Melaka should be all things great, and it is, kind of …
Malacca, or in Malay Melaka, is a small colorful capital town for the state of Malacca in southern Peninsular Malaysia. A simple fishing village it was founded by a Sultan before bouncing back and forth during the colonial years between the Portuguese, Dutch and British.
Finally in 2008 it was conquered by UNESCO and named a world heritage site. Perhaps its last year of modern innocence.
Getting to Malacca is easy, until you arrive
There’s a ferry port from Indonesia linking into Malacca. A train line ends 30km out-of-town. There’s even an airport nearby. Driving in Malaysia is said to be fairly easy too. But, the most popular choice for the humble independent tourist is the ordinary local bus.
From Singapore buses go to Malacca frequently, likewise from around the country. They all firmly dump you in the out-of-town center terminal. And … that’s where I started to grumble.
The bus terminal is okay. But for a dumb tourist like me I struggled to easily find the next bus into town. Least of all did I think getting out of Malacca would be easy. Everything was booked out.
Book your return bus tickets in advance to Malacca!
In my humble defense a French girl I met was also lost in frustration with getting to/from Malacca with ease independently as well. So I am not alone by at least one person! At least on this day.
Malacca and the swarms of tourists
It could be bad timing, but there seemed to be a hideous amount of tourists when I was there. Or, it could be a continuous influence due to that heritage site award.
Safely nestled in the center of town I turned to ask the bus driver where the return bus to the station was. But, no, he was off in a rush leaving me choking on some nice Malaysian bus fumes. Across the road a horde of tourists with name tags piled out of their own super liner bus.
Across the road another group of Koreans were being led by a lady with a flag. A group of men were handing snakes out to be photographed around the necks of some local tourists.
So yes, I have that instant “get me the hell out of here” reaction.
What have they done to the poor Trishaw’s in Malacca?!
Running for tourist cover I stopped in my tracks as a grinning man surrounded in neon bright flowers waved at me from his trishaw (see top photography).
What was “it?”
Apparently the trishaw’s in Malacca are apart of the tourist industry here. Brightly decorated with multicolored fake plastic flowers, and complete with loudspeakers blaring out music the very friendly drivers will take you around Malacca for 40 or so Ringget (bargain).
I’ve asked many people’s opinion about this. Many Malaysian’s shake their head at this sight, while many, many tourists seem to love these colorful rides.
I imagine it’s a fun ride for some. But, I can’t bring myself to sit in one, it’s just not me.
What’s more, I really wonder what the old men driving them are thinking. They really are super friendly in general. But, I just wonder if they had a choice would they prefer something just a little more toned down?
The better side to Malacca
All these things aside, as I dipped into the back streets of Malaka, I found refuge from the tour groups and the tourism spectacles going on. The old narrow side streets of Malacca are beautiful. Still preserved, they are a mix of Chinese, Malay, and European architecture.
Some are highly renovated, others in a complete state of decay, and a few more in that rustic fifty-fifty stage.
If there was anything in Malacca that made me want to stay, it was the old rustic buildings here
I imagined coming out at dawn or at dusk and seeing the suns golden light bounce of the streets of Malacca. Opening up a bedroom window, smelling the old wood in my room as the fresh sea air sweeps in.
Instead I turn a corner and see a giant wooden replica Portuguese boat at the side of the road, along with queues of tourists wanting to go inside. I did too, it didn’t last long. Families only I would suggest.
Portuguese forts and some preserved colonial history
The ruins of the Portuguese fort A Famosa were refreshing to see. Sadly, I don’t see that much of this side of history in Asia that’s been preserved like this. Bravo to Malacca for this alone. Indeed, perhaps this is what I really find attractive about this small town.
There is a sense of old world history about the place. Old forts, tiled roads, decorative buildings, a palace and some very nice walking.
There are not too many places one can find this kind of specific history in South East Asia, outside of say, parts of Vietnam.
Indeed Malacca has an envious list of attractions I’ve not written about here. There’s enough to keep many a person happy here for a weekend and beyond.
Malacca, thumbs up or thumbs down?
My first impressions of Malacca were not good. A tourist mecca. An old town remade to lure tourists in and remove them of their cash in exchange for purpose-built historical activities.
But, at the end of the day, down the side streets away from the tourists on tour, Malacca is charming. If not for anything other than a sense of old world beauty and colonial/Asian history.
Perhaps better than all this, Malacca has left me with the feeling of wanting to come back and stay a while. Only the mass of tourists, an annoying bus route, and a slight sterility hold me back.
Take away the UNESCO world heritage listing, and I wonder if Malacca would be better off?
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