Sunday, August 8, 2010

Melaka – Giddy with Delight in a "New" Old City (Malacca Part 1)

The Strait of Malacca and the new towering condominium units as seen from St. Paul's Hill.

Melaka, Malaysia - If you've been to Melaka in the last 3 to 4 years or so, you would find an updated Melaka if you visited now. The city brims with newfound life and a pulsating energy. What used to be a leisurely exploration of this former Dutch-Portuguese bailiwick has to be shared with multitudes of tourists. This really isn’t bad news. This turn of events have resulted into a flurry of tourist-baiting new attractions, like the Taming Sari Tower (Malaysia’s first and only gyro tower which, at 110 meters, offers a 360 degree view of the city).

In fact, a lot has changed since it was conferred its UNESCO World Heritage Site title in July 2008. I was here before all these designations, and I still feel smug for having gone earlier. There’s not a lot of World Heritage Sites in Malaysia: Penang, Kinabalu Park in Borneo, Gunung Mulu National Park (also in Borneo, near the Brunei Border) and Melaka, of course. Philippines and Thailand have 5 each, while Indonesia has seven! But India has 29! This is just a clue as to why I love getting lost in India!


Melaka was founded by Parameswara, a Malay-Hindu prince from Temasek (a city that would eventually become Singapore). After being expelled from Singapura by his father, he founded the sultanate of Melaka in 1402. As we’ve mentioned before, he was hunting with his dogs one day when, after seeing a mouse deer, one of his fiercest dogs got so scared. It jumped into the river! This occured beside an Indian gooseberry tree called Melaka which inspired Parameswara to name the place after the tree!

These days, one could see a statue of the mouse deer just a stone’s throw from the Stadthuy in central Melaka! Isn’t it ironic they somehow forgot Parameswara? You will see some of his paintings in one of the several museums scattered around town!

Malay-Hindu prince Parameswara founded Melaka.


What makes Melaka truly fascinating is the preservation of its rich historical past. From Parameswara’s sultanate in 1402, the Portuguese took control of the old trading town (1511) and ruled for exactly 130 years! The Dutch took over even longer – for 183 years, before they were turned over to the British (who ruled for another 122 years)! The Japanese managed to squeeze in a measly 4 years (1942-1946). After which, Melaka became part of the Federation of Malaya! So much foreign interference should clue us in on how important Melaka was as a trading post! I guess on the whole, it doesn’t hold a candle to Spain’s treating the Philippines as dirt for half a century, and calling the old denizens “indios” – yet never letting us go for 500 years! Some perceptively advanced societies do love to play with dirt, don’t you think? Oh gawd, I am digressing!

Mouse deer scares a hunting dog!

Melaka is a city that straddles the west coast of the Malay Peninsula in the state of Melaka, directly facing the island of Sumatra (Indonesia) to its west! It is home to some 770,000 people. It is also the 3rd smallest state in the country (after Perlis and Penang). Many Singaporeans visit Melaka for day tours as it sometimes takes 3.5 to 5 hours to cross the border. From Melaka, buses leave from Lavender Street and price may range from 15 to 50 Singapore dollars!

This post shall serve as an introduction to my recent visit to Melaka – a pleasantly surprising return to a city that I once described with words like “laidback”, “humdrum”, “ghostly”. See how a “UNESCO World Heritage Site” title from 2 years ago (2008) has changed this into something that befits “bustling”, “throng”, and “flurry of activity”.

Up next: A Day Trip to Melaka Part 1 - with information on bus travel & fares and other specific information you may need! (Click here -

Here's our first ever post on Melaka just a few years ago. Check out the big difference. -

To orient yourself with Melaka, click on this site for a map of the city! -

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Christ Church - 1753 original Dutch architecture.

Stadthuys - Residence of the Dutch governor during their reign from 1650 onwards.

Ubiquitous, garishly decorated 3-wheelers or bicycle-rickshaw - strictly for tourists!

One of the several Melakan river cruises at 10 ringgit per adult.

Idiosyncratic designs at Jonker's Street - the antique haven at Jalan Hang Jebat!

The Famosa Restaurant, one of the Nyonya Restaurants at Jonker's Walk (at the main street - Jalan Hang Jebat)!

One of the first temples to see along Jonker's Street!

A 1 ringgit delicacy made of coconut, caramel sugar and milk that was sweet and tasty, but... (see below)

... almost cracked my teeth to pieces! It was as hard as steel! To allow it to melt in your tongue might take forever!

Fort Melaka

Taming Sari Tower - Malaysia's first and only gyro tower! It seats 66 people at a time, and will cost you 20 ringgit per adult - for a 7-minute ride!

Maritime Museum - a faithful 1990 recreation of Flora del Mar, a Portuguese galleon that sank at the Strait of Malacca!

Melaka's relatively new commercial area of huge shopping malls luxury hotels. This is also the city's fastest growing district.

St. Paul's Church up the hill - and my favorite spot in the whole of Melaka! Don't forget to buy a painting - 10 ringgit for one or 15 ringgit for 2! This was constructed in 1521 by a Portuguese captain, Duarte Coelho and named "Our Lady of the Hill" ( or "Our Lady of the Anunciation") and later renamed into St. Paul's Church. St. Francis Xavier's body was temporarily interred here before it was taken to Goa, India!

The Eye on Melaka - a ride at 20 ringgit per adult!

St. Paul's church up the hill.

An impressive indoor fountain/pond inside Dataran Pahlawan Mega Mall - South Malaysia's biggest mall which looks small to me! Love this place because I found cheap DVDS here! This is Melaka's latest landmark, located right across Mahkota Parade Shopping Complex!

Slices of a variety of fruits sold at the Main Bus Terminal located about 5 kilometers east of city center! I bought several - at 1 ringgit each including, dragon fruit (pitaya), sweet balimbing (carambola or star fruit), and those yellow round ones that were too sweet for me!

Red marks Melaka! This photo only courtesy of wikipedia's kawaputra.

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