Two hours to the South of Malaysia’s proudly modern capital lies the bustling and not quite so modern town of Melaka. It is one of two world heritage sites in Malaysia (the other being Georgetown, Penang) and a place that we decided to take a little road trip to.
For this post, I invited a contributor for the writing: my husband, James. He carries my heavy photo bag and our daughter at the same time when we go and visit places so I can snap away. So I wanted to show off his talent for writing and humour to go with the photos that, without his help, I couldn’t be taking.
As we arrived in the outskirts of town I dared to utter those words that all travelers should know better than to use – “well that was an easy journey”. I was quickly put in my place by the various saints and gods of travel who demonstrated their disapproval by ensuring that all forty-eight sets of traffic lights in the final seven kilometer stretch of road were red, and stayed red. Just to make the point clearer a countdown clock was placed above each red light to let me know that I was to wait there for at least another 200 seconds before being allowed the privilege to drive 17.5 metres to the next red light.
What was quite feasibly three days later we arrived in the town’s heart. We drove past the mud red Dutch buildings that occupy the centre and despite traffic that could make a grown man cry the red traffic lights seemed to fade into a distant memory. We definitely got the feeling that this place could be cool to hangout in for a day or so.
We found our lodgings, the superb “Rooftop Guesthouse”
very quickly. Located on a bustling road of shop houses in various states of repair it sat unassumingly between a shop selling wicker outdoor furniture and another whose products were not recognisable to human eyes. Inside the welcome of the owner was added to by the spotlessly clean interior and the homemade cake sitting invitingly on an antique table in the communal kitchen.
Having unloaded our gear we decided to explore. First, a coffee and the obligatory snack for our 4-year-old daughter. We sat outside on the banks of the renovated promenade and took in the vibrant murals that adorned the walls of every cafe and the boats of smiling tourists waving to our delighted little girl. Then, in the water about 6 meters away from us, a large monitor lizard swam past looking for his equivalent of our daughters chocolate ice cream. I would swear he was 6 feet long but maybe that’s just my own kind of fishermans tale.
Onward we went, in what can only be described as a rickshaw dressed up as a psychedelic peacock with it’s own R&B sound system. Unique is not the word. I am fairly confident that abundance of these machines are not the reason the city was awarded world heritage status but could well be a contributing factor to it being removed.
Our driver (is that right?) who was outrageously unfit for a man who rides a heavy pimped up bicycle for a living puffed and panted his way up the hill and dropped us off at the historic fort and church. The history of Melaka is interesting by anywhere’s standards. As a major port is was fought over and controlled by the Chinese, the Dutch and the English. Its status as a port declined after Singapore got its act together and it is said that shortly afterwards a man with a tricycle, some feathers and a bit of glue had a fantastic idea about how to turn Melaka’s fortunes around. The fort and church were nice and the graves at the church made for sobering reading. Most who lived there did not get past 30.
From the church we headed into town, Jonker street, opting to walk so as not to be responsible for the cardiac arrest of a local we strolled into the very obviously Chinese centre. The word bustling does not do it justice. Between the antique shops, stalls and eateries on either side of the road a mass of people talked, shouted, laughed and just about avoided getting run over. We wandered into shops, listened to a record on an old grammar phone which sounded so amazing we nearly made the most ridiculous impulse purchase of our lives but were luckily brought to our senses by the proximity of our daughter to a ming vase.
Leaving the shop we decided to look for somewhere to eat. The place had a Chinese feel so we thought it appropriate to eat Chinese. We did not have to walk far before coming across a restaurant with a massive queue of Chinese people outside of it. Despite it being called “Famous Chicken Balls” we decided to go with the crowd. Inside, it was not restaurant, it was a palace, a museum and one that served chicken balls and pork. A concept so brilliant no-one else in the world has thought of it.
On leaving we came across a stand for Cendol. A local drink supposedly renowned for its taste and refreshing qualities. What I quickly discovered was that it is not renowned for is its appearance. It looks like the bad guy from a 1950’s alien movie. But, when in Rome and all that. I took a careful sip and it was instantly forgiven its ugliness. Sweet caramel over ice with condensed milk with something unidentifiable but tasty placed on top. Our rickshaw chauffeur’s fitness suddenly made sense! Amazing! No other word for it.
An afternoon of strolling later we settled at the outside tables of the Geographer café for dinner, some Guiness and a cocktail. We sat and watched. The sun went down and the totally unplanned but quite beautiful street and shop lighting changed the feel of the place. We stayed and just soaked it up. It almost felt like we were sitting in a bubble of normal time within a time lapse video and that, for us was the real charm of the place.
Melaka is a town that seems to try hard to find its identity but sitting at that table it was clear that it does not need to look. It’s value and beauty are simply in its buildings, its people and its liveliness. I’m already thinking about when we can go back and working out how many calories I need to burn before I can have another Cendol.”
For more information read these posts on what to do in Melaka with kids and where to eat and stay in Melaka.