Our final stop of the two week Malaysia trip was Melaka, only 148km from Kuala Lumpur. Dubbed ‘The Historic State’, Melaka’s ancient centre was crowned a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 along with George Town, and much of its architecture has been protected. We were looking forward to exploring yet another beautiful colonial town to round off our time in Malaysia.
Melaka was one of Southeast Asia’s greatest trading ports back in the 15th century, with the Melaka River running through the centre of the state from north to south. This canal way, lined by quaint bars, restaurants and shops made for a nice evening stroll before dinner on our first evening. On our way to dinner a very friendly Malay tour guide leading a trail of tourists through the historic streets did a double take of Lawrence and his unusual features i.e. curly locks. He continued to say ‘Dude, your hair is awesome. God has blessed you’ and went on his way. We ate at Wild Corriander and ordered a delicious beef rendang curry, with Lawrence still beaming after the tour guide’s lovely compliments.
We spent our first full day completing a walking tour of the city we found online, beginning in Dutch Square, also known as the Red Square. This is one of the oldest areas in the city with the Stadthuys building, Melaka’s former town hall and governor’s residence during the Dutch Administration, built in the 1650s. Melaka was controlled by the Portuguese from 1511, but the Dutch launched several attacks and captured Melaka in 1641. The Dutch influence is obvious in the Stadthuys and the other Indian-Red buildings that dominate the southern bank of the Melaka River. Christ Church, one of Melaka’s first schools, and the General Post Office are also situated in this cluster of buildings in addition to a marble Queen Victoria Fountain and the Clock Tower. This area is also a prime pick up spot for tourists keen to hop on one of the many pimped up, glitzy rickshaws. Each monstrosity is elaborately decorated with plastic flowers, stuffed toys, flashing lights and their own playlist of pop music blasting from the speakers. We gave them a wide birth.
From the Dutch Square, we climbed up a path that lead to the summit of St Paul’s Hill. As we ascended we spotted the ‘pokok Melaka’ or ‘Melaka tree’, said by some to be the reason behind Melaka’s name. At the summit sits St Paul’s Church, now a roofless ruin filled with ancient Portuguese and Dutch tombstones propped against the crumbling walls. The church was built in 1521, making it the oldest church building in Southeast Asia. When the British occupied Melaka in 1842, the church was used merely as a storehouse for weapons and ammunition and was allowed to deteriorate further. St Paul’s also houses the empty tomb of St Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary as well as various other Dutch and British army remains found in the graveyard within the compound. The views from the top of the hill were pretty spectacular, allowing us to fully appreciate the European-Asian fusion architecture.
At the foot of St Paul’s Hill lies Porta de Santiago, the only remaining relic of A Formosa, a mighty fortress built by the Portuguese that once surrounded the city. All but this gateway had been destroyed by the British, and it’s said that Stamford Raffles was the one who saved Porta de Santiago. There are many ongoing digs within the city resulting in the discovery of many other important bastions based on ancient maps, as well as skeletons, cannon balls, old coins and pottery.
We popped in to the Independent Monument Museum, ironically once the Colonial Melaka Club. We learnt a little more about Melaka’s history and the various stints of rule by the Portuguese, Dutch, Brits, and Japan. After four centuries of foreign rule, Melaka finally gained independence in 1957. The museum was slightly outdated and while there was a lot of information to take in, the paragraphs of writing lining the walls were a bit overwhelming to read. We skimmed a lot of it and were soon on our way to complete the walking tour.
Jonker Street was the next stop, located in the centre of Chinatown. It’s supposedly bustling during the weekend night market with clothing and craft outlets as well as restaurants selling tasty local treats. Unfortunately our trip did not fall over a weekend so Jonker Street was more subdued than expected and the atmosphere was peaceful as opposed to the bustling street scenes its notable for.
But it was a good spot for linch with many cafes and restaurants living the pavements selling as assortment of traditional delicacies. We settled on the infamous chicken rice balls, a dish that looks unappetizing initially but it was actually really delicious and nice light lunch. The rice balls were rolled and made to perfection while the accompaniment of roast chicken was tender and juicy.
After lunch we avoided the hottest part of the day, taking refuge in the Stadthuys building, which comprises of several museums within the complex. The exhibitions were, again, a little dry bit it was a beautiful building and worth a visit for it’s architecture. To be fair to the museum, by this point we were very hot, a little drowsy and lethargic so not in the mood for digesting a lot of written information. Two months of travelling was taking its toll on the penultimate day, and knowing we were a day away from slobbing around in Singapore clearly affected our focus.
Many people had told us that we should visit either Melaka or George Town because of their similarities, not both. We certainly saw the similarities between these colonial towns but were glad to have experienced both and appreciated them in different ways. George Town was a priority for us, but we had plenty of time to squeeze in a couple of days in Melaka too, and it was to the south of Malaysia, on the way to Singapore where we were headed next. But aside from this, Melaka had some really beautiful architecture in the Chinatown district. The peaceful narrow lanes are very picturesque, and the riverside scenery is so peaceful. While George Town wins hands down for street art, Melaka also has a modest yet impressive selection dotted around the city that we enjoyed discovering on our strolls.
We found a lovely coffee shop to spend a couple of hours cooling off and relaxing in the afternoon (it had been a strenuous day after all). Back Lane Café had delicious coffee, chic décor and jazzy French music to enjoy.
For dinner we naturally gravitated towards a Malay-Indian that had rave reviews on Trip Advisor. We ordered the highly recommended cheese naan bread, in addition to a garlic naan, as well as a spinach curry and butter chicken. It was so good.
After dinner as the sun began to set, we caught an Uber to the Melaka Straits Mosque. We’d seen a couple of photos of this ‘floating’ masterpiece but upon arrival it was even better than we’d imagined. The mosque has been created on a man made island named Pulau Melaka, fabricated at the shoreline of the Strait and at the water level of the ocean. The mosque appears to be floating when the water levels are high, creating a mysterious and quite magical atmosphere. This is accentuated by the glowing green and blue hue radiating from the mosques lights, mirrored against the calm, unrippling sea water. It was quite possibly the best mosque we’d seen and was a real highlight of the Melaka trip.
We didn’t get up to much on our last day as we felt we’d seen most of the sights in a full day. Everything is jam packed into such a manageable area that you can fit everything into a long weekend (as many coming from Singapore tend to do). So we took it easy and headed back to the Backlane Café for coffee and to catch up on the blog. While we’d been keeping up to date with our Malaysian travels, we couldn’t find internet good enough in any of the places we stayed in Malaysia to upload anything. So apologies for the backlog of blog posts!
We had some incredible smoothie bowls and chai pudding at The Daily Fix for lunch, a café on Jonker Street. The afternoon was spent back in our hotel room pottering around, and then we took a stroll along the beach front, which sounds more picturesque than it was thanks to the cranes digging up mounds of silt. It was back to our favourite Indian for some Tandoori chicken and another potato spinach curry for dinner.
In retrospect, we wished we’d cut our Melaka trip a day short and headed to Singapore earlier. But it’s always nice to have a leisurely travel day to relax everyone as opposed to rushing around cramming in lots of sight seeing. But eventually, the time had come to catch the bus to Singapore, where we will be based until our flight home on September 19th! Aside from a couple or short trips here and there (to Borneo and Indonesia), we’re treating Singapore as our temporary home for the next couple of months. We can’t wait for the home cooked food, to wash everything that’s been festering in the rucksacks, and to finally unpack! It’ll be nice to be in one place for a while after a few months of hopping from hotel to hotel every few days. It’s time to recharge our batteries after 2 months of being on the move. We’re coming for you Mark and Silvia!