After a hectic few weeks in Malaysia, our last stop was Melaka, where we planned to relax and not do very much.
One of the most difficult things in wiriting about Melaka is how to spell it! Is it Malacca? Melaka? Melacca? All are used but Melaka seems to be the Malay spelling so I’ll use that.
With an old town that is a UNESCO World Heritage site stuffed with colonial architecture, on paper it sounds like Penang, but in reality they are very different places.
Despite being ruled by the British for over 100 years, most of the old town is far more influenced by the Portugese and Dutch colonial eras. It gives it a unique feel.
Much of the beauty of Malacca is just walking around and exploring wherever you feel like it. The main sights are clustered around a compact area and only a few are essential, so it gives you freedom to explore.
The centre of the old town is ‘Red Square’ – no relation to the Moscow one of course, it is simply a nickname because all the buildings are painted red. This was done by the British as the white buildings were becoming stained from the spitting of betal nut, so they painted everything betal nut red!
Aside from the obvious centrepiece of the clock tower, the most important building in the square is The Stadthuys, one of the oldest Dutch buildings in Malacca. Previously the town hall, it now houses several museums.
A short walk away, up a small hill is the 15th century St Paul’s Church. It is little more than a ruin now but still a magnificent building giving a great view over the city. Inside and around it are lots of old Dutch graves.
The most famous street in the town is Jonker Street. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday a huge street market is held here, covering everything from food to jewellery to household goods. It is touristy, yes, but the interesting thing is that it isn’t aimed towards western tourists like most are, more towards Singaporean and Malay, who comprise the bulk of tourists to Malacca.
It is a great place to fill up on food really cheaply. Along the main road there are simple things like Taiwanese sausages and durian puffs, but at the end there is a proper street food section with fresh clams and oysters at ridiculously low prices, and staples like laksa and char kway teow.
Something unique to Malacca is the hundreds of kitsch Hello Kitty themed cyclos around town. There are virtually no other types – every single one is covered in flowers and HK dolls. It’s bizarre but kind of hilarious.
They are at least a better method of getting around than the Melaka monorail. Only 1.6km long with 2 stations, it opened in 2010 and closed almost straight away after problems, and has yet to re-open. The track still stands, spoiling the riverside view just outside town. The whole thing reminds me of the Simpsons monorail episode.
The river is a great way to escape the heavy traffic and have a nice walk. For a small section there are some cafe’s and restaurants on the riverside – it almost feels like being in Europe.
All along the river are beautiful murals depicting Malacca’s history, which makes for a very photogenic walk.
We walked it all the way to Kampung Morten, the only traditional village remaining in Malacca. We wanted to visit a small house which the owner runs as a museum of sorts but the opening times are a bit random so it was closed (it is someones house after all). Instead we just had a wander around the kampung. I wonder how much longer it will survive, as there are some huge apartment complexes being built along the river.
Buses leave every 15 minutes or so from Bersepadu Selatan in Kuala Lumpur, which is easily reached by KTM train. The fare is cheap, less than RM20, and takes less than 2 hours.
All buses arrive at Melaka Sentral, from which you can get a local bus into town for pennies. Aside from this though avoid the local buses as there is no schedule and they are not very reliable. When leaving we gave up waiting after half an hour and took a taxi instead.
We stayed at Old Town guesthouse, which is one of those rare places where everything is just perfect. From the incredibly helpful owner, to the cosy rooms and awesome common area, it’s a guesthouse we’d highly recommend. We paid RM58 per night which is a bargain. 10/10