Why Melaka is fascinating

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In 2014 I won a contest organised by Blogadda and Tourism Malaysia. It was an all expenses paid trip to Malaysia. I am reproducing once more, my blog post on Melaka, one of the most fascinating cities I’ve visited.

I have always been  particularly intrigued by Melaka as it  is now known because of the Malacca Cane that I’d heard of. And when I heard that it would be on our tour of Malaysia, I couldn’t have been more excited!

Starting out from  Kuala Lumpur, our last but one stop was Melaka. We were put up in the Hatten Hotel, a brand new Melaka  hotel that was within walking distance of the sights of Old Malacca. This was fortituous as one could easily walk around the historic part of the town that has now become a UNESCO HERITAGE SIGHT.

 The Strait of Malacca was famous or rather notorious for the pirates that used to attack the ships sailing in the water on their way to and from the East. So the Sultan of Malacca offered protection for a fee of course which was a fifth of the cargo on board. Thus the tiny port of Malacca became a rich trading hub of spices, porcelain,silk and gold and was colonised in turn by the Portuguese the Dutch and the British who all wanted control of the waterway on the India China Route .However, somewhere along the way, it lost its prestige and reverted to a sleepy old town undisturbed by the world till it found itself back on the tourist map with its Old Town declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

Image for the Meleka Club
                                    The Meleka Club is now the Independence Museum

On the way to the UNESCO World Heritage site we passed a magnificent chocolate and cream, colonial building. Our guide Jeevan told us that it was the former Malacca Club where Tunku Abdur Rahman, the country’s first Prime Minister met with the other Sultans of Malayasia. They had  contributed huge sums to finance his onward journey to London for pre-Independence talks. After the historic talks in London, he landed in Melaka and first announced the Independence of Malaysia to  the thousands of Malays who had gathered in Dataran Pahalawan ( Warrior Square).

Today the club has been converted to  the Independence Museum where the history of the Independence of Malaysia can be re-visited.

Sadly, the historic ground of Dataran Pahalwan too has morphed and today,  is home to a mega mall conveniently located near several Melaka hotels. Our guide Jeevan told us that Melaka is a popular shopping destination and several Singaporeans come across the straits to do their shopping.

Image for archway to A Famosa
                                        The Porta de Santiago, arched gate way to A Famosa

We drove up to the ruins of the stone arched gateway to the A Famosa, the only part left of the Portuguese bastion in Melaka.  This is now the oldest surviving European ruin in the whole of South East Asia. To climb up to the old city, Jeevan had a surprise lined up for us:  6 gaudy trishaws or becas as they are known locally to take us around .


Image for 6 trishaws in Melaka
              The 6 Gaudy trishaws Jeevan had arranged to take us around the old town. 

Seeing them lined up I felt a bit sad because I remember how this mode of transport was looked down upon by Human Rights activists who demanded that this be stopped in countries like India where it was the only form of transport in many a small town. How ironic to think that this is now revived as an eco friendly mode of transport to ferry tourists around heritage spots to avoid environmental pollution!!!

Image for me in my beca in Meleka
Me in my gaudy pink Hello Kitty beca

Pink and hello Kitty seemed to be the pre-dominant theme and after we’d all settled down, our trishaw drivers enthusiastically took our photographs for us to flash on  Twitter and Instagram. While the entire area is easily walkable it is worth the unique experience to do it the old fashioned way. The whole street turned to stare as  the beca played blaring music along the way. Incidentally most of the becas have music streamed through iPods and one particular beca driver was proudly telling us that he had driven Shah Rukh Khan all the way!

Image of the Palace of the Sultan of Melaka                                 A replica of the Palace of the Sultan of Malacca that was burnt down by the Portuguese. 

Before we set off, Jeevan pointed out a magnificent wooden structure which was a replica of the Malacca Palace that was burnt down by the Portuguese . This too is another museum. Sadly we didn’t have any time to visit any of the many museums that make up Malacca and I will have to make another trip to explore them thoroughly.

Red Square or Dutch Square

With loud music blaring and slightly embarrassed by the stares we received,  we  came up to Dutch Square or Red Square with terracotta red painted Colonial structures that gave the Square its name. The original Stadthuys which is the oldest surviving Dutch structure in the East Indies was continuously in use as an Administrative building for 300 years.

With a Chinese built Clock Tower  and a British Victorian fountain, this truly is a historic square representing Malaysia’s colonial past.

Through the Streets of Melaka

Driving through the streets we passed the street of Chettiars and a street lined with Chinese lanterns, adding to the festive charm of Melaka.

Harmony Street

A street in Chinatown so named because it has three important places of worship in one street. It has the oldest Indian Muslim Mosque, the oldest Hindu Temple and he oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia .

