set up by Capt. Speedy. A timber building with fencing all around. Prisoners were handcuff or their legs would be chained to cement concrete slabs. It is still at the same place where the present prison stands.
    • Timber building with attap roof, later a good looking wooden building was erected between the years (1884-1886).
  • RAILWAYS from Taiping to Port Weld – 1885
    • The construction began from the grounds of the present King Edward School, and later shifted to the present site in 1900. This railway track has been closed from the late 1950s. Port Weld is now known as ‘Kuala Sepetang’.
    • The entrance to the hospital was along Station Road. Yeng Wah Hospital (1880) was set up by the Chinese Mining Community. There were also small hospitals called as the Prison and Police Hospitals. The government hospital was run by one Thomas Prendergast, a qualified ‘Apothecary’ and his title was Sub-Assistant Surgeon. The two hospitals came to be one later.
  • EUROPEAN CLUB known as the Taiping Club – 1885
    • This was an attap hut, then re-named as the New Club in 1894, situated at the entrance of Lake Garden. The first President was H.A.W. Alybery.
  • MUSEUM (known as the Perak Museum) – 1885
    • (Started as early as 1883) is the first in the country. It has the exhibit of the Bull elephant’s skull which derailed a train at Telok Anson in 1894.
  • THE ESPLANADE (an open ground) – 1890
    • Used for functions like Marching and Processions. First initiated by Col. Robert S.F. Walker, as he was the Commandant of the Police and Military Force.
    • First Assistant Resident was Capt. T.C.S. Speedy. At the beginning he was in Matang, then moved to Taiping, when he became the Assistant Resident. He was first employed by Menteri Ngah Ibrahim.
    • The Residency used to be at Kuala Kangsar, then later moved to Taiping, at the Lake Gardens.
  • HILL RESORTS – 1888
    • Called as the Maxwell Hill, started when William E. Maxwell was the British Resident at 1250 metres above sea level. The temperature varies from 15 Celsius to 25 Celsius during the day. Now called as ‘Bukit Larut’ renamed in the year 1978. In the early years, British officers and wives were carried up to the hills using sedan chairs or rattan baskets by Indian workers.
    • At the entrance of Lake Garden, from Kota Road. Demolished in 1970, now a public car park. It was used by the Sultans and the Raja Muda of Perak.
  • REST HOUSE – 1894
    • In front of the King Edward School, Station Road. Now known as Hotel Lagenda.
  • LAKE GARDEN – 1880
    • Still in the same place. A rich mining area that has been depleted of tin and abandoned. The vision of one man (Col. E.S.F Walker) to restore dignity to the land, and he did it, with the help of his police force, during his free time. The vibrant beauty of the land remains till today, and enjoyed by Taiping folks.
  • CLOCK TOWER – 1890
    • At Kota Road, the first in the Malay States. There is a story for a superstitious belief, the sound of the gong was put on hold. At the strike of the gong, the belief was it would bring bad luck to the Chinese business community. Since then the clock remained silent.
  • MARKET – 1884
    • From the main road extending to the Kota Road. Fish, vegetables and meat are sold there. There is also a specially built Water Fountain by the tin miner Ng Boo Bee, in 1905 inside the market. Now it has been removed. Other business activities were selling provisions, liquors, salted fish and many consumer goods.
    • Work started in 1892 and completed in 1896, at Kota Road. Built by Caulfield, F.I.S.O the State Engineer.
  • POST & TELEGRAPH (P&T) – 1884
    • It was a timber building, then a concrete building built in 1900. Situated at the far end of the Barrack Road.
    • This was done inside the Prison (Taiping) by the prisoners, and stationaries were sent to all government departments.
    • Breads were sold to the public, prepared at the Prisons. Bread-vendors would go to the prison gates for their orders, and pay cash. Bread were supplied to the hospital, police and military personnels.
    • Situated at the Kota Road, there were a significant Malay population in this area, mostly the relatives of Ngah Ibrahim, some of them as penghulus, clerks, mosque officials, teachers, fishermen, transport agents, and boat-makers.
    • The commandant was Col. R.S.F. Walker, with about 500 men, mostly the Sikhs, the Pathans, and north Indians. The military Barracks were at the main road, where the present Malay Regiment is stationed. This force was dismantled in the year 1912.
    • Situated at Jalan Istana (Old Swettenham Road). Exclusively for the British working class, the men rode on horse-back, and there were stables and servant quarters at the back of the club building.
    • The first Co-operative Thrift and Loan society was formed for the employees of the Post & Telegraph (1922). The aim was to prevent the government employees from falling into the hands of Money Lenders, that they should save through the co-operative, and only take loan when necessary.
