Malacca’s multi-cultural heritage makes it an inspiring design and culinary destination. Steeped in history that dates back to the 14th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts of a unique blend of attractions set against a laid-back suburban vibe. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Legend has it that a Hindu prince named Parameswara, who fled from nearby Sumatra to escape conquering forces, was resting under a Melaka tree when he saw a mousedeer kick his hunting dogs. Inspired by the brave mousedeer and taking it as a good omen, he decided to build a new settlement at the site and named the area after the tree.
Malaccan culture is a marriage between east and west that can be attributed to the Straits of Malacca being a major trading port during the days of spice trading. Early Chinese settlers married local Malays, which gave birth to the Baba (male) and Nyonya (female) people. The Portuguese, Dutch and British all had its turns at conquering the state until 1956 when it became part of the Federation of Malaya as an independent nation. It ultimately become a part of the Malaysia by 1963.
How to get there
There are direct flights from Manila to Kuala Lumpur daily. The flight takes about four hours. From Kuala Lumpur, you can take a bus to Malacca either from the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan at Bandar Tasik Selatan, or you can leave for Malacca from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport via the Transnasional bus. Travel time from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca is two hours to two hours and 30 minutes.
What to see, what to do
The Melaka River Cruise takes you on a 40-minute trip along the Malacca River that cuts across the town. Don’t let the muddy brown color of the water stop you from taking the trip. It’s an interesting ride because there are lots of things to see – historic as well as modern establishments, little cafés and inns decorated with street art that depict Malay culture, pedestrian bridges in different designs and bearing their own stories, the Melaka River Park with its gondola-style Ferris Wheel, and a peek at “kampung” or village life. It’s best to take the cruise nearing dusk when the lights give the sights a magical glow. You can explore these buildings in the day so you can get a better look at the artwork and discover what the cafés have to offer.
Beyond the river lie the architectural attractions left behind by the Europeans. Porta de Santiago was one of the four main gateways into the Portuguese fortress called A Famosa and is one of the oldest surviving European architecture in Asia. The fort surrounded the Melaka Hill and was built using materials from demolished palaces and mosques. Walking up the hill, you will find the ruins of Saint Paul’s Church built by a Portuguese captain in 1521. Saint Francis Xavier regularly visited the church and his body was temporarily interred here before being transferred to his final resting place in Goa, India. The church was turned into a burial ground when the Dutch came and their Christ Church was built, which is found at the Stadthuys or city hall. Also called the Red Square because of the bold red exterior of the buildings, the once Dutch administrative center is now a museum complex. Outside the church is the elegant and still working Queen Victoria fountain, a remnant of British rule built in 1901.
Where to stay, what to eat
Boutique hotel The Settlement located near a Portuguese community offers chic and cozy accommodations. The once 1960s government building now boasts of colonial-style rooms and villas in traditional Malay house design. At the lobby are a few unassuming yet rare artworks by Pablo Picasso while a mini gallery featuring the young artist Ping Lian Yeak also provides artistic inspiration.
For dinner, try out McQuek’s steamboat satay found along Jalan Tun Perak, and feast on a variety of seafood and vegetables skewers dipped in hot peanut sauce.
For a most memorable culinary experience, check out Jonker Street just across the Red Square where you can buy chicken rice balls (that are only found in Malacca) from Chung Wah or egg tarts at one of the stalls lining the street. Right at the entrance, there’s a store where you can buy delicacies like green tea dumplings, durian treats and biscuits. There are also restaurants here that feature Nyonya cuisine like Kocik Kitchen where you can have Chicken Ponteh (similar to adobo) and Four-Angle Bean Belacan (stir-fried sigarilyas flavored with shrimp paste).
Besides food, Jonker Street has a lot of souvenir shops and craft stores you can explore. You can find chopsticks and chopsticks rests, wooden massagers in various designs, wind chimes and home accents here. If you happen to chance upon an empty trishaw plying the streets, hop on and rest your feet a bit!