Agnes Alpuerto goes to Malaysia’s storied state, Malacca, and gets to see how it has kept its history alive while hopping into modernity and progress.
With the availability of direct flights from Cambodia to Malaysia – not to mention the journey takes just less than three hours – it’s no wonder why and how the number of Cambodians flying to the home of Petronas Twin Towers rises year after year.
In the first 10 months of 2018, there has been over 43 percent increase in the number of Cambodian travellers flying from Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. And that’s just for AirAsia alone. The number is foreseen to swell more.
Malaysia’s calibre in keeping up with modernity while also staying true to its culture, tradition and history has made it a must-go place for every travel junkie. And why not? There’s so much to see, so much to eat, so much to buy and so much to discover in the Southeast Asian country.
There’s the bustling capital city of Kuala Lumpur that exudes elegance. Its skyline is dominated with tall edifices and luxurious shopping centers. Then, yes, there’s the famous Petronas Twin Towers. Haven’t we all taken a selfie with that pair of glass-and-steel skyscrapers?
But if you’ve toured around KL and have been to every restaurant and every souvenir shop that offers superb products, it’s time to go somewhere else that’s equally splendid and historical. Ready?Welcome to the historical state of Malacca! Located 148 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur or about a three-hour bus ride from the capital city, Malacca is well known for its beautiful historical sites that are preserved earnestly – the very reason it’s listed as Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008. Everywhere you look, imprints of the influences brought by the nations that once dominated the state remain evident and tangible.
Imposing structures, forts, churches – some of them now in ruins – bear the history and power of Portuguese, Dutch and British forces that invaded Malacca from 1511 to 1942. And though these past invasions brought about tragedy and injustices, they have also shaped Malacca to be the beautifully storied state that it is now.
A’Famosa and St. Paul’s Church
This is arguably the state’s most popular sightseeing spot. Built by the Portuguese around a natural hill near the sea to serve as fortress of the Portuguese administration, it once consisted of long ramparts and major towers where ammunition was stored. At present, only a small whitewashed gate house called Porta de Santiago remains standing.
Above the gatehouse is the oldest church in Malaysia and in the whole of Southeast Asia – St. Paul’s Church. The church was built in 1521 by the Portuguese. But with the conquest of Malacca by the Dutch troops in 1641, the church was re-consecrated. It was used as the main church of the Dutch community, until the new Christ Church Melaka was completed in 1753.
The Dutch Square, also known as Red Square, contains the most defining structures of the Dutch occupation in Malacca. The picturesque area along Jalan Kota is distinguished for its group of red-painted colonial Dutch buildings with louvered windows and doors with iron hinges built between 1600 and 1700.
The Victorian-style fountain at the center is the first to catch any tourist’s eyes. Behind it is the Stadthuys, which served as the official residence of the Dutch governors in Malacca. Completed in 1660, the Stadthuys is said to be the oldest-existing Dutch building in the East. It now houses a collection of museums that hold the stories of an eventful history.
Near Stadthuys is the Christ Church Melaka, which was built to commemorate the centenary of Dutch occupation in the state. Considered as Malaysia’s oldest Protestant Church, the red structure bears a collection of sacramental silverwares and elaborate 200-year-old hand-carved pews.
Also within the square is the Tang Beng Swee Clocktower that was built by a wealthy Chinese family in honour of Chinese merchant, Tan Beng Swee, in 1886.
Across the Melaka River – which winds its way from the Dutch Square and past the Tan Boon Seng Bridge – is the Jonker Street, the center street of Chinatown. Over the years, it has been renowned for its antique shops, clothing and craft stores, and restaurants that offer tasty treats. The best part of Jonker Street is its night market that opens on Fridays and Saturdays, where locals and tourists get the best products at the cheapest deals.
If you tour around, you’ll see several budget hotels and international-standard resorts that strategically puts you at the center of everything in Malacca. There are also a handful of bars along the boulevard that hold street parties and live music entertainment to cap the day off.
Right outside the Jonker Street is a massive street art created by local painters and graffiti artists. The street’s shops and guesthouses serve as canvas of the eye-catching art that has already become an iconic landmark on the bank of the Melaka River.
Tourists shouldn’t also miss the chance to traverse through the “Venice of the East”. A 45-minute river cruise through the Melaka River will show you a tranquil view of colonial buildings, antiquated shop houses, local houses, ancient bridges and art displays, all while sitting at the comfort of your boat.
Located at Jalan Quayside, the museum serves as the harbour of the replica of the Portuguese galleon, Flora de la Mar. It exhibits the maritime history of Malacca during six eras of the occupation of foreign forces and the Malaysian Independence in 1957. The 34-meter by 8-meter ship holds invaluable treasures of Malaysia that were taken away by the colonial masters after they conquered Malacca. The real Flora de la Mar sank on January 26, 1512 in the Straits of Malacca on its voyage to Europe.
The Maritime Museum also displays paintings, porcelain, silk, textile and spices used for trading in the yesteryears.
Exactly opposite to the museum is the Medan Samudera, a handicraft and souvenir building that offers authentic products for cheaper prices.
These impressive sights in Malacca all tell stories of the past and the endeavours of its people to shape Malacca into a unique and rich state, making it worth a day’s visit – or more. And since most of the museums, restaurants, hotels and other significant structures are situated just a few steps from each other, tourists can get around the area on foot or by the local trishaw called beca.
It’s definitely not hard to fall in love with Malacca the very moment you set your foot on its soil. But first, hop on an AirAsia plane to Kuala Lumpur and from there, you’re only a bus or car-ride away to Malaysia’s historic capital.