    • The members were those Ceylonese who worked in the railways and government departments. The early presidents were Dr. A. Viswalingam and R. Nagaratnam, a government servant. Situated at Barrack Road, and later moved to the present site (Station Road). N. Eliathamby JP, MCH. was the president for several years from the 1930s and who was instrumental to complete the present building. He was honoured by the Sultan of Perak for his services during the floods in Kuala Kangsar in 1926.
    • History has it the association were formed according to their clans ancientry. The first known is ‘The Khoo Kongsi’ (1858) in the Tupai-Coronation roads junction, Nine Emperor Gods. The ‘Tseng Lung’ Accociation in 1887, The Hokkian Association (1918). There are many associations in Taiping, started as early from the beginning of the Larut Wars, but the name and dates are difficult to be ascertained. One of the oldest is in front of Taiping Prisons, along the main roads, where the victims of the Larut Wars are buried. Some grave stones are seen till today.
    • Situated at the main road, first established in 1896, and officially opened in 1906. Founder member who donated the building is Shaik Nunammer Shah. He was a Apothecary and also a planter, who came from South India. All those who came from India irrespective of their religion, were generally called as Indians, including the Sikhs. The early presidents were Dr. Mohamad Ghows, Louis Thivy, Kher Singh, Seenivagasam Pillai, Muthukaruppan Chettiar and R. Manacksha. During the Japanese occupation, the Indian Freedom Fighter, Subash Chandra Bose, was invited by the Tamil Leader Muthu Ramalingam Pillai to address the Indians, at the Association. The I.A. was accorded the privilege and honour, for having opened by the H.H. the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Iskandar Shah in the year 1925.
    • It was called as the North Perak Eurasion Association but their office was all the time at Taiping. The first President was Andrew S. Read, who worked as Senior Surveyor and retired in 1932. Another high ranking person was E.E. Lesslar who worked as a chief clerk at the Land Office of Taiping, in early 1900s. Many other members of the community played a very important role in Taiping, and lived in the Kelian Pauh area.
    • This association was called as ‘Taiping Muslim Podujana Sangam’. Their leader was Dr. Mohamad Ghows. Dr. Ghows, Hj A. Abdul Karim and Hj Mohamad Ishack opened the Masjid India in the year 1930, which is situated in the junctions between Kota and Main Roads. Provision Stores started by Noor Ghaney (1900) near the market and another store was started by S.A. Mohamad Ishack & Co. in 1932. Bismillah Restaurant, which is still in the same place, along the main road was started by Abdul Kadir with others Abdullah and Hj Mammonhi, about the year (1900).
  • GOLF COURSE -1894
    • The first in the country, 9 hole in the Lake Gardens. Exclusively for the high ranking British Officers, and later only the Europeans were allowed to play the game. The Asians played golf only after the Japanese War period. One of the first player was Dr. Lim Swee Aun of Taiping.
  • CRICKET CLUB – 1881
    • The first Cricket Club to be formed in the Malay State, and it was founded in Taiping. It was also called as the Perak Club. The members were all Europeans, and their teams played at Kuala Kangsar, Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
  • HORSE RACING – 1885
    • At the old race course road, near Kelian Pauh, this place has been taken over by school buildings. Chung Ah Yong, was the first owner of race-horses in Taiping, who employed an European to take care of the horses.
  • SOCCER GAME (Football team) – 1890
    • First person to organise a team was Col. R.S.F. Walker and the players were his men. Other teams came from Kuala Kangsar, Matang, Telok Anson and Batu Gajah.
  • CHALLENGE – Ship Trophy for Football Team – 1890
    • The first known trophy was donated by Col. R.S.F. Walker, and his team held it for many years.
    • Situated on the way to Bukit Larut (The Waterfall Road). This grave is a good tourist attraction, a good number of visitors come from overseas to visit their loved ones whose names are on the stones.
  • STREET LAMP – 1894
    • Only on the main road, kerosene lamps were hung on the lamp posts. The Sanitary Board Workers, were assigned to do this work.
  • X-RAY MACHINE – 1897
    • The first x-ray machine was brought from England installed at Taiping Hospital, financed by the rich Chinese Towkays of Taiping. The first x-ray was done on a ‘Bowel Fish’ but there is no record of the first patient who underwent an x-ray.
    • The Chettiars Community of Taiping, who lived at the Market Road. Their business was money-lending, and also acted as ‘Bankers’ when they used to cash ‘cheques’ given by the government departments, and private European Employers and used to charge a small interest for the amount. In a way their business had helped the small time Chinese Business Community in Taiping for many years.
    • Private practice was done by Mr. Shaik Nunameer Shah, a qualified Apothecary, from India, in the early days when they joined the government services, they held the title as Sub-Assistant Surgeon. This practice was taken over by his son-in-law Dr. Mohamad Ghows L.M.S. of Singapore (King Edward Medical College) in the year 1917 and his practice was named as ‘Lockman Medical Hall’, and this was situated at the main road (opposite Nawab Din building).
