Melaka (Malacca) is changing, remarked my housemate. So many new buildings being constructed, she said. I knew what she meant. Every time I go, I see something new in this UNESCO World Heritage City. But that’s also because I’ve never stayed more than 48 hours.
The place may be morphing – and has been over the last 500 years under the Portuguese, Dutch and British – but somehow it stays timeless, making it worth visiting again and again. Here are some of the things you shouldn’t miss when you’re in Melaka, which you should include in your Kuala Lumpur itinerary if it’s your first time in Malaysia.
1. STADTHUYS + CHRIST CHURCH
Once the Dutch administrative building, Stadthuys is now a museum and the landmark that people usually measure distances from. The church next to it is still in use by the Anglican Church.
2. A FAMOSA + ST PAUL’S HILL
One of Melaka’s most famous sights is this 16th century Portuguese fort. Today, only a small gate and a cannon remain. Climb the steps to the top of the small hill to visit the ruins of a church where the remains of St Francis Xavier were temporarily buried.
3. RIVERSIDE + CRUISE
Walk or take one of the regular boat cruises on the river, which still has a bit of a sewer smell despite all the improvements to make it the popular attraction it is today. Along the way, you’ll see colourful murals on houses, and some interesting buildings and bridges.
4. JONKER STREET + NIGHT MARKET
Shop and eat at Jonker Street, known as Melaka’s main street. The night market on Fridays and Saturdays will satisfy the curious and the hungry.
These days, trishaws are no longer this simple. Characters from Frozen, Doraemon and Iron Man are the most popular decoration themes for these three-wheeled transport, which come with strange canopies, flashing lights and excessively loud boomboxes.
6. CHICKEN RICE BALLS
There are a handful of famous chicken rice ball shops selling rice pressed into a ball, served with steamed chicken. Come early or consider other alternatives when the queues get too crazy.
7. DURIAN CENDOL
Just across the clock tower and Victoria Fountain in front of Stadthuys is a stall that sells all manner of Malaysian ice desserts. Cendol (green bean “noodles” with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup), with or without fresh durian, still tastes like durian. Give it a try. It’s nice and cheap.
MELAKA MARITIME MUSEUM
This distinctively shaped museum make you feel like you’re on Captain Hook’s ship, at least from the outside.
HOUSES OF WORSHIP
Churches, temples and mosques abound in Melaka. Many have stories to tell.
From KL Sentral or KLIA/klia2, take the KLIA Transit train to TBS. Cross from the train station to the bus terminal and hop on a bus to Melaka Sentral.
From Melaka Sentral, take a cab (expensive) or get on the Panorama Melaka bus to Bangunan Merah (Red Square) or Stadthuys.
There are also buses direct from the airport to Melaka, but much less frequently than from TBS. Check the schedules online to be sure.