We stopped at the Chinese Temple of Cheng Hoon Teng which has been in continuous use since it was built way back in the 17th Century. It was interesting to walk around the temple complex and see the various shrines dedicated to ancestor worship, a grotto with figurines depicting the life of the Buddha and an alcove which had the painting of the original builder of the temple

Baba &  Nyonya Heritage Museum

The term Baba Nyonya is derived from the intermarriage of the immigrant Chinese traders ( baba) and the local Malay women ( nyonya). These Peranaken or Straits Chinese have evolved a culture that is a unique mix of Chinese and Malay traditions. We visited the townhouse of the Chan Cheng Siew family on a street parallel to the famous Jonker Street that  has been converted into a museum.  All the artifacts on display reminded me of my  friend Naheed’s remark that it was quite like visiting a Parsi house in Mumbai!

But this is definitely worth a visit especially with a guided tour explaining the traditions of the Baba Nyonya. Sadly no photographs are allowed. This museum has restricted viewing and  visitors have to wait their turn to be taken around. You should book your tour in advance to avoid disappointment.
Image of Detail of frontage Chinese home in Meleka
The buildings on this street have narrow frontages as the Dutch taxed house owners according to the frontage on the street. So typically the houses were deep with beautiful ornate decorative elements on the facade.

Jonker Street

So finally we came to the street that we’d all been hearing about – Melaka and Jonker Street that are almost synonymous. Jonker Street gets its name from the owners of the Chinese Junks or trading vessels who used to have their warehouses/offices on that street.  Today it is a haven for antique hunters and tourists who want to buy local art and craft. It is also a place where Peranaken Culture is still thriving and one can actually sample goodies like these sweets and snacks that are sold in shops along the street.

There are many street cafes and plenty of shops from where one can pick up unique T- shirts, fine examples of Batik and cane work that Malacca is famous for. You can also find money exchangers here though the rate you get may not exactly be what you want. Unfortunately no shopkeeper accepts currency other than RM so make sure you have enough local currency before you go shopping or even sight seeing.

Little India

It was getting on to lunch and we caught up with lunch at a local Indian restaurant where we were served on the traditional banana leaf. It was a set meal with rice, sambhar, papad and the option of some chicken or fish. I must say it had a distinct flavour that was neither pure Indian or pure Malay but an interesting mix that made for some tongue tantalising fare.

Little India was just like being back home right down to the plantains hanging outside the shop to the fierce looking matron waiting to cross the road.  When we stepped out, we realised that we were just on the other side of the Red Square and it was just a pedestrian crossing that divided two very distinct cultures.
Image of Replica of Flor de la Mar
Jeevan told us that the Flor do Mar a Portugese ship steered by Alphonso de Albuquerque  during a storm is still sitting at the bottom of the Malacca strait waiting for a treasure hunter to bring her up with her holds filled with diamonds and precious stones.
This is a replica of the ship that now houses the Maritime Museum of Malaysia.

Melaka River Cruise

In the evening we were scheduled to go for a Melaka River Cruise, yet another example of how Malaysia has turned every opportunity into a tourist opportunity. The river which was once  just a narrow dirty waterway was cleaned up. The adjoining waterfront was spruced up with the residents of Kampung Morten, a regular Malaysian village  given assistance to remodel their homes. Kampung Morten is a popular homestay option for  tourists. And today it is a wonderful way to spend an evening in Melaka.

We caught the river cruise from the Taman Rempa Jetty and sailed up all the way to the Muara Jetty where the  replica of Flor de la Mar  is docked. Along the 90 minute 9 km cruise we enjoyed the breezes as we passed painted buildings, cafes and even joggers running on the embankments that had riverside boutiques and hotels like the Mediterranean inspired Casa del Rio hotel that we’d seen in the morning. We were visiting off season but Jeevan told us that during school holidays the place comes alive with street performers, jugglers, magicians and buskers.

Pulau Melaka

From the rooftop of Hatten Hotel we could spot a mosque in the distance. Jeevan told us that it was the Malacca Straits mosque built for the workers who were working on a project to pull Melaka into the 21st Century. This man made island is part of an ambitious waterfront project that will have residential space, commercial space and leisure-cum tourist amenities like a marina and theme parks.

So what are you waiting for? With so many historic sights to see, street life to enjoy and hotels to suit every pocket, Melaka is just the right place to go visiting this year.

Unseen Malaysia | 41 Bucket-list-worthy Destinations


Unseen Malaysia | 41 Bucket-list-worthy Destinations. View the interactive version here.

Author: Unishta

A granny who always sees the humour in life and tries to do things differently. When others make cupcakes, this granny makes banana fritters. When she’s not busy chasing her grandchildren who love making her run around, she indulges in her passions of reading, writing, meeting friends and watching movies. And somewhere between all this she enjoys travelling and cooking!


  1. Wow now Melaka will be definitely on my list .. this little India is ain’t a little thing anymore .. everywhere in the south east they have a huge impact be it Malaysia or Singapore or elsewhere ..

    Great post

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