Melaka has recently acquired the joint title of a UNESCO world heritage site with Georgetown, Penang, and wandering through the petite narrow streets of the old town you can see why. The small quirky town exudes calm vibes, it has a colourful history and unique heritage roots. The city itself of Melaka is like any other city in Malaysia, so stick within the walls of the heritage site to be blown away by traditional Melaka.
Melaka has been a place which has been continuously conquered by colonizers and it was once a kingdom. Due to its strategic position and its bustling charm of the place, competition has been fierce to keep Melaka under its rightful owners: the Malaysians. Because of its vibrant history, important role in the spice trade and and Malaysian’s already intermingled society, Melaka has many more ethnicities than Penang, like the Baba Nonya and the Eurasians, which makes Melaka an even more of a hybrid melting pot.
Chinatown is the most scenic area of town. Here you can walk past old men playing chess on rusty chairs, ladies having a natter over a fragrant herbal tea, and old streets titled in Chinese, “Carpenters Lane”, where the shops still sell the same trade, but in a modern nature. Artsy cafes which hang decorative art work on its walls are perfect to sip a coffee in, put your feet up and watch the world wander by. Art galleries are on every corner, selling paintings with Dutch esque houses painted in acrylics all stacked neatly in rows as if dominoes, whilst individual shops sell t-shirts by a national artist with amusing slogans such as “to lah or not to lah”? (Malaysians like to say ‘Lah at the end of every sentence, I am unsure really why). This relationship of houses with open garages selling oddly shaped metal pieces, local’s apartments standing next to traditional Kopitiam’s, with tourists shops selling souvenirs next door, creates an unusual concoction of sights and sounds. Ancient Chinese Temples like the ornamented Cheng Hoon Teng stand next to historic Hindu temples and the ever towering Masjid Kampung Lking, praising Allah for all to hear.
Take a walk along Jonkers street, famous for its weekend night market which locals tell me with widen eyes that it: “gets busy”. Passing stalls that sell Durian ice cream (I tried it and it tasted like soy sauce mixed with gone off fruit), you reach the Baba Nonya Heritage Museum which provides an interesting perspective on the Nonya culture. Wander along the river side where you pass a numerous amount of street art that highlights Melaka’s individual cultures and ethnicities, standing proudly for all to see, then you reach the neatly structured Dutch Square. Stadthys is the centre point of the Dutch influence on the town, with the architecture of straight edges and oblong shapes surfacing each corner, created by red brick, which contrasts with the crazily decorated rickshaws over filled with flowers, stuffed toys and dance music, that encircle the water fountain- hoping for a customer (whom is most likely deaf, blind or stupid to go in one of those).
Walk up to the old romantic ruins of St Paul’s Church perched on a grassy hill and watch the sun set over the horizon of Melaka. Soak in the view of the large ferry port where tankers wait like sitting ducks, impatient to get on with their journey. The view is ruined by the towering complex of the Holiday Inn and the incredibly tacky Menara Taring Sari– which offers a 360 view of a city. Wander through the cobblestones of the church reading Dutch inscriptions on grave stones, making a wish in the well and paying your respects to those in the grave yard. If you walk to the other side, you get a glimpse of the beautiful Porta De Santiago, surrounded by old rusty cannons. A crumbling gate entrance, the inscriptions are delicately carved into stone and are surprisingly intact (after being bombed by the British). Unfortunately this is the only site remaining of the Portuguese influence in Melaka. Bizarrely, this site is opposite a mega mall filled with expensive retailers and air conditioning. I find it strange that the past and the present are placed so close together- a juxtaposition that blows me away.
Melaka also has a Little India area, filled with sari shops and deliciously tasty Indian food, however I didn’t get my tasty tandoori chicken from here, but rather Pak Putra, set in a district just outside of Chinatown and offers superb dishes that you cannot fault with. Popular with both locals and westerners, sit outside to get the entire immense experience. Opposite here is the only internet cafe in Melaka so if like me, you haven’t caught up with present time and present travellers yet- come here to connect with the outside world. Other dishes that are lovely (and I’m happy I had the excuse to try for my food documentary) is Baba Laksa– a chilli coconut broth filled with tofu, meat, noodles, vegetables and a cracker- a delightful combination. I also had Hainese chicken with rice balls, (balls of rice funnily enough) which makes eating rice with chopsticks a lot easier, and after being dipped in sweet chilli, it pleasantly crumbles in your mouth with the succulent chicken. Malaysians like to have bones with their meat and have managed the art of sucking all the meat off, so if you do receive a dish like that- do not complain, that is the traditional style. Here, any of these dishes washed down with a traditional tea tarik (tea with condensed milk which adds a sweet kick to the taste) or a lime ice tea, is pleasantly refreshing. These dishes are popular and are easy to find in Chinatown.
Melaka is a lovely place to visit, eat your body weight there and browse in shops. There are a few tourist sites but it is more of a place to soak up and breathe in the atmosphere, rather than explore. Try eat as many different dishes as you can- it’ll be worthwhile.