Mirror Lake - Oasis in Ipoh
Accompanying music: Hypnotised ~ Coldplay
A massive central figure in Ipoh, Gunung Rapat is a beautiful karst hill that dominates the city's landscape since time immemorial. Famous for its towering limestone walls and caves, the hill has always been part of Ipoh's identity, attracting both the religious and industrious to the historical city for hundreds of years. Unknown to most locals until very recently, hidden behind the numerous quarries and temples that mushroom around Gunung Rapat lies an unlikely pristine oasis; the Mirror Lake.
Mirror Lake, also known as Tasik Cermin.
The lake's popularity has meteorically risen in recent years thanks to the power of social media and its legions of influencers. Due to this development, finding the hidden lake has never been easier for us.
We started our trip from central Ipoh towards Simpang Pulai through Jalan Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah (previously known as Jalan Gopeng). A short drive of 15 minutes led straight to a three-way stoplight junction, directly in front of the North-West portion of Gunung Rapat. One simply could not miss the huge limestone wall that forms the backdrop of the traffic stop.
Three-way junction with an impressive backdrop. Jalan Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah.
This small portion of Gunung Rapat itself is home to at least five religious areas, with Hindu, Bhuddist and Taoist temples flanking it from all sides. We took a straight at the junction and passed by a complex of famous temples in Ipoh on our left; the colorful Ling Sen Tong, and the two historical Sam Poh Tong & Nan Tian Dong cave temples (stories for another time).
We drove another 5 minutes straight, still on the sides of Gunung Rapat, until we reached a small commercial area; 'Pusat Perniagaan Sengat', where there's a tyre shop on the left side of the road. That was our cue to turn left, into a small road that leads towards a valley in the middle of the limestone hills.
Small road towards the limestone hills.
In a few hundred meters, the small paved road quickly turns to red dusty soil. Passing by the Da Seng Ngan Buddhist temple on the left, we drove straight until reaching a small area in front of an abandoned building, where there's space to park vehicles on the road shoulder. This appeared to be the unofficial entrance towards the lake. For a supposedly 'hidden' lake, the place was very well packed (the fact that we came on a public holiday weekend didn't help).
Parking area, entrance road.
The area used to be a limestone quarry, which ceased operations some time in 2018. Explorers and photographers used to brave through an active quarry site to reach the lake, while newer visitors will find the road a bit safer (albeit the lack of a proper walking path). We could also see a couple of fellows who made smart business by charging parking fees during high traffic periods. Expect being asked to pay from RM3 to RM5.
We left the car and went for a very short trek, walking past a small patch of bushes and a wide field that used to be part of the now-closed quarry. Within 10 minutes we reached the mouth of a cave that leads to the lake on the other side.
Abandoned building in front of the parking area.
Limestone wall along the way, providing shade.
Small pathway that leads to the quarry field ahead.
Quarry site on the left side of the pathway.
Towards the cave entrance.
Cave entrance, with drinks available!
Man-made cave linking the quarry to the lake, about 50 meters long.
A short walk through the cave, and we were finally greeted by a magnificent valley. From a small metal platform, we peaked into an enclosed area completely surrounded by limestone hills hundreds of meters high from all sides. In the middle of it all, a calm lake lies naturally protected from wind, forming a huge natural mirror to its surroundings.
Mirror Lake, in all its glory.
Gunung Rapat (a Malay name referring to hills being close to one another) is a complex of limestone hills in Ipoh, known by its striking karst towers, caves, notches and wangs/poljes (karst fields). Aside from being an icon of Ipoh and a multi-religious gathering site, Gunung Rapat is also a magnet for the mining industry due to its richness in valuable minerals. As of 2019 alone, 36 quarry operators are actively carrying out operations around the vicinity of these hills.
Fortunately, since the inclusion of these hills as one of the sites protected under Lembah Kinta National Geopark in 2014, more calls have been made to further protect this natural wonder. In the midst of this, a lake located within these hills has been rising in popularity, forming a new rallying point in defending Gunung Rapat from further irresponsible exploitation.
Gunung Rapat karst towers.
Mirror Lake, or 'Tasik Cermin', is one among numerous lakes (both natural and man-made) situated around the karst towers of Gunung Rapat. Among these lakes, at least three are completely surrounded by hills with no pathways linking the water bodies to the outside world. Out of the three, Mirror Lake was developed decades ago as part of an iron ore mining site. For the miners to reach their iron ore deposits, a 50-meter-long tunnel was dug straight through the base of the hills, 'freeing' Mirror Lake from its natural prison.
A group of otters swimming in the lake.
As time passed by, mining operations ceased, leaving behind a black-tinted lake (a typical sign of stagnant water bodies rich in iron-ore content). During these earlier years, the site was only frequented by small circles of local trekkers and photographers. With the construction of a metal viewing deck complete with a shelter and benches, the site grew more visitor-friendly. Quarries nearby the lake continued to close down around 2015 - 2018, further increasing the area's accessibility to the public.
Metal viewing deck.
Mirror Lake further came under the local government's spotlight as the lake's reputation became more widespread through social media in recent years. As a result, the lake is in the process of being included in the list of protected areas under the Kinta Valley National Geopark, with future plans for a comprehensive study on the area in 2020.
Once receiving this status, Mirror Lake will be monitored along with the other 18 sites protected under the National Park by the Perak Tourism Action Council.
Limestone wall lining the lake.
A recent expedition by Kinta Valley Watch (KVW) on the lake found 10 underwater caves, (with one having a depth of 10 meters) showing that the lake still has more treasures yet to be discovered.
With more research to be done by the Perak Mineral and Geoscience Department and government plans to develop the area into a responsible tourism spot, hopefully Mirror Lake is looking towards a bright future ahead, bringing along more love and appreciation to Gunung Rapat and Ipoh's limestone hills along the way.
Forest surrounding Mirror Lake.
Kinta Valley History: Kinta Valley: Glory days return to former tin-mining areas (Sharen Kaur, 14/9/2017) - New Straits Times
Mirror Lake's planned inclusion under Kinta Valley National Geopark: Expansion of national geopark in the pipeline (Manjit Kaur, 17/10/2019) - The Star
History of Gunung Rapat: Gunung Rapat is one of the primes of Ipoh Today (Amanda Yeap, 14/12/2015) - The Star
Karst study on Gunung Rapat: The Kinta Valley Karst Landscape - a national heritage to be preserved (Ros Fatihah Muhammad & Ibrahim Komoo, 2003) - Geological Society of Malaysia
Mirror Lake Info: Mirror Lake allegedly threatened by quarrying activities (Manjit Kaur, 1/1/2019) - The Star
Kinta Valley National Geopark launch: Action Council to oversee geopark (Manjit Kaur, 29/10/2018) - The Star
Underwater caves discovery in Mirror Lake: Tourism potential of Tasik Cermin's underwater caves discovered (Ivan Loh, 31/1/2020) - The Star