We briefly stopped off in KL prior to Melaka, thinking we might apply for an Indonesian visa there, but we really didn’t like the city on first impressions (more on that later!) and instead headed to Melaka after one night in the big smoke.
Our first impressions of Melaka were positive – a cute Dutch-inspired town centre replete with a big red-brick church and square, a pretty canal, and holiday-making Malaysians everywhere (it was the school summer break!). We struggled to find a cheap room, but eventually went with a guy who found us exasperated on the street, and his hostel was really nice, with free tea, coffee and breakfast. Win!
Melaka’s known as the second biggest foodie place in Malay Peninsula, so we started in earnest – trying out ‘popiah’ (soft spring rolls) and local dishes, BUT this all fell to the wayside the next day when we found an EVEN BETTER Indian restaurant than the one we’d loved in Penang, and despite trying to tear ourselves away (ok, we didn’t really try) we ended up eating there at least once a day. In our defence, they served the MOST DELICIOUS thali for 90p, with 6 different curries/veg, poppadoms and unlimited rice. On a Friday, we had a crazy TEN DISHES for just £1.50, and I have to say, it was better Indian food than I had in India. Truly incredible! So flavoursome, textured, and imaginative. I would probably trade an organ for their aubergine curry!
There’s a lot to see in town, and when we weren’t sheltering from the heat, we strolled the pretty streets taking photos of pretty old shop houses and lanes, and visited some incredible religious buildings, including the oldest mosque in Malaysia!
We were expecting it to just be a walk around the building, but we were greeted by the SWEETEST Muslim lady who helped run the place, and she showed us around (after we’d been dressed in full gowns!), and told us all about the religion, key learnings, the symbolism of the building, and times of prayer. This hospitality was continued when we met other super friendly Muslim guys who’d arrived for prayer (one of five times they pray each day) – and they welcomed us to watch the prayer take place, with the men divided from the women by a screen so they could ‘fully concentrate!’. The lady made Islam seem pretty accessible – stating that even though you TRY to be ‘good’ (and fight the inner ‘jihad’), we’re all bad sometimes, and that’s ok too. She also gave us a free mango from the mango tree in the mosque gardens when we guessed an answer correctly. Not that I’m easily persuaded by free food…!
We also visited an old Chinese Buddhist temple, and were lucky enough to catch a prayer taking place there too – a very different affair, just two monks solemnly striking instruments, whilst the hubbub of visitors milling around them continued. We noticed the stark contrast in the buildings – with the Chinese Buddhist temple decorated to the nines with bright colours and symbolism, vs. the Mosque and its stripped-back decorations, as ‘no God exists except God’ in the Muslim belief, and as such, no carvings of people or creatures adorn their plain centres of worship.
And given the number of museums in town, we couldn’t resist a quick peek round. Firstly to the outdoor old port with its cannons, and then to the Ethnography Museum where we learned all about Malaysian history and culture through artefacts, dioramas and full-size scale replicas of wedding feasts, old timey houses and more!
The remainder of our time in town was spent eating (obvs!) – trying local delicacies like chewy pineapple ‘Nonna’ tarts, trying the street eats at Friday’s Jonker Street market (which was otherwise pretty full of tourist tat!); and visiting little family places that sold delicious specialities like hot spicy Laksa and Rojak – a sweet/tangy salad of fruit and veggies with peanuts and fried croutons and all manner of crazy things!
Oh, and we spent hours chatting over sweet strong iced coffee whilst off our tits on caffeine, then proceeded to walk around in the heat laughing at all the madly decorated / flashing tuk-tuks that seem to be the craze in town, covered in cuddly toys and flashing lights. Who MAKES these?!
Overall, a pretty relaxing and chilled time in Melaka. A little culture, a lot of wandering, and LOTS of food. Next, we headed to KL for a brief stop-over before our penultimate country, Indonesia!