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Why Did No One Tell Me About Melaka?

Posted By in Malaysia | 22 comments

Why Did No One Tell Me About Melaka?

As I sat writing this post, I mulled over a series of grabbing titles: “The Best Destination in SE Asia You’ve Never Heard of”, or “Melaka: Malaysia’s Hidden Gem”.  In the end, I couldn’t use any of them because the truth is that Melaka (sometimes spelled Malacca) isn’t actually some exciting, off-the-beaten path destination that has remained a blind spot on the tourist radar until now. In fact, most people at our hostel in Kuala Lumpur were planning on making it their next stop, just as Brent and I were.

melaka Malaysia

At the same time, Melaka did give me hints of those chills you get when you find some undiscovered place – I think because I’ve never heard anyone raving about it. It doesn’t seem like most travelers include Melaka on their list of ‘must-see’ places in SE Asia.  And now that I’ve been there, I have no idea why this is the case!  Here are a few reasons why I think Melaka should be on everyone’s SE Asia bucket list:

The People

More and more, I realize that a major part of traveling well is establishing this fine balance between being open enough to connect with people in different countries, yet not so accessible that I make myself a target for scams. Thus, Brent and I were initially wary when various people in Melaka approached us in the street, asking where we were from, or offering to help us with directions. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time that “where are you from?” was a precursor to”buy this bracelet!”; and “let me show you the way to your guesthouse” was followed by a request for a big “tip”.

melaka Malaysia

But as I gradually let my guard down, I began to see that these people didn’t have any hidden motives for talking to us at all. They were actually just really friendly, and interested in what brought us to the home that they were so proud of. Of course, like any place in the world, I’m sure there are some not so wonderful people in Melaka too, but everyone we were lucky enough to meet was warm, welcoming and generous.

The Architecture

melaka Malaysia

With winged Chinese temples, elegant mosques, and beautifully-worn-down colonial buildings all within walking distance of one another, it was pretty clear why Melaka was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Glowing paper lanterns hanging in front of weathered shop houses; crumbing churches faded to expose their underlying brick; graceful Victorian lanterns illuminating beautiful street art. I’ve never seen another place quite as quirky and captivating as Melaka.

melaka Malaysia

Melaka was founded around 1400 by a Sumatran prince, and its strategic location quickly made it a centre for trade with India, China, Indonesia, and Siam (Thailand). As one of the wealthier cities in the country, Melaka helped to define Malaysia’s culture. In addition to its distinct Malay culture, Melaka has long been home to a large Chinese community. Over the centuries, it’s also been taken over by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British, among others.  All these cultures and eras seem to be layered together through time and space in Melaka’s architecture.   

melaka Malaysia

The Melaka Tourism Centre offers free guided tours of the city’s highlights on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. You just have to go to the Tourism Centre, which is found between Dutch Square and the Melaka River, around 9am. If I’m being completely honest, our guide’s accented English was a little difficult to understand at certain times, but it was still a great introduction to Melaka’s architecture, plus it was free!

The Food

melaka Malaysia

Melaka’s varied cultural influences come together just as amazingly in the city’s food as in its architecture. The Jonker Street Night Market, which takes place in Chinatown on Friday and Saturday nights, is one of the best places to try a little bit of it all, from Portuguese egg tarts to durian puffs.

melaka Malaysia

One of the most interesting dishes I tried was cendol. Supposedly it’s eaten throughout SE Asia, but Malaysia was not only the first place I’ve seen it, but there were a lot of shops selling it, so it’s obviously particularly popular here. It basically consists of coconut milk, weird green jelly noodles, palm sugar, and a whole bunch of optional ingredients (mine came with red beans).

food in melaka Malaysia

Although Little India is surprisingly one of the more lackluster areas of the city, we ended up eating there multiple times because of the incredible food. Our favourite place was Selvam Banana Leaf Restaurant, which is the big green building on the right after you walk under the gaudy archway that marks the entrance to Little India.  The staff laid big banana leaves on the table in front of each of us like a place mat, and then piled them with dhall, chutney, poppadoms, and a bunch of other delicious stuff that I couldn’t even name. It was the kind of casual place where they would come around with a pot, heap a big spoonful of something onto our banana leaves, and then ask if that was enough, or if we wanted more. It was incredibly cheap, and the banana leaf sets were different every day.

 

Have you been to Melaka? If you haven’t been, what have you heard about it?

22 Comments

    • waysofwanderers August 27, 2014

      You won't regret it! Plus it's less than 2 hours away from Kuala Lumpur, so if you're passing through there at any point, it's an easy trip.

