Various periods of history and heritage have blended with a unity of various religions to create a city of contrasting colour, architecture and atmosphere where no two areas look the same. In Chinatown business booms as people hustle through its long shopping streets, restaurants and temples while the adjacent calm, scenic riverfront receives a sporadic scattering of travellers seeking solitude. In the historic town centre, salmon pink buildings catch your eye, street food sizzles and the smell of sea air wafts by while the shallow ding of metal hitting the ground can be heard as the rickshaw drivers park their flower covered carts in a row to begin a competitive game of coin throwing, inviting you to join. This is one day in Melaka.
I’d heard about Melaka from several people, both before I arrived in Malaysia and during my first few days in Kuala Lumpur. It’s usually the place that people visit in between travel from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and some never give much thought at all to Malaysia’s third smallest state in the south west of the mainland peninsula. If I had listened to the majority verdict on the place, I would never have gone and as it stands Melaka currently remains one of my favourite places in the country.
Is Melaka Worth Visiting?
The word on the traveller grapevine is that its main hub, Melaka City, is not really worth it and as a result I heard of many people bypassing the two hour bus journey to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s normally good reason why places get that stamp of approval! While not a destination you would probably want to spend days in, visiting Malaka for one day (at least) SHOULD be considered.
A compact, easy to navigate and picturesque little town, Malaka is a great window into the history of the Portuguese, Dutch and British rule as well as being a quiet, charming spot to relax in between city visits. Known as the ‘historic state’ you can expect to stumble upon an array of colonial architecture, fort remains and churches mixed with temples, mosques, funky art stores and unique clothing shops hidden in the never-ending grid of streets that make up Chinatown. My guest house, Tidur Tidur was based here and was made up of very basic rooms built into an art studio! While very touristy in places, it really has a lot to offer that makes it stand out from the more basic and unattractive towns and cities on the mainland:
The Historic Old Town & Around
The main downside to Melaka is getting to the city. Taxi drivers in Malaysia are notorious for not using their metres and insist on ridiculous prices. My friend and I spent half an hour trying to convince the drivers at the bus terminal to lower their prices, but to no avail. We even tried to hitchhike as a message to the greedy mob hanging outside of the bus station – yet our stubbornness didn’t get us anywhere. Expect to pay the set price of 20 Ringgit for the short journey into town – being assertive only landed us a 5 Ringgit discount with a battered old taxi, but we felt like we had won the war.
Another issue is that this is one of Malaysia’s key tourist centres – both international and domestic tourists – so don’t expect to have any part of it to yourself. There is even a Hard Rock Café in town just to put the cherry on top of its ‘developing’ status. The best thing to do is concentrate on your surroundings, block everyone out or find a secluded spot by the river away from the central thoroughfares and attractions. Or… go and sit with the locals at the hawker stalls and feel like you are the only westerner in town for 15 minutes as well as getting to sample the delicious snacks and dishes.
Malaysia is well known for its stunning beach locations, so it’s likely you will come across other travellers heading straight for the islands and bypassing smaller spots on the mainland, hence dismissing places like Melaka. Yet when you hear a mixture of positive and negative reviews you can only go and see things for yourself and considering the main sights of Melaka can be seen in one day, and reached easily from both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, it’s not much of a sacrifice… even if you don’t end up liking it. Although I’m pretty sure you will.