Melaka or Malacca ......

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November 17th 2014
Published: March 10th 2015
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We took a taxi to the southern bus station in Kuala Lumpur where we were to catch a bus for the two hour trip to Melaka (or Malacca - both versions seem to be in use). We had visited the city over ten years previously and were expecting to see many changes. Certainly the bus station in KL was very different - a massive gleaming building which was a complete contrast to the old run down central station. It was a boring trip as the scenery was unspectacular and we were pleased to arrive in Melaka which had certainly grown though the old town appeared to have retained much of it's charm. The bus terminal was certainly very different - last time we were there the bus depot was a shack on a muddy block of land next to the river!
A taxi took us to the 5* hotel I had booked online the previous night - the Ramada Hotel which was celebrating it's 25th anniversary with a massive renovation and heavily discounted rooms. The room was indeed stunning and overlooked the tiny traditional village of Kampung Morten. We were nearly overshadowed by an enormous black and white building, the construction of which was nearly completed, which was about to open as the newest branch of the Swiss Garden Hotel chain. The city was granted UNESCO World heritage status in 2008 and I guess it was inevitable tourist numbers would dramatically increase requiring more hotel rooms to house them.

We spent the afternoon revisiting the old town streets. It was an enjoyable walk - wandering under the awnings and arches that fronted the shops whilst checking out the surrounding highly decorated buildings. They were beautiful - a mixture of Dutch, Portuguese and Peranakan architecture. Some were in a sorry state of disrepair - hopefully they will be renovated soon before it is too late to save them. Some were however glowing with fresh paint, the flowers and ornate borders which decorated the rooflines, highlighted in glossy colours. We stopped first at Stadthuy's, the salmon pink Dutch building which was the town hall and Governor's residence. This building is considered to be the oldest example of Dutch architecture in the East as it was built in 1641 shortly after the Dutch captured the city. It is situated on Dutch Square and stands beside Christ Church which is the oldest Protestant church in Malaysia. Also on the square is the Tang Beng Swee Clock which was built in 1886. Mid afternoon the square was busy with tourists shopping at the many souvenir stalls and the gaily decorated trishaws which are a symbol of the city. Strangely most of the trishaws were decorated with 'Hello Kitty' paraphernalia in lurid shades of hot pink and lime green. They were particularly impressive after dark with their blaring music and neon lights!

This area fronts the Melaka River and we crossed the nearby bridge to explore Jonker Street (Junk Street). Every Friday to Sunday night this street hosts a massive tourist market. Sadly the antique shops which the street was renowned for last time we were there have nearly all been replaced with shop after shop selling the same cheap souvenirs. It wasn't our scene at all so we soon turned off into one of the many narrow (and much more interesting) residential side streets. This area was fascinating, lined with tiny temples and shops selling all manner of items. Again we constantly stopped to look above at the external decoration on the building fronts - stunning moulded porcelain tiles and brightly painted plaster reliefs, thankfully now preserved since 2008 against destruction. It was a very enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. That evening we dined on pizza at the lovely Italian restaurant at the hotel. We were their only patrons - I hope their business isn't that bad all the time! The food was great though and staff very attentive. Next morning whilst breakfasting in the hotel the manager, a young Indian man, came up and introduced himself. He insisted we try all the different Indian dishes on offer as he enthusiastically described all their various ingredients. The restaurant overlooked the foyer and it's extremely large sparkling chandeliers. We could get used to 5* hotels.....

We spent another long day exploring the historic city centre after breakfast. First we crossed over to Kampung Morten which was the traditional village in the curve of the river that we could see from our hotel window. This tiny village somehow manages to retain an air of peace despite being surrounded by skyscrapers and is a fascinating example of what Malaysia used to be like. We followed the river around passing through the Hindu area as we crisscrossed some of the tiny bridges which crossed the river. Jerry got his hair cut in a small barbers shop whilst I browsed some of the nearby antique shops. Later we visited Cheng Hong Teng Temple, built in 1646, which is the oldest traditional Chinese Temple in Malaysia today. Nearby is the oldest functioning mosque in the country, Masjid Kampung Hulu, which was commissioned by the Dutch in 1728. It doesn't look like a mosque as it has a multi tiered metal roof instead of the usual dome. It was actually built before domes became fashionable in Muslim architecture. Both places of worship are still in use and are also very close to the Catholic Church and a Hindu temple. The street which contains all these different places of worship is commonly called Harmony Street.

Our favourite street however was Heeren Street which runs parallel to Jonker Street. It was lined with more stunning buildings - most had been renovated and today housed cafes, guesthouses, some lovely shops and the wonderful Baba (men) and Nonya (women) Peranakan Museum. This museum is housed within three adjoining houses and has a fascinating history. Four generations of the wealthy Chan family lived in the house from 1861 before it was opened as a museum in 1985. The family left the house in 1932 (due to the incessant noise from the street - what would they think today....) and it remained unused until one family member visited an historic home (as a tourist in England) and became aware that they could use their own home in Malacca for a similar purpose. It offers a glimpse of how opulently the wealthy Peranakan (descendants of Chinese immigrants) families lived. I also loved some of the shops in this area - particularly those that sold the beautiful traditional Peranakan clothes and shoes. These shoes were worn by both sexes though I guess today mainly women only wear them. The handmade shoes are very expensive and very dainty.

Later that afternoon we climbed the many stairs to the top of St Paul's Church, situated above Dutch Square. It was built in 1521and temporarily became a fortress for 30 years from 1567. Today the ruined walls are lined with old tombstones from the Dutch cemetery and the window spaces were being used as seating for young girls wearing headscarves and jeans who were studying, chatting and enjoying the late afternoon breeze. That evening we relaxed and watched the sun set with a few drinks and a meal on the terrace of a riverside luxury hotel before catching a neon lit trishaw back to our hotel.

Next morning we farewelled the city during a morning walk before catching a bus back down the peninsula for the five hour trip to Singapore. It was my 59th birthday and we had a dinner reservation that evening in Singapore to celebrate it. Our final few days in Singapore (and of this trip) were written up in my previous blogs. Sadly all holidays must eventually end and now we are back home in Australia awaiting the birth of our second grandchild. No overseas trips are planned for the next twelve months though we are tentatively planning a European trip in 2016.

Additional photos below
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10th March 2015
Kampung Morten as seen from our hotel window

Great contrasts!
Luridly painted trishaws and the serene Kampung Morten, beautiful, but grimy wall tiles, 3 religions coexisting on Harmony Street, a 5* restaurant and a funky barbershop--I love these contrasts of travel. I'll miss your blogs, but I guess a new grandchild is a rather big adventure itself. Enjoy!
11th March 2015
Kampung Morten as seen from our hotel window

Thanks Tara! Yes grandchildren are definitely an adventure... But we will travel again - as you know, it is very addictive.

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