Used to be one of the most important trading ports in the world, Melaka is now a modern city with a hodgepodge of culture. It has also become a tourism hub in Malaysia ever since it earned its UNESCO World Heritage City title in 2008. Its proximity to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore also makes it a popular day trip destination.
History of Melaka
Melaka is perhaps Malaysia’s most historical city since this is where most of the country’s beginnings happened. It is considered to be the birthplace of the country’s historical and cultural heritage. Its strategic location along the Straits of Malacca is one of the reasons why it transformed from a simple fishing village to one of the powerful hubs of maritime trade. This popularity is what led to its invasion by the Europeans starting with the Portuguese. The Dutch and Brits soon followed. This mish-mash of cultures – Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, and European – is what makes Melaka all the more interesting and unique.
Approximately 144 km from Kuala Lumpur, Melaka is best accessed via Melaka Sentral. This is the new bus and taxi terminal, roughly 6 km from the city.
From Kuala Lumpur, it’s roughly 2-hour bus ride to Melaka Sentral. You can either take the Transnasional bus from KLIA2 or go to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan at Bandar Tasik Selatan.
Check updated prices and bus schedule + book here: KLIA 2 to Melaka Sentral.
From Singapore, it usually takes about 4 hours to get to Melaka Sentral.
Check updated prices and bus schedule + book here: Singapore to Melaka Sentral.
There are also express buses you can take from the other parts of Peninsular Malaysia. I took an 8-hour bus ride from Butterworth, Penang. No need to reserve or pre-book a seat during low season as there are plenty of buses serving this route.
Check updated prices and bus schedule + book here: Butterworth, Penang to Melaka Sentral.
I only tried taking the bus from Melaka Sentral to Ocean Mall and vice versa so I really can’t comment on the bus system. To go to the UNESCO World Heritage City, you can either walk, take a trishaw or rent a bicycle. The trishaws here are more pimped up than the ones I saw in Penang. Although I didn’t get to try one, I’m sure it’ll be quite an experience to ride in a Frozen-themed trishaw with blaring music and blinding lights to take you around the city. 😉 Since I’m not quite sure about my biking skills, I chose to walk while my dorm mates rented their own bikes. Bicycles can be easily rented in hostels.
Melaka River Cruise will take you past historical buildings, old warehouses, churches and villages for 45 minutes. It comes with a live commentary on Melaka’s history. The river cruise departs from the Muara Jetty next to Quayside Heritage Centre.
Where to Stay
Since I was on a budget backpacking trip around Southeast Asia that time, I booked a budget dorm near the riverside for RM 15 per night.
Victors Guest House
30-1, Jalan Munshi Abdullah, Melaka, 75100, Malaysia
There are a lot more budget accommodations around Chinatown and at the riverside to choose from. I usually book via Booking.com because I don’t like paying for my accommodation beforehand in case my plans change.
Where to eat
You won’t definitely run out of food to choose from in Melaka. Its unique mix of cultures is reflected in its cuisine – Malay, Nyonya, Chinese, and Portuguese. Most popular street to experience all of this is Jalan Hang Jebat or more commonly known as Jonker Street. Asam Pedas, Satay Celup, Chicken Rice Balls and Kembuli Rice are the must-try local dishes. Sad to say I didn’t get to try all of them when I was there.
Jonker is liveliest at night especially during Fridays to Sundays when the Jonker Walk Night Market opens. The whole street is closed to traffic and stalls line up along the road selling food, art, antiques, and everything in between.
I got to try some of the noodles and Cendol in Jonker 88 and a vegetarian meal in Geographer Café. Both were very touristy and food quality was not top notch.
This is a restaurant in Little India just after the arch that is worth trying. In fact, we ate there twice because the food was great and very affordable! We ate all of the roti we want to our heart’s and stomach’s content.
Other must try foods in Melaka
- Peranakan cuisine (Baba Nyonya) in Nyonya Makko
- Popiah with Peranakan twist in Jalan Bunga Raya
- Nyonya Kuih in Baba Charlie Nyonya Cakes on Jalan Tengkera Pantai
- Malacca style Duck noodles at Soon Yen Duck Noodle Restaurant on Jalan Tengkera
- Putu piring
- Klebang Original Coconut shake
Sights and Activities
The Stadthuys – meaning “The Town Hall” – was built by the Dutch in 1645 after they took over Melaka from the Portuguese in 1641. The four-storey building, built on the terrace of St. Paul’s Hill served as the Governor’s residence until the 18th century. The Governor’s bedroom, decorated with paintings of Chinese mythology, occupied the topmost level of the building while the jail occupied the lower front section of the building. During conservation, wells and passageways were unearthed, believed to be dug by the Portuguese and Dutch. The Stadthuys is believed to hold many undiscovered secrets. It is also the oldest remaining Dutch building in Southeast Asia.
