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M’sian Finds Mysterious Abandoned Town In Perak On Google Maps, Netizens Help Sort Out Its History

Papan is a street of abandoned heritage buildings in Perak

It’s not hard to find heritage buildings in Malaysia. Wander down the busy streets of Kuala Lumpur and you’ll find them in 2 conditions – converted into cafes with old-school aesthetics or left unrenovated in a time warp. But rarely do we see a town of abandoned heritage buildings that looks straight out of a post-apocalyptic film. 

This is what Twitter user @nizam_saroni uncovered on Google Maps when he decided to lepak and entertain himself by dropping Google’s “yellow man” on a random street in Malaysia. His discovery: A row of abandoned heritage buildings, in a town called Papan in Perak so tiny that it only had a single street. But that’s not all – there’s a historic clinic owned by a Malayan nurse there, and there’s even a mansion that is reportedly haunted in the vicinity.

A town of heritage buildings overgrown with trees

Papan in Ipoh - heritage buildings
Image credit: @enjoythedecay

The discovery was shared on Twitter on 24th August 2020, where it has gained over 4,000 retweets at the time of writing, with netizens curious about the mysterious town of Papan flooding the thread. Many also came out to contribute what they knew about its history and other attractions in the now-abandoned town. 

Papan in Ipoh - heritage buildings
Image adapted from: @wongkdi & @handsonben

Located a 19 minute-drive from Batu Gajah – which is the site of another iconic historic building near Ipoh called Kellie’s CastlePapan used to be a buzzing tin-mining town. Now, the town is mostly dotted with heritage buildings left in disrepair and overtaken by nature.

While it may seem like a forgotten town, there are netizens who remember it quite clearly. Twitter user @Ashahzaini, for example, pointed out that many scenes from the 2002 Malaysian film Embun about the Japanese occupation of then-Malaya was shot here.

Papan in Ipoh - Papan in the 1900s
The town of Papan in the 1910s
Image credit: @GambarKlasik

The town is also not all abandoned, as some might expect it to be, seeing how run-down the buildings look. According to some netizens, there’s still a small community of people, mostly elderly, to be found here. 

According to New Straits Times, the town houses a small population of over 150, along with a handful of sundry shops and kopitiams, and a Chinese school of 30 students. Walk along this one-street town today and you’ll see these locals eyeing curious out-of-towners dropping by to get a glimpse of the row of old buildings. 

Old clinic and mansion left behind

There’s rich history to be found in heritage buildings, and these pre-war ones in Papan are no exceptions. According to Tourism Perak, this town was where resistance fighters used to hide from Japanese soldiers during World War II. 

One of them is Sybil Kathigasu, a Malayan nurse who kept intel radios and medical supplies for these fighters out of her shophouse in Papan – which you’ll still find here today at No. 74, Main Street. It’s been turned into a memorial to recognise her efforts that saw her tortured by Japanese soldiers and later put behind bars in a prison in Batu Gajah. 

Twitter user @moklins tweeted that she had visited the town years ago after watching Apa Dosaku, a TV mini-series on Sybil.

Papan in Ipoh - Sybil's shophouse
Sybil’s shophouse in Papan
Image credit: @moklins

Many who responded to @nizam_saroni’s Twitter post also pointed out another landmark in the quiet town – Istana Raja Billah. This mansion was built in 1896 by Mandailing nobleman, Raja Billah, who was from Sumatra, Indonesia. But as it has been left largely untouched, it’s racked up a mysterious reputation of being “haunted”. 


Papan in Ipoh - Istana Rajah Billah
Image credit: Majlis Daerah Batu Gajah 

Local film Penunggu Istana, which is a 2011 horror film about paranormal activities that took place in this mansion, furthered the claims that this house is a hotspot for the supernatural.  

Papan in Ipoh - old photo of Istana Raja Billah
Istana Raja Billah photographed back in its heyday
Image credit: Orang Perak

There’s also an old mosque built on stilts, Masjid Lama Papan, that’s just a minute’s walk from the mansion. Many believe it to be built by Raja Billah as well in 1888. This makes it one of the oldest mosques in Perak that’s been left untouched, and is yet another interesting discovery in this town of abandoned heritage buildings. 

Papan in Ipoh - Masjid Lama Papan
Image credit: Anak Jati Perak Darul Ridzuan

Papan in Perak has a street of abandoned heritage buildings

Malaysia has a rich history, and our heritage buildings speak for themselves. So it’s always sad to see towns with heritage buildings such as Papan fall into disrepair. But we are thankful that there are netizens well versed in the history of our country who are willing to jump in to remind us of the stories of the past, such as Sybil’s that had helped Malaysia become the nation that it is today.

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Cover image adapted from: @enjoythedecay