I finally had the chance to take a visit to Malacca or (alternative pronunciation) Melaka a few weeks ago but, with only one day to spare, I joined a group tour from Kuala Lumpur. Two hours out of Kuala Lumpur along winding scenic roads, we made our first stop—right at the arch gate welcoming us to Malacca. The adventure has just begun.
Despite the advent of modernization, Malacca City's vibrant past is visible in its share of attractions like historic churches, centuries-old forts and colonial buildings.
We drove around a mess of highways undergoing massive construction and stopped for a few minutes at the St Peter’s Church in Melaka. Established in 1710, it is the oldest functioning Roman Catholic church in Malaysia.
The Strait of Malacca is far from what I had always envisioned of one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. From the concrete lookout area, where we were dropped off for five minutes, I saw a narrow stretch of murky water flanked by heavy construction of buildings surrounding it.
Then we were off to lunch, anticipating a delicious Perakan cuisine or Nyonya food – as the online brochures advertised. We were surprised to be dropped off at a Chinese restaurant, where we shared Chinese food at a round table. I guess you have to make a special trip on your own if you want the whole experience.
Right after lunch, our historic walking tour started, passing outside the Malacca Proclamation of Independence Memorial, an impressive, white stucco Dutch colonial mansion that now houses collections on the development of Malaysia, the Melaka Sultanate Palace. From there we proceeded to Porta De Santiago, a.k.a. A Famosa Fort, or whatever ruins are left of it. The crumbling gate that was once part of a sprawling settlement for the Portugese administration is considered one of the oldest surviving European architectural ruins in Asia.
Up a hundred or so steep steps later, we saw the ruins of St Paul’s Church at the summit of St Paul’s Hill. Roofless, with its walls covered in moss and ferns, the church built in 1521 is the oldest church building in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.
Down a flight of steep stairs we headed to the Dutch Square — the most picturesque attraction but is a challenge to photograph, given the multitudes of tourists taking selfies with long sticks.
The Christ Church Melaka, a red brick building with a white cross on top stands out prominently at the Dutch Square. I did not go in and realized that I missed seeing the 200-year old handmade pews and interior of the cathedral. Across the Red Church is the Melaka River with its colonial buildings, ancient bridges and antique shops and settlements.
Jonker Street is a shopper’s paradise — a mile-long street through Chinatown with Chinese temples, quaint stores and shops offering endless selections of antiques, handicrafts, clothing, knick-knacks, trinkets and tasty treats that begged to be brought home as souvenirs.
We walked in the scorching heat of the noonday sun but learned the best time to walk along Jonker is late in the afternoon at the night market.
Things to remember: Wear comfortable walking shoes, stay hydrated and eat. Most of the tour buses will only allow water and no food inside their buses. Stay with your group or remember your guide. It’s so easy to get lost with so many tour groups all at once in one place. Enjoy and go back.