  1. Ryan August 28, 2014

    Nice post! Glad that you enjoyed your time there.

    Melaka (Malay spelling; Malacca = English spelling, but it gets interchanged every now and then even by us locals!) is my hometown and I can definitely vouch for this beautiful town! Penang, another popular destination which is located up north is also a town somewhat similar to Melaka, check it out if you're still in the country 🙂

    • waysofwanderers August 28, 2014

      I wish I was, but I hope to go back soon and Penang is definitely on my list!

  2. midlifewanderlust1965 August 28, 2014

    I had never heard about Melaka. This is another place that needs to be visited.
    My recent post My Next Trip

  3. Paige Conner Totaro August 28, 2014

    We spent an unforgettable Christmas in Melaka a couple of years ago and completely agree. The people were especially friendly there. The owner of our guest house even gave us a ride to the large grocery store and use if his kitchen so we could cook a Christmas dinner, which we shared with the Chinese guests there.

    • waysofwanderers August 28, 2014

      That sounds like it must have been a really wonderful experience :).

  4. Naomi August 28, 2014

    I heard about Melaka AFTER going to Malaysia and I was so gutted to have missed it, although it look similar to Penang (which I absolutely loved). It's definitely somewhere I'd love to go to and seeing as there's a few other places I would like to go back to, I'm going to have come back to Malaysia some time. When exactly, I don't know!
    My recent post The Downsides of Being a Linguist

    • waysofwanderers August 28, 2014

      Likewise, I'm sad I missed Penang! Our travel schedule was pretty limited this time, so we went with Melaka because it's so close to KL. I loved Malaysia, though, so I'm sure I'll be back too.

  5. nutcase2818 August 28, 2014

    I straight up didn't like it. I was going to stay two nights but even before I got there, I changed my plans and only stayed for one.It could have just been a timing issue since I threw it in last minute.
    My recent post How I Flew Business Class for $118

      • nutcase2818 August 28, 2014

        I just thought it was so boring. But again, it was probably just a timing issue. If I had gone at another time, I might have enjoyed it more.
        My recent post QRG: Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok

        • waysofwanderers August 28, 2014

          Interesting! I did think we lucked out with timing actually – we arrived on Friday, so the night market was on all weekend, plus it was the end of Ramadan, so the atmosphere was particularly festive.

  6. Catherine September 5, 2014

    This place looks wonderful and it's so great to hear about somewhere that people are genuinely nice and not just out to scam you!
    My recent post And The Winner Is…

    • waysofwanderers September 6, 2014

      Right? Not to sound cynical, but I feel like a lot of cities in SE Asia are so burned out when it comes to tourists; it was nice to be in a place where I felt wanted and welcome.

  7. Steph & Tony Investigate! September 6, 2014

    I'm so glad you enjoyed your time in Melaka—I think it's my favorite city in Malaysia, and I KNOW it's my favorite place to eat in Malaysia! (Same thing?) We didn't have a single bad meal during our time there and it was such a joy to wander around and photos, it's such an interesting city with so much on offer, it's incredible more people don't know about it!
    My recent post We Drove a Tuk-Tuk Across Sri Lanka & You Can Too!

    • waysofwanderers September 6, 2014

      Definitely! Food is a quick way to win me over – I think it made me even more enthused about everything else, haha.

  8. RC @ Allianz Global October 27, 2014

    Hi WaysofWanderers,

    How lucky you are to be there in Melaka, i just never got the chance to visit there even thought grew up in Malaysia for 17 years and moved abroad after then Singapore but missed out Melaka. You should also try to visit Sabah my hometown, Mt. Kota Kinabalu is something for you to explore and so many other things out there.

  9. Fanofpenang November 23, 2014

    I'm born and bred in KL, Malaysia. Melaka being a short excursion from KL, been there many times and still liked it very much. I personally like Penang more due to more variety of local food (Char Kuay Teow, Or Jian, Assam Laksa, etc). In short, if you like Melaka, you will fall in love with Penang, but this is where similarities end. Penang has traditional wooden fishing villages by the sea serving you the very fresh fish noodles (the best i've tried) but in Melaka, you dig into the aromatic, succulent chicken rice balls in a somewhat look like a typical Chinese home. Melaka has historical Portuguese war buildings while Penang has the remnants of early Chinese settlers. Different history, different food – try it!

  10. mana February 13, 2015

    was it after living in Thailand that you became sometimes…suspicious…when people were genuinely offering their help?

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