The historic city of Melaka, or Malacca in southwestern Malaysia has always been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I finally had the chance to check it off a few weeks ago. I had one day to spare and learned that one day is never enough.
To get as much as I can in one day, I joined a group tour that offered hotel pick-up and drop-off services in Kuala Lumpur. It took us a long while to finally get to the bus like all the other people who signed up for various tours have to be picked up from different hotels, and traffic in Bukit Bintang is so jammed. Two hours out of Kuala Lumpur along winding roads and we made our first stop—right at the arch gate welcoming us to Malacca. The adventure has just begun.
Points of Interest
Despite the advent of modernization, Malacca City’s vibrant past is visible in its share of attractions like historic churches, centuries-old forts and more. One thing to note is when you join a guided tour, everything will be a whirlwind and you will only have a few minutes in each location. The good thing to do if you are scouting and want to come back later.
We drove around a mess of highways undergoing massive construction and stopped for a few minutes at the St Peter’s Church in Melaka. Established in 1710, it is the oldest functioning Roman Catholic church in Malaysia.
Strait of Malacca
The Strait of Malacca is something so far from what I had always envisioned as one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. From the concrete lookout area we were dropped off for five minutes I saw a narrow stretch of murky water flanked by heavy construction of buildings around.
Then we were off to lunch. Anticipating delicious Perakan cuisine or Nyonya food as the online brochures advertised, we were surprised to be dropped off at a Chinese restaurant where we shared Chinese food at a round table. I guess you have to make a special trip on your own if you want the whole experience.
A Famosa fort
Right after lunch, our historic walking tour started, passing outside the Malacca Proclamation of Independence Memorial, an impressive, white stucco Dutch colonial mansion that now houses collections of the development of Malaysia, the Melaka Sultanate Palace then the Porta De Santiago or A Famosa fort, or whatever ruins left of it—a crumbling whitewashed gate that was once a sprawling settlement for the Portuguese Administration. It is considered one of the oldest surviving European architectural ruins in Asia.
Ruins of St Paul’s Church
Up and panting after a hundred or so steep steps later, we saw the ruins of St Paul’s Church at the summit of St Paul’s Hill. Roofless with the walls covered in moss and ferns, the church built in 1521 is the oldest church building in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.
Down a flight of steep stairs, we headed to the Dutch Square with rows of bright red terra cotta colonial buildings. It is the most picturesque attraction but is a challenge to get photos with the multitudes of tourists taking selfies with long sticks.
The Christ Church Melaka, a red brick building with a white cross on top stands out prominently at the Dutch Square. I did not go in and discovered that I missed seeing the 200-year old handmade pews and interior of the cathedral.
Across the Red Church is the Melaka River with its colonial buildings, ancient bridges, and antique shops and settlements. There is a 45-minute cruise along the river which we missed because of time constraints.
Melaka river is memorable because two of our team went off on their own and we had to wait forever until they were found.
Jonker Street is a shopper’s paradise—a mile-long street through Chinatown with Chinese temples, quaint stores, and shops offering endless selections of antiques, handicrafts, clothing, knick-knacks, trinkets, and Malaysian delicacies and tasty treats that begged to be brought home as souvenirs.
We walked in the scorching heat of the noonday sun but the best time to walk along Jonker Street is late in the afternoon and at its night market when tables will be set out into the street selling food and drinks but that’s another reason to go back.
When you go with a guided tour, stay with your group, or at least try to remember your guide or some people from your bus. It’s so easy to get lost with so many tour groups all at once in one place.
Wear comfortable walking shoes, Stay hydrated and eat. Most of the tour buses will only allow water and no soft drinks or food. Traffic in Kuala Lumpur on your way back is a jam so be prepared for it.
Check out the night market at Pahlawan Walk Market.
Experience a ride at a trishaw, so colorful patterned after cartoon characters outside the Dutch Square.
To really get a good taste and feel of Malacca, stay at least overnight so you have time to enjoy and browse through the shops in Jonkers Street. Walking tours are better to get to know the city better