29.11.2013 - 02.12.2013
Ever since we decided to go to Malacca (more commonly spelt Melaka) we've had this song in our heads, we thought we'd mention so you can have it resonate in yours. Consider it our gift. (If you haven't got a scooby what I'm on about, youtube Was Not Was - Walk the Dinosaur).
The title is actually (conveniently) entirely appropriate...
One thing which appears to be unique to Melaka is their trishaw. Illuminated, bright, brash, ludicrously over the top with booming music, theirs are the mother of all pimped up touristic transportation. The trishaws that taste forgot. We must be getting old because their pumping music was enough to bear from the street, never mind having it blasted inches from your lugholes on a tour of the city. Needless to say we didn't partake, I felt enough shame just taking pictures of them - but for the cause of the blog!
Shame they exist really, as Melaka has plenty of charm and history without the need to resort to these. Anyway, what do we know - Asian tourists go mad for them, running to the pink-ist, flowery-ist and most overly themed ones they can find.
Melaka was a bit like a mini George Town. The architecture very similar with perhaps even more ornate and well preserved shophouses, and it's home to the oldest mosque in Malaysia. In fact it has one road affectionately named Harmonious Street on account of there being a Chinese temple, mosque and Hindu temple sharing the same stretch.
It has an interesting history under Dutch, Portugese and British rule. The former's influence in particular is evident in 'Dutch Square' where they built Christ Church, Stadhuys and a clocktower - all dating back to the 18th century. However, Melaka's glory days as a trading port were two to three centuries earlier. It has a strategic location between India and China which resulted in obligatory stop-offs for merchant ships at the time. Malaysia as a whole is very much a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures.
Maritime museum and monument
When the British ruled from 1824, they weren't as interested in Melaka, their focus instead being on Penang and Singapore - both of which prospered as a result.
Today, Melaka draws in the weekend crowds, many from Singapore, KL and surrounding areas. Of course there's plenty of international tourists as well (a nod to our presence adding to the throngs), although we were surprised just how few westerners there were compared to George Town. We were slightly unfortunate to have timed our 3 nights here with a weekend and because the Old Town is quite small, it did feel very overpopulated which detracted a little from its appeal. It gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status the same time as George Town and of course since then, tourism has exploded.
Spot the boardwalk lurker...
Strolling along the river...
Cute shops and old fashioned barbers!
A highlight of our stay was our accommodation and host, Bernard, a local in his mid 30's. I'm practically evangelical about airbnb.com - where you can book spare rooms or entire apartments/homes from the owners, often getting much more bang for your buck (or Ringgit) than hotels and guesthouses. From the description, we thought we'd just booked a private room in a house, but it turned out we had the whole place to ourselves! It was great to have a lounge complete with DVD library, kitchen and free use of bikes - a bit of home from home and all for £36 a night.
Bernard was out of town the day we arrived but had arranged for his Mum to pick us up from the bus station. When he arrived later that evening, he offered to take us for dinner. He drove us to a local hawker centre, selected and paid for a number of dishes - most of which were new to us. What a welcome!
After dinner he gave us an orientation tour on foot around the city pointing out some lesser known places of interest to visit the next day. It was a real treat to have a local give us our own guided tour. We walked back to his house and he swapped cars to give us a lift in his immaculately conditioned 1968 bright red mini, complete with Union Jack roof - made Ant's day!
Talking of cars, you see a lot of old models over here which last a lot longer in this climate, including my first car - a Datsun Sunny. Couldn't resist a pic, fond memories of my 'Dad's car' as a friend once put it.
We met Bernard again on our last night where we returned the favour for dinner and on our last morning he picked us up for breakfast, helped us to find a Pai Tee mould from an Aladdin's Cave of a hardware store (explanation further down), took us to a beautiful colonial hotel for a nosey and a visit to a traditional Malay village. It felt like we had a friend here and was a really enjoyable experience. Over breakfast he even went through a load of pointers for KL. Y'see... you get a much richer experience through airbnb!
Posh and Becks eat your heart out
Pai Tee (a Nyonya specialty) - a Malaysian hors d'ouvre if you will... light crispy case with shredded vegetables fried, egg and chilli sauce. Delicious. So much so we bought the specific mould to make them... hoping to make for dinner club when we return!
Nyonya = a woman descending from the Straits Chinese who settled in the area and inter-married with the locals. The men are known as Babas. Nyonya cooking is renowned and they have a number of dishes very specific to their cooking techniques.
Great shop where we found the mould
Final story is really one for the girls. I had no idea the experience of a haircut could differ so much from the UK...
I booked a chop at a local smart looking salon close to the house we stayed in. The guy did a dry cut first. Then washed it whilst I was still upright in the chair (!) using a small amount of water and a lot of lather. This involved a head, neck and shoulder massage which lasted almost as long as the cut. Then for the rinse and another head massage for 10 minutes (UK hairdressers take note - this is the future!!). A dry, another light trim followed by straighteners to add some oomph. 1 hour and 40 minutes later I emerged feeling straight-from-the-salon-tastic, and all for a tenner!