Melaka was a wonderful unexpected surprise. There were a plethora of great places to eat, sleep, shop and sightsee. Since its founding in the 1400’s, this quaint little city exchanged hands through the centuries from the Chinese, to the Portuguese, to the Dutch and then finally the British in the 1800’s. Hence the melting pot of people; Chinese, mixed Indian/Malay, and Eurasians (Malay/Portuguese). The dramatic differences in architecture is also predominate throughout the city.
As happens frequently in Asia, Melaka wasn’t part of our original plans. Our rental car once we got off the Perhentian Islands fell through last minute leaving us with no transportation to drive through Malaysia. The original plan was to pickup our rental car at the travel agent once we arrived to the mainland and drive through Malaysia down to the Singaporean border, stopping off at various spots such as the Cameron Highlights. However, the speedboat was three hours late picking us up and although our hotel said they called the travel agent, our hunch is that they gave our car to someone else. Our only option was to take a taxi one hour to Kota Bahru airport and rent a car or try to get a flight out. As it was getting too late to drive to the Highlands and pick strawberries and tea, we decided to hop on the next flight to Kuala Lumpur (the only place you can fly). Once in KL airport we decided to hop a bus to Melaka, which is 2.5 hours south of KL, getting us into Melaka around 8pm.
As in the rest of Malaysia, we had an amazing time in Melaka and loved our experience with the Malaysian history, culture and people. Malaysians surprised us once again with their amazing hospitality and kindness. Everywhere people were considerate, helpful and eager to strike up an intelligent conversation about politics and life in general. As a tourist we felt very welcomed by the locals in Melaka. The tuk-tuk drivers get into the spirit by decorating their tuk-tuks with vibrant colors, themes and multi-color lights at night. Many of them have boom boxes playing music while they cheerfully drive you around town.
Our first night in Melaka we headed out to a nearby wine bar/club/restaurant. We were surprised to see quite a few locals out on a Monday night, and it felt like people in Melaka were thriving compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. After dinner we headed to another local club and quickly became friends with the DJ, who enlightened us on Malaysian food, culture, politics and music. He even bought us lotus nuts (basically cooked chickpeas) from a local sales boy who came into the bar with his basket full of nuts. After stumbling upon another club that seemed to be a cross between a gentlemen’s club/karaoke show, we decided to call it a night.
We set out early the next morning to tour around the historic parts of Melaka. Melaka’s chinatown is the center of its downtown with beautiful historic buildings from the Portuguese and Dutch era. The town square and Christ Church, previously old whitewashed buildings from the Dutch time, were painted red by the British in the 1900’s to save on cleaning costs. Heeren St. is Chinatown’s main street which is lined with artistic and tourist shops, as well as restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately, we just missed the weekend Jonker’s Night Market, when the streets are transformed each Friday and Saturday night. We were surprised by the diversity and quality of the arts and crafts compared to the rest of Southeast Asian destinations.
We hiked up to Porta de Santiago which is cool remnant of a Portuguese fortress built in the 1500’s. At top the hill is St. Paul’s Church built originally by the Dutch. Lovely local musicians played music while we checked out the leftover stone tomb heads and soaked in the views of Melaka from the hill.
Melaka’s historic old city and new city is divided by a small river which is lined with beautiful buildings, restaurants and hotels. As we walked along the waterway on our last night in Melaka, we found ourselves wishing that we had more time to explore and relax in this peaceful and friendly little Malaysian city. Melaka should definitely be on everyone’s list when planning a trip around Malaysia.
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