The serene town of Taiping is known for a series of firsts in Malaysia – first market, first lake gardens, first museum and there’s 33 first to be exact!
Touted as the wettest town in Malaysia, Taiping was recognised as among the top three sustainable cities in the world during the 2019 Sustainable Top 100 Destination Awards at the International Tourismus-Borse (ITB) travel trade show in Berlin, Germany last month.
Now, the younger generation in the otherwise ‘elderly’ town is eager to score a new first.
It is typical to see youths leave Taiping in search for better job prospects in bigger cities. But a group of ‘youngsters’ is eager to lure more tourists to Taiping, generating an economic boom to entice the youths to stay put.
Teoh Siew Li, 28, is one of them. She helps her mother run Sin Furniture at Jalan Kota, which has been in business since 1960.
Teoh pointed out the influences of the youths are slowly but surely showing in Taiping.
“There are so many hypermarkets and malls now, so many hipster cafes and a lot of fastfood chains compared to 10 years ago,” said Teoh.
“This shows the market is changing and so are the demands but what we need to do now is to make Taiping the number one destination. This will further spur the economy which will result in job opportunities for the youths.”
However, Teoh stressed this would only work if the local authorities and private sector play an aggressive role in luring more people to the town.
Echoing similar sentiments is Steve Ng.
The 39-year-old director of Kilang Kopi Istimewa in Tupai said information regarding Taiping is not easily available despite its rich history.
“People come to Taiping because of the Lake Gardens. But they don’t know much about its history. Many often talk about the list of firsts in Taiping but there’s more to it. No one is explaining how and why the series of firsts came about,” said Ng.
He added many family businesses in Taiping have evolved and now hope to see more tourists visit Taiping to further spur the economy there.
“Kilang Kopi Istimewa started in 1959. My grandpa gave my dad some money to open up this business and he used to sell coffee on his motorcycle in the estates.
“Fast forward to today, we have changed the business plan which includes a café and visitors are allowed to see how coffee is processed in the factory.”
He called for a systematic approach in promoting Taiping.
“We can only do so much. The local council and tourism authorities should embark on a systematic way to promote Taiping. Information must be readily available.
“Taiping is not just only about the Lake Gardens and Maxwell Hill.”
But Rachel Ho, who operates a cruise company at Kuala Sepetang, said even Taiping’s main attractions are poorly maintained.
“There’s now only a 4×4 going up and down Maxwell Hill daily. You can’t make reservations but need to queue up. People are booking stuff online but yet in Taiping you still do things manually,” said Ho.
The director of Eagle Sightseeing Tour Sdn Bhd is in fact a city girl – from Old Klang Road in Kuala Lumpur.
“My ex-boss, who is from Kuala Sepetang, gathered a group of us and we visited the village there many years back. It had eagles and there were even dolphins! I told myself this place had so much of potential but remained largely ignored.”
That motivated her to set up a cruise company with a local, Vincent Lim. Together, they have been operating the business for the past eight years.
“But the number of tourists has dropped. Quite a number of eateries here have also closed down.
“Kuala Sepetang must cross-brand with Taiping. That way, tourists will know they will have so much to do here.”
She added adequate infrastructure must be in place to ensure Taiping is welcoming to visitors.
“There aren’t designated places for tour buses to park near food courts in Taiping. It may look petty, but it’s a problem.”
While it is easy to train guns on the local administrators, Chuah Chong Fu is taking it upon himself to promote the town.
Chuah is the owner of Tong Hoe Chan Groundnuts and Food Industry Sdn Bhd – just steps away from Kilang Kopi Istimewa. The company was started by his grandfather in 1963.
When he is not in the office, Chuah is an avid runner and was up until last Sunday chairman of Taiping Road Runners.
“My team and I have been organising runs in Taiping as a means to get more people to come to Taiping. In fact, we are gearing up for Taiping Get Fit Run scheduled July 21 at Aeon Mall Taiping,” said Chuah, 47.
He said such events will see hotels being booked and runners flocking to eateries and tourist attractions before or after the races. However, he admitted it is still not enough to get things going.
“I truly hope the local authorities will do more to develop Taiping. The town has the whole package; history, food, nature. But we have not been luring many tourists when we have so much to offer. And there’s hardly proper information about Taiping by the authorities.”
He hoped the authorities would join forces with local businesses in further promoting Taiping.
“It’s a shared responsibility. We, business owners, have and will continue to play our roles in promoting Taiping but we know the local government can do more to do the same. It’s in the best interest of our beautiful Taiping.”