Arriving here from beautiful pristine Singapore, I didn’t have high expectations. Melaka is a small city in Malaysia that is recognized by Unesco for the historical buildings left over by the Dutch. The spelling in Malaysia is Melaka but in other countries it’s Malacca. Some of the buildings are over 500 years old. Most of the buildings have been restored and some have been painted a maroon color by the Malaysians from the stark white color the Dutch originally chose.
One thing that really stood out is the Muslim population in Melaka. Most of the women were wearing a hijab (covers the head and neck, but leaves the face clear). It really stood out because it was so common. In Muslim religion wearing a hijab is a sign of modesty and privacy. In the malls there were stores dedicated to selling stylish hijab and Muslim attire for women. The strange thing was none of them were sweating to death like me, and I was in shorts and a tank top.
Outside of the historical structures, one of the strange but common things here were the colorful cycle trishaws. The cycle trishaw a.k.a. rickshaw is a means of transport that take mostly tourist on a historical tour of the city. Most of them are elaborately decorated with cartoonish or childish themes and lights. While in motion the driver plays music that blares from a huge speaker on the bottom on the seat attached. It was confusing but very popular with tourist. None of these are electric, the driver is peddling a bicycle with a huge cart/seat on the side.
We hired a driver named Eric who took us to historical buildings in Chinatown and explain the history of each one. His rickshaw was a Spiderman/Batman theme. He designed it himself. Eric told us he wanted a manly theme and was tired of seeing the Hello Kitty designs. I felt the same way. The structures we visited were:
Dutch Square is in the center of town by the river. The red buildings are the marker of the British administration that was built in the mid of 17th century. This is also a place of many souvenir tents and rickshaws touting people to hire them for the day.
Cheng Hoon Teng Temple was built in 1645 and is one of oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. We went inside to check it out. Mostly Chinese people were in there praying and lighting incense. The woodwork was beautiful and detailed.
A Famosa is a Portuguese fortress in Melaka. The Porta de Santiago is a small gate house and is the only part of the famosa which still remains in Melaka.
St Paul’s Hill was a steep walk up some stairs to see another ruin of an old Dutch cemetery and St Paul’s Church. Walking around the structures I noticed most of the headstones from the graves were Dutch people who passed away at considerably young ages. Most of the headstones averaged 34 years old and under. A guy selling water had his set up right next to the above ground tomb of a person from the early 1600s.
We stayed at Courtyard @ Heeren Boutique Hotel. The hotel was a mix of old and new. It is very funky and boutique at the same time. The hotel is right in the center of town and close to everything. Heeren street was once inhabited by the richest Malaccan families in earlier times. It was considered the “Millionaires’ Row” of Melaka. Most of the historical homes have been converted into hotels and restaurants.
It seems like Melaka made the best of what they had in the way of tourist attractions. I’m not a big fan of ruins and historical stuff unless it has to do with Jesus Christ or aliens. The only thing that really held my attention was that Unesco came in and recognized Melaka and Georgetown in 2008. I learned the Japanese army literally rode in on bikes and took over causing chaos to the people here in 1941. They left in 1945 and everything was peaceful again. Some of the natural beauty is left untouched from the historical times on the inside of the building which was beautiful to see.
Smoking isn’t allowed pretty much anywhere on the streets on Melaka. There are huge no smoking signs everywhere. One of the reasons is because of the historical buildings and fear of fires from cigarettes. Melaka is Malaysia’s first ever non smoking city. With that being said, people are still smoking on the streets, Malaysians included.
Chicken rice balls are the staple dish in Melaka. It’s considered a Chinese dish. Rice is boiled in chicken stock and then rolled into a firm ball. Every restaurant that serves them, claim to have the best. You can buy them individually or in quantities. At the end of the day, its rice in a ball. The taste ranges from bland to lightly flavored. Make me wonder who and how was forming these into balls. There were signs along the streets guiding you to chicken rice balls. We actually followed one of the signs and ended up at Ee Ji Ban Chicken Rice Ball. They were the best of the balls we had in Melaka. So good I posted them on Facebook. A few restaurants known for their chicken rice balls in Melaka have never-ending lines. This is one thing I wouldn’t wait on.
Indian food is also popular in Malaysia. Pak Putra Tandoori & Naan Restaurant was a favorite of ours. It’s a hole in the wall Indian restaurant that sets up tables in the parking lot of a shopping plaza nightly. They open at 5pm until 1am and are PACKED all hours of operation. The tandoori chicken is the most popular dish. Huge tandoori ovens are set up outside cooking endless pieces of chicken. A gigantic bowl of dough is also outside with a guy making the naan fresh for every order. It was really cool to see the process, but I wondered what happens when it’s pouring rain outside.
Jonker Street Night Market is on Fridays. Jonker street is blocked off and full of vendors and the shops are open later as part of the market. This was a lively and fun night market. Outside of selling souvenirs, the food choices were amazing. I got to try many different things at this market without spending a fortune. Taiwanese fried sausage rubbed with honey and served on a stick, sweet corn cut off the cob with butter, fresh fried potato chips and dim sum were some of the street foods I tried and really liked. Then there were tables set up with 5 different restaurants serving food to people sitting at them. You just pick the items from the different menus and that restaurant brings your food outside to your table. We chose items from 2 restaurants. Steamed clams with ginger and garlic, roasted stingray fish and bbq chicken wings were brought out to us for less than $15.00 (USD). Our night was a success.
Overall, Melaka was a cultural experience and my first introduction to Malaysia as a country. I’m glad I had the chance to experience the history of Melaka and scratch another Unesco sight off my bucket list.