Days 89-91: Jess is a Wanderer was in Melaka whilst en route to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore. A fabulous former colonial city that’s also a UNESCO heritage site with funky food and street art.
I didn’t have a great experience when I first arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport but that’s another story for another day. As a result, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time there! However, whilst on the bus from Kuala Lumpur airport to Singapore, we stopped at a fascinating place called Melaka where pretty much, bar three of us, the entire busload of passengers alighted. It was set. The town had my attention. To see the full gallery, click here .
Later, I did some research and it turns out that Melaka – a former Portuguese, Dutch and British colony (at different times from the 16th to 20th centuries) is actually quite the place to be. On Malaysia’s west coast and only a few hundred km south east of KL, it’s an arty delight. With beautiful architecure influenced by Europe and Asia, colourful street art around every corner and quaint cobbled streets, there’s so much to see, and get lost seeing!
I had a marvellous three days wandering around, people-watching and sampling the varied and most delicious food. Also, I think Melaka takes first prize for the friendliest place I’ve ever been. I’m not kidding, it’s like everyone walks around with a smile on their face and the locals actually take time to say ‘Hello, good morning!’ It was really refreshing to be welcomed in such a manner and I felt like I’d stepped back in time.
I stayed in a tiny guest house called Bala’s Place. It may not be to everyone’s liking as the ‘front desk guy’ aka the one with no English who sits staring at his phone, chain smoking and burping is most likely to be your host during your stay. Still, at 35RM per night (around £6) it’s perfect. Yes, the rooms need a lick of paint and the bathrooms are down the stairs but… are we here to see Melaka or are we here to stay in a fancy hotel. Though, saying that, if you do want a fancy hotel, there are plenty of those scattered around. Lots of places advertise as being ‘boutique’ and do look like they’d be wonderful to stay at. Alternatively, in the CBD and away from the historical Old Town, there are luxurious hotels aplenty. All the big brand names can be found down there. A place I never really ventured to!
Anyway, let’s talk about Jonker Street. This place, aka Chinatown, is host to a night market on the weekends and becomes a real hubbub of activity. Sadly, I never saw the market as my stay was wholly during the week. I even extended as I had such a fab time! But this street is lined with quirky little shops selling all manner of homemade and handmade treats and goods. Whether you’re looking for clothing, carved wood or simple souvenirs, they have it all. There are also so many wonderful places to eat. Each cafe, restaurant and bar has its own quirky take on serving food and drinks and the menus are a mix of western and local food. One place was even serving rice out of a pineapple. Another specialised in shaved ice drinks! This place has it all going on and if you’re a hipster… you’re in for a treat!
The main centre of town sprawls out from Dutch Square. Here there’s a clock tower and the famous Christ Church which was built by the Dutch back in the 18th century. Famous for its red design, Stadthyus leads to St. Paul’s Hill and church where some great city views can be obtained. Head down early – before 8am to get some photographs before the crowds arrive. Beyond St. Paul’s hill you can see the Dutch graveyard, the independence monument, A Famosa fort, Menara Taming Sari (the large tower which revolves) and ultimately Masjid Selat aka Melaka Straits Mosque and by far the most beautiful mosque that I’ve ever seen in my life. And having lived for six years in Egypt, I’ve seen a lot of mosques!
In the opposite direction, the town reaches the river and a walk along either side of the riverbank will appeal to your inner art-lover. Building after building is scrawled with bright colourful murals, designs and paintings galore. Around every corner it seems there’s another piece of work to be admired. I spent hours walking along the riverbanks just taking in all the colours and pictures before me. As well as talking to the locals as everyone wants to stop you for a chat. There’s even the most colourfully decorated public toilets I’ve ever seen and they only cost 30c to use!
Along the streets, I advise you to veer off from the main paths and see what you can stumble across. There are some fabulous examples of architecture from the different colonial rules, as well as temples, churches and mosques. Everything has been influenced by something else and there’s so much to see. I think on one day, I must have seen more than 10 temples!
You can hire bicycles from many places and they’re usually less than $1 for an hour so a daily rate is exceptionally cheap. There are also tandem bicycles for the more adventurous among us. If you’re not feeling active, you can hire a pimped out rickshaw that’s decorated with various cartoon characters such as Captain American and Pikkachu and a driver will pedal you around to your heart’s content. There are also Melaka river cruises which are claimed to be a must-do activity whilst you’re in town. I passed up the opportunity because I preferred to walk along the river banks but boats are leaving all the time and it’s not an expensive way to spend an afternoon.
All in all, Melaka is really a place that’ll awaken your senses – the taste of the food, the sounds of the Hello Kitty rickshaws pumping out the bass, the sights of the street art and the smell of durian infused treats (depending on your feelings towards the famous Asian durian fruit you may not agree that they are treats!). If you’re in Malaysia, stop by and see this place for yourself.