Entrance Fee: RM 10
Operating hours: 0900 AM -0530 PM
Christ Church is one of the iconic buildings of Melaka aside from Stadthuys. Both are characterized by salmon red walls and Dutch masonry. It is also the oldest Protestant Church in Malaysia.
Operating hours: 8:30AM-5PM Mon-Sat, free admission; photography is forbidden.
You will also see the Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower and Queen Victoria’s Fountain in the vicinity.
ST. PAUL’S HILL
The ruins is formerly a chapel called Nossa Senhora (Our Lady of the Hill) and were built by a Portuguese sea captain as a way of giving thanks for surviving enemy attacks while sailing the South China Sea. The church accommodated St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary during his visits to Melaka between 1545 and 1553. He was buried here in 1553 before his remains were transferred to Goa, India. It was later renamed as the Church of Annunciation and an additional storey and tower were built. The Dutch turned it into a Protestant church and renamed it as St. Paul’s Church. Inside the ruins, you will see tombstones along the walls and floors. Overlooking the Chapel Hill is the view of the city and its coastline.
A’ FAMOSA FORT (PORTA DE SANTIAGO)
The Portuguese also built the A’ Famosa fortress when they captured Melaka. Porta de Santiago is one of the four main entrances to the fortress built in 1511. The rest of the fortress was badly damaged during the Dutch Invasion.
This ship museum is fashioned after a Portuguese ship that sank off the coast of Melaka. Inside you will get to know more about Melaka’s maritime history.
Entrance Fee: 10 RM
Operating Hours: Open Daily 0900 AM – 0500 PM
MELAKA SULTANATE WATER WHEEL
Built along Melaka riverbank, you surely won’t miss this one. It is the first and largest watermill in Malaysia. The 13-meter tall replica represents the glory of Melaka when it was still one of the most important ports in the world.
Entrance Fee: Free
KAMPUNG KLING MOSQUE
This 150-year-old mosque is distinguished by its 6 tiered Chinese pagoda-like minaret and 3-tiered pyramidal roof. Its architecture is a blend of Sumatran, Indian, Malay and Chinese.
CHENG HOON TENG TEMPLE
Located on Temple Street or Jalan Tokong, Cheng Hoon Teng (Green Clouds Temple) is the oldest functioning Chinese temples in Malaysia. This temple is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy (Kwan Yin) and Ma Choo, the patron deity of fishermen and seafarers. It is also one of the most impressive buildings in Chinatown. The temple is devoted equally to the three doctrines – Taoism, Confucianism and Chinese-Buddhism.
Discovered only in 2006, it was found that the Middleburg bastion was part of the fortress wall that the Portuguese built to encircle the city. The bastion was added by the Dutch to protect the old quay.
MELAKA STREET ART
While Penang may be known as the street art capital of Malaysia, it is also worth to take a look at what Melaka has to offer. Read more about Melaka’s street art.
You can also check out Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum to get a glimpse of the life of a wealthy Straits Chinese family. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Taming Sari Tower. It is Malaysia’s only gyro tower that revolves 360 degrees. At the foot of St. Paul’s Hill you will also find the Replica of Melaka Sultanate Palace. Check it out if you want to learn more about Melaka’s illustrious history.
Visit the floating mosque, Masjid Selat, in Pulau Melaka. Experience standing on transparent glass 42 floors up in the air at the Shore Sky Tower Malacca.
Walking along Jonker Street, you will find a lot of shop houses selling antiques and art. There are also a lot of modern stuff for you to choose from. Dataran Pahlawan and Mahkota Parade are two of Melaka’s most popular shopping centers. You can also shop your favorite brands at Freeport A’Famosa Outlet.
- Malacca has a tropical climate like its neighboring cities. It can be hot and humid most of the time so prepare accordingly. Best to bring sunscreen and other necessities to shield you from the harmful sun rays especially if you are not looking to get tanned. Rainy months are from September to November.
- Most of Jonker is closed on Monday evenings. (At least this was true when I was there)
- There is a free guided walking tour of Old Melaka Heritage Sites courtesy of the Melaka State Government. It covers 12 heritage sites and runs every Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It starts at 0900 AM at the Tourism Malaysia Information Centre (walking distance from Dutch Square).
- There is another free walking tour in Melaka by Malay Village Tour – Persatuan Sahabat Muzium Melaka. Click the link for more info.
- Take a stroll along the Melaka riverside if you don’t want to take the river cruise. Maybe you’ll even meet a monitor lizard along the way!
- If you’re on a budget, it’s easy to not spend too much here as you can eat for as cheap as RM 2. There are also a lot of free activities as you can read from above.
Have you been to Melaka? How was it?
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