Despite Jolene’s insistence that Kuala Lumpur was a boring city, I was finding enough to keep me entertained exploring for a few more days. Unfortunately, I had a vague schedule to keep, it was time for me to move on as I packed up and headed south on a rainy morning to Melaka.
Melaka (or Malacca) is one of those cities that, as you get nearer, you hear more and more about to the point that once you get there, it will never live up to the expectations. In shorter words, it’s overhyped.
The entire town, along with George Town, Penang, is a UNESCO World Heritage site given its history of colonization to secure the Strait of Malacca. Like Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore would in a few days, the entirety of cities in the Malay Peninsula has a fantastic blending of cultures present: Indian, Malay, Chinese, and English. This makes for a fascinating blending that made Malaysia one of my favourite places I’ve visited yet.
Melaka, as a city, did not live up to its hype. It’s not the tourist mecca or overloaded with fascinating sites that hype set it out to be. What it is is a nice town. The history, the museums, the cuisine, and especially the riverwalk all add to its charm. That is to say, I was not blown away by it, as all the build-up I had heard promised. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed myself there.
I arrived from the comfortable, air-conditioned bus after rain had subsided and one thing was immediately apparent when I stepped out: Melaka was hot. A second bus took me into the city and dropped me off in the main intersection of English, Chinese, and Indian cultures. Many tourists were gathered around the Christ Church, a reddish church left over from the days of colonization.
Crossing the bridge, I was struck by two things.
- I was most certainly in Chinatown, blatantly pointed out by the 10 meter long red and gold Chinese dragon suspended over the intersection.
- Two doors down from the dragon stood a Hard Rock Café. I checked it out, only to find it completely lacked the “Café” part. Instead, it only sold rock memorabilia.
There are a good number of guest houses in the area, and many of them are along the very attractive riverwalk. After a couple tries, I found mine in the Tidur Tidur Guest House, a few rooms in the back of a store owned by a local artist, which had a back door directly out from the guest rooms to the riverwalk. For 20 ringgit (US$6) I got my own room with a bunk bed. The owner even provided me with a power adapter, convenient, since my computer had been dead since Penang.
By this time, the sun was falling and it was starting to cool off. I left my room for the riverwalk and headed upstream. A series of bridges cross to its parallel sides, which are lined with outdoor cafes, colorful murals, a good variety of architecture, and Malay tourists who were fairly insistent on getting a picture with me.
Wandering off the river brought me into a neighborhood of Little India which had several streets flooded with smoke that seemed to be coming from nowhere. Despite this, I did find one alley directly aligned with the sunset, which made for a good picture.
In the last of the light, I had the fortune of stumbling on a poor excuse for an amusement park. Still, there was a Ferris wheel that gave me a great, if slightly dirty, view in all direction of Melaka in the dusk. Unfortunately, I got way more than I paid for and was on the Ferris wheel for many more cycles than I would have cared for.
When on the way back to the guest house, I stopped at one of the river cafes for a beer. Sitting next to me were 4 people chatting away in English, but I couldn’t quite pin down what accent they were speaking with. Eventually, we all started talking and I found out they were all Malaysian and in Melaka for a friend’s wedding.
I asked them if it was common for Malaysians to speak to each other in English rather than in Malay. They told me that most who are educated or in cities will. Malay is used more in the rural areas. They also answered my curiosity on the random Arabic writing I had seen around their country, saying that it was an attempt by certain groups to reinforce their Islamic traditions, despite the fact that most Malaysians don’t read Arabic
It was an intriguing conversation to end my introduction to Melaka on.
Hi, I found your blog while googling for something. Nice blog you have here, and I esp love your entries on Malaysia – where I am from. It’s always interesting to read perceptions of Malaysia through the eyes and words of a tourist/foreigner – and I never get bored reading those.
Regarding the prevalence of English among Malaysians, most well-educated urban Chinese and Indians (esp those who attend national schools/missionary schools – in our lingo, the English-eds) would often speak English among themselves, Malays less so. Malay is still the national language, but the rest of the Chinese and Indian populace would only speak Malay should the need arises and at most other times, it’s their native languages (Chinese/Indian) that are often used.
As for the use of Arabic texts in Malaysia, besides its predominance at mosques (which is understandable), the ones that you saw on road signs and etc are actually Malay language written in the Arabic script. It’s not Arabic language like what the guys told you. The script is known as Jawi, which is an aged-old Arabic-derived script employed to write Malay, just like Persian language. Jawi was the predominant script since the adoption of Islam by the Malay rulers up to the introduction of the Latin script by the Europeans, esp the Brits which reorganized the education system of British Malaya.
Thanks for the information. I’m still very interested in Malaysia and hope to get back again soon. I love the blending of cultures which, aside from Singapore (a former Malay land anyway), seems to be unique in SE Asia.
Also, I’ve run across your blog several times before in looking for information on some of my destinations. I’ve always found it exceptionally helpful. Sorry I didn’t ever comment sooner.
Oh, never knew you’ve stumbled on my blog before. Talk about the world being small! I felt bad for not updating it for months lol. Life outside the blogging world kinda holding me back most of the time. Hope I’d start writing again.
Bangkok is so near to here, I guess you’d return anytime soon! Thanks for the interesting writeups. Cheers.
And yes, regarding your regrets on not spending more days in Penang – you really should. Though it gets more touristy nowadays, it still largely retains its pre-independence, colonial charms in its historic core zone, unlike Singapore where only beautiful empty shells remain with the souls and characters largely removed. Should you need more info on Penang, you can email me or just drop a comment on my many Penang blog posts. 🙂