A two hour bus journey south from Kuala Lumpur for a weekend of exploring the UNESCO World Heritage City of Melaka.
Friday 19 – Sunday 21 January 2018
A break from the city
Our first weekend away while in Malaysia was to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Melaka – aka Malacca. Honestly, I’d never heard of the city before arriving in Malaysia but it kept being mentioned when I asked people where was good to visit in the country so we took the recommendations and booked a hotel.
Buses KL to Melaka
Melaka is only a two hour bus journey from Kuala Lumpur so a great option for a side trip if you’re in the big city. I’d heard that the buses were very frequent so we decided not to book tickets online in advance, though it might be worth booking ahead if you’re travelling during a holiday. We got an Uber from our apartment in Cyberjaya to the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) for about 11.30am, went to one of the ticket desks and bought two tickets leaving for Melaka at noon. Buses seemed to leave for Melaka every half hour with various bus companies. There were two buses leaving at the same time and we decided on the slightly more expensive one (Mayang Sari) in the assumption that the bus might be a big nicer. We paid MYR 11 each for the bus from TBS (just south of KL) to Melaka Sentral. We ended up using the same company for our bus on the way home (which was Melaka Sentral to KL Sentral instead of TBS). The bus home was pretty fancy with only three (wider) seats per row, lots of leg room and even a leg rest to flip up like on an arm chair! Both buses were clean, modern and comfortable so I would recommend Mayang Sari.
There’s lots of food options at TBS, one floor up from the ticket desks with a Starbucks, KFC, Subway and some local options. We got a Subway to eat while we waited for a bus. (I don’t think eating or drinking is allowed on the bus).
Arriving at Melaka Sentral, there were lots of taxis at the entrance but we decided to request a trusty Uber. Our Melaka Uber driver, Subramaniam, gave us the most chat we’ve had from a driver since arriving in Malaysia and told us some must-see places around the city.
Subramaniam dropped us off at our hotel and we were very happy with the choice after having a look around. New, clean, friendly staff and a lovely hotel room. The next morning we also discovered a great breakfast with Western (beans, scrambled eggs, toast, cereal) and Asian (noodles, rice) options available. The hotel was about a 10 minute walk to Jonker Street so nice and central without having the noise at night. There’s a small convenience store outside for drinks and snacks but it’s not 24 hour and closed on a Sunday. I’d highly recommend Hotel Arissa you’re planning a trip to Melaka and want to be close to the action, but not too close.
I was amused by a sign in the lift that said pets, durian, dragon fruit and mangosteen were all banned from the hotel. Pets is understandable and apparently durian (fruit, which I’ve avoided so far but vowed to try when I’m back in Malaysia!) smells awful but was confused by dragon fruit and mangosteen (another fruit). Apparently the colour from dragon fruit and mangosteen can stain linen and towels – so there you go!
Rain, rain, go away
Just after we checked into our hotel, the rain started (it rained a LOT during our first few weeks in Malaysia!). After about half an hour of a heavy (by UK standards) downpour, the rain slowed to a drizzle and we went out to explore, armed with our umbrellas (never go out without your umbrella in Malaysia!). We followed Google Maps to Jonker Walk staying close to the sides of pavement-less roads. Just before Jonker Street we got distracted by statues of Datuk Wira Gan Boon Leong, aka the Father of Bodybuilding in Malaysia. We took a few photos posing with the man who has been Mr Universe, Mr Asia, Mr Malaysia and Mr Melaka.
We found the entrance to Jonker Street around the next corner. Jonker Street is in Melaka’s Chinatown and originally known for its antique shops. Now it is definitely the tourist hub of the city and there’s lots of restaurants, craft and souvenir shops and a few bars. We spotted the Geographer sold beer, cocktails and vege food (all rare in Malaysia!), so decided to stop. Due to the lack of vege food and abundance of chicken-based dishes, we hadn’t really tried any Malaysian food since we arrived. One of the most famous dishes is Nasi Lemak but often has chicken and anchovies. I spotted a vegetarian version in the Geographer so ordered that. Nasi lemak is a rice dish (if there’s one thing Malaysians love more than chicken, it’s rice!) cooked in coconut milk. The vege version was tasty and seemed quite healthy, despite being ordered with a lychee mojito!
So, food aside (though there will be more eating), what is there to do in Melaka?
