The Big Adventure #7: Melaka

Decked out Rickshaws with fairy lights and stereos blasting, each with a sacred football sticker

Aside from mild pronunciation and spelling issues (Where is the K? Melaka or Mekala?) the city felt like a first step to Malaysian city culture.  Where Penang was historical and beautiful, it was commercial and colonialized too. Being another UNESCO World Heritage city Melaka was captivating. A small town with culture and history embedded throughout each corner, each person, each tradition. We chose to visit following rave reviews from fellow travelling bums like Rebecca at Articulate London, a favourite girl of mine. With dazzling rickshaws, old town history, and pineapple tarts Melaka was simply charming.

We arrived on bus after a 5 hour journey down from Penang – it cost us approximately 65 Malaysian Ringgits (£13/£14) for the two of us to get – wait for it – A LUXURY BUS. No more Thai maniacs whipping us around corners while we held chickens in our hands and beer crates with our feet. The seats reclined, the air-con left us feeling somewhat clean, the curtains closed, the roads were smooth...heaven. After wandering around the bus station for a good 15 minutes looking for our stop we jumped onto a bus for 5ringitts apiece with our rucksacks and sleepy heads in search of our new home. 

Melaka – previously known as Malacca -  historically was a small fishing village inhabited by Malays. Over the centuries there were power plays between the Malays, the Chinese, the Dutch and the Portuguese. It was held in Dutch power for over 150 years until the late 1700’s when the British took over Malacca following the french invasion of the Netherlands. Because of this the city is a complete hybrid of cultures – from the Dutch architecture of the Red Square to St Francis’ Church upon the hill.  Hostels, shops, Mosques and restaurants line the river that runs through the town: The Malacca Straits. (Funny story: as we wandered down the glittering river, dusk settling, fairy lights glowing, a small fishing boat sped past. We looked, in a daze, the lovely Melaka pulling us in, only to see that the surface of said ‘glittering’ river, was actually a shit load of dead fish. All dead. Floating on the surface. And the ‘fishing boat’? Scooping them up in a net and driving away with hundreds piled at their feet. We didn’t eat fish in Melaka. We didn’t know where they came from. It did however, smell. Bad.)

Draft Beer...Say what?

Courtesy of Jiong House Facebook

5 months have passed and the memories are fading, but I can still taste those electric Malaysian spices from our favourite curries. It felt like a school canteen – silver trays of mush and rice, spoons the size of your face, a dinner man watching, counting the pieces of chicken as you piled it up…SO MUCH CHICKEN. Its old, I know I’ve spoken about prices before – everything is so cheap. But both myself and the boy outdid ourselves here – for 16,500 Rupiah (around £3) we piled our trays with rice, chicken legs, curry sauce, omelettes, chilli paste, Naan, milkshakes and poppadum’s. Seriously? Never eaten so much in my life. Definitely my fat week.

Not to overdo it, but I must also mention what has come to be my most exciting discovery yet: Nyona Pineapple Tarts. I will do a recipe on these soon – working out the dairy/gluten replacements for the biscuit tarts etc., but these babies are addictive. They can come as little pastries or biscuits (I am more than partial to the biscuits of course) and can be found all over the town. If you can’t make it, pop into a local confectionary shop - they are all over the country and can found in most shopping malls! They are fantastic – you can sample so many different sweets – a very sneaky way to do a cheap meal if you are strapped for cash!

Courtesy of Tumblr

Just like Georgetown in Penang Melaka was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 – it is bursting with history and multicultural influences. Both the Dutch and British had a massive impact after the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty regarding Melaka and trading. Faith, belief and tradition fill every corner of the town – from dilapidated Christian churches to Mosques and daily Muslim prayer rituals.

Sightseeing wise Melaka is a strange one. There is a lot to do and a lot to see – but it can all be fit into a day or two. And requires a larger budget. Take the Duck Tour – it’s a car/boat that rides around the town and then hops into the river for a cruise. It looks bizarre. It looks quite fun. But it would have cost around £60 for the two of us – a weeks food budget? Not so much.

