*For the purposes of clarity, this article deals with Melaka City, not the state of Melaka, of which Melaka City is the capital.
Melaka, Malacca, Malaka, it doesn’t matter how you spell it. What matters most is finding this delightful city in the South of Malaysia and treating your taste buds to some of the best that Malaysia has to offer. 148 km Southeast of Kuala Lumpur, Melaka sits on the Straights of Malacca, making it once an ideal port for colonial trading. Today, the city is a tourist destination known for its antiques, colonial history, and most of all, food.
Why you should go to Melaka
The first and foremost draw of Melaka for most tourists is its rich cultural and colonial history. Having been colonized by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and then finally the British (with heavy influences from China and India), it is no wonder that Melaka has a wonderfully diverse culture, style of architecture and interior design. As a result, Melaka has also become a hotspot for antique hunters, who can find a treasure trove of items to buy on the famous Jonker Street. For history buffs; museums abound. One could easily spend a day or two trying to fully take-in the Stadthuys Museum Complex (includes the History and Ethnography Museum, Admiral Cheng Ho Gallery, The Literature Museum, Democratic Rule Museum, Govornor Musuem) all for the incredible value of 5 Ringgits (about $1.65 US/CAD). For those interested in seeing the beautiful interior decor of a traditional Baba Nyonya house, visit the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum, which will run you 10 Ringgits (about $3.25 US/CAD) and includes the guided tour. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things you can see/do to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The other equally tantalizing draw to Melaka is its amazing food. The city boasts some of the very best of Nyonya (Chinese Malay) cooking, as well as great traditional Chinese, Indian and Malay food. Tourists will usually find themselves in the world heritage China town, where food vendors, hawkers and restaurants may not have the best decor, but the food is top notch and priced to gorge. Traditional dishes like Laksa Asam (spicy noodle soup), Laksa Lemak (spiced coconut soup), Satay (chicken or fish barbecued with peanut sauce) and many more dishes will delight your taste buds and your wallet. Budget conscious travelers will love the fact that you can easily eat well without spending more than $3 a meal. The best advice we can give you about Melaka is to “eat your way through Melaka”. Do your best to try as many different dishes as possible. You’ll be missing it the moment you leave.
What it’s like in Melaka
The streets of China town (where we stayed) are tightly nit and lined with 2 storied attached buildings that act as shops, homes, hostels, and restaurants. When separation occurs between buildings, it’s usually found at one of the many Chinese temples, or mosques found in the area. The temples and mosques give daytime Melaka a slow or serene type feeling, though the night market on Jonker street can become busy and hectic when the sun goes down. The shops and restaurants in China town have a more rustic ambiance, which brings a lot of character to the area.
Over in Dutch square, you get a real sense of the colonial impact on Melaka, with larger red brick buildings and colonial prices in restaurants to match. To the south of Dutch Square, you’ll find the more commercial/shopping oriented part of the city, with a cluster of western-style malls and shops. Overall, there is no “you gotta see this” factor to Melaka, it is the kind of place that is better appreciated as a whole at a slow and relaxed pace.
What you need to know: The bus from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka cost us 9 Ringgits each (about $3 US/CAD). The bus from Melaka to Singapore cost us 22 Ringgits each (about $7 US/CAD). If you are staying in Chinatown, ask your hostel if they know where the house with the family that sells cheap beer is. Sold through the front window, beer sales are the pension plan of the family patriarch.