Malacca Malaysia, April 3-5, 2015: Cultural Crossroads

Malacca is one of the three straits settlements on the Malaysian peninsula.  It is considered the oldest one, and has had an eclectic mix of influences.  Originally founded by Indian traders it was settled by the Chinese in the 1400s. It became an Islamic Sultanate in the mid-15th century.  The Portuguese arrived and took over in the early 1500s.  It was passed over to the Dutch in the mid-1600s.  Finally, it became a British possession in the late 18th century.  During WWII it was occupied by the Japanese.  After the war it was returned to Malaysia.  All of these occupiers have left some influence on the city, whether it be food, architecture, or the culture.  Since it was so close to Singapore, Trina and I decided to make a quick weekend trip there.

Day 1

We decided to try travelling on bus from from Singapore to Malacca since it was so close.  Taking a bus was the most un-Singapore like mode of transportation.  The bus station on Queen Street consisted of just a public restroom and a few stalls around a parking lot.  There were no signs for the bus we were taking.  We made reservations online but did not have any assigned seats.  After asking around a bit to people who looked like employees, we discovered some pieces of paper taped to the restroom wall indicating our seats.  We had to wait for our bus (if it ever arrived).  Once it arrived on the street corner we got on.  Nobody asked for our tickets or receipt.  At the time, we hoped we were on the right bus.  It got on its way before we could ask anyone.  Fortunately, it headed to the bridge to Malaysia, so it was at least heading in the right direction.  There we went through security and immigration control.  It was very similar to being at an airport it Made stops in Malaysia.  The bus drive kept doing a headcount so that was a bit reassuring.  By 11 am we were finally on our way.  Along the way we saw lots and lots of palm plantations.  We did a quick lunch break and got to Malacca by 3pm.

The hotel we decided to stay at was the Majestic Malacca.  It was by far one of the nicest places we have ever stayed at.  First, the entire hotel staff was super attentive and extremely helpful.  The hotel consisted of two parts.  The older refurbished building with the lobby and the restaurants and the guest rooms and spa.  A porter showed us to our room.  As we walked he talked about how the original building was erected in the 1920’s.  At our room he served us tea as we got situated.  He left the pot in this insulated basket to keep it warm in case we wanted more.  We were floored by how nice the room was.  Dark woods with whites.  Everything was really spacious.  There were even complimentary bathrobes and slippers that we tried.

The Majestic Malacca! SAM_0209 SAM_0212

After running around the hotel room for a bit we decided to head downtown to eat dinner.  Malacca is also known for its Baba-Nonya food.  Also known as Peranaken cuisine.  We asked the hotel for recommendations.  They told us to try Nancy’s Kitchen on Jonkers Street.  We at first we thought that we needed to take a cab there, but the receptionist assured us it was within walking distance.  Skeptical, we followed her directions.  It was indeed a surprisingly short walk, maybe 15 minutes from the hotel to Jonkers street.  Along the way we got to see all the different architecture along the way.

Malacca River SAM_0215

After a few wrong turns (I am terrible at following instructions) we found Nancy’s Kitchen off of Jonkers Street.  We were let up a set of stairs that went through the actual Kitchen in the old restaurant.  Even though it was a bit rustic the food was great.  There we had braised pork, roast duck and spinach with belacan.  All of them were really tasty.  I liked the braised pork the most.  To drink I had a mango juice and while Trina had this hideously salty plum juice.  she kept insisting that it was “good for me” and “that’s how its suppose to be”.  Needless to say I was not convinced.

Nancy's Kitchen SAM_0219

Afterwards we walked down up and down Jonkers Street as it was setting up for the night market.  Each Friday and Saturday night the street gets taken over by food stalls and street vendors.  There was even a carnival corner if we wanted to try to win a large stuffed Garfield.  As we strolled we ate some delicious fried sweet potato balls.  We scarfed those down pretty quickly.  At one of the intersections we listened to bad karaoke.  I mean really bad, dreadfully bad, ear bleedingly bad.  This dude did not care that when he attempted a high note it sounded like a cat was dying.  Mercifully, he stopped, but wow, that will haunt us for a while.  By the time we made it back to entrance to Jonkers street it was really crowded.

Jonkers Street SAM_0224

We decided at that point to avoid the shopping crowd in order to check out another crowd.  It was Good Friday, and there was a procession from St Peter’s Cathedral near our hotel.  Apparently, a lot of descendants of the Portuguese settlers would come back to Malacca to take part in the Catholic procession.  It was really cool to see hundreds of people with lit candles walking down the street.  I have never seen a tradition like that in the States, much less alone in Southeast Asia.

