Rarely do we ever make an early start, but today was a lucky day for all those who got to see our beautiful faces before the early hour of 8am. We make no apologies – we are on holiday! After having unpacked and re-packed our bags several times we were beginning to feel like pros. Off we went to the subway station to make our way to Kuala Lumpur TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Station), but not before stopping past our local eating hole, ‘Faya’s Curry House’ to say good-bye. And what a send off we got! I don’t think we realised just how much of an impact we had made simply by appreciating their local food.
Arriving at the TBS, we managed to jump on the 9am bus to Melaka Sentral (MYR12.20). There are numerous bus companies heading to Melaka leaving every few minutes. T he bus ride took about 2.5 hours. From Melaka Sentral we hopped on a local bus for just MYR1 (platforms 6,7,8,16 and 18) that dropped us off at Ocean Mall, a mere five-minute walk from our backpackers Ringo’s Foyer, which is located near the famous Jonker Street. A taxi would set you back about MYR15.
Ringo’s Foyer is probably the most basic accommodation we have stayed in on our backpacking travels, and yet the most rewarding. The vibe was really great and the location so central to all the major attractions. Most of the folk staying there seemed to have been there awhile and were so willing to share their knowledge on all the local gems which meant we were able to experience more of the “real” Melaka in the short amount of time we had. We would suggest two to three days as the maximum length of stay needed to see and do Melaka. We also experienced the most incredible night ride – which you can read about further on – which made our stay even more worthwhile. We paid MYR65 per night for a quite basic private double room with air-conditioning, and shared bathroom.
With the afternoon left to our disposal we meandered down Jonker Street in search of a place to satisfy our hunger pangs. Melaka is so quaint with its Venice-style river and cobbled streets; you can’t do much more than a meander. We stumbled across a local Malay restaurant Jonker 88, where we indulged in some home-style Malay cooking. We definitely recommend the spicy dry noodle soup … yum!
When backpacking you can get a little out of touch with the “real” world, for example, the shock and excitement we got when we heard the new Transformers Movie had just come out. We didn’t even know there was a new one. And occasionally, when backpacking, you need to just stop … take a deep breathe … and go watch Transformers! So that is what we did. On the way to Melaka’s Mega Mall, we turned a corner and there, on the side of the street, was a giant Pirate Ship. For some reason (we put it down to tiredness or fatigue) we both just broke down in hysterics. From there the jokes continued for the next hour until … oh ship, we were late for our movie! The “mega” part of the mall didn’t help either. It took us nearly 30 minutes to find the movie cinema within the mall.
Arriving back, we met Howard, the owner of Ringo’s Foyer who is a bit of a bike enthusiast. About 99% of the reviews we read before coming raved about Howard’s free bike tours in and around Melaka. If you know my aversion to bikes, you would understand my reluctance to accept his offer. But, oh my goodness, I do not regret my decision! What a genuinely authentic and beautiful experience it was. Myself and Lauren, led by Howard, cycled through the backstreets of Melaka, away from the popular tourist spots to a local Indian restaurant. I use the word ‘restaurant’ in the loose sense of the word. It was simply plastic tables and chairs set up on the sidewalk serving the most incredible Indian food we have ever had; it is obviously incredibly popular for this reason. Unfortunately, we never got the name of the place but I would highly recommend staying at Ringo’s Foyer in the hope that you might get the opportunity to visit this sidewalk eatery. Lauren still maintains that if she could fly back for only one meal, it would be to Melaka for their garlic cheese naan and curry.
We ended the night biking back through cobble streets and alongside the gorgeous lit up river. At one point we stopped to help an old Malay man who had fallen off his motorbike trying to park it on his porch. The bike had been too heavy for him to lift. It was in that moment that I was reminded why I travel, and why I love it so much! The opportunity to be able to engage on the purest level with people of all cultures and ethnicities is something you just cannot buy. It is the kind of experience that stays with you for a lifetime. The bike tour was an incredible experience that left us on a high for days.
TIP: For last-minute budget accommodation, we suggest booking through the following websites: bookings.com, hotel world, and agoda. We’ve found these websites to be the most reliable and efficient method for booking accommodation. We very rarely booked our accommodation in Thailand or Malaysia more than a night in advance. In saying that, however, it was the off-season. We would not recommend last-minute bookings in peak season.
