From Kuala Lumpur, we took a bus heading down south to Melaka, the capital city of the state with the same name on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The city center of Melaka became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 and since then it has seen the number of tourists increasing year after year. We, too, stopped over to check out what the fuss was all about.
Like many other cities and countries in Asia, Melaka went through the typical cycle of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonization periods and preserved most of the original Dutch colonial buildings from the 1600s, which are today’s main attractions. We strolled through the city center and passed by a few of the historical sites in the city.
The Stadthuys, also known as the Red Square, is a lovely small, but busy square situated in the heart of Melaka. Built by the Dutch occupants in 1650, the square itself had several smaller attractions, such as a clock tower, the city hall, a fountain and what is believed to be the oldest remaining Dutch historical building in the orient, the Dutch Christ Church.
We sat around the always lively square, both admiring the details on the historical buildings as well as just watching locals and tourists alike fawning over the landmark. It was one of the most colourful and cute little pieces of land. Some European charm in Asia.
Around the square, many tricycles were parked, waiting to take tourists on a city tour. But these weren’t just typical tricycles. The tricycles in Melaka were highly customized (in very funny ways), with the main theme being superheroes or cartoons, like Hello Kitty or Iron Man. The tricycles carried paintings, drawings, action figures or whatever it took to make it look ridiculously elaborate and over-the-top. The icing on the cake was the powerful speakers each of them carried. Some of them blasted Disney songs to go along with the theme of the tricycle (e.g. Frozen), while others blasted current hit pop songs.
We couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, especially when they all lit up in flashing, seizure-inducing lights at night. I wouldn’t want to mess with the tricycles of Melaka. Never a dull moment at the Stadthuys!
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Walking up from the Red Square, we followed a path that led to the St. Paul’s Cathedral. The gentle slope, nearby trees and atmosphere were highly reminiscent of walking up to Fortaleza do Monte in Macau. Except that here in Melaka, instead of a fortress on top of the hill, there was St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was the strangest feeling of déjà vu of one of the earliest days of the trip. Funny how life comes circle, isn’t it? We were reminded of how far we have come because Macau seems like lightyears ago.
Most of the church was in ruins; the most interesting remaining parts were the Portuguese tombstones and some of the walls. What happened outside the church was much more memorable. A group of local students were dancing in a circle for some charity or awareness-raising campaign. With so many tourists watching, they became very self-conscious, until one of the tourists joined them and everybody had a good laugh.
St. Paul’s Cathedral was worth the climb for the view of the city. It was here we saw the iconic block houses with red roofs in Melaka, with the sea in the background.
Continuing our walk down from St. Paul’s Hill and through the city center of Melaka, we stumbled upon A Famosa, a Portuguese fortress, also among the oldest surviving European buildings in SE Asia. Actually the only standing part of the fort is Porta de Santiago, one of the gates that led into the old fort.
We ended the day in Jonker Street, the main street of Melaka’s Chinatown. Once renowned for its antique shops, the stalls on Jonker Street evolved and now sell almost everything from crafts to souvenirs to food. We took this opportunity to explore some of the flavours of Chinese Malaysia and browse through the endless choices of gifts.
At the end of Jonker Walk, we stumbled upon a funny “Don’t Mess with Melaka” sign in the style of “Don’t Mess with Texas” signs, also a campaign to stop littering and protect the environment. It’s yet another quirk of Melaka’s local culture that was surprising but endearing. Our brief stay in Melaka was filled with unexpectedly charming and lively moments that brought us a great deal of delight. From Melaka, we took a bus down to Johor Bahru, a city on the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia that we used as a base to visit Singapore.
For more pictures from Melaka, please visit the gallery!