Located in the southwest part of Malaysia, Melaka is the oldest and 3rd smallest part of the country. This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, full of historic places from the days when this region was successively conquered by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British.
The center of Peranakan culture, Melaka continues to support the descendants of Chinese traders and local women, who developed a unique lifestyle expressed in their fashion, architecture, dialect, and customs. The Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum contains various relics of this society.
Here are some things you can do in Melaka:
Start off the trip in Stadthuys – Also known as Dutch Square, this is one of the oldest Dutch buildings in Asia and was once the center of Dutch administration in the region. Notable for its crimson-hued buildings, a replica of Queen Victoria’s fountain is also found here, as well as the Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower and Christ Church. Stadhuys now houses a historical museum.
Visit the glorious past in Porta de Santiago – Once part of A Famosa (famous), this structure is one of the four main gates of the famous fortress built-in 1512 during the Portuguese colonial era. The original fortress had 3-meter thick walls and a 40-meter high watchtower and was designed to fend off attacks from the neighboring Acheh and Johor empires. The fortress ruins are easily reachable from the city center by walking along Jalan Kota for a couple of minutes.
Shop for souvenirs along Jonker Street – This road closes to traffic at 6 pm every weekend to transform into a Pasar Malam, or night market. Shop at any of the antique stores, souvenir stalls, or crafts booths, or eat local delights at any hawker area such as cendol, a dessert of red beans, pandan jelly strips, coconut milk, and sweet corn topped with shaved ice and perked up with coffee-flavored cream.
Explore the Portuguese Settlement – Located southeast of the city center, these tidy rows of primarily wooden houses are the residences of the descendants of the original Portuguese colonists. Portuguese-Eurasian cuisine like fried squid and devil’s curry are definitely available in these streets.
Take a slow spin on the Menara Taming Sari – This recently constructed 110-meter revolving tower is fast becoming a tourist favorite. Visitors can position themselves in any of the 80 seats and enjoy the skyline for 7 full minutes, making it perfect for aerial photography or just a bird’s eye view of Melaka.
Take a ride on the River Cruise – Featured in the hit Hollywood movie, Entrapment, this 30- to 45-minute water voyage takes visitors to places in town that are not accessible by walking.
Dine on Melaka Rice Ball dish – The origin story of this local cuisine proves that the necessity of mothers leads to invention. As the tale goes, a down-on-her-luck mother started serving rice balls to stevedores who don’t have time for lunch breaks. This easier-to-handle meal became a success in Melaka’s main jetty, leading to copycat establishments and the expansion of the original operation. The rice itself is cooked in chicken stock flavored with garlic, ginger, and spring onions, combined with juicy chicken and dipped in chili sauce. The streets abound in hawker places, which have about a dozen stalls ready to serve the famished traveler.
Getting to Melaka from Kuala Lumpur involves a 2-hour bus trip. An interesting time to visit is during Intruder, which is usually celebrated in February in the week before Lent. Passers-by who dare step in the Portuguese settlement are greeted with a drenching by the jolly residents. Avoid stepping out on a Tuesday, as many shops, museums, and dining places are closed.