It was going to be difficult to top a wonderful first day, especially with this being our last day in Melaka! We struggled with the temptation of staying just one more night, but chose instead to make this day count. After a quick breakfast, we strolled along the river till we came across Discovery Cafe, another popular backpackers/cafe. There we met a super-friendly guy, whose name we never got, who gave us a map to kick-start our explorations. After a two-minute rest stop in an air-conditioned bank across the road, just to get some relief from the heat, our mission was to see and do as much as we could.
Check out our adventures below:
Melaka Square – this vibrant square is popular for its beautiful cathedral, lovely gardens, interesting water feature and its central location to most of Melaka’s major attractions, including the famous, yet outrageously expensive, Hard Rock Cafe. From here you can take funky trishaw rides. What makes them unique is the 70-80 year-old drivers in their cheerfully decorated tuk-tuks with two massive speakers on the back, blaring techno or dub step. Oh, and there are few Hello Kitty and Frozen themed ones as well.
St Paul’s Cathedral – the beautiful remains of the church can be found on the top of a hill overlooking most of Melaka, a distinctive atmosphere created by a local acoustic guitarist who sat amongst the ruins strumming away. However, the most moving experience was meeting Francisco, a local artist, who has sat painting at the entrance to the church for decades. As he sat working on his latest masterpiece, we were blessed to hear his life-story, including the people he has had to opportunity to paint for, one of them being a British Prime Minister. What a phenomenal life story! After chatting a while he gave us a few of his paintings, sharing the powerful meaning behind each, and then proceeded to write a life secret on the back of each one. Once again we walked away overwhelmed by the powerful opportunities travelling affords.
The Sultanate Palace Museum – if you enjoy history then this place will give you a little more insight into the Sultanate period of Malaysia’s history and the traditions and customs of the time. The museum can be found inside a replica of the Sultan’s Palace set within beautifully manicured gardens. An interesting note: the wooden palace was built entirely without the use of nails. For MYR2 it is a worth a quick visit.
Jonker’s Walk Night Market – the street’s vibe changes entirely when it’s heaving with market goers. The street itself is closed to all vehicles for the night market which runs every Friday-Sunday. Most stall owners begin setting up as early as 5pm, but the market only truly comes alive after 10pm. It was at this very market that we purchased our quirky SpongeBob Uno cards which have travelled with us everywhere. Many people people we have since met along the way, have had the privilege of playing Action Uno with our SpongeBob set! Besides buying cards, there is also a wide variety of local food stalls, souvenirs, and antiques, cleaning tools, body products and more. If it is entertainment you are looking for, there is even a live karaoke stage where you can test your singing ability alongside some of Melaka’s best.
After exploring the market we stopped at Jonker 88 for a little treat. Here we experienced our first ABC (or Ice Kacang), a popular Malaysian dessert traditionally made of a mound of finely shaved ice, sweetened with flavoured syrup and evaporated milk, topped with chunks of jelly, sweet corn, green noodles and red beans. However, at some places, such as Jonker 88, you can select many different toppings. We chose passion fruit flavour which was tasty, but not as good as the authentic ABC we were lucky enough to taste at our next destination, Tioman Island, which you can read all about in our next blog post.
We ended our time in Melaka with a relaxed evening, packing all our gear and skyping family and friends back home before getting a good night’s rest for our long trip the next day. We were more than ready to hit the islands once again. Little did we know though that these would be some of the most gorgeous islands we have ever visited in our lives, and that we were about to have some of the most memorable experiences of our travels thus far.
Melaka, dubbed ‘The Historic State’ exceeded our expectations. This little town is made rich by its deep history, culture and traditions, as well as its Dutch influence. Malaysia’s extensive cultural diversity was never more evident for us than in Melaka. Wandering the streets, interacting with the local people, experiencing their local traditions as well as visiting places like the cathedral, mosque and palace was an incredibly memorable experience.
South Africa calls itself the ‘Rainbow Nation’ because of its cultural diversity, but we have yet to achieve true cohesion between the cultures that give us this name. By contrast, Malaysia’s unique beauty is found in its unity and solidarity of cultures. If you are anywhere near Kuala Lumpur, or on your way by land to Singapore, the little town of Melaka is definitely worth a quick visit.