  • LADY MEDICAL OFFICER (Dr. Latifah Ghows) – 1942
    • The first lady to qualify as doctor was from Taiping. She is the daughter of Dr. Mohamad Ghows, and graduated from Hong Kong University. After the war she came to Singapore and later joined the Penang Medical Services. She now stays in Taiping with her relatives.
    • Publisher was Syed Abdul Hassan Ibnay (from India). Name of the paper was ‘Seri Perak’, by Taiping Press. Second paper was ‘Jajahan Melayu’.
    • By Syed Adbul Ibnay Burhan (from India). Name of the paper was ‘Perak Vethamani’. Second paper was ‘Thajobamani’.
    • The name of the paper was ‘Perak Pioneer’. Controlled by the British Residents.
  • COLLECTOR OF LAND REVENUE for Larut & Matang – 1889
    • Raja Chulan the second son of Sultan Abdullah. After his school education from Malacca High School, this was his fisrt government job.
    • Earlier known as the Central School, at the main road near the hospital. First headmaster C. Greene 1895-1905 and later named the King Edward VII School in 1904. Started with 13 students the first year, second year 38 students.
    • (For Malay States – Normal Trained Teachers) Started at the King Edward School, by R.F. Stainer, who was the Principal of the school from 1905-1921.
  • MALAY SCHOOL – 1900
    • About this year there was a significant Malay population in the Kota area, Malay education was left to their own initiative, and according to the elders, there was a classroom building at the Kota-Main Road junction. The English showed interest to give the Malays, English education especially to the elite class of Malays, as early as 1905.
  • TAMIL SCHOOL – 1918
    • The school building is known as Young Men Hindu Association (YMHA). Situated at the Upper Station Road. The pioneer was Dr. A. Viswalingam. Tamil education was started in the estates as early as 1906, at the time the Rump Labour Code began, and largely left on their own initiative.
    • This was a Private English School, started by Andrew S. Read, and named it as ‘Readlia’, situated at the main road, opposite the hospital, the building is still seen at the same place. This was the first private school in Taiping.
  • TAILOR SHOP – 1892
    • As a commercial venture, the business was started by Nawab Din (an ex-police personnel under Col. Walker). Also known as a Master Tailor, he made military uniforms for the army and police personnels.
  • PAWN SHOP – 1890
    • The pawn shop business started as early as 1875, when there was a wooden building at Pasir Salak (Lower Perak) at the time of the murder of J.W.W. Birch, when a proclaimation was posted on the building. The middle and the lower income group had benefited a lot, when they wanted immediate cash for urgent needs, by pawning their valuables.
  • CHRISTIAN MISSION (Catholic Mission) – 1875
    • At Kelian Pauh, by Fr. F. Allard. The Anglican Church in 1886 at the main road. Designed by George Lefroy (also known as the All Saints Church, Taiping).
  • HINDU TEMPLE -1895
    • Known as Lord Subramaniam at the foot of Maxwell Hill (Larut Hill), but later shifted to the present site at Kota Road junction. Owned by the Chettiars Community. Shifted in the year 1928.
  • TAIPING AIRPORT – 1940-1941
    • There was an air trip in the place about the year 1939. During the Japanese War, it was fully developed by the Japanese Military Officers, with the help of the local people. The Japanese Military used it fully. Two Asian Leaders, President Sukarno and his Vice-President Dr. Mohamad Hatta, arrived at this airport in the year 1945 to discuss political matters with the local leaders, they arrived in the Japanese War Plane. The other leader was ‘The Freedom Fighter of India’ Subash Chandra Bose in 1944, by a Japanese plane, and met a local Tamil leader, to discuss the formation of the Indian National Army.
    • Their arrival in Perak goes back to the period, when J.W.W Birch became the First British Resident, when one Sikh personal guard to Birch was also killed in Pasir Salak. They were known as ‘Sepoys’ when they served the police force in Perak (The Perak State Guides). Their contribution to the enforcement of law and order, was greatly appreciated by the British. Frank Swettenham and George Giles took special interest to see their ‘Wrestling’ which was their pastime, and there is a painting in watercolour, entitled ‘Wrestling Sikhs in Taiping’ by George Giles (1885). Their old temples (Gurdhwara) were along the upper station road and in Kamunting. The one along Upper Station Road was renovated as it stands today (1971).
    • The first known Veterinary Surgeon appointed to Perak was Mr. G. Moir, MRCVS, in the year 1898. The office and the quarantine centre were in the same place as it is today. For the import animals, there was as Animal Quarantine Centre, at Port Weld (Kuala Sepetang) from the year 1898, until it was closed in the 1960s.