Shut the front door. My journey from KL to Malacca was quicker (As in, shorter, less time, QUICKER) than stated, arriving at Melaka Sentral (I’m not sure why the spellings Malacca/Melaka are interchangeable, but they seem to be) at 4pm after leaving TBS just after 2pm, actually later than scheduled, too. Thus is unprecedented, unheard of, unexpected – I was frozen by my state of shock that I was last off the bus (also unheard of). I grabbed my bags, wandered around inside the bus terminal building trying to establish where the local bus 17 went from, located it just before it was about to leave and paid 2 RM (40p) to be taken to the last stop, Dutch Square (which houses The Stadthuys – the oldest Dutch building in South East Asia) in the centre.
As soon as I got off the bus I fell in love with Malacca. I don’t even know exactly what it is – with travelling from place to place you sometimes just get a feeling somewhere, and after feeling a bit lost in KL I found myself feeling comforted and warmed by the little-town, quaint atmosphere of Malacca. Sure, it was still touristy and you were still quickly approached with transport offers (or tour-of-the-city offers in lit-up, decorated, music-blaring carts) but it had obvious character plus an historical, cultural charm. It took about 10 minutes to walk to my hostel – Troka Prewar Residence – randomly bumping into two girls (Arwa and Sali) I met in my hostel in Cameron Highlands. And when I say randomly bumping I mean we had no idea the other was arriving that day, we hadn’t communicated about meeting up, and we just so happened to cross paths on the street. I love travelling.
After checking into my hostel – a modern, comfy and air-conned cafe/hostel, which Arwa and Sali also decided to stay in – we met with their friend Rami and headed round the corner for something to eat. As with other places in Malaysia a lot of the restaurants were Chinese or Indian/Malaysian, so we went for the latter where I opted for Mee Hoon Gireng with mutton; a noodle, egg and veg dish that was slightly spicy and really, really good. They were then going to visit a mosque so I used this early-evening time as an opportunity to do what I like to do most when I first arrive somewhere; explore the nearby area and get my bearings.
The centre of the town itself is relatively small with a river running through the middle that almost separates the unescorted heritage site from the rest, with cute bridges that offer amazing views of the water and surrounding skyline unobstructed by low-rise buildings. I discovered some street art on the side of colourful buildings, a huge flock of birds nearby Stadthuys, a wonderful spot to sit by the river to watch the Melaka River Cruise boats pass by and the maritime museum housed inside a replica of the Flor de la Mar Portuguese ship which sank in the coast of Malacca.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, Jonker Walk turns into a night market with food and craft stalls stretching the entire length of the street. Not actually wanting to purchase anything but finding the local markets a good way to absorb and understand the culture and pace of a place I made my way over there, weaving between the couples, families and pushchairs adorning the street. Halfway down I turned off into a lit-up street food section and walked straight into a German guy I met on my bus from the Perhentian Islands, it taking us both about 10 seconds to place the other after pointing at each other saying “you… I know you… bus!”
Not having ridden a bicycle in a while (dare I say I even sometimes miss my cycle commute into London – ok, I don’t really, but I miss cycling often) and it being one of my favourite ways to explore the area, the next dayI hired a bicycle from my hostel for 10 RM (£2) for the day and took myself off. I knew there were particular spots I wanted to visit but first I spent some time just winding down the narrow roads and crossing the river, uncovering a whole row of buildings along the edge of the river covered in artwork (Malacca reminds me of Penang in many ways) and then cycled round the Unesco side of the river, passing by the old buildings and various temples and mosques. As the centre isn’t that big I kept stopping, locking up my bike, getting back on to cycle for 2 minutes before repeating this process, so I decided to take in the experience of cycling the streets rather than stop at every single landmark.
I did, however, succumb to my tourist label by paying 23 RM (fiver) to go up the Taming Sari Tower; the one and only gyro tower in Malaysia. I was the only Brit onboard (and possibly the only person on their own, everyone else in families or mass tour groups) but the vast views offered of Malacca and beyond were amazing, with the ocean and sand so nearby and the red-roofed buildings adding splashes of colour against the bright blue sky, only cut through by the few scattered high-rise, office style buildings (which actually made the view more dynamic). It lasted about 10 minutes and was a proper “touristy” activity but it was pretty cool.
As I was stood outside MBMB Swimming Pool with my bicycle searching for A’Famosa, a fortress that was badly damaged by the Dutch invasion in 1641, a kind local helped me get bearings and, as is always the case, we got chatting about my travels. He asked if I was here alone and to my response if yes he looked stunned and replied with “you’re brave” – it’s always disarming when a local is surprised and wary of you travelling by yourself in their country. Anyway, I reached A’Famosa and wandered inside (partly to see it and partly to avoid the scorching heat) and stumbled across a woman and her son who were selling self-made bracelets and drawings to fund their trip around the world; a single mother, she had quit her job and was taking her son round the world with her, figuring out where to go next only once they’d had enough of somewhere. It’s so interesting hearing people’s different stories about what motivates them to travel, how they travel and what lengths they will go to.
I then walked up St Paul’s Hill to reach St Paul’s Church at the summit, once again being provided with views across Malacca and being amused by the tourists taking a million and one photos of the same pose in every single available spot. Jumping on the band wagon, I asked a Chinese women to take a photo of me (when they had finally finished taking their family album). I spent the rest of the afternoon cycling round the streets before heading back to the hostel for a shower, including hair wash (the first in 6 days, so it is noteworthy!)
I then met up with Javad – a guy from Iran whom I met over dinner in Cameron Highlands, and also was unexpectedly in Malacca at the same time as me. We went for dinner at an Indian/Malaysian again with me finally trying Murtabak; a sort of big, squared Roti folded over and filled with veg and meat (I went for Mutton), served with dhall and spices, being really tasty but also pretty heavy. We then crossed the bridge and walked to Reggae Bar On The River to sit alongside the river with a couple of drinks – it’s such a beautiful and peaceful place to sit, chat and people-watch, plus the reggae take on commercial music was brilliant!
A lovely way to spend my final evening in Malaysia (my goodness this trip is starting to move along quickly), I woke up at 8 the following morning, paid 20 RM (£4) for a taxi to take me to Melaka Sentral (as the bus would have taken 40 minutes on the one-way system) and hopped aboard my 10am bus to Singapore…