I was planning my solo trip to Thailand when I found out my friend Vivian from home was going to be posted to the city of Melaka (English: Malacca). Without much persuasion, I decided to change course and head south instead of going up north.
The historic city Melaka is only 1.5 – 2 hours’ drive away from Kuala Lumpur. I was told that public transport is easy and convenient so I made my way to the bus terminal on Friday morning and ended up being impressed by how organised the station is run. The journey was smooth and surprisingly, devoid of the much-anticipated traffic with the long weekend ahead and I arrived at Melaka exactly two hours later.
Melaka has a rich history and culture. From the cultural aspect, there is the colourful baba nyonya heritage born of the adoption of the local Malay culture by the Chinese noble descendants through the intermarriages of the two races since centuries ago, when Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho 郑和) brought his fleet of ships to Melaka in 1459.
History wise, the early colonisation by the Portuguese (1511-1641) and later the Dutch (1641-1798) before the British rule (1824-1942) and the Japanese occupation during World War II (1942–1945) is evident in the European architectures that have survived the ravages of wars over the course of history. With the rich history, Melaka was first declared a historic city and later in 2008, the city centre was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was my first trip to Melaka and Vivian was tasked to be the tour guide for this wide-eyed wanderer. As the city centre of Melaka is not big, it did not take us long to visit most of the famous landmarks.
historical and cultural exposure
Our first outing was the night market at Jonker Street that are held only over the weekend from Friday to Sunday.
Since the roads in the heritage site, the heart of the city are narrow and with it being the main tourist attraction, the traffic is very busy and parking space scarce. The day we were out and about, we managed to park our car in an open-air carpark somewhere off Jonker Street before we ventured out for our meandering through the historic part of the city.
It was interesting to see the old buildings that line both sides of the narrow streets with old shops mixed with the new. On Harmony Street, it is not difficult to see why it was named so with the century-old Chinese temple, mosque and Indian temple situated in close proximity to one another.
When we came out of Jonker Street and within walking distance after crossing a busy street, there was the famous Dutch Square with the unmistakable colonial red buildings.
Stadthuys – old Dutch, meaning city hall/municipal town hall. I asked my local Grab driver when we drove past the area upon my arrival how he pronounced the word and he said, “We call it the Red Building/Bangunan Merah.” It was a face-palm moment for me! In the end and naturally, I texted my Dutch friend and he said it is pronounced as “stadt-haus”, so it was sorted!
We walked past the Stadthuys and took a very short walk up St. Paul’s Hill next to it. Originally built in 1521, St. Paul’s Church is the oldest church building in Southeast Asia.
The weather was great that day with blue sky but it also meant heat, almost unbearable heat even for Malaysian like us! We sat at the doorsteps of one of the side doors of the old church to enjoy the soothing breeze before we moved on to the last landmark we were going to see that day.
A’Famosa is a former Portuguese fortress built in 1511. The Porta de Santiago, a small gate house, is the only part of the fortress that still remains today. It is one of the oldest European architectural remains in Southeast Asia.
In Melaka, apart from the culture and history, one gets to explore the artworks too!
We also made time for Encore Melaka, a Melaka-themed historical and cultural performance using state-of-the-art theatrical technology in an impressive modern theatre. It is also the first Impression Series out of China.
I guess I came with very high expectation due to the simple reason that it is an Impressive Series so I was slightly, just a tad disappointed with how the story was presented. Nevertheless, I was still impressed with the whole performance especially with the experience of the 360º revolving audience platform and the water (real water!) scene. I would recommend the show as it is extraordinary for Malaysia to have such a sophisticated purposely built theatre and for the exposure.
gastronomical exposure (or the lack of it…)
Visitors and Malaysian alike boast about the food in Melaka but unbelievably and much to our regret, Vivian and I had trouble getting into a few of the famous nyonya restaurants. The reality is, once the restaurants are top-ranking outlets or being highly recommended on the internet or social media, everyone wants to try and when the people flock in, one can hardly be surprised to see the massive queues outside the restaurants.
A couple of times we ended up at the hotel’s Premier Lounge which I personally liked due to the exclusivity, the peace and quiet, the not so elaborate but still considered a very good variety of food and beverage and the view of the Straits of Melaka.
I like Melaka… I like the history, culture, street art, old buildings and quaint little cafes. I am sure I will be back again to have a proper taste of the famous nyonya cuisine, have a drink by the river in the evening, visit the museums that I missed out this round, hunt for all the street art and get my pretty nyonya kebaya.