Selamat Datang! – the first words which greet you on arrival in Malaysia.
Malacca is the most historically important place in Malaysia.
Malacca’s location, mid way between China and India, with easy access
to the spice islands of Indonesia, made it an important and coveted
port for centuries. It is a popular place to visit, with tourists and
which soon becomes a thriving port.
attracting Muslim traders, Islam spread to Indonesia.
Portuguese built A’Famosa, attracted missionaries like Frances Xavier
who spread the Catholic word.
Settlements; Melaka was seen as less important.
Like Penang, Malacca is famed throughout Malaysia for the uniqueness
of its food. Malacca is home to Baba Nyonya cooking, the cuisine
invented by the Straits Chinese under the influence of Malay
The Laksa served in Malacca is a common example, quite different to the equally famous Assam Laksa of Penang. Unlike the sour tamarind flavoured Penang soup, Malacca Laksa is coconut based. The presence of the Portuguese has also developed some unique dishes, mainly seafood based. Medan Portugis is a good place to try the Portuguese influenced seafood.
The street leading into the historical district, Jalan Laksamana, has
a variety of cafes including the aptly named loony planet (!). These
cafes are aimed at tourists, and serve variations on the local food
as well as sandwiches and Western style breakfasts.
If you are looking for vegetarian food, you will find options on most
menus. There are also plenty of south Indian places where you are
guaranteed to find a cheap vegetarian meal. On Jalan Hang Jebat,
formerly known as Jonkers street, one of the antique stores (number
88) has a vegetarian cafe out the back. This cafe provides a daily
set meal, of traditional dishes, which is excellent value at 3RM each.
Most of Malacca’s historical buildings are within easy walking
distance of each other. The heritage trail maps are available from
the tourism office, or your guesthouse, but it is easy to find your
way around, and each building has a sign in both English and Malay
explaining its significance.
The town square is perhaps the most photographed place in Malacca. Very European looking with a clock tower and fountain, and the grand town hall in the background. Gaudy trishaws draped with tinsel cruise around the square, and tourists point cameras in all directions.
The Dutch built the Stadthuys during the 1600’s as a town hall. Thought to be the largest Dutch building in Asia, it now houses a museum. The Stadthuys is easily recognized by its red colour, a theme repeated throughout the “historical area”, although the Stadthuys was originally white.
Nearby Christ Church was also built by the Dutch; the bright red
bricks were actually imported from Holland. The church was converted
for Anglican use by the British and is still in use today.
Steps lead up Bukit St. Paul to the remains of St. Paul’s Church. The
Portuguese built this church in 1521, adding further renovations
throughout the 1500’s. At the front is a statue of St. Frances Xavier,
a missionary who was entombed briefly here before being taken to Goa
in India after his death 400 years ago. When the Dutch took over
Melaka they renamed the church; which was originally called “Our Lady
of the Hill”. After the completion of Christ Church, the Dutch
eventually abandoned St. Paul’s. When the British had their turn in
Melaka they destroyed part of the tower, built a lighthouse in front
and apparently used the church to store ammunition!
The ruined church is a peaceful place, apart from the hordes of
tourists and trinket hawkers; perhaps the answer is to visit early in
the morning. I was intrigued by the diversity of the visitors,
Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists alike all wander around
appreciating what is or was obviously a sacred space to those of the
Catholic faith. Perhaps people of other religions find it acceptable
to visit because the church is in ruins and no longer an active place
of worship. The old tombstones are interesting; many of them bear the
skull and crossbones motif, which seemed rather macabre to us,
tending to see this as a symbol of either pirates or poison!
Down the other side of the hill are the only remains of the original
Portuguese fort, A’Famosa. The fort was constructed in 1512 and after
the Dutch invasion it was badly damaged and rebuilt. The British
destroyed all except the Porta de Santiago, or southern gate, which
is all that remains.
Every night at 9.30pm (English version) there is a sound and light
show held near the Porta de Santiago, which illuminates the buildings
to tell of their history. Admission is 5RM for adults.
Churches, Temples and Mosques
Malacca has many more interesting and old churches, notably St.
Peter’s and St. Frances Xavier. I assume Malacca has a more active
Christian (predominately Catholic) community than elsewhere in
Malaysia, and festivals such as Easter would be an interesting time
There are many Chinese temples around China town including Cheng Hoon
Teng’s temple, which is the oldest in Malaysia, dating back to 1646.
