Welcome to Malacca
Malacca, or Melaka, is the oldest Malaysian city in the Straits of Malacca, which has been ruled by different powers in colonial times due to its strategic geographic location. It has historical affiliations with the Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, Britain, and ultimately Malaysian; and a strong Chinese and Indonesian influence with the influx of immigrants in the last few decades. As a result, the old city center of Malacca is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site with architecture from different cultures, walking through the Melaka Heritage Trail is like “Round the world in one day”!
One interesting way to explore these heritages would be on foot, or, by trishaws, the flamboyantly decorated tricycle operated by the local drivers.
Explore Malacca on a trishaw and a cruise
We headed to Malacca from Kuala Lumpur Internal Airport (KLCC), there’s a bus connection between the KLCC and Malacca directly. Once we arrived and settled down in the hotel (which is very close to the Menara Taming Sari, the revolving observation tower), we headed out for a walking tour of the day!
The Historical City of Malacca is not big that it’s possible to explore on foot. However, it could be challenging to some, not because of the size, but the immense heat and tropical weather.
The temperature of Malacca stays above 30 degrees during the day, especially if it doesn’t rain. That’s why I have mentioned that it is not a bad idea to hop on a trishaw to get away from the sun and enjoy some cooling breeze. A one-hour tour costs 40 Malaysian ringgits (around US$12). It is a better transportation means to avoid traffic, and it’s easy to just hop on and hop off from one spot to another.
To have an overview of the city, we first hopped on the Melaka River Cruise. The Malacca River runs through the city into the Straits of Malacca. We hop on and off at the same spot, and by traveling on a small ferry we could just sit on the side and see many historic buildings, old warehouses, mangrove stands, churches, temples, and villas. Don’t forget to check out the bridges across the river, too! They all look different and colorful.
On the way, we passed the Flora de la Mar Maritime Museum. It is a replica of a Portuguese ship that sank off the coast of Malacca. The museum is a restoration of the ship and provides information about the trading history of Malacca, an important port where the East meets the West.
Once we got off the boat (the same spot we got on), we walked towards the Dutch square – which is merely 150 meters away.
Feel humble at the Dutch Square
Dutch Square is sort of like a symbol in Malacca. It is also called the “Red Square” (Well, not the same as the Red Square in Moscow) as all the buildings around the square are painted in red (decorated by colorful umbrellas and trishaws with fresh flowers). The square marked the history of Dutch colonization of the city in the 17th century.
The Christ Church, completed in 1753, was an eye-catching and the centerpiece of the Square. It is probably the most photographed and featured place in many travel magazines and tourist books. The church was built by the Dutch and the bricks that built the church were specially shipped from Holland.
The size of the building is not big but it has an important historic value and sentiment to the locals; visitors are free to enter and explore the interior of the structure – but note that photography is not allowed. More, the square is surrounded by other spots of interest like Stadthuys (the Museum of History and Ethnography) and Queen Victoria’s Fountain (and then the following looped in my head: I threw a wish in the well; don’t ask me I’ll never tell…).
Have a taste of delicious Malay food
One thing that you won’t be disappointed in Malaysia is the vibrant and delicious food scene. Not only the city is filled with food centers and markets (Jonker Street is the epicenter of food and shopping), but also there are a number of well-known diners or local joints that always have a long queue at the entrance during lunch or dinner hours.
We headed to Donald & Lily, a small joint that’s on the other side of the river, but I was told they have the best Laksa in town. I am sure every traveler has a long list of “must-try” food and restaurants in Malacca; sadly, too much food, and too little time! Donald & Lily is a popular place with simple, authentic, and yummy local cuisine. Nasi, Laksa, Kuay Teow… and so much more! We had a great time because, to me, it’s always fun to enjoy local food in a local way.
Another famous cuisine that is well-known in Malacca is the chicken rice balls. Yes, while chicken rice is not exclusive in Malacca, you will hardly find that the rice is shaped like a ball.
Chung Wah Chicken Rice is located quite conveniently in the city center and it’s hard to miss with the constant long queue outside the shop under immense heat (a.k.a. avoid coming at peak hours). It’s all about the shape, I have tasted much better chicken rice in Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. The rice balls are too gimmicky and unless you are really determined, I would say it’s not worth queuing up more than 20-30 minutes for that.
Visit Portuguese ruins on Saint Paul’s Hill
After the great meal, we strolled through the allies in the town and re-charged for our city walk in the afternoon. Crossing the Malacca River again, we reached Saint Paul’s Hill.
Saint Paul’s Church was built 500 years ago in 1521, and it had been a fort on the hilltop. Both Portuguese and Dutch have left their marks on this structure. Although the church remained in ruins, we could still appreciate the architecture up close and enjoy the view of the city all the way to the ocean (from the highest viewpoint).
The Portuguese tombstones in the church have inscribed the history of colonial times. The trail connects both sides of Saint Paul’s Hill. Therefore, it’s possible to go up one side and proceed with the journey on the other side of the hill.
Learn about Baba Nyonya
Baba Nyonya, commonly known as “Peranakan” means descendent in Malay. “Baba” is male, and “Nyonya” is female. They can be traced back to centuries ago when the Chinese emigrated from China and eventually settled along the coast of the Straits of Melaka. The Chinese settlers married the local tribes resulting in a distinct ethnic group with their own tradition, culture, and customs.
One distinct feature is their food, while Peranakan cuisine (Nyonya food) has its own signature and its restaurants can be found across Malaysia, Singapore, and other places like Hong Kong. If you want to know more about their history and daily lives. Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum is a small museum with some interesting and lively showcases of the Baba Nyonya heritage.
Check out Hindu and Chinese Temples, Mosques… and many others, all on one Melaka Heritage Trail
There are other heritages from different countries and cultures to explore in one old town. Crossing the Maleka River again we just enjoyed our stroll, freely wandering in the city center and visiting places like Hang Li Poh’s Well, Dutch Graveyard, Melaka Sultanate Palace, Cheng Ho Cultural Museum, Hang Jebat’s Mausoleum, Kampung Mosque, Sri Poyatha Vinayagara Moorthy Hindu Temple, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. They are all located closely next to each other, and it was quite interesting to see so many places in different styles in one day as if I just traveled around the world. Follow the spots in the following map and design your own itinerary!
Jonker Street Night Market
Later in the day, it was so hot that we had to cool down and take a break at the Dataran Pahlawan Melaka Megamall, which is a huge shopping mall where the locals could hang out. We had ice cream (and shaved ice) and then we took a rest shooting arrows ~ :P.
So after a quick change back at the hotel, we headed out again for dinner and there’s no place else than the Jonker Street Night Market.
Jonker Street was in the middle of the Heritage Trail, so we had already covered a little bit of the street during our walk in the day. However, the 500-meter-long street transforms itself into a vibrant night scene when the road is closed down for traffic and food trucks and street stalls are set up.
How could a day trip be complete without a walk through the shopping carts and yummy local food? They had a wide range of “tourist” gifts but my mind was set on the 1,000 pairs of flip-flops. Then we immersed ourselves into the Malay food nirvana with Laska, finger food, dried snacks, fruits, durian-flavor delicacies, and the list goes on and on… For those who had a long day walking, sit down and relax at a roadside restaurant, enjoy a cold drink, and witness the hustle and bustle looking out.