Melaka (formerly Malacca) is a city of layers that can confuse and delight you at every turn. First impressions are not always the best. Traffic is heavy; the streets are dirty and edged in open sewers; carcasses of halted building projects stand like crumbling tombstones.
Then scrape the surface and polish the patina, and you’ll discover cultural complexity, confusion and contradiction that makes you wish to stay longer to make sense of the sights, sounds and smells.
Even daylight makes a difference: dirty, dilapidated, crumbling buildings are transformed into chic riverside bars under the veil of a night sky and a few fairy lights.
Most tourists head for Jonker Street, and as spectacle it is interesting, busy and hectic. At night stalls line the road selling all sorts of local culinary delights from coconuts and gelatinous cakes to milkshakes in baby bottles (for adults – it’s a thing!) and satay sticks.
But once you’ve ticked it off your list take time and meander to learn how the city’s fragmented identity is actually part of its charm. This early fishing village and trading post, influenced by Islam, and nestled between trade winds, attracted faster developing nations and by the 15th century the Portuguese staked their claims. They were followed by the Dutch and finally the British, who united the Straits territories. These European influences are part of Melaka, from the Portuguese communities struggling to keep their community from being engulfed by modern developments, to the churches, fountains, forts and architecture. Diversity means that shanties live next to modern high rises.
It’s a patchwork: you just need to patiently unpick what you see to make sense of it.
What to do:
- Portuguese ship museum for an insight into the city’s history;
- Boardwalk along the river for the architecture;
- Trishaw ride from Christ Church for the colonial sights;
- Kampung Morten for traditional village in a city;
- Portuguese Kampung for an insight into Eurasian life.
Where to stay: The Majestic, 188 Jalan Bunga Raya