Melaka or Malacca?

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Malacca is the old name given to this city state on the west coast of Malaysia, which made its fortune in the spice trade, and lost it when colonised by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and then the British. The city centre has UNESCO World Heritage status because of its unique Dutch buildings (painted brick red in the photos to follow) but any notion of exotic-ness has been lost by the overlay of Chinese kitsh. Still, there are some locations where the unique centuries-old Nyonya culture (a mixture of Chinese and Malay) have been maintained, and it is this blend of cultures which makes Melaka (its name in Malay) an interesting place to visit.

Here is the town centre on a quiet Friday afternoon; many of the shops in The Stadthuys (the red brick-coloured buildings) were closed. We are told that the place livens up at the weekends when it is invaded by Singaporeans who drive up for the cheap tasty food.  Unlike Johor Bahru, where we live, Melaka has bars and that makes it quite an attraction too!

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One touristy thing to do is to take a trishaw ride around town. These colourful bikes play loud music, and head off in a convoy.

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But when it is soooo hot, and business is slow, what else can you do but sleep?

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The river running through the town centre is also a ‘feature’ and there is a riverbank walk from the bridge in the town centre going north.

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Many of the small houses lining the river bank were highly decorated, and many looked like small bars and cafes; all closed when we walked by on a Tuesday.


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As you can see above, the river here was very murky; might have been caused by the downpour the previous day. Surprisingly, there are still people living in stilted huts along the river bank, and if you look closely, you can see a large reptile sitting under the wooden house.


Heres the lizard in a bit more detail.


The Jonker Street area is another must go too part of town.  Here you will find colourful-looking shop fronts and cafes, amongst other things.

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In addition to the interesting looking buildings around here, there are the temples. In one small area, you can find the Kwan Im Temple, the Kampung Kling Mosque, and the Sri Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple. Then just a little further away is the St Francis Xaviers Church; so most religions are covered in Melaka and this might partly explain the more tolerant characteristics of this Malaysian state.

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If you are interested in knowing more about the Nyonya culture, then I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the Baba & Nyonya Heritage museum.  This is a privately owned house containing all the original features associated with the life of a wealthy Peranakan family.  You are only allowed to take photos in the entrance hall, so you will have to visit to see for yourselves!  

The house may look small from the front, but it goes a long way back, so there are plenty of rooms to explore. The rateable value of these properties in Melaka depended on their width, not their square footage, hence the narrowness.


The other major museum is the Maritime Museum which is housed in a replica ship of the period when Melaka was thriving. This is a government run museum and lacks a bit of care and attention, but still manages to tell you something of the stormy history of the place.

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Looking back into town from the Maritime Museum, you can spot the ruins of Porta de Santiago up on the hillside. I do not have a good photo of the ruins as a whole, just a small part of it, but this is also worth a visit if you can cope with all the steps!

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Finally, an interesting but not so well-visited museum is the Melaka Sultanate Palace, situated at the foot of St Paul’s Hill. This is a wooden replica building of a palace used by Malacca’s Sultans in the 15th century, before the arrival of the Portuguese.

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Looking across from this palace was a garden, and one of the few places brightened up in Melaka by Malaysias national flower, the hibiscus.

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To finish, I really should mention the food. In our most recent trip in November 2105, we stayed in the Majestic Melaka Hotel for a few nights. Their chef specialises in Peranakan food and below are two local specialities: lemak laksa (noodles stained red with chilli in coconut broth) and a sago desert sweetened with gula melaka (a local palm sugar) and coconut milk. One afternoon we joined the Peranakan Culinary Journey where the chef spent three hours showing us how to make four distinctly different dishes, which we got to consume afterwards. Those containing the fermented fish paste were not our favourites!


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