Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sleepy backwaters of Melaka, Malaysia

The view from St Paul's Hill
I am sipping my ginger tea after a glorious pedicure at the spa in our hotel. Marc is taking in one last museum in Melaka, while I relax!

The tea is sweet, hot and gingerly satisfying. My last pedicure was on the beach in Bagga, Goa, so this treatment literally erases the last physical remnant of India from my body. Honestly, I was a bit reticent to have my plump young Malaysian pedicurist dissolve those adorable silver decorations from both of my big toes. I remember so clearly choosing the design from a placard the lovely Goan woman with the large straw hat provided at the beginning of that memorable experience on the beach.

But nail polish has a way of marking the passage of time. The line of polish was half way up my big toe nail. It has been over a month since that day on the beach in Goa and we have covered a lot of ground since then.

We arrived in Melaka by bus, leaving Singapore and entering Malaysia with little fuss at both borders. The bus ride was much more eventful. Our bus a full 40-passenger vehicle had only four passengers including us when we left Singapore. Somewhere after entering Malaysia close to Melaka, our bus driver flagged down another bus and transferred us onto it so that he (we think) could return to Singapore. It was probably all planned from the start, but we imagined that our bus driver was fed up driving with an empty bus and spent the whole ride on the phone with every other driver on the road looking for someone to take us off his hands. He was very vocal on his cell phone and at one point, Marc asked me if he could tell him to get off his phone and concentrate on driving! I was of course concerned that a conversation with Marc may be more dangerous than him yelling into his cell phone. Needless to say, when he stopped at the side of the road and announced that we were all to get off the bus, we were quite relieved. Quick transfer of luggage and we were on the road again.

Our bus dropped us at the large Melaka Central Station and Bazaar (shopping mall). For 20 Ringgit (about $7), a very nice and very talkative taxi driver delivered us to our hotel on the other side of town. He assured us that we had chosen the best hotel (he got that right!) and that we would not need any more taxis once we checked in. In fact, he explained in broken English (many hand gestures) that Melakan roads go round and round and can’t get you anywhere. Walking is the best option he explained, which suited us just fine.

Melaka was not always the sleepy town it is today. In its heyday it was the centre of trade between East and West. Later with colonization by the Portuguese and the Dutch, their greed (high taxes), and the fact that silt was accumulating in the bay changed all of that. But the colourful history of this port city, makes it an interesting tourist attraction.

We picked up a Melaka street map and brochure from the Tourist Information office and spent a day wandering through the streets of the old town, stopping at all of the noted sights on the walking tour.

Amazing murals along the boardwalk.

We also took the obligatory river cruise, which was amazingly pleasant. The Malaka River flows through much of the town and a boardwalk follows the whole route on either side. Many original shop houses, whose backs face the river, have been converted into hotels and coffee shops. To add to the charm, these facades have all been painted by local artists and create an ongoing mural as you cruise down the river. If we had been staying here for another day, I would have liked to walk the whole route to take a closer look at the artwork and stop for a drink or a meal along the way.

One of the buildings on Jonker Walk

Jonker Walk in Chinatown is famous for its antique shops. I think it should be famous for amazing fashion. I wandered into a few shops filled with women’s clothes designed in Melaka. There were “no photos” signs everywhere so I can’t share them with you. I was ready to dump all of my clothes and start over but I managed to control myself and walk away … I will probably regret it.

Instead of calling them Rickshaws, in Melaka they are called Trishaws. They are beautifully decorated with flowers.

The weather here is hot and humid, which makes full days of touring difficult, but is a perfect recipe for amazing natural beauty. The city is full of flowers and potted plants in front of all of the stores. These people love their city and take great care of it. It is the end of the tourist season, so we did not see the multitudes of tourists that are usually here, but we were not alone either. We both commented more than once what a nice city Melaka was and we both really enjoyed our stay here.

Our Hotel, located on the large street separating the old and the new city was a perfect choice for us. We could enjoy the pampering and the modern style of the hotel — and just a short walk away we were in the centre of the historic town with its antique shops, winding alley ways and meandering river.

The remains of St Paul's Church sits on the top of the St Paul's Hill with a statue of St Francis Xavier just in front of it.

We are now on a local bus to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city, which is just two hours away. Marc has just reminded me that aside from our hotel, which we booked last night, we have no idea what we will be doing for the next three days. So time to sign off and switch to our pdf version of Frommer’s Malaysia!

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