There is also a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vinayagar (an
aspect of Ganesh) that was built at the turn of the century.
The mosques of Malacca are also old and their architecture is quite
unique, with evidence of a Sumatran influence. Instead of the
familiar dome seen on most mosques, they feature tiered roofs.
Apparently the largest Chinese graveyard outside of China is located
on Bukit China (China Hill). The graves are large and ornamental, in
various states of neglect and while some are supposed to date back to
the Ming Dynasty, some are fairly recent looking.
The area itself is pleasant with many trees and birds, and it is quite fascinating to wander around, but bring insect repellent!! Hordes of virulent mosquitoes chased us back down the hill!!
At the foot of Bukit China is the Hang Li Poh well. This well was built in the 15th Century and was the major source of water for Melaka. The well was poisoned tactically by various invaders over the years and these days the water is permanently undrinkable. The idea that a drink from the well will ensure a return to Malacca has been replaced by the Trevi fountain custom of tossing coins in the water.
Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonkers street)
This famous street is a fascinating place to wander, whether or not
you are looking for souvenirs. Once called Jonkers or Junk Street,
the area is home to many antique stores and galleries. Old Peranakan
buildings and fantastic architecture help to make it even more
photogenic and interesting. Even if you are not intending to buy
anything, most of the shopkeepers are happy to show you around and
tell you about their shop, some even inviting you to take photos if
One well known shop (see the lonely planet) sells beautiful
handcrafted slippers, and also shoes for bound feet. The man who
makes these shoes is keen to tell people all about them, and he has a
scrapbook full of newspaper articles and some graphic illustrations
of bound feet.
Euphemistically referred to as the “Golden Lotus” the brutal practice of foot binding was mainly carried out on upper class Chinese women and concubines. The practice has thankfully died out, and the shop now sells the shoes as souvenirs. The last woman to have had bound feet died not so long ago in Melaka and the tiny doll shoes that I held in my hand were made especially for her.
A more modern gallery and shop is the Orangutan house, a cool place,
cheerfully bright orange with jazz on the stereo. For sale are
paintings and T-shirts by local artist Charles Cham. The t-shirts appeal to tourists and are also worn by heaps of Malaysians; at only 20RM they are a great souvenir.
Getting There from KL
Buses go regularly from Pudu Raya and cost 7RM each way. As Malacca
is only 2½-3 hours away it is possible to visit as a day trip from KL if you are short on time.
Malacca is a popular weekend destination from KL, if you are travelling during a weekend you will need to book your bus ticket in advance. Especially if you are travelling from Malacca back to KL.
The majority of the backpackers are found in the area around Jalan
Taman Melaka Raya (TMR). If you don’t have an idea of where you are
staying, touts will meet your bus. We were surprised to find them
quite helpful, giving us directions even when we said we were headed
There are many old Peranakan mansions around Malacca, in various
states of restoration or decay. Several of them provide accommodation; mostly they are more upmarket places, which have fully renovated rooms and antique furnishings.
For those on a budget, Eastern Heritage may be a compromise. Located on Jalan Bukit China, this guesthouse occupies an old Melaka house that dates back to 1918. Although it is slightly run down, it has lots of character with original ornamentation, tiling and carved paneling. The rooms are mostly typical guesthouse rooms, freshly painted in a pseudo art deco style.
An unusual feature were the small square holes with removable plugs in the floors of the upstairs rooms, enabling you to spy on what was going on downstairs.
I am a Kiwi currently living in Petaling Jaya, a satellite city of Kuala Lumpur. After travelling through South East Asia earlier in the year, my partner and I have returned to live and work in Malaysia.
We believe that living in another country will provide a different, new and exciting set of challenges. Also we look forward to opportunities for further travel and exploration.
Apart from travel my main interests include; Art, Wildlife/ Conservation and Eastern religions/ traditions. So don’t be surprised if I focus on these subjects!
I am currently living in my tevas (it’s too hot for boots here!) and suffering from the curse of Cinderella’s step sisters.
At intervals I am lured into shoe stores with their tempting arrays of shiny, fashionable and ridiculously cheap shoes, to undergo a kind of consumer torture.
At the urging of eternally optimistic saleswomen, I attempt to squeeze into shoes which are inevitably two sizes too small!