Hungry Ghosts and Hungry Travellers
Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
45Trip End Feb 13, 2011
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I'm back in our trusty local Internet cafe in Kuala Lumpur after a 5 night Jolly to Melaka. Mark and I left our big backpacks in our hostel here and set off back south for a few days with just our rucksacks, a guide book and some sweet Dire Straits beats to keep us going en route.
The 3 bus journey took around 3 hours and cost a whopping 3 pounds each! As we arrived in town we were greeted by the bizarre sight of a dutch colonial town square surrounded by kitch multicoloured trishaws. First impressions were of a sedate town but as we wondered deeper into Chinatown in search of our hostel we were met with a hubbub of market stalls, gift shops, temples and mosques.
Our hostel was right in the centre of Chinatown a small but impeccably neat place with free tea/coffee and Internet
Apart from the mosquito's, we also encountered other local wildlife in the form of ENORMOUS monitor lizards which frequent the river. (We also saw various geckos, rats and alley cats but they weren't quite as exotic!)
Our first few days were spent in a flurry of Museums. Melaka is a very historic city and present-day Melaka reflects its tumultuous history - a multi-racial population of Malays, Indians, and Chinese people live there. We visited museums about the Sultans of the past, the town's maritime history (it was once a world-famous trading port), Portuguese, Dutch and British Colonization and even the Malaysian Customs Museum!
In the evenings a massive night market came to life along the street next to our hostel selling all sorts of tourist fodder as well as traditional food
Besides the Poh Piah man, our other favourite place to eat became the "famous" chicken rice ball restaurant where we would get roast chicken and rice for 80p. However, Melaka isn't renowned for it's cuisine for nothing, every local place we tried had something amazing to offer. We found one restaurant on the river which did phenomenal coconut rice served with dried anchovies, chicken and nuts- (don't knock it till you've tried it!)
After gorging ourselves, most evenings were spent playing cards in our hostel where we met lots of interesting people. Mark spent one night valiantly helping a Scottish guy finish his gin and whiskey supply before his flight home the next day. In fact it was whilst hanging around one night we heard a group of girls excitedly heading out to see "a man put his finger in a coconut" (?!) It transpired that English was their second language and something had been lost in translation- this guy actually puts his finger THROUGH coconuts! Now THAT we had to see, so we promptly followed them and sure enough there was a guy who (to help sell his special oil) would break through coconuts with his finger
As the days wore on we began to run out of museums, and as the oppressive heat began to wear I'm ashamed to say we took comfort in the air conditioned haven of the local cinema. I know it's a cardinal sin of the cultural traveller but we were HOT! (For those who are interested we saw The Last Airbender and Salt -both of which I enjoyed very much!)
On our last few nights, there was no street market (and no Poh Piah stall) and I began to wonder if it could be penance for our shirking of tourist duties in the cinema. However, we also noticed that many of the Chinese residents were burning things on the street outside their houses. Most streets were lined with candles or incense and all of the shrines around the temples were laden with fruit. I stopped to ask one lady who was burning paper money, why she was doing it and she said it was for her father and grandfather who had passed away. It turns out that unbeknown to us we were there for the Festival of Hungry Ghosts, an event in the Chinese calendar in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm.
We had been aware that it was Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting as many restaurants offer night time promotions (including McDonalds!) but we had no idea about the Festival of Ghosts
All in all Melaka more than lived up to its reputation for History, amazing cuisine and cultural diversity!
We don't have a video camera but here are a few links to videos relating to out time in Melaka:
MAN IN JONKER STREET BREAKING A COCONUT WITH HIS FINGER
CALL TO PRAYER this video is on the actual street where our hostel was- note the volume!