Melaka (or Malacca) is a historic city packed with crumbling colonial buildings and where the ghosts of pirates and merchants continue to fight over the treasures of the East. Melaka is often dubbed ‘soul of the nation’ and is one of the most popular destinations in Malaysia. People travel from all over the globe to explore this interesting city with its bustling markets, distinctive architecture and the alluring aromas characteristic of local cooking. Visiting Melaka is a unique experience with its rich historical background well worth the World Heritage Site designation awarded in July, 2008.
Exploring historic Melaka
There is a rich cultural heritage running through Melaka which can clearly be seen in the city’s market places, museums, temples and even its parks. Visitors who venture out of the city will find many areas of natural beauty such as beaches, countryside and forests boasting diverse wildlife.
But it is as a port and Europe’s foremost stronghold in the Orient that the city is most famous for, and countless battles have been fought in its streets with the blood of the Malays, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Chinese and Indians spilt.
According to the 16th century Malay Annals, Melaka got its name from a Hindu Prince called Parameswara who fled from Java. Legend says he was hunting in the area and witnessing a deer scaring his dog. He then decided to name his new capital after a nearby melaka (Indian gooseberry) tree as the thought it a prophetic sign about the weak overcoming the strong at this place. Another account holds that Melaka derives from the Arabic word Malakat which means market. But only much later in the 15th century did Melaka’s fortunes increased exponentially with the arrival of European colonisers.
What to see and do in Melaka
To get an idea of Melaka’s diverse makeup pay a visit to the Muzium Budaya, also known as the Melaka Cultural Museum. The Baba and Nyonya Peranakan Museum is situated in a carefully-preserved Peranakan heritage town house and is an interesting way to learn about the history of the city. There are Light and Sound Displays held at Bandar Hilir at 20:30 each evening that are great for young children. But remember that many of the shops, restaurants and museums in Melaka close on Tuesday, so if you have limited time in the city avoid this day.
There are a large number of richly decorated mosques and temples in the city and one of the most beautiful is the Al Azim Mosque. Like much of Malaysia, a number of religions are practiced in Melaka and to get a feel for this religious diversity take a walk along Temple Street.
Known as Jalan Tokong in Malay, each of the city’s three main religions is represented here with the Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese Temple, the Sri Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Hindu Temple and the Kampung Kling Mosque. You will also find a St Paul’s Catholic Church situated nearby.
If you need to cool down after exploring in the heat, visit Famosa Water Worldwhich is a contemporary international leisure park located at Simpang Empat, Alor Gajah. It is great for kids who may not appreciate all the history and museums. Shopping is a massive draw to Melaka with antiquities and souvenirs particularly well sought after. Head down Jonker Street for a look at the contrasting art works and trinkets on offer which are sourced from all over the continent.
Hospitality in Melaka
There are all manner of accommodation options in Melaka from budget dorm beds in backpacker hostels to the utmost five star luxury at high-end resort hotels. Discovery Cafe & Guest House has cheap rooms plus extensive communal facilities including internet access and a pool table. At the other end Heeren House is an intimate upmarket hotel with four poster beds and bags of colonial charm.
The best place to find a delicious cheap meal is at the Night Market, known as Pasar Malam. Take a seat at one of the wobbly tables, order a curry and watch city life unfold around you. But there are fantastic restaurants all over the city which serve up cuisine unique to the region. Peranakan or Baba-Nyonya food has recently become popular in restaurants to sate the demand of curious tourists. Dishes such as ayam pongteh (chicken in bean sauce) and ayam buah keluak (chicken served with bitter fruit) are typical.
There is not a dazzling array of nightlife in Melaka but a few pubs and discothèques occupy the Melaka Raya area with a few karaoke bars as well. Libra Restaurant and Cocktail Househas a decent selection of beers and mixed drinks, while the Honky Tonk Haven Cafe is an atmospheric place with views onto the Melaka River and is popular with expats and tourists.
Getting around Melaka is easy with all day bus tickets costing RM2/RM5 and taxis hovering at the express bus station. Trishaws bicycle taxis are also available for tourists wanting to move around town in style, but remember to bargain hard for a decent price (around RM40 should give an hour’s sightseeing). Those wanting to take a train must travel 38kms north to the station at Tampin, while coaches leave from the express bus station towards the north of town. From here there are direct services to KL, Singapore and all over the peninsular.