I’m sitting in a quiet Chinese temple as I write this. Chinese New Year is around the corner and people are coming in by the dozen. Still, pin-drop silence prevails as locals convey their hopes and aspirations for the New Year by lighting incense sticks and offering fruits to deities. It’s hard to imagine that less that two hours ago I was in the middle of the hustle-bustle of Kuala Lumpur.
Melaka (also know as Malacca) is a small town less than 2 hours away from Kuala Lumpur. A UNESCO Heritage Site, it is often left out by tourist itineraries of Malaysia. The tourist trail is defined by the manic rhythm of Kuala Lumpur, the kitschiness of Genting, and the allure of rain forests. BIG MISTAKE.
This gem of a town is unmissable. It makes for the perfect day trip or weekend away from Kuala Lumpur. Melaka might be heavily influenced by Portugese and Dutch architecture but its atmosphere is inimitably Malay. Here’s what’s on offer :-
1) Laksa and Cendol at Jonkar 88
I won’t go into how much I love Laksa. You can just hop over to the drool-fest that is our post about The Street Food of Malaysia if you want to read my frenzied declarations of love for this curried soup. But I will say this – I had some of the yummiest bowls of Laksa in Melaka.
Jonkar Street is the focal point of all activity in Melaka – antique shops, temples, heritage museums, and restaurants crowd this narrow lane. Here you can find everything from Hello-Kitty themed cafes (Yep, in the plural!) to durian puffs off a cart. But the one place where you must stop for a meal is Jonkar 88. This museum-cum-art-gallery-cum-restaurant is housed in an old building. You can choose from an extensive menu and order a steaming bowl of laksa while browsing old coins, jewellery, and photographs. The icing on the cake? Large bowls of Laksa cost less than £1. You can follow this up with dessert at their in-house Cendol stall, which is really famous in Malaysia (with good reason!)
2) Ching Hoong Teng Temple
Melaka is home to Malaysia’s oldest functioning temple. The Ching Hoong Teng Temple boasts of an arresting entrance. Inside, intricate woodwork and sumptuous decorations in red, black, and gold dominate the prayer rooms. The air is thick with the fragrance of incense and complete silence surrounds worshippers. It is easy to get seduced by the aura of peace in the temple as one floats from one prayer room to the other. Magical!!
You will also spot a number of Chinese people venerating their ancestors by burning Spirit money (paper money). This is because the Chinese believe this money will reach their ancestors in the ‘Spirit World’, which as you can see in the photo below has been hit by some serious inflation 😉
3) Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum
No day trip to Melaka would be complete without a customary stop at the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum. The museum chronicles the story of Chinese immigrants who incorporated Malay culture into their own and came to be known as Baba (Men) and Nyonya (women). The reception hall, ancestral hall, and kitchen of this old house have been kept intact. The layout of the house and dozens of artefacts that adorn its walls provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of pre-World War II Straits’ culture. Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum is ultimately about the amalgamation of two cultures – Chinese and Malay. The resultant culture is unique to the west coast of Malaysia, especially Melaka. That is what makes this house-museum so important for Melaka’s history
4) Trishaws baby – oh yeah!
This is about as kitschy as it gets. Heavily-decorated trishaws with speakers blaring pop music are one of the forms of commuting in Melaka. Choose from angry birds hanging over your heads, teddy bears poking your sides, and hello kitties staring at you. Enjoy the journey back to your hotel to the beats of Gangnam Style – incomparable, embarrassing, and so much fun.
5) Chicken and Rice Balls
What do we tell say about Chicken and Rice balls?! This wondrous dish is the perfect comfort food – exactly what you need after a long day of sightseeing in Melaka. The carb laden meal is accompanied by pickled ginger and chillies – nom! Once you’re suitably stuffed, you can head back to Kuala Lumpur and continue your exploration of Malaysia 🙂
Although Melaka is a perfect day trip from Kuala Lumpur, we highly recommend spending a couple of nights in this gem of a city. There are plenty of accommodation options ranging from budget backpacker to heritage boutique hotels. You can browse through the list of Melaka hotels on Traveloka where it’s easy to compare and book without any booking fees. Irrespective of the kind of accommodation you choose, you’re definitely going to have a great time in Melaka 🙂
Read Part II of our shenanigans in Melaka in our post on attending at a Chinese Wedding in Malaysia
Planning a trip to South East Asia? Don’t forget to read our tips on accommodation, street food, and sightseeing
Need some inspiration packing for Asia? Hop over to our favourite outfits from Vietnam and Cambodia