We explored the town, first stopping in the Red square, the colonial Dutch Christ’s Church towering tall in the centre. Also known as ‘Stadthuys’, here you can find the central bus stop, friendly local street sellers and blinged-out rickshaws offering a trip around the town for a less than reasonable price.  Several times each day roads around here will become blocked by buses full of Chinese and Malaysian tourists, fully prepared for their trip with camera’s and umbrellas. There is a hill behind the square, St Paul’s Hill, and atop – overlooking the state out towards the sea, is a crumbling church full of the stories of St Francis Xavier a missionary and teacher.

Every weekend (Fri-Sun) a massive market of street sellers and hawker stalls converge on Jonker Street – the main artsy road in the centre of town. The Jonker Street Night Market is absolutely fantastic – the food (again, Malaysian food obession) available was anything and everything you could ever ask for. Fried pancake balls with chocolate cream filling; pineapple tarts; chocolate covered grapes; chicken rice balls, cocktails etc. On the Friday we visited a large stage was set up at the end of a road, fifty or so seats filled with spectators watching what has to be the worlds worst choir, and a background with, rather strangely, a massive picture of Wayne Rooneys face.

Wiki Travel, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides – they all told us about Malaysia’s second largest, probably the best, Zoo. Outside of town it seemed like a simple bus ride to the terminal, then hop over to another for the zoo. We arrived at Stadthys around 10.15. No bus arrived to collect us till 11.30. It went the long way around. We arrived at the terminal at 12.10. The bus to the zoo left at 12.10. We missed it. The next bus, not an hour later as we were originally told, was cancelled. One pulled in at 2.15. We got on. The bus driver wandered off. He came back at 3.10. We got to the zoo at 4pm. It closed at 6. We paid – not the RM7 Everywhere told us, but RM25 each. We ran around, saw some animals, and left. The zoo itself was pretty good. But some of the animals looked so sad, desperate to escape in a way I haven’t seen at some others – we didn’t feel comfortable.

The way home – same fiasco. Waited an hour for a bus till, hungry and disappointed, we befriended another nomadic couple and hopped into a taxi all the way home. After splitting the price? We saved money. MADNESS!

Everywhere you look in Malaysia is another shopping centre, pulling you in with promises of food courts, bargain scarves and, perhaps the most seductive of all, AIR CONDITIONING. The hostel we had chosen – Jiong House was a simple fan room – air con a thing of distant memories. I now feel a lot of self-hatred. Here I am, sitting at 2pm in September in my bedroom. Dressing gown and slippers are on. Heating is on. It rains. It is windy. I miss the heat. Looking back to those days when we chose to spend the afternoon cool and comfortable with waffles and cushions, it was a low point. #1stworldproblems

Courtesy of Jiong House Facebook

Courtesy of Jiong House Facebook

Courtesy of Jiong House Facebook

Courtesy of Jiong House Facebook

Jiong House was another cute little place we found on Agoda – it was charming in that it felt incredibly homely. Plastered across the walls were adorable sketches with sayings, poems and house rules.  Downstairs was a living area with sofas and tables – people wandered in and out, all with a smile on their face and up for a good old-fashioned chat about travelling and where our next stop would be. Basic – yes. It was a simple fan room and the fan barely worked. The shared bathroom was more of a compartment – very damp and busy. The location was beautiful – Melaka is a very small town but Jiong was bang in the centre of town - for the price (I think around £6 a night)? I would be back in a heartbeat.

I adored Melaka – it was charming and ethnic. The community embraced its hybrid nature, welcoming travellers and giving them a real travellers experience. While I’m not sure I would return on a backpacking holiday, I would recommend to any first-timer in se-Asia. We have explored those sights, for us to visit again? Perhaps a nice hotel; more money. But on a budget? Skip it. time for another adventure. 

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