Melaka, Home of the Baba-Nonyas
Trip Start Jun 15, 2009
133Trip End Jun 14, 2010
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Our trip to Ipoh had deliberately given us a number of different possibilities for our next move on the way to Singapore. Having talked these through with the seasoned Aussie traveller we met in the Station Hotel, we decided that a trip to Melaka would be our best option. There are direct buses and the description of this old town on the mouth of the Melaka River sounded really interesting. It was founded in the 15th century by a Hindu prince and became an important trading centre, It was attacked and taken over by the Portuguese at the beginning of the 16th century before being taken over by the Dutch in the mid 17th century. Only later , at the beginning of the 19th century was it taken on as a part of the British Empire (swapped for a bit of Sarawak that we didn’t want). It became a part of the British Straits Settlement but its importance quickly declined, being eclipsed in importance by Georgetown and Singapore
The direct bus service was not quite as direct as we imagined. Jen made a survey of the bus ticket stands and was suckered by the ‘our bus is just about to leave’ number that had been pulled before. Despite all her specific questions and the direct answers she was being given, the 10:30 bus that she had bought tickets for did not leave until 11:15, just like all the other buses. It’s a strange feature that the spirit of enterprise leads to all these bus companies competing for customers but they all run their buses at the same times so that they can move passengers to each other’s buses if their own bus looks like being uneconomic. So buses tend to leave the stations in a convoy, even stopping for breaks at the same spots. The ‘direct’ bus stopped partway through the journey and we had to get out and board another, significantly more derelict, bus to take us the last section to Melaka Sentral bus station , which as usual for such things, despite its name is a long way from the centre of the town.
We had booked into The Baba House Hotel, which looked extremely interesting on the internet and certainly did not disappoint. Formed from a row of rather grander than usual shophouses, the hotel is a maze of shady and open spaces filled with a motley collection of furniture including much of the heavy inlaid furniture beloved of the Baba-Nyonya people who were living in these houses through the 19th and early 20th centuries. (The term Baba-Nonya is used to describe the Straits born Chinese people and the name is derived from their words for man and woman)
We spent a long time just wandering around soaking up the atmosphere. It’s a quiet place overall despite the obvious tourist presence. The local trishaw riders make a point of decorating their trishaws with flowers and lights, often with an inauthentic sound system blasting out RnB, Michael Jackson or Boney M. The volume of the music that close to your ears is enough to make you know that you don’t really want one of their rides, although occasional coach parties arrive, alight and set of in a caravan of trishaws for their city tour. The trishaws base themselves in the old Dutch town square, which forms a clear central point on the opposite side of the river from the Baba-Nyonya area
We very much enjoyed visiting 8 Heeren Street, further along the road from our hotel. This has been set up as an example of how traditional materials and techniques can be used to renovate the houses and make them more suitable for modern living. The result was a beautifully simple house with large and useful living spaces but also a shady courtyard and useful covered areas for when the inevitable rain falls. The curator showed great knowledge of the history and culture of the area and spoke positively about British planning rules which meant that later houses had to have spaces behind them but this house, being considerably earlier, was build right up to the house immediately behind it
At night, Melaka lights up with lots of coloured lights illuminating roofs and walls and picking out the banks of the river. There are a growing number of western style cafes and eateries but the ambiance is pretty low key. The park near the sea front was one of the few places we found loud blaring music and this was directed a the few groups of local people sitting out and enjoying a late night meal amidst the animals made of lights (very tasteful!).