Thinking of where to have a holiday trip? Not too far from Cambodia, there is a popular tourist destination in ASEAN known as Malacca.
Sitting where the snaking Malacca River meets the Straits of Malacca on the West Coast of Malaysia, the city is an historic melting pot of Malay, Dutch, Portuguese, British, Chinese and South Indian influence.
It’s one of the top destinations in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur and Penang and the old part of town – the riverside Chinatown – and the beach resorts to the north are packed every weekend with visitors from Singapore, just a two-hour drive away.
Wondering what the interesting things to discover in Malacca are? Here are five interesting things to know before you plan.
Most mornings, tourists are packed into the Stadthuys, the old Dutch City Hall. The complex is colored ochre red, and is also known locally as the Red House. The museum on the first floor is a walk through the history of the city and the surrounding state of Malacca, from before the arrival of European powers to the various changes in rule over the centuries.
Although only about a quarter of Malaysia’s population are Chinese, the historic old center of the city is very Chinese, with Clan Houses and regional Chinese eateries. The city is also home to the oldest Chinese cemetery in Malaysia.
For centuries Malacca was an important and hotly contested trading port. To enhance the relationship with Chinese traders, a daughter of Ming Emperor was sent to marry the Sultan, Mansur Shah, in the 15th Century. The 500 attendants who came with her married into the local community and along with the Chinese maritime traders established a strong Chinese influence.
The cruise along the river, which marks the border between historic Chinatown on one side and the Malay area on the other, is a highlight. Although the waterway gets crowded and noisy at peak times, especially weekends.
The evening cruises are especially popular. The state and city governments funded a major upgrade, building promenades, restoring ancient buildings and putting up attractive lighting.
It takes about 30 minutes on the boat to see the views and key sites. The cruises run from 9 am to 10 pm and cost RM15.90 ($3.70) on weekdays and RM21.20 ($4.95) on weekend for adults and a flat RM 7.50 for children.
There are many shopping malls and traditional art and craft shops waiting for tourists. One of the popular malls – the Shore – opens from 10 am to 10 pm. The coffee shop and restaurants there serve many different tastes for tourists, from Malay to Peranakan – a mix of Chinese and Malay – to various regional Chinese cuisines such as Teochew, to Portuguese and Western.
The Shore Oceanarium inside the building complex of the Shore has many species of fishes and other sea creatures and the walls create a kind of underwater world.
Take the lift to the rooftop for a stunning view of the city, the river and the Straits.
Jonker Walk is one of the most famous and recognizable parts of Chinatown, a popular gathering point with a public outdoor stage and frequent performances.
There are many boutique hotels and guesthouse from the fancy to the inexpensive but tasteful. This area is the main area to stay, along with the Kampung Pantai area near the river.
Good to avoid on weekends when tourists, mostly Chinese, flock from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and stalls and visitors clog the streets.
Malacca’s beautiful and distinctive trishaws are as famous as Penang’s, another Straits Chinese settlement further north up the west coast. Most are outlandishly decorated and play blaring music all day and night.
Bicycles with cute decorations are waiting for the tourist in the downtown. In Malaysia, it is called trishaw. The famous actor and actress in the cartoon have been used for trishaw decoration.
They take about two adults comfortably. If you want to enjoy a night ride along the river or in the back streets, get the rider to turn the music off.
Getting There: There are frequent daily flights between Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur. Buses leave direct for Malacca from the airport or catch the KLIA Express train for less than $10 into the city and catch a bus to Malacca.
Stay There: Malacca offers everything from cozy backpacker dorms for about $5 to boutiques guesthouses, some in converted godowns on the riverfront, to luxury hotels from major chains costing $100 or more.
Va Sonyka visited Malaysia as a guest of the Malaysian government.
The Malacca skyline from the top of the Shore Shopping Mall.KT/Va Sonyka
Take a walk through Malacca’s complex history, from Malay rule to Portuguese, Dutch, British and modern Malaysia, at the museum in the 17th Century Dutch Stadthuy.KT/Va Sonyka