An overnight trip is really the shortest time you can spend and say you’ve seen this wonderful little city which has a history dating back more than 600 years. Melaka is home to the descendants of the many international visitors who came and made their homes here, mixing and intermarrying with the locals and leaving behind what is now a living heritage museum. The city of Melaka has, like Georgetown in Penang, UNESCO World Heritage status and there is much to see, do and enjoy.
Firstly, of course, you need to decide where to stay. There are many places to choose from, catering to all pockets, but as two couples, we decided the perfect option for us would be Vintage 11, a beautifully restored old shophouse, right in the middle of Jalan Tokong between the Kampung Kling mosque and the Cheng Hoon Teng temple. Just down the road you can find the Sri Poyyatha Vinayaga Moorthy Indian temple and there are churches and other Chinese temples just round the corner and if you want food, well, you are spoilt for choice. The good coffee over the road is a bonus, but the shop isn’t always open.
After we were all settled in Vintage 11 by manager Andy Chong, we asked him the best place to find chicken rice and he recommended us to Hoe Kee in Jonker Street, (right out the door, right again and then left towards the river) good Hainanese chicken rice, with rice balls if you like. Strengthened, we set out exploring over the other side of the river. The Chinese had already been trading in Melaka since the time of Cheng Ho at the start of the 1400s, and there was already a thriving economy and entrepôt port in existence when the Portuguese invaded a century later. They centered their settlement on the southern bank of the river, building a fort for protection and a church on the hill above. This church, St Paul’s, exists only as a ruin today, but you can see many of the old burial tablets as well as a statue of St Francis Xavier, well known in Asia, who was buried here briefly before his body was taken to Goa in India. We approached from the ‘back’ via the Dutch Graveyard, which, despite its name, actually has more English graves, including that of Captain Kidd!
A walk via A’Famosa at the bottom of the hill, past the excavations of the Santiago fort took us along the edge of land reclaimed after the mid 1970s and the old waterfront is no longer discernible. However, since then, the river has been cleaned up and the river cruise which runs throughout the day and evening is a good way to rest your feet as you enjoy the passing panorama. The nearby replica of the Portuguese Flora Del Mar which is actually a maritime museum is just one of a number of museums around this part of the city which will give the visitor an insight into the life, history and culture of this lovely city.
The part of the city I enjoy most would have to be the area around the Christ Church which dates from the mid 1700s, with the similarly coloured Stadhuys on their right. The church and Stadhuys were built by the Dutch, who replaced the Portuguese in the 1600s as the major European influence. The Church is open to visitors, but make a donation if you want to take photos. You can buy a thin volume which tells you the history of the church and includes a recount of the ‘saving of the silver’ during the Japanese Occupation during the Second World War. Look carefully at the stones in the floor and upwards at the single trunk beams supporting the ceiling many of which have their own story to tell.
After all the walking, we enjoyed a revitalising dip in the pool and spa, preparing us for a lovely local dinner at the Eleven Bistro and Restaurant just round the corner. Unconnected to Vintage 11, it’s named because of the location in Jln Hang Lekir and serves great Nyonya food. Spicy if you want, not so, if you prefer. After dinner we walked off the food along Jln Tan Cheng Lok and the waterfront before collecting some very tasty durian puffs for supper. They use good durian, which really is important.
After a good sleep and a quick breakfast of things we’d brought with us, overlooking the pool, we set off for the Baba Nyonya heritage museum in Jln Tan Cheng Lok. This is an old family home with excellent guides who will explain the development of the Nyonya Baba culture, peculiar to Penang and Melaka, with a few minor differences between the two cities.
A cruise down the river, another coconut shake and a final chicken rice lunch as we walked back to collect our car laden with purchases of local delicacies dodol, gula melaka, prawn sambal and pineapple tarts was a great way to round off a sojourn in Melaka. Though I’ve been quite a few times, I am ever happy to return for a visit and discover something new each time.