Malacca: Wanderings

We had read about Malacca–that it was a pretty town, a seaside town, a town full of history–so we added it as a stop on our way from Penang to Singapore. I won’t dispute any of these adjectives, but I will add one more to the bottom of the list.

Pretty town

The Malacca River serpentines its way through the heritage area of Malacca (or Melaka as it is also written). Low buildings, most no more than 3 or 4 stories high, sit shoulder to shoulder along the water’s edge, fronted by a walkway in some areas. Many of the buildings have been painted with huge murals or colourful abstracts. Bridges across the river carry ornate facades. All provide plenty of interest for visitors.

Boat tours up the river are popular and a good way to see more of the riverfront (but you can walk the whole tour easily enough).

Sitting in a pub or restaurant by the river watching the world go by is a lovely way to while away some time.

Seaside town

Though Malacca is built on the sea and grew strong as a trading port, town life doesn’t seem to revolve around the sea. The only times we even saw the ocean were when we climbed St. Paul’s Hill, and when we visited the Melaka Straits Mosque.

Looking out to sea from the top of the hill

One early morning we borrowed our lodging’s bicycles and rode the 2.5km to the Melaka Straits Mosque on the created island called Pulau Melaka.

Sadly, right next door to the mosque is a huge unfinished building that is part of a massive abandoned project called Arabic City Melaka. Many of the other island buildings surrounding the mosque seemed to have very little activity (though that could partly be due to the early hour). A large hotel, just opened in December 2018, harboured many tour buses out front, so perhaps some new business is being brought to the area.

Other clues to the sea’s nearness are the large ship that dominates one area of town and provides the landmark for the Maritime Museum, and a submarine museum a little farther up the coast.

Historic town

Controlled at different times by the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and even for a few years during WWII by the Japanese, Malacca contains remnants of all of these cultures.

Christ Church Melaka, built by the Dutch in the 18th century
St. Paul’s Church, built by the Portuguese in 1521
A’Famosa Fort, built by the Portuguese in 1511
Proclamation of Independence Memorial

Kitschy town

This is my addition to the list and a description that we hadn’t read before. Malacca is a little too kitschy for our tastes. Tourism is the main economy in Malacca, so it is understandable that the city has put a lot of effort into tourist draws.

Unfortunately, the most prominent tourist attraction is loud and over-the-top–bicycle taxis built up with flowers, pompoms, frames, posters, stuffed animals, and speakers blaring mostly awful ear-worm music (Baby shark doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo a problem for you?).

Bicycle taxis line the Dutch Square

Right in the middle of Dutch Square, around which several historic red buildings are positioned, is an Instagram-ready I Malacca sign, making it difficult to incorporate the gardens in building photos. Bicycle taxis are often parked around the square as well. Nearby and in other areas we observed several Visit Malacca 2019 structures, also clearly designed for photos.

Partway up the river, we could see what looked like a monorail track. It followed the curves of the river on both sides and didn’t seem to go very far. Looking into it later we found that it had been built for tourists with the first phase opening in 2010. Technical problems shut it down. Reports are incomplete but some indicate that it was closed completely for 4 years, partially reopening in 2017 with only 1 of 3 stations operational. While on our boat ride, we saw no sign of a train on the track, and suspected that it was closed again.

On a later walk, Ken spied the little train on the track. Even if it is running, the 2.5 km track covers an easily walkable area at walkable speed, an area that is also visited by the riverboats. Instead of offering something new and different, the elevated beam-like track just adds visual noise to the riverfront.

There are a few high places from where you can view the city and surrounding coastline. The closest one to the central area is what looks like a water tower planted in a parking lot. The ring around it is a ride that takes you up to the top while rotating around the center tower. It returns to the ground 7 minutes later.

Malacca really is a pretty, seaside, historical town. It’s just too bad that the kitsch took front seat and distracted visitors like us from seeing the city behind the party mask.

Final days of Chinese New Year

We experienced part of Chinese New Year in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, and the final days in Malacca. There were plenty of firecrackers and fireworks and decorations still everywhere.

One day in town we happened across the beginning of a procession where several people carried ornate furniture-like structures hanging on poles while many others walked along chanting and cheering as the structure was rocked back and forth.

Later, as we walked back to our accommodation outside of the heritage area, we ran into the same group, though the procession had grown in numbers since we had last seen it. They seemed to be stopping at all temples and shrines until they finally arrived at their destination, a temple not far from our temporary home.

Food

The food here is similar to other parts of Malaysia with Malay, Chinese, and Indian being prominent cuisines. There are plenty of restaurants in and around the many malls. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights Jonker Street is taken over by a busy night market.

We did try a couple of new things.

Durian puffs are choux pastry puffs filled with durian-flavoured custard. Everyone warns you not to bite since the filling is likely to end up on the ground, but they are far too big for a single bite. If you like the taste of durian, which we have grown to appreciate, they are very good.

Durian puffs

In an effort to pick a non-spicy dish and something that didn’t come with rice (just getting tired of it), I asked about a series of menu items called Roti John (for example USA Roti John, Korean Roti John). Struggling with the images on the menu, I asked a few questions, sort of got answers, ordered the Japan Roti John, and ended up with a very strange dish. It was bread (the roti), egg, chicken (though I never did find this), cream corn, strips of banana, mayo on top of the banana, and coloured sprinkles on top of that, with a dollop of what I think was coconut jam in the center. I think I’m going to have to learn to eat spicy foods–this was edible, but not at all what I was expecting.


TripBits

  • Boat cruise: As with many attractions in Malaysia, there are two sets of prices–one for Malaysian citizens and one for everyone else. The cost for non-Malaysian adults is 30RM ($10 CAD).

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