Many years ago Malacca was one of Malaysia’s most sought-after destinations. Before Kuala Lumpur transformed from a malaria-infested jungle into a polished high-rise capital, Malacca was one of the greatest trading ports in Southeast Asia. Over time it changed from a thriving port into a sleepy backwater city and lost its spot as a must-visit destination to its high-rolling cousins.
Yet in recent years, Malacca has been revived as a top-pick holiday getaway due to its many historic attractions. Home of the well-known Nyonya cuisine, it’s a popular destination for tourists who want to catch a glimpse of Malaysia’s unique heritage.
Malacca is a hotchpotch of Malay, Chinese, Indian, European and sundry influences. Malaysians laud Malacca’s laidback atmosphere and lost-in-time feel; stores close early here, traffic goes by at leisurely pace and city life is a languid affair. Between the scattered historic spots are atmospheric Chinese shop fronts and traditional Malay kampongs. Though the state may not boast a white-sand shoreline reminiscent of its East Coast cousins, Malacca is noteworthy for its heritage hotspots.
When the sun goes down, one of the city’s most popular destinations is the Friday and Saturday Jonker Walk Night Market which plays host to a collection of stalls that sell everything but the kitchen sink. Here you can purchase a variety of trinkets and even sample some of the state’s best-known local fare including fried egg ice cream and fried radish cake. At night the handful of bars along the boulevard become a mini street party with tables oozing beyond the sidewalks and a mix of live music beating throughout the area.
Dubbed Malaysia’s unofficial historic capital, Malacca – declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 – is one of the country’s most unassuming states. Boasting a good blend of historic attractions – from the salmon-pink Stadhuys to the Jonker Walk Night Market – Malacca is also home to a smorgasbord of great food.
In the late 14th century, Malacca was a simple fishing village. Parameswara – a fleeing prince from the nearby Sumatra – landed on Malacca’s shores, founded the city and turned it into a favoured port for waiting out monsoons and re-supplying ships plying the strategic Straits of Malacca. In time, due to its strategic location between China and India, Malacca came to monopolize the trading routes in this quadrant of the globe. In 1405 Malacca forged an alliance with the Ming Emperor in order to secure protection against Siamese invaders; over time Chinese settlers who married local Malays resulted in what was dubbed the Baba Nyonya peoples.
After Malacca was attacked by the Portuguese in 1511, the invader missionaries strove to implant Catholicism within the state and Malacca’s popularity dwindled as Muslim merchants began to steer clear of the port. Malacca’s reputation increased again in 1641 when it passed into Dutch hands for 150 years and later the British assumed control for a short time, further lending to its hodgepodge of cultural influences. Yet as time went on Malacca once again become a sleepy backwater state; it was only during the 21st century, when Malaysia gained its independence, that Malacca became a tourist draw card.
Highlights and Features
- Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum – With Victorian and Dutch-style Chinese hardwood furniture, this Peranakan townhouse is arranged to look like a typical 19th-cenutry Baba-Nyonya residence.
- Cheng Hoon Teng Temple – Significant due to its engraved woodwork, this temple is Malaysia’s oldest traditional Chinese temple. Dedicated to the goddess Kwan Yin, the highlight of this shrine is the robed effigy of the Goddess of Mercy herself within the main hall.
- Christ Church – Sporting a huge white cross, this coral-red building is the oldest Protestant church in Malaysia. Built in 1753 to commemorate a century of Dutch rule in Malacca, it is one of the most notable heritage sites in the city.
- Jonker Street – Malacca’s Chinatown centre street was once renowned for its collection of antique stores; these days it is most noteworthy due to the Friday and Saturday Jonker Walk Night Market where tasty treats and delicious knick knacks are sold at dirt cheap prices.
- Maritime Museum & Naval Museum – This massive re-creation of the Flora de la Mar is one of Malacca’s most tourist-worthy attractions. Built in 1990 the Maritime Museum is home to dated props including old maps, scale model ships, weaponry and nautical -related accessories and relics that chronicle Malacca’s history.
- Melaka River Cruise – A 40-minute riverboat ride that takes you on a journey down the ‘Venice of the East’. This waterway, which was once used as a trade and commerce centre for the Melaka Malay Sultanate, is now a simple reminder of its bountiful past where you pass by kampungs and old godowns – river warehouses.
- Melaka River Park – This popular theme park houses the Eye on Malacca – a giant gondola-style Ferris wheel – which takes you on a gentle 20-minute spin with great views of the Straits of Malacca.
- Melaka Sultanate Palace – A wooden replica of an original 15th-century palace, this cultural museum is a unique structure with ornate wood carvings and features numerous dioramas portraying the palace atmosphere of the era.
- Porta de’ Santiago (A’Famosa) – A quick photo stop opportunity, it’s best to visit these Portuguese ruins in the late evening when the sun isn’t so high in the sky. Climbing to the top may not be a gruelling task, yet, given the fact that there are hardly any trees along the way, the short trip can be scorching due to the sun’s fiery rays.
- Stadhuys – This salmon-pink town hall and governor’s residence, believed to be the oldest Dutch building in the East, houses several museums and is a favourite trishaw pick-up point.
Good to Know and What Not to Miss
- Whatever you do, when you’re in Malacca make sure you don’t miss out on the Friday and Saturday Jonker Walk Night Market. There’s a variety of out-and-out tacky knick knacks as well as an assortment of Malaysian local delicacies – try the fried egg ice cream as well as the Nyonya pineapple tarts.
- Be sure to visit Malacca’s plethora of historic sites from the Porta de’ Santiago to the Stadhuys building.
How to Get There/Technical Info
Malacca – Historic Cities Of The Straits Of Malacca
- Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum: Adult – RM 8; Kids – RM 4
- Maritime Museum & Naval Museum: Adult – RM 2; Kids – RM 0.50
- Melaka River Cruise: Adult - RM 10; Kids – RM 5
- Melaka Sultanate Palace: Adult – RM 2; Kids – RM 0.50
- Stadhuys: Adult – RM 5; Kids RM 2
Malacca – Historic Cities Of The Straits Of Malacca
- Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum: 10:00 – 12:30 & 14:00 – 16:30 Monday - Saturdays
- Cheng Hoon Teng Temple: 07:00 – 19:00
- Christ Church: 09:00 – 17:00
- Maritime Museum & Naval Museum: 09:00 – 17:30
- Melaka River Cruise: 09:00 – 11:30 everyday
- Melaka River Park: 05:30 – 01:30/ everyday
- Melaka Sultanate Palace: 09:00 – 17:30 everyday
- Stadhuys: 09:00 – 17:30 Saturday – Thursday and 09:00 – 12.15; 14:45 – 17:30 Friday
How to Get There: Malacca is approximately three hours away from Kuala Lumpur. Firefly operates flights between Singapore and Malacca; within Malaysia there are buses that run from numerous locations to Malacca. A-Bus Express runs the KLIA and Malacca route for only RM 36 per journey.