Ask anyone in Teluk Intan, Malaysia, what’s the main attraction of the town, and the certain answer is “the Leaning Clock Tower”. True, the Leaning Clock Tower is the town’s most famous sight but why travel 120 km from Kuala Lumpur just to see a leaning structure? As Teluk Intan lies outside of the North-South Highway route, more often than not, travellers heading northward or southward bypass it. But there are fresh seafood, angling spots, toddy, boatyards, colonial shophouses, trishaws, “chee cheong fun” and “heoh piah”, a dumpling-shaped cookie filled with caramel. These are sufficient reasons for a road trip there.
Lying between the Perak River and the Bidor River, Teluk Intan is the administrative centre of Hilir Perak district of the State of Perak. It was founded in the 18th century by Mak Intan, a widow from Mandahiling in Sumatra. She settled here with a group of followers, and they built a canal which looped over the Perak River, practically turning the village into an island. Soon, the settlement became an important riverine port that attracted migrants from Minangkabau, Java and Mumbai. When Sir General Archibald Edward Harbhord Anson became the first District Officer of Lower Perak, he filled up the canal. In 1882, Anson retired, and Sir Hugh Low, the third British Resident changed the town’s name to Teluk Anson in honour of the former. In 1962, Sultan Idris Shah II reverted the name back to Teluk Intan.
Driving towards the town along Jalan Maharajalela, you will see the World War II Memorial. A huge solid boulder on a granite pedestal, it has the following engraved words: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” Proceed to Jalan Bandar, and the old Police Station comes into view. Its arched entrance faces the Perak River – murky and lined with mangroves. Drive with care as cyclists are aplenty and there is no need to rush in this charming and rustic town.
At Jalan Selat, the Leaning Tower looming 25.4 metres high catches your sight from afar. Though it appears to have eight levels, it is only about three stories high, and displays all the elements of a Chinese pagoda. Its history is as colourful as the sunsets overlooking the Perak River. Built in 1885 by Leong Choon Chong, it served as a water storage tank as the town did not have a fire brigade at that time. Leong couldn’t have chosen a worse place to build the tower as the site once had Mak Intan’s canal flowing through. Years later, it began to tilt due to weak soil conditions. During the Japanese Occupation (1943-45), the structure served as a watch-tower for the Kempetai, with sentries posted to keep an eye on the movements of the residents. In 1997, the Hilir Perak District Council refurbished the tower, and opened it to the public in 2004. Today, the melodious chimes of the clock can still be heard one kilometre away. There is a trishaw stand near the clock tower, so why not take a ride on a three-wheeled contraption to see other sights? Teluk Intan is actually one of the few towns left in the country that has trishaws.
History peeks at you from many nooks and crannies. San Min School was once used by the Kempetai as their headquarters (opposite the school is a delicious rojak stall simply known as Ah Chye’s Rojak); King George V Memorial Pavilion, still basks under the sun at Speedy Padang since its erection in the 1950’s; St. Anthony’s School, founded by priests in the 1940’s, continues to educate countless students. Dying trades such as the weaving of rattan baskets, the making of wooden clogs and the lending of money by chettiers are fighting a slow death.
Just as Kampar is noted for its Kampar Chicken Biscuits, Melaka for its “dodol”, Teluk Intan is renowned for its “heoh piah”, literally meaning “fragrant biscuit.” Three famous brands of “heoh piah” are Durian Sebatang, Hock Bee Tin and Tiger Head. The bakery selling the Tiger Head “heoh piah” is located at Jalan Pasir Bedamar. Just travel along that narrow road and you will come across a bakery with countless square tins stacked outside its premises. You can buy the cookies piping hot from the charcoal ovens! Packed in pieces of six, they are irresistible temptations for those with a sweet tooth. Residents of Teluk Intan usually buy these delicacies as “buah tangan” when visiting outstation relatives and friends. Another must-try is “chee cheong fun”, which differs from other types as it comes with fillings, and is served with green chili slices. Stalls selling “chee cheong fun” can be found at Glutton Square, the moniker for the town’s hawker centre at the end of Jalan Ah Cheong.
The Perak River is a mighty waterway, being the second longest in peninsular Malaysia. Its lower reaches are muddy and home to catfishes like patin (pangasius pangasius), tapah (wallago attu), haruan, toman and the odd sebarau (hampala macrolepidota). Anglers will find many spots to test the fighting spirit of these lively creatures. Live bait such as small fishes, freshwater prawns and grubs (lundi) should be used. Jetties suitable for angling are found at several spots around town, and a popular place is the Sultan Yusoff Bridge, five kilometres out of town. The local tackle shops are extremely helpful in advising the best place to land a good catch.
Teluk Intan’s centre should not take much of your time, so for a change of scenery, head out of town along Jalan Sungei Nibong that leads to the Sungai Manik village. Here, large expanses of land are swathed with fields of paddy, and occasionally dotted with rest huts, often an assemblage of thatch and wood. The tattered clothes on scarecrows sway about in the wind and coconut palms enhance the beauty of the picture postcard scenery.
Another interesting drive is the route towards Kampong Gajah. To go there, leave town by Jalan Changkat Jong and after three kilometres turn left over the Sungei Bidor Bridge. The route is flanked by rustic Malay houses, lotus-filled canals and ancient tombs of the State’s early sultans and royalty, some of which date back to the 16th century. Historians have dubbed this area as the “Valley of Kings.” – a weak parallel to the Nile Valley of Egypt which contains the tombs of many of its kings.
Gastronomic adventures await in the coastal villages of Hutan Melintang and Bagan Datoh, 4 km and 15km away from Teluk Intan respectively. Economical seafood restaurants draw the crowds from Teluk Intan to Hutan Melintang during weekends. The culinary delight of Hutan Melintang is “udang hantu” (literally meaning ghost prawn), which is caught in estuarine bays. Don’t expect air-conditioned restaurants but just plain wooden structures on stilts, with groaning ceiling fans whirling overhead. The most common fish served is patin, which can be steamed in a variety of sauces. Hutan Melintang is also a centre for boat-building, and craftsmen armed with saws and chisels at work on hulls can be observed.
Bagan Datoh, on the other hand, is coconut palm country, with toddy as a much-sought-after by-product. On a hot afternoon, savour fresh coconut juice from the roadside stalls as well as snack on coconut biscuits and other tidbits. There are also several kelongs out in the sea, but a boat has to be chartered to get there. The jetty provides an interesting stop to take photos of the open seas and to enjoy the sea breeze.
Teluk Intan means “Diamond Bay”, and it is certainly a diamond of a town for visitors wishing to relish the days when life was simpler and less hectic.