This summer, my family and I had the pleasure in visiting our ancestral crib, Malaysia. I may bear the city girl spirit, but whenever my feet meets the warm earthern soil of Kuala Lumpur, my spirit craves for the green luscious countryside and humble small towns. Thus, an escape to Melaka was top on my itinerary list!
About 140 km from the city, Melaka is easily accessible by car, taxi or if you fancy an increase in your blood pressure number, hop on the Express bus commonly piloted by F1 wannabes, overtaking throngs of cars and oil container trucks along the wide stretched highway, framed by towering palm trees.
I was happy to be back in Melaka again catching up with family members and relatives whom I haven’t seen for five years and mostly reliving my childhood memories of this historical and food iconic state.
If I could paint a picture of Melaka with a palette of words, it would have to be the following. Read on!
1. Historical sites
Onced famed for its spice trade and commerce between China, Indonesia and Siam (Thailand for all you shopping and sun soaked fanatics) along the Straits of Melaka, Melaka attracted droves of merchants and spice traders. Whilst the spice trade blossomed, Melaka underwent dramatic colonisation as it changed hands from the Portugese, Dutch, British and later to the founding fathers of Malaya.
Thus, a mix of culture and history defined what Melaka is today. From battered forts framed by moss covered bricks, headstones cemeteries dating back to the European and Chinese settlements, Chinese influenced old shops to heritage architecture featuring majestic churches, museums and more, this historical town deserves to be explored by foot or by bike.
A walk up to St Paul’s Hill where remnants of the fort now lies is truly a breathtaking sight. Cannons are sighted from the side of the steps and one can almost hear the clamour from the Portugese merchants and missionaries which onced filled this fort.
With a heady mix of foreign influence from the colonisation era and its local multicultural communities, various cultures were soon introduced making way for a beautiful mix of traditional costumes, customs and cuisines. Batik became the common national costumes for the Malays, the Peranakan (fondly known as the Baba Nyonya) decked themselves in Nyonya Kebaya with embellished fitted tops and stunning beaded shoes and the Indians proudly wore their colourful sarees with poise and elegance.
From the Portugese grilled seafood to the Devil’s Chicken Curry, the Baba Nyonya’s heavenly Ayam Pongteh (Chicken Stew) and Cincalok (fermented prawn paste), spicy Eurasion food, famous Chicken rice balls to heavy Indian Chettinad food, expect a gastronomical affair when you visit Melaka. Come hungry and with a large appetite.
The bustling night markets at Jonker Street will attract any bargain hunters. The prices are low, souvenirs are plentiful and you can even pick up a pair of Baba Nyonya beaded shoes for less than AUD$7! I was greeted with a spectacular dragon hovering over the entire Jonker Street to herald in the year of the Dragon.
Modern shopping malls are aplenty across Melaka, bearing designer names and departmental stores, there is something to suit any shopper.
As the day came to a close, I sat at the ruined window ledge of the fort and gazed peacefully at the sun glistened sea ahead of me. Container ships, cruise ships and sails frolicked in the steady calm water. Thoughts trailed to the Portugese ships that onced scaled this very sea centuries ago.
Did their family come here with a heavy heart, leaving their familiar sights behind? What did they think of their impending voyage? Did the children belt in excitement when they saw the first sight of land, where I stand now soaking its history and peaceful sights.
You clearly take a piece of history and charm when you leave the gates of Melaka. I hope my travel experience here has given you some desire to explore this beautiful and charming state.
I must thank my gracious host and cousin Saro, her husband Dr.Selva and their family, and my uncle Dr.Guna and his wife Pushpa for their hospitality, divine home cooked food, and for driving us to the best spots in Melaka. Mostly, thank you for letting me relive my fond childhood memories of a town that continues to capture my heart.
Top Travel Tips in Melaka:
1. Hire a rickshaw ride ($10) for two and see the sights. The rides are absolutely fun as each rickshaw is heavily decorated with fake flowers, garlands and they also come with music. LOUD music! Kids love them!
2. Admission to The A’Famosa Fort is free, so spend a good hour or two here. An absolute photographer’s dream! Avoid coming here between noon-3pm, it’s hot and sticky!
3. Souvenirs found at the footsteps of the hill aren’t cheap, Jonker Street offers a cheaper alternative to souvenir shopping.
4. Jonker Street night markets comes alive at 7pm, plenty cheap souvenirs, cheap food stalls and fantastic pubs and cafes line this street. Keep a close eye on your kids as it can get crowded here.
5. Dig in the food stalls. Utterly cheap with an amazing burst of flavours.