A Travel Guide to Malacca, Malaysia
Visit the UNESCO Heritage City before it changes forever.
Malacca (Melaka in Malay), is a small city. It is so small, in fact, that it’s possible to visit all the major attractions within a day—which is the reason many visitors choose it as a day trip from Kuala Lumpur, located about two hours away. We were there just in time to see the opening of a Hard Rock Cafe (28 Lerong Hang Jebat, www.hardrock.com), a sign that this UNESCO Heritage City is changing fast. The true essence of Malacca will only last for so long, and we aren’t the only ones who noticed. “Malacca has changed a lot in recent years. I can’t say I love all the changes. I prefer the good old days when there were fewer tourists and everything. But things are changing and I’ll see how it goes,” says How, a local artist who has been running Temple Street Arts & Crafts, a gallery on Temple Street for years. Indeed, we recommend you plan your trip soon to witness first-hand what this historic city really has to offer.
Malacca is one of the centers of Peranakan culture, with the others being Singapore, Penang and Phuket. The city’s beginnings were as a humble fisherman village, but thanks to easy accessibility throughout the year, it became a popular trading port ruled by a Sultan in the 1400s. Things changed however when Zheng He, a famous Chinese mariner, commanded a series of voyages of tens of thousands of sailors that sailed via Malacca, forging a solid connection between the port and China. As a result, a number of Chinese people later settled in the town and married local residents, including a daughter of a Chinese emperor who married a sultan. Their descendants are called Peranakan Chinese, or Baba-Nyonya, and over the years they have combined Chinese and Malay traditions into their own culture, which survives to this day. The Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum (Heeren St.) is the place to start learning all about them. Originally, the museum was the home of a rich Malaccan family who decided to turn their house into a museum exhibiting how their ancestors used to live. All visitors need to follow a guided tour (available in English and Chinese.)
From the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum, it is easy to stroll around the vintage shophouses of Chinatown, which is located on Jonker, Heeren and Temple streets on the west bank of the Malacca River. Today, these tourist-focused shophouses range from traditional teashops and local food restaurants, to hipster cafés and souvenir shops.
Because of its convenient location right at the corner and at the center of Jonker Street, Geographer Café (83 Jonker Street, www.geographer.com.my), a two-story, century-old, shophouse-turned-hip café, is the top spot to start exploring Jongker Street.
Jongker Street, officially named Jalan hang Jebat, is the heart of Malacca’s Chinatown (equivalent to Thalang Road in Phuket). During the day, it is a food street where you can try exclusive Malaccan dishes such as Hainanese chicken with rice balls (try Famosa Chicken Rice Ball, 21 Jalan Hang Jebat, www.boom68.com/famosachickenriceball) Hokkien soup noodles and Hokkien desserts (try both at Jongker Dessert 88, opposite Geographer Cafe). At night, Jongker shuts down early in accordance with UNESCO World Heritage regulations, which don’t allow late-night entertainment. But there’s always an exception: on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, the area is turned into a walking street called Jongker Walk, where locals and visitors can browse street stalls selling local food, crafts and souvenirs.
Crossing the Malacca River from Jongker Street to the east bank, you will find yourself in front of the Dutch Square, or Merdeka Square, where-historic maroon-colored buildings remain from the period of Dutch colonization (1641-1798). At the center is Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower, while nearby are examples of European-style architectures such as the Christ Church, which was built during 1741-1753 from bricks shipped from The Netherlands, and Studthuys, a former town hall that is now the Museum of History and Ethnography. To the right is the Malaysia Architectural Museum (Jalan Kota) where you can learn the history of Malaysian architecture, from tropical huts to skyscrapers like the Petronas Twin Towers. Opposite the Dutch Square and next to the Tourist Information Center is the Maritime Museum (Jalan Merdeka), which is itself a replica of the Flora de la Mer, a Portuguese ship that sank off the coast and details the historic sea voyages through the Straits of Malaca.
After viewing all the museums and the beautiful architecture, you can finish off your day trip by climbing up the stairs to the top of St. Paul’s Hill, behind Studthuys, to find the remaining structure of St. Paul’s Church. The Portuguese built St. Paul’s Church in 1521, but it was turned into a fortress during 1567-1596, and then later, a Dutch graveyard. From the church you will be able to see an elevated view of both the old and new city, as well as the port and the sea. If you’re lucky, there will be a guy sitting in a corner of the church who will serenade you with his Spanish guitar. Close your eyes, listen to the soothing melodies, and feel yourself transported back to Malacca’s heyday.
Air Asia, Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways fly directly from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur. You will need to go to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan, KL’s new bus terminal, to get a bus (RM8) to Melaka Sentral Bus Terminal, and then take bus no.17 (RM1) to town.
Where to stay
High-end: The Majestic. Peranakan architectural details, classic porcelain, teakwood furnishings and artifacts all contribute to this 1920s hotel being the most charming in the city. Prices start at RM390 (B3,900). 188 Jalan Bunga Raya, Malacca, Malaysia, +606-289-8000, www.majesticmalacca.com
Mid-range: Ramada Plaza Melaka. Rooms on the upper floors of this recently-renovavated hotel give you great views of Malacca town and the sea. It also has a popular Chinese restaurant, a swimming pool and a large fitness center. Prices start at RM306 (B3,100). Jalan Bendahara, Malacca, Malaysia, +606-284-8888, www.ramada.com
RM1 = B10
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