The coronavirus pandemic presents an ideal opportunity to explore this once obscure town, Benedict Lopez writes.
Teluk Intan has a special place in my memory. It was in this then small and relatively quiet town that I started my career in the civil service as a labour officer in early 1981.
The town was formerly known as Teluk Anson, after General Archibald Anson, who was at one time the Hilir Perak district officer. In 1982, the name was changed to Teluk Intan, as the place had in the past been known as Teluk Mak Intan, after a female Mandailing trader. Local folk like to narrate a fable: the town got its name after the woman bathing in the stream lost her diamond (intan) hairpin.
Teluk Intan was also the town where Perak rulers held court from 1528 until 1877, when Kuala Kangsar became the royal town.
As with Rawang, I have many fond memories of my five-and-a-half-year stint in Teluk Intan. In the good old days, I used to walk all over town for more than an hour daily as part of my exercise regimen.
As it was a small town, I often ran into friends and would have either my evening tea or an early dinner with them before returning home.
Not too long ago, I was back in Teluk Intan after a hiatus of many years. Much has changed in my old stomping ground. The Teluk Intan I knew then is today beyond recognition. Only a few retail outlets and eateries are now familiar to me. Most of my friends no longer live here, some have passed away, while many have moved to other places.
By the 1980s, Teluk Intan was the third largest town in Perak. It was a point of convergence as an administrative and business centre for nearby townships like Tapah, Bidor, Bagan Datuk and Hutan Melintang.
Teluk Intan’s economy was hit after the Perak River contracted because of upstream erosion and silt deposits. This misfortune inevitably took its toll on the port, and the town’s economy spiralled downwards, adversely affecting exports of tin, rubber and petroleum.
Teluk Intan also lost its status as a petroleum distribution centre for a major petroleum multinational firm when oil tankers and cargo ships were unable to sail down and berth at its port.
Compounding the town’s woes was the closure in 1989 of a 30km railway branch line from Tapah Road to Teluk Intan because of a drop in traffic.
The outskirts of the town remained important owing to its many oil palm and coconut estates owned by renowned companies like United Plantation.
Faced with dwindling employment opportunities, many locals searched for employment prospects in larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Klang, Shah Alam and Klang. Now, some are hopeful that the West Coast Expressway will revive the town’s past glory.
Teluk Intan still has a chance to regain its economic clout. Tourism is one sector which can revitalise the town’s economy.
Off the radar of many local and foreign tourists, Teluk Intan has a unique charm which can enchant anybody. Its tourism potential was overlooked in the 1980s, and I saw very few visitors during my stint in Teluk Intan.
Teluk Intan has a string of attractions.
Leaning tower of Teluk Intan
Now known as Menara Condong, the town’s iconic landmark is the Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan. Measuring 25.5 metres tall, it is dubbed as Malaysia’s equivalent to Italy’s world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. From the outside, it looks like an eight-storey building, though it is actually divided into three storeys.
Built in 1885 by a Chinese contractor, Leong Choon Chong, the tower was in the past used as a storage place for potable water supply during the dry season for local residents.
Locals funded the entire cost to build the brick-and-wood tower, including the clock at the top of the tower, which was made by an Englishman, JW Benson.
A road in the city centre of Teluk Intan is named Jalan Ah Chong, dedicated to Leong.
Resplendent spectacle at Pulau Bangau
A river cruise will take you to this islet as thousands of birds return home to nest amid an awe-inspiring sunset – an estimated 20,000 migratory birds, about 10 species, including herons and egrets. Watching them flying at a low altitude over the river, ultimately relaxing in the trees on the island, is a mystifying experience and a resplendent spectacle.
Elephant stone memorial
This year marks the 126th anniversary of an incident when a bull elephant charged at a train on 17 September 1894.
News of this incident reached the British government, which erected a memorial signboard for the animal. The skull of the elephant is on display in Taiping Museum.
Legendary railway bridge
This bridge crosses the Bidor River, a tributary which flows into the larger Perak River. In the past, Teluk Intan was the principal port for exporting tin from Perak, mined mainly in the Kinta Valley near Ipoh.
This bridge was part of a connecting rail network from Teluk Intan to Tapah Road, subsequently proceeding to Ipoh.
Based on local folklore, a rock the size of a matchbox was found by a British soldier, presumably during World War One. Over the years the pebble grew until it reached its present size and, for mysterious reasons, suddenly stopped ‘growing’.
Teluk Intan is noted for its cuisine, especially the Teluk Intan chee cheong fun. This differs from the Hong Kong-style dish and the Kampar version as it contains vegetables and dried shrimps. It is eaten with only preserved green chillies. Unlike other versions, it doesn’t have sweet or chili sauce poured over it.
Mee rebus buffs like me and my friend Naban will attest that the mee rebus in Teluk Intan is perhaps one of a kind in Malaysia. That may sound far-fetched, but not to the regular patrons from Teluk Intan and out-of-town. Ais kacang campur, popularly known as ABC, complements this famous dish.
For Malaysians looking for an ideal sojourn, Teluk Intan is a hidden gem. The coronavirus pandemic presents an ideal opportunity to explore this once obscure town – a holiday destination that will captivate any visitor.
I would like to thank my friend Pathma Naban for his perspectives on Teluk Intan and for the photos in this article. Naban was born and bred in Teluk Intan and till today is a proud Teluk Intanian at heart