Malacca is one of Malaysia’s top tourist destinations and a visit to this colonial seaside town, will soon show you why. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this ancient settlement in the south of the Malay Peninsula was a Portuguese stronghold from the 16th century. In this article, Agness and Cez of eTramping share some of most interesting and beautiful attractions in Malacca or Meleka as it’s also known.
It’s unfortunate that Malaysia is often overlooked by travellers in favour of its northern neighbour Thailand, but that would be to do the country and injustice. There are some beautiful sights to see in this tropical paradise, with culturally diverse towns and cities, beautiful beaches and islands, and incredible, world beating cuisine. And while Kuala Lumpur is a delight not to be missed, perhaps the jewel in Malaysia’s crown is the charming colonial town of Malacca, on the shores of the Malacca Strait of the Andaman Sea.
Arguably the number one attraction in Malacca is the famous Jonker walk, which cuts right through the heart of Chinatown. Delightful enough during the daytime, you simply cannot miss the night market which takes place on Friday and Saturday evenings. The street comes alive with stalls selling everything from tasty Malay delicacies to antiques and everything in between. There are also some gorgeous boutique stores running alongside, as well as art galleries and curiosity shops, so you’re sure to find an unusual souvenir or gift here. Don’t miss The Geographer’s Cafe to take the weight off your feet and as a great meeting point for travelers. But I hope you’re ok with the crowds, because the night market’s party atmosphere is always so packed, it’s sometimes a challenge to get through! And try to catch local old crooners singing their hearts out to karaoke songs!
Where to stay: Casa del Rio – situated right by the river, with an infinity pool, this hotel is just a few minutes walk from Jonker Street and the main city attractions.
One of the defining remnants of the Portuguese settlement here is the A’Famosa fort, and among the oldest surviving European remains in Southeast Asia. Dating back to 1511, the only part of the fort that actually remains is a small gate house. However, it still manages to be Malacca’s best known sightseeing spot, and pulls in the crowds for a popular photo opportunity. The town still has a number of reconstructed walls to explore, as well as archeological remains and an abundance of cannons scattered around to really blast home that colonial feel.
Where to stay: Kapitan Kongsi Hotel features heritage architecture and retro decor with a VW camper van to shuttle you into the heart of the city.
The Malacca river cruise
Running through the centre of Malacca is the Sungai Melaka, a small river that effectively cuts the town in half. At various hop-on hop-off points around the city you can board a boat for a pleasant sightseeing trip up the river and back again, which is a great way to get your bearings and experience attractions from the water. There’s an audio commentary too, so you can find out more about the historical city centre and Chinatown as you chug past. It’s lovely to experience during a hot day, but try it a night when the town lights up beautifully. But be aware – it’s extremely popular when the sun has gone down.
Where to stay: Majestic Malacca – with a colonial feel, this hotel was originally part of a 1920s mansion and has an outdoor pool and spa.
After the Dutch wrestled the settlement from the hands of the Portuguese, they built the unique Christ Church in the old town centre. Dating back to around the 18th century, the church is a striking colour of red, and is perhaps the picture postcard image you see when researching a visit to the town. Today it is the oldest functioning protestant church in Malaysia, and you can attend a service and sit on 200-year-old, hand-made pews. The church sits in the most popular tourist area of the town, and you can enjoy some beautiful colonial architecture, as well as the nearby historical and ethnographic museums. You’ll also be spoilt for choice with trishaws – the colourful and musical three-wheeled bicycle taxis Malacca is famous for. If you’ve got the kids with you – you’re going to find it hard to say no!
Where to stay: The Settlement Hotel: A contemporary boutique hotel, close to Malacca’s Portuguese settlement with rooftop terrace and outdoor pool.
Close to the Christ Church you’ll find The Stadthuys, which is Malacca’s (and indeed the orient’s) oldest, surviving Dutch construction. It’s a huge, bright red building that has served as government offices throughout history. Equally as intriguing is the clock tower that sits opposite, in a location that has come to be known as “red square”. It won’t be too hard to figure out why once you’re standing in the centre! The name comes from an old Dutch word for “town hall”, while today it has become the Historical Museum – housing a fine collection of traditional costumes and artifacts.
Where to Stay: Rosa Malacca – featuring contemporary industrial style decor built around an internal courtyard
Menara Taming Sari
If you’ve got a head for heights, don’t miss the Menara Taming Sari, which opened in 2008. It’s a 110 metre high tower, with a spectacular 360 degree viewing platform sitting at 80 metres. From here you’ll get one of the best possible views of the UNESCO town centre below, as well as views out to the water and the Straits of Melaka. The viewing platform actually begins at the base and rotates its way to the top, giving tourists a unique experience of the town as it does so. But don’t worry about the tower coming down – it’s apparently built to withstand a force 10 earthquake!
St Paul’s Hill
One way of staying in shape while traveling is to hike up a hill, and if you decide to climb St Paul’s Hill in Malacca, you’ll be rewarded with the beautifully haunting ruins of St Paul’s church, and some wonderful views at the summit. It’s a peaceful walk, not too strenuous, and is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon should you want to get out of the city. The church was built in 1521 by a Dutch sailor who wanted to honour the Virgin Mary for saving his life in a storm at sea, and there’s an intriguing collection of gravestones and memorials to peruse. The beautiful trees along en route make it a perfect location to cool down on a hot day – and Malacca gets very hot!
If you’re looking for a place to stay, check out these hotels in Malacca
An old colonial seaport wouldn’t be complete without a maritime museum, and indeed a maritime museum housed in the replica of a ship. The Flora de Lamar is a replica of a Portuguese vessel that sank off the coast of Malacca, and is an unmissable sight in the town centre – quite literally – as it stands at 34 metres high and 8 metres wide. Inside you’ll find a wonderful collection of maritime history focusing on Malacca’s glory days as a strategic trade location. It’s a great one for kids too, and you can guarantee they’ll make a beeline for the impressive galleon as soon as they see it!
Malacca has got everything a traveler would want, steeped in history and filled with world-class attractions, and we’ve only just scratched the surface here. A visit will live long in the memory, and there’s something for all the family to enjoy. And whatever you do, don’t miss sampling the delights of Malaysian cuisine here – it’s astounding. Remember to pack the sunscreen and wear a hat too! The only real problem is – you’re not going to want to leave!
If you’re looking for a place to stay, check out these hotels in Malacca
About the authors: Agness and Cez are best friends and travel buddies who ditched their 9 to 5’s in 2011 in favour of discovering the world and sharing their memories and experiences on their travel blog called eTramping. They are huge fans of taking pictures on the road (check out their Instagram to get inspired), interacting with locals and digging into local food everywhere they go.
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