Good Friday Procession

We got back to our Hotel to discover that they had brought us Nonyan desserts.  It was a pretty awesome way to end the day: munching on more food!

Day 2

On Saturday we went through a whirlwind of sites and food.  We first got up and ate breakfast at hotel.  Knowing that we were going to have a long full day we decided to have a long full breakfast.  We ate toast, eggs, congee, fruit, dim sum.  Completely stuffed we went ahead with looking at the main sites in Malacca.

All the main sites in Malacca are surprisingly all within walking distance of each other.  He headed to the to the heritage center.  There we saw Stadhuys and Anglican church.  Both were Dutch buildings built during the colonial period.  Inside was a museum depicting the occupation and then liberation of Malacca from colonial powers.  It was neat seeing all the exhibits.

Stadhuys SAM_0242

We then trudged up a hill where we saw St Paul’s Church.  This site was built by the Portuguese during their occupation.  It lost its roof, but still had an amazing view of Malacca.

St. Paul's Church SAM_0250

At the base of the hill we saw the dutch cemetery.  After walking around the base of the hill we came across Porto Santiago.  This was originally part of the Portuguese fortification in the area.  There are many remnants of Portuguese forts that are being excavated in the surrounding area, but Porto Santiago is one of the better preserved sites.  We also took a look at the Sultan palace, which was a replica of the wooden homes of the Sultans who controlled Malacca.

Porto Santiago and the Sultanate Palace SAM_0262

For lunch we walked back over to Jonkers street.  Along the way we saw a number of brightly covered trishaws.  They would be carrying over tourists to the different sites, while blasting western pop music.  It was always amusing when the “Frozen” themed pinked trishaw would zip by playing “Let It Go!”  I think at this point the song is over played a bit.  In any event, we ate at A Famosa, a Chinese restaurant that was established in 1911.  We had satay, chicken, chicken rice balls, bean sprouts, and lemon juice.  Everything was really tasty, and the place was packed.  Always a good sign. Again the lemon juice was very salty. Again Trina insisted that “It’s how its made!”  I didn’t drink it.  Instead I waited for the ice in the chendol we bought to melt and I drank that instead.

A Famosa SAM_0273

Afterwards we hung out at the Geographer Cafe and had caffe mocha and iced coffee.  It was pretty tasty.  Then after that we picked up pineapple tarts at Gu Pong to snack on later.  Under an ever increasingly oppressive sun we staggered over to the Maritime Museum.  It consisted of a large wooden boat. It was also full, of not only exhibits about maritime trade, but of numerous school children darting around.  Having our fill of history, culture and food we came back to hotel to relax and eat pineapple tarts.

Maritime Museum

After a bit of napping we went to Bull Dog Cafe just down the street from our hotel.  We had an appetizer called top hats.  For main course we had devil curry and Portuguese mee.  The devil curry was awesome.  We ate that pretty quickly.  Not to be totally indulged in Southeast Asian cuisine I had a root beer float.

Top Hats

Afterwards we walked up and down river to let the food digest a bit.  When we got back we found more Nonya desserts!

Day 3

For our last day we woke up a bit early and went to gym to run.  During our run on the treadmill we saw hummingbirds building a next.  I found them a lot more fascinating than the weird action cartoon that was playing on the television.  Afterwards we ate breakfast.  Again, we had lots of stuff again.

We walked to town get a photo for Devil Duck.  I have carried the little critter around to take photos in front of landmarks.  I will do a seperate post about its worldwide travels.  We wanted to go to the Hard Rock Cafe for a cool beverage, but alas it was closed, so we returned to our amazing hotel to check out.

While we waited for the bus we at The Shore @ Malacca River.  We had fried dough, BBQ pork with wonton noodles.  It was all really tasty, but the people had an unusual slow pace of cooking.

We then took bus back.  Apparently it doesn’t wait for people.  A couple was left behind because they were told the bus would be there at 2:45 pm, but it actually arrived at 2:15 pm and the bus driver didn’t want to wait around.  Again we weren’t checked for tickets, nor did we have assigned seats.  We finally figured out what seats we were suppose to sit at when everyone else got on the bus from different pick up spots.  After playing musical chairs we enjoyed our trip back to Singapore, while watching “Night at the Museum III”.  Again, we went through immigration in Malaysia and Singapore where we hopped on and off the bus.  We made sure we hurried through and looked for our bus in the crowded loading areas.  We knew he wouldn’t wait for us.  Thankfully, we got back to the Singapore bus station with no problems.  Definitely a fun excursion!

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