Admire the architecture
Melaka has a fascinating history, which is reflected in the architecture of the city. Over the years, it has been colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese, eventually being left to Malaysia. There’s also a big Chinese and Indian influence from traders who moved to Melaka. As you come out Jonker Street on the river end, you’ll find Christ Church of Melaka and Church of Javier. All over the city there are Buddhist and Hindu temples along with mosques and churches.
Walk up St Paul’s Hill
Near Christ Church and Windmill Dutch Square you will find a path up to St Paul’s Hill. Not too exciting but it doesn’t take long and you’ll get some views to the ocean. St Paul’s Church is at the top of the hill, slightly in ruins and (strangely) with souvenir stalls set up inside.
Take a river cruise
The river area in Melaka is really lovely and there’s fab street art on the buildings along it. For 23 MYR you can take a river cruise that goes along the entire river and loops back. It seemed like only these cruise boats were allowed in the water as we didn’t see any other boats.
Our boat was busy and I was stuck in the middle so spent the whole time itching to get off and walk, which takes me on to…
Wander along the river
I much preferred this to the boat trip as we could take things at our own pace and weren’t boxed in with other tourists. We spent an hour or so walking along from where Christ Church is, over one of the bridges and back again. I think there’s also a museum type place but we didn’t make it that far. We then sat at Reggae by the River (the Malaysians who drink seem to love a reggae bar! Have been to one in KL too) for a beer/cocktail when it got dark. Worryingly, my cocktail was served with a side of mosquito repellent which isn’t a good sign!
Check out Jonker Street’s eateries, pubs, shops and temples. Try to visit Melaka at the weekend as Jonker Street is closed off to traffic for a night market. There’s lots of stalls selling everything from coconut shakes, jackfruit, spiral potatoes, candy floss, toys, hair accessories, clothing and…superglue. On Saturday night we walked by a Buddhist Temple on Jonker Street and were surprised to see an older lady doing karaoke! There’s also a side street which is all food stalls for a cheap dinner.
Parallel to Jonker Street is Harmony Street, so called because those of different religions live in harmony together. We had a peek inside Kampung Kling Mosque and Xiang Lin Si Temple. You’re generally welcome to pop into mosques and temples to have a look around though remember to take off your shoes or cover arms/legs appropriately. The mosque that we visited had cloaks for those not dress appropriately (e.g. me in my shorts).
The Baba & Nyonya Museum
On the parallel street on the opposite side of Jonker Street to Harmony Street is The Baba & Nyonya Museum. It was acquired by the Chan family in 1861, with four generations living there until it was opened as a museum in 1985. Although interesting, his family were obviously extremely wealthy so it wasn’t the story of your regular family from Melaka. There’s was a big family photo of all the descendants of the couple who first owned the house, which was taken recently at a reunion.
Love or hate the trishaws!
We first spotted these cycle tuk tuks while sitting in the Geographer. Big groups of them kept cycling by with amused tourists in the back. The trishaws are completely pimped out with cartoon characters – e.g. Hello Kitty, Spiderman – and blaring music. The drivers all looked like they had lost the will to live! And then when it got dark, they were all lit up. I think these started out as normal trishaws and over the years they have got more ridiculous to please tourists. I felt that they added some unnecessary happy hardcore music to the lovely city!
Kuil Sri Subramaniam Thuropathai Amman Alayam Paribala Sabai
About a 15 minute walk from Jonker Street and right around the corner from our hotel was a lovely Hindu temple called Kuil Sri Subramaniam Thuropathai Amman Alayam Paribala Sabai. We visited late Sunday morning before heading back to KL and there were only two people there. They kept us right about where to take off our shoes before leaving so we were left to look around on our own. The temple is so bright and colourful with so much detail. Right next door in a Buddhist temple which we also had a quick look in.
Near the Hindu Temple, is Chitti Village with a big arch with elephants at the entrance. Chetti people are Indians who moved to Melaka and adopted a lot of Malaysian ways and foods but have strictly stuck to their Hindu faith. There’s not much to see in the village as it’s literally just a village where people live. There’s some nice houses but it felt a bit strange wandering about like it’s a tourist attraction while the people go about their day. There’s a little museum with a very low entrance fee next door to the village which is worth a quick look around if you want to learn more about the Chetti people.
A brief Melaka visit
That is what we managed to achieve in a day and a half in Melaka at a very leisurely pace. I’d definitely recommend a trip to visit if you are staying in Kuala Lumpur. In contrast to the big city of KL, Melaka has so much charm and character. Don’t worry too much about an itinerary, just wander around and soak up the atmosphere.