The Charms and Quirks of Melaka

August 09, 2017 ASEAN Backpacking

Another one ticked off my list. 

I have always been interested in Melaka (also known as Malacca), probably because I live in a city, which sometimes disregards its heritage.  So, when I was finalizing my annual ASEAN backpacking trip with my friends, I diverted from the group’s itinerary for a brief solo travel and chose Kuala Lumpur as my jump off to Phuket instead of Singapore.  I allocated two days for this trip, and it was enough to be totally charmed by Melaka.

I took a bus from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and in less than three hours, including waiting time and the taxi from the bus terminal to the hotel, I already caught glimpses of the iconic salmon-colored building of this UNESCO world heritage city. 

It was mid-afternoon, and the weather was perfect for a walk.  So, I didn’t waste time.  After dropping off my bags at The Rucksack Caratel, my Instagram -friendly Melaka accommodation, I took hold of a map and began exploring on foot.

That was the first thing that charmed me in Melaka.  It’s a walkable city. 

The hotel was a short walk to the Dutch Square or the Red Square, where I began my short stint at being a flaneur. 

Being surrounded by these Dutch structures was a like a trip back in time.  There was the Stadhuys (the oldest remaining Dutch building in Asia), the Christ Church, Queen Victoria’s Fountain, the Clock Tower, and a windmill across the street.  Except that there were also the Melaka’s glitzy trishaws that blast pop hits and barfs Hello Kitties, Pokemons, and SpongeBobs; and the Chinese tour guides shouting instructions to its wards to pull you back into reality.

The Red Square is the starting point for the trishaws, but I opted, of course, to continue on foot. 

From the Red Square, I already spotted the famed Melaka River, which was the main artery of trade for Melaka, and the entry point to another popular tourist draw the Jonker Street.  I almost got derailed from my saunter when I saw these Caucasians enjoying their beer in a pub by the river, but I looked away and continued walking up to the pathways that lead to St. Paul’s Hill.

The main attraction in that hill is the St. Paul Church, the oldest church building in Malaysia and the Southeast Asia.  It is also part of the Melaka Museum Complex, just like the Stadthuys and the A Fomosa Ruins, a Portuguese fortress, which is the oldest surviving European architecture remains in South East Asia.

The stroll up the hill on that late afternoon was just perfect to wake up my limbs that have been numb from the eight hours travel from Manila. 

I spent a good thirty minutes exploring the summit of the hill, which also offers a good view of the city aside from the picturesque ruins of the chapel.  

Down the hill after, I rewarded myself with a cool drink from a vending machine using old coins I collected from my past trips to Malaysia.

After the Melaka Museum Complex, I decided to see more of the city, this time on a bird’s eye view.  Armed with my map, I searched for the Taming Sari Tower and found it after less than fifteen minutes’ walk.  I wanted to wait for the sunset for the ride, but it was Ramadhan, and it was scheduled to close that time. 

So, took the ride earlier than planned to see the rest of this remarkable historical colonial town.  At the height of 80 meters, the ride offered a spectacular and panoramic view of the city, including a patchwork of trees, farmlands, and beaches.

That walk alone was enough for me to love Melaka, but I knew Melaka is not just European.  What makes Melaka more lovable is that it beautifully melds its colonial influences with its Malay and Chinese roots.

So, it was Chinatown for the rest of my two-day Melaka outing. Plus, food.  I knew that you have not really been to Melaka if you haven’t sampled its cuisine. 

Baba Nyonya dishes is foremost of these. The name “ Baba- Nyonya” refers both to the people and the cuisine. Baba means father and Nyonya means mother.   Back in the 15th century, when Melaka was one of Southeast Asia's greatest trading ports, Chinese merchants seized the chance by marrying local women, thus saturating the city with its own culture.

I learned more about Baba Nyonya from the Baba and Nyonya Heritage House Museum, which showcases the local history of this ethnic race also known as Peranakan. 

The museum is located parallel to Jonker Street, at what is known as the “millionaire’s row” due to its luxurious houses.  The Chan Family owns this nineteenth-century house museum, which was opened to the public in 1985.  It is another step back into a bygone time with a look at wedding traditions, birthday celebrations, funeral arrangements, even mahjong sessions. 

A less opulent museum, Casababa Gallery, is located across the street.  The best part of this museum, pictures are allowed.  The caretaker, knowing I was traveling alone, acted as my photographer even coaching me on how to pose like a Nyonya. 

The rest of my trip to Melaka was about handmade soap studios, whimsical artworks, and souvenir shopping, all within the vicinity of Jonker Street.  Too bad I missed the night market, but it's a reason to come back.  Two days was enough to see Melaka, but not enough to experience Melaka totally. 

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