I write this carefully, in the hopes that Ipoh does not become a major tourist destination. The Rough Guide thankfully says "There is nothing much of interest to most tourists in Ipoh." They are correct. I hope they continue deterring "most tourists" because one of the charms of Ipoh is that it's a real city but that also has plenty of history and local charm.
First of all, we had a car. That probably made all the difference, because doing what we did without a car would have been pretty much impossible at least in such a short time frame.
We visited Taiping first and enjoyed the lake gardens, just walking around the lake we saw Kingfishers and other birds as well as swimming lizards.
The first food we tried was the Ipoh bean sprouts chicken. We ate at Onn Kee but the Lou Wong (kitty-corner from there) was just as popular. I don't even like chicken but I appreciated this dish. The sprouts are served separately from the chicken, allowing them to stay very fresh and crunchy as well as permitting you to make each bite what you want. We had a side dish of noodles (don't know what kind they care called--flat rice noodle but not as fat as kuay teow). I think they were Hokkein style just with simple brown gravy, nothing else. Went very well with the chicken. That was the waitor's recommendation actually.
After that we found a very cool little bar that is unusual for Asia. The predominantly Chinese pop. in Ipoh makes this possible. There were only 5 tables, and the atmosphere was cozy and conducive to conversation. All tables were taken by couples except for one which was two women and their children that were very well behaved. Very much like a European style urban bar. They had a walk-in wine cellar and a decent selection of beers including La Trappe and several German weizens. This bar was called Tong Lee and it's owned by the liquor store next door to it. Highly recommended for those who appreciate such things. I wish wish wish KL had a bar like this. In KL they are all stupid places with boom boom music or corporate vibe. How ironic to find a better bar in Ipoh than in KL. Anyway, this place in Ipoh is on Jln. Sultan Iskander. We had one beer and then went hunting for more food.
The next course we had at a small open-air restaurant near to the bean sprout chicken. I forgot the name but it was packed whereas the other places on the street were not. Their menu is short. They have 5 types of noodles (hor fun, bee hoon, etc) in Hokkein sauce. Then they have octopus, and about 4 other dishes. Very simple. We had the octopus because many ppl were eating it. Was simple and good and the Hokkein hor fun we ordered was very rich and filling.
Dessert of Taufu Fah from a separate vendor. It was very sugary of course.
Next morning we tried the curry mee at Sin Seng Fatt. Loved it. Perfect flavors esp. with the addition of mint leaf sprigs--brilliant. Then had a popiah from a place down the road from there and that was a nice snack we had later on. Also, we took home a famous Salt Chicken (Ayam Garam) from Aun Kheng Lim. We will steam up for tomorrow night's dinner :)
Besides food, Ipoh I thought was charming because of the architecture. Every bit as much character in those buildings as in Penang and offers the visitor context and continuity for how these straits were settled. The caliber of the buildings in Ipoh surprised me given the low amt of tourism. The Old Town is quite large, too. However, many of the bldgs are dilapidated. An investor would do well to buy them up.
We also visited Kellie's Castle on the way out of town. It was interesting and also gave perspective on the overall history of the area.
That's about it. Ipoh is all about the food and the Old Town. More than a day is not necessary unless you are a serious foodie and need to try it all in one go. In that case it would take you a very very long time to discover all what this town has to offer in terms of culinary delights.