Malacca – the Malaysian melting pot

Malacca (also spelled Melaka) is an immaculately preserved, charming old city representing the stunning diversity of the Dutch, Chinese, Malaysian and Indian cultural influences. The compact old town, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, invites for long walks by day and by night. Exploring Malacca’s nooks and crannies could take you a couple of days. Last but not least, Malacca’s iconic cuisine is to die for.

Remnants of the Portuguese fortress in Malacca, Malaysia

Singapore to Malacca

Malacca was a shining star of my tiny loop: Kuala Lumpur-Singapore-Malacca-Kuala Lumpur. I travelled there from Singapore via southern city of Johor Bahru as it’s much cheaper than taking a direct bus. I took a bus from Singapore Queen St to Johor Baru Larkin terminal. Then I bought the cheapest ticket from Johor Bahru bus station to Malacca, just 3 hours away. The bus arrived at the Melaka Sentral, quite a distance from the old city. I walked to the intra-state bus terminal to catch bus no 17 to the city centre. It dropped me at the Dutch square, the heart of the old town.

Dutch Square in Malacca: the colourful rickshaws stand in front of the red coloured clocktower, Christ Church and other colonial buildings

Malacca on a budget

Due to an error of Couch Surfing app, I couldn’t receive messages from the prospective hosts in Malacca. Otherwise, it should be quite easy to find one.

Instead, I found the cheapest hostel in China Town, ran quite surprisingly by a Lebanese. The hostel was really cheap and the dorm looked decent, with windows and fans. A free breakfast was served in a quiet, shady lane outside. The huge downsides were one toilet shared by 25 people (!) and the owner expressing his views on my veganism and my introvertic nature.

Food

The vegan food I tried in Malacca was among the best I tried during the entire journey around South East Asia. In fact, Baba-Nyonya cuisine: a specific mix of Malay and Chinese cuisine, is the very reason why some people visit Malacca. In Malacca vegans could be equally excited about new flavours as meat-eaters.

The Baba Nyonya style hot plate with noodles and tofu at a vegetarian restaurant in Malacca

Wikitravel recommended a Mori Tea House restaurant, located not far from the hostel. The food served in a very modest surrounding and for very low prices just blew me away. I order a sizzling plate with noodles, veggies and fake meat which was fancy and delicious but cost mere 5.50RM. I found another vegan restaurant near one of the Chinese temples on Jalan Hang Leiku rd. It was called Shui Xian Su Shi Yuan. The food was mouthwatering and as I expected, very reasonably priced. I finally had a chance to have a vegan laksa (a signature Malaysian dish) and other delicious, saucy, spicey and very filling dishes. There was also a cheap Indian eatery called Selvam on the crossing just across Chan Koon Cheng bridge.

Laksa: spicey, coconut milk based soup, a signature Malaysian dish

After lots of searching, I finally found an authentic local market in the Kampong Java area on the other side of the canal from the city centre. Everything there was cheaper than in the tourist district. I had the Chinese herbal tea, cendol for 2RM (rather than 6RM like on Jonkers walk) and found a few stalls with fruit. Avoid doing shopping or snacking in the strict city centre- the prices are set for tourists.

Cendol: typical Malaysian dessert made of coconut milk, shaved ice, beans and rice flour noodles

Sightseeing

Good news is that the tours around various districts of Malacca organised by the Tourist Information Centre, (located at the Dutch Square) are completely free (even tipping is not allowed)! I partcipated in the colonial area and Malay district (Kampung Morten) tours and enjoyed both. Check out the tours as soon as you arive and sign up in advance.

Poster advertising free guided tours of Kampung Morten area in Malacca

Swimming

Malacca is very hot and humid. I was pining for the beach but having read there were no nice beaches around, I decided to go to a public swimming pool. The pool was located conveniently just next to the museums near Bukit St. Paul. I wasn’t sure what the people would wear so I took both a bikini and leggings with an old tshirt. It turned out it was a strictly swim-wear only large, olympic swimming pool used only for fitness, not recreation. I was the only woman present but didn’t feel uncomfortable.

Malacca to Kuala Lumpur – getting a free lift from… a taxi driver

I sat down at a bus stop on top of Jonkers Walk, waiting for a bus no 17 which would take me to the bus station. Suddenly a private car stopped and the driver asked me if I was going to Melaka Sentral. I confirmed. He asked if I’d like to go there for 5rm. I declined, saying I could go by bus for just 2rm. He consented to that ridiculously low price and waved me in.

I had a split second to decide whether I’d really like to enter that stranger’s car but decided it wouldn’t be a big risk. As it turned out, he started working part-time for Grab and was getting used to his job. In the end, he told me the ride was for free and asked me to add him as a friend on FB.

I got inside the station just on time to catch the bus to Kuala Lumpur. Once I got off at the Bersepadu Selatan in KL, new main bus terminal, I easily switched to the KL Rapid Transit services.

PRACTICALITIES

How to get to Melacca?
By plane
There is a small airport in Melacca serving some budget flights from Kota Bahru in Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam). It makes more sense to fly to Kuala Lumpur and take a direct bus from the KLIA to Malacca (just 2.5h)

By bus
From Singapore:
There are direct buses (3-3.5h) from Singapore’s City Plaza to Melaka Sentral. However, it’s cheaper to take a bus from Queen St to Johor Bahru Larkin terminal and take another bus from there (3h).
From Kuala Lumpur:
Take LRT Petaling line to Bersepadu Selatan terminal. Buses to Melacca depart quite often and journey is just around 2h.

Prices [in Malaysian ringit as of September 2018]
15.40 bus Johor Bahru to Melaka Sentral
15 ticket to Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum
11 dorm at the cheapest hostel
10 bus Melaka Sentral to Kuala Lumpur
6.5 buffet lunch at Melaka Sentral station
6 swimming pool with a locker service
5 entrance to the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum
4-5 meal at a vegetarian restaurant in the old town
2 city bus from bus station to the old town
2 cendol dessert at the local market

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