An air of romance, mystery and tragedy surrounds Kellie’s Castle in Ipoh. This historic home in Malaysia is known for its eclectic architecture and intriguing history. Built by Scotsman William Kellie Smith, the site consists of both ruins and an unfinished mansion that Smith began building for his family before his untimely death.
Kellie’s Castle offers a glimpse into Malaysia’s colonial past and the life of a fascinating man. From secret stairways and a mixture of architectural design to the supposedly haunted corridors, Kellie’s Castle is a unique attraction that is well worth a visit on a day trip from the nearby Malaysian city of Ipoh.
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A Guide to Visiting Kellie’s Castle, Ipoh
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History of Kellie’s Castle
In 1890, at the age of 20, Kellie Smith arrived in Malaysia to work as a civil engineer. After a string of bad luck and failed businesses, he finally made his fortune investing in rubber and the tin mining industry.
With his new wealth, he bought 1,000 acres of jungle land in Batu Gajah, Perak, that he turned into rubber plantations, naming his estate Kinta Kellas after his birthplace in Moray, Scotland. Having met and married his sweetheart, Agnes, on a trip back home, the couple returned to Malaysia in 1903 and had their first child the following year, a daughter called Helen.
In 1909 Kellie Smith built his first mansion, which he called Kellas House. It was in 1915, the year the couple’s son and heir to the estate was born, that Kellie Smith began planning to build a large castle for his family.
For his beloved wife, he wanted to create the grandest mansion Malaysia had ever seen. Though this was also a great opportunity to showcase his wealth and elevate his social status!
His unusual vision combined Roman, Moorish and Indian architecture and he brought 70 Tamil craftsmen over from Madras (now the Indian city of Chennai) to help with the construction, along with the bricks and marble for the building. Kellie Smith’s design included plans for an indoor tennis court, a rooftop courtyard for entertaining and Malaysia’s first elevator.
The construction was beset by bad luck from the start as one misfortune after another affected the project. The First World War halted works and then tragedy struck when many of the workmen died from Spanish Flu.
Kellie Smith’s wealth began dwindling due to poor investments and a few years later he faced his own untimely demise at the age of 56 after contracting pneumonia during a short trip to Lisbon in 1926. Devastated, Agnes moved back to the UK with her two children, leaving behind the unfinished home that her husband dreamed of creating for her.
Today, the original Kellas House stands in ruins, having been abandoned to the jungle and then partially destroyed during the Second World War. The mansion remains intact but unfinished, providing a window into the past.
The unique building features a number of secret stairways and tunnels, including one that is believed to lead to the nearby temple built by the workmen. A statue of Kellie Smith sits atop the temple alongside the deities, a mark of gratitude by the workmen to acknowledge his generosity towards them.
Best Time to Visit Kellie’s Castle
Peninsula Malaysia is a good year-round destination with fairly consistent temperatures. March-September is the dry season and October-February is the wet season, although rainstorms tend to be short-lived and happen mostly in the afternoon. Visiting Kellie’s Castle early in the day is the best option, meaning you will miss the worst of the crowds, the midday sun and any afternoon downpours.
Kellie’s Castle is a popular attraction for domestic tourists and so gets busy during national holidays such as Hari Raya. These times are best avoided if you prefer a quieter visit. Weekdays are also a better option than weekends.
Practical Information for a Visit to Kellie’s Castle
Opening Hours and Entry Costs
Kellie’s Castle is open every day from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm, with the last entry at 5.15 pm. Entry costs approx. 10 ringgit (approx. $2USD).
Tips for Visiting Kellie’s Castle
- Don’t miss the secret stairways and corridors
The mansion is filled with hidden passageways, including a staircase leading to a secret hiding place for emergencies and four safety exits, one of which is thought to lead to the nearby Hindu temple.
- Look out for ghostly apparitions
Visitors have reported hearing ghostly echoes and seeing ghostly figures within the mansion, including in the Reading Room, Helen’s bedroom and along the first-floor corridor. The plaques dotted around the building indicate where sightings have been made.
- Check out the information panels in the Main Hall
Make sure to visit the Main Hall to learn more about the history of the house, the Smith family and information about the interesting mix of architectural styles that influenced the house’s design. The small exhibition also includes photographs of the interior of Kellas House before it fell into ruin.
- Bring water and cover-up
The sun can get intense in Malaysia and some areas of Kellie’s Castle offer little shade, particularly the ruins. Make sure to bring water and sun protection. There is a small shop onsite selling water and snacks.
- Avoid peak times for a quieter experience
Visiting during quieter times (early in the day combined with avoiding weekends and national holidays) means you can explore at your own leisure without the crowds. The secret stairways and passageways are at their most eerie when empty, adding to the ghostly atmosphere that the site is known for.
How to Get to Kellie’s Castle
Renting a scooter is a cheap and convenient way of getting to Kellie’s Castle. The journey takes about 30 minutes from Ipoh and scooter hire is around 40-50 ringgit per day (approx. $8-11USD. You will need to be confident driving a scooter in traffic as the roads can get busy. Parking costs approx. 2 ringgit (less than $1USD).
Taking a taxi is another option, and very affordable. Using the taxi-hailing app Grab is the best and cheapest option, with one-way travel costing around 22-25 ringgit (approx. $5USD) making a return journey roughly the same price as hiring a scooter and even cheaper if you have a group of three or four people.
Places to Stay Close to Kellie’s Castle
The nearby town of Ipoh is the best place to base yourself for a visit to Kellie’s Castle. ‘The City that Tin Built’ is a popular spot for domestic tourists but less frequented by backpackers. The city’s heritage combined with its lack of foreign tourists makes it an interesting destination where you can enjoy an authentic local Malaysian experience.
The Brownstone Hostel & Space is the top choice for backpackers. With great social spaces and clean, private dorms, it makes a comfortable base for exploring the area.
Homey Hostel is a good pick for those on a shoestring budget with basic but comfortable dorms in a good location.
De Café & Rest House is situated in Old Town, within walking distance of the railway station. Highly rated by guests, it has capsule-style dorms and is attached to a café that serves good food.
Kellie Smith’s grand monument dedicated to his wife and built to enhance his social standing was sadly never completed and then left to fall into disrepair. Today it provides an insight into Malaysia’s colonial history and documents one man’s story of love, fortunes made and lost, and a life filled with luck, both good and bad.
Ipoh’s Kellie’s Castle tells both a personal story and a familiar tale of colonists leaving their mark on the landscape of their adopted country. From its fusion architecture to its fascinating history, Kellie’s Castle is an attraction that won’t disappoint.
Is Kellie’s Castle on your Malaysia itinerary? Share your experience with us in the comments!