Founded by King Parameswara (14th century) & curated by many, Malacca or Melaka is a marvel of Malaysia.
Read this story for a list of recommended places to see, things to do, budget guest house /hostel to sleep, and food to try, with tips to make the most out of your budget trip to Melaka.
Night Market: Jonker Street was decked up and choc-a-bloc with people walking in every direction. Colorful lanterns and fairy lights gave it a festive character. Living statues would suspend your disbelief and, if you loosen your wallet, would take a breather to pose with you for pictures. Faint music in the distance from Geographers Café or trance beats from other pubs on the street would attract your steps. On the way, try yourself at shooting eight miniature plastic ducks carefully balanced on top of beer bottles to win a soft toy. My first round punched holes in the cotton screen stretched behind. In the second round though, a sniper’s soul must have possessed me as my partner walked away with a PokemonGo creature! Besides, shops in the area sold all kinds of souvenirs, like the one featured!
Places to See: Malacca flirted with various art forms. It had its share of galleries, museums (notably Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum) and cafeterias with tastefully done interiors. Buskers performed with magical sounding instruments, while 3D street graffiti donned the walls of old town. These, along with few other places to visit kept us on our feet through the next few days. From Chinatown, the Hindu and Buddhist temples and the mosques on Harmony street or the Christ Church and the Stadhuys, the streets of Little India, or the A Famosa fortress, it all made for excellent day excursions.
One afternoon we stepped out along the picturesque Malacca Riverfront to the delta, the fabled straits, and then turned toward the Portuguese Settlement, a colonial legacy. Parts of this route, without pedestrian-pathways, would force you to walk in a single file as cars vroom past. En route to the heritage, the large number of Japanese and Korean restaurants might remind you of the popular Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen or the Gangnam Style songs. The restaurants were, however, mostly traditional and with the day getting older, patrons began to queue up outside their favourite dinner joints.
As the sun went down across the straits, brightly-painted and well-lit Kristang (creole ethnic) houses on the sides of narrow walking lanes, lent a celebratory touch to the Portuguese Settlement. Personnel at the gated-entrance to the site issued parking tickets to the ever swelling number of vehicles. Satay stalls, fruit vendors and sea-side restaurants geared up for tourists and visitors for the evening. Starved, we began our ritual of stall-hopping, that ended with warm cups of Teh Tarik, a beverage similar to Chai.
Must Try in Melaka: All the walking had left us with achy legs and the thought of watching the same scenery on the way back wasn’t nearly as exciting. But, spending on cabs meant lesser money for everything else. The thought of a chilled beer as a reward was simply put, inspiring to get back on our feet! Speaking of rides, you might want to do what tourists do-try the colorful trishaws in Malacca. These are dressed to lure and are loud enough (with music boxes) to attract onlookers to your exotic experience!
On the day of return, I watched my caffeine intake and kept an extra shirt handy for the cold cold bus ride back to Kuala Lumpur.
Getting There: From Kuala Lumpur’s TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan), a bus ride of 2-3 hours costing anywhere between MYR 10-20 per person would bring you Malacca Central (Melaka Sentral). I used this website to buy the tickets. The way it works is you have to show the electronic receipt to the travel company’s staff at its TBS counter, who will then issue a proper boarding pass. As first time bus commuters, my wife and I grossly underestimated the weekend rush / long queues at these counters and as departure time ticked closer, the staff eventually called us out for check-in at a separate counter. Tip: Reach at least an 90 minutes prior to departure.
It was drizzling on the evening of our travel. Yet, the air-conditioner inside the bus must have been set to please polar bears (glimpse of the arctic). The real trouble starts when the bladder begins to knock on its doors. The last thirty minutes of the ride, I was working my sphincter muscles. Tip: Avoid too much caffeine or artificial sweeteners on the day of your travel and always carry a shawl or a light jacket for bus rides in Malaysia.
Sleep: Voyage Guest House, on Harmony street in Malacca’s Chinatown, was a peculiar non-smoking backpacker’s property. Peculiar because, it was run from two buildings separated by fifty meters, with both sporting spacious lobbies for its guests to play board games, try yourself at the pool table, read books, watch DVDs, play the guitar, surf the Internet or simply chat away with fellow travellers. Hostelworld offered a private room (with shared restrooms on the ground floor) for MYR 60 per night for two people. While a dorm bed cost MYR 23 per person. The rent included a basic breakfast of eggs, toast, and coffee (served until 1030 am) and free WiFi.
Voyage Hostel was peculiar also because of the interesting people we met there. David, a long term guest, followed a strict schedule of reading, reading, and reading on the weekdays. On the weekends though, he transformed himself into the Sheep Abuser, a name given to him by Hash House Harriers, the drinking club with a running problem. Richard, a tatted middle-aged biker had three expensive bikes parked inside. He was hunting for a house on the outskirts of the city to move-in. Azumi had left her home in Japan a while ago and was yet to decide her next destination. Jose, a compulsive traveller, carried the heaviest backpack ever packed in the history of backpacks. Naomi, a schoolteacher living in Malacca, would sometimes stop by to join the free-flowing evening conversations (all names changed). Andrew, the hostel’s easy-going manager, had checked us in about 0900 pm, handed over the electronic access key to the main entrance and had pointed in the direction of the night market.
Food: Malacca seems to have mastered the art of serving food on a stick. Be it satays, fruits, or ice-creams: the stick-stalls are everywhere. While in Malacca, you must try rice ball soup and the evergreen roti chanai. The city sports numerous cafeterias too. The various aromas would fill your nostrils and lodge itself somewhere deep inside, until you tried the irresistible.
Getting Around: Within the World Heritage City limits, you could walk to every point of interest. For Portuguese Settlement, if you like, rent a bike from your Chinatown hostel.
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