04-Oct-2015

Malacca




Malacca has been on our radar almost from the time we moved to Singapore, three years ago. Yet, it is only now that we got around to making the trip. For one, one can only drive or take the bus to Malacca. There is no airport. The train from Singapore takes a long time and involves a long taxi ride once you get off.

We had to wait for Bobo to grow old enough to be able to handle a four-hour bus journey before making the trip. He behaved magnificently in the bus and it helped that we timed the bus journey to coincide with his nap times.

The bus made two stops, one each at the Singapore and Malaysia border. Otherwise, the only time it stopped was when passengers requested a pit stop. There were no stops for food and having been alerted by a friend about this, we carried a packed lunch along which we ate with great gusto, completely ignoring the ‘no food on the bus’ sign. But then, so did the other passengers and going by the snack packets we found under our seats on the return bus journey, eating on the bus seemed par for course. Perhaps the one thing we could have avoided was taking along Indian food. Who would have guessed that roasted potatoes could smell this strong in a closed air-conditioned bus (Yes, I totally understand the killer glances we got in the brief five minutes that we managed to shovel in all the food)

Malacca was considered a ‘sleepy hollow’ which is enjoying a second go at fame and buzz thanks to the World Heritage Site status bestowed on it. Back in the 1500s, under the local Sultanate, it had had magnificent innings as the port of call in Asia, with traders from China, India, Sumatra et al seeking its well-located straits to conduct trading. This attracted the Portuguese who wasted no time in conquering it. Then the Dutch came along and imposed high taxes on traders, thus making it more their personal port than a bustling trading centre. Eventually the British came along, hammering the last nail in its coffin by promoting Singapore and Penang at the cost of Malacca. Not to mention, the river began to silt up, thus making life more difficult for water traffic. In the end, like all good things, Malacca’s trading history too came to an end. Then back in the noughties someone woke up and decided to make money off the old and varied buildings in the city and managed to bag the UNESCO status. To give the citizens full credit, the old city is very well kept and the sights and sounds are well preserved. There is a lot of history in the town and there is no shortage of places to see.

Having economised enormously on travel (23 sing dollars a head for 707 Express buses), we splurged on the stay and ended up in Malacca’s most glamourous hotel, the Casa Del Rio. The hotel is conveniently situated, close to both Jonker Street and the other historical places. It also has a nice-enough lobby with water fountains and cabanas liberally strewn around it. Nice pool, nice spa and nice rooms completed the picture. But for the amount we had to pay, I would have expected just a little something more.

We began to make our way through the key points on the tourist trail by starting off with Jonker Street on the evening of our arrival. Saturday nights are market nights and by early evening, the locals were already setting up stalls to sell food and cheap trinkets. Jonker Street is also reputed as a great spot for antique-hunting but most of these shops close by 6 p.m. We walked around, taking the sights and sounds, finally settling for dinner at the Eleven Bistro. Food was middling, and as luck would have it, the haze that had been plaguing Singapore reared its ugly head in Malacca as well. We retreated back to our room and after putting Bobo to sleep, watched from our balcony as the town’s citizens continued their Saturday night merriment undeterred by the haze. It looked really lively by the river side, and I would not have minded staying out longer.

The next day we began our day at the Dutch Square and went to the Stadburys which houses an average-ish museum and offers a so-so guided tour. Then it was onto St Paul’s Church, whose ruins look magnificent. Bobo was impressed by the ruins and even more so by a terrible singer who was making his living by singing along to his guitar. We sat and heard him, making the man’s day and even managing to attract a small audience for him.
From there, we headed over for lunch to the Geographer’s CafĂ© on Jonker Street. It is a cheerful little place, which manages to get its vibe just right. Though they had run out of their most popular dishes by the time we got there at 1 p.m., what they had on offer was pretty nice too.

The plan for the evening had included a river cruise, followed by a ride in one of the glammed-up trishaws that troll the streets. However, we ended up staying indoors thanks to the haze.

This meant that on the last morning of our stay, we still had many things to do. We began with the river cruise, and watched the world go by. The river is clean and does not smell. The long promenade on both sides are dotted with little cafes and interesting murals. It is actually a pretty nice way to spend time. From this, we hopped onto the trishaw. The trishaws were all mostly done up in the ‘Frozen’-theme and all kids, including Bobo, wanted to go on one. The trishaws also had huge music systems tied to them from which they blared really loud music. With much care, we selected a Frozen-themed trishaw that did not have any music system and Bobo mournfully asked us why we had no music.

I suppose I should be glad the kid loves music, even if it means terrible singers or dink-chak speakers.

Our trishaw ride took us to the maritime museum, which we did not explore due to a paucity of time and a friend making a passing remark about it not being worth it. Next, we went to the Taming Seri tower. An enclosed viewing lift took up 110 meters and then spun around helpfully for us to get a view of the city. It was quite a nice experience, beyond what I had expected. From the revolving tower, we went to a park which had a couple of train carriages and a small plane. I am not quite sure why this is on the tourist list, but I had great fun pretending to be Tom Cruise in the latest Mission Impossible and making the spouse take pictures that would make me look like I was hanging onto the wheels of a plane taking off (the trees in the background rather spoilt the effect). Bobo followed his mother in these silly acts and by the time we got back to our trishaw, we found a thunderous driver pointing out that our time was up. So we could not go by to the Sultanate’s palace. Nevertheless, we also had other things lined up and with a bus to catch that afternoon, decided to part ways with thunderous-Trishaw-man.

Our final stop was at the Baba and Nonya heritage museum. Like any respectable trading centre, Malacca boasts of mixed communities. Here they are known as Peranakans. There are Malay-Chinese combos (the men known as Babas and the women as Nonyas), there are Tamil-Malay combinations and there are Portuguese-Malay combinations, among possibly others. The Baba and Nonya museum is a house that has been preserved and converted into a museum. The free guided tour was excellent and so was the museum. It was worth the visit and we were quite ready to head to a Peranakan lunch at the much-recommended Nancy’s Kitchen. Alas, the haze was back and we decided it would probably be better to head back to the hotel to eat and pack.

The return journey seemed a lot slower and the haze surrounded us, even as we sat in our air-conditioned cocoons. By the time we reached Singapore, traffic was at its peak and it had begun to rain. Instead of staying on in the bus, we took a taxi once we crossed the border and managed to cut down some of the travel time.

It was good to have finally made that trip to Malacca. While it offers a lot by way of diversity and heritage, it is by no means an Egypt or even India where things can be magnificent or really old and sometimes both. Infact, I cannot think of any single thing that struck me as brilliant but I did come back with an overall nice feeling. Living as we do in Singapore, it would have been rather a pity had we missed it.