Malacca, history, food, and street races

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
Courtyard @ Heeren
Courtyard @ Heeren, serviced house

Flag of Malaysia  , Melaka State,
Thursday, January 6, 2011

Today it is time to pack up and leave the comfort of the Fairmont. Our train leaves at 13:00 from the Malaysian station in Singapore. We will be one of the last people to leave from here, as the Singaporean government has plans to tear it down. From then on, all trains will leave from the Singaporean station, and another piece of history will disappear in the name of progress.

Before we check out, we find ourselves a post office. Yesterday Linda found some Bak Kut Teh soup mix for her mother. So she bought a couple of packs that we have to send back to Macau. The post office is not too far from the hotel. After posting the goodies, we head for a last breakfast in Singapore at a random coffee shop. We were welcomed by the girl behind the counter as if we were royalty, and with an excess of politeness we were served a latte, a kayan toast and a dish of dry noodles. For a moment she thought we wanted an American breakfast, no thanks, I can have that anywhere.

We hop on a cab and head out to the station. It was not much of a wait and within a couple of minutes we passed the first line of immigration. The train was not too busy, and in our compartment there are about eight people. The first stop of the train is the border checkpoint, Woodlands. Here we all have to leave the train to go through the second line of passport control. In a bit of confusion, Linda headed the wrong way after her passport was checked. The guy before us headed back through the gate after his passport was checked. The same way as he went in. So we thought that this was the normal procedure, and Linda did the same. It turned out that the guy before us was the train driver, so he was allowed to do this, Linda was supposed to go straight on. Luckily we did not get into any trouble, but it was sort of a hilarious moment. The train was kind of stinchy though comfortable. You could see that it was in serious need of some maintenance. The air vents in the ceilings were black from the diesel fumes and the air-conditioning in the compartment was set to arctic levels. Despite it all, the ride was comfortable. And in a bit more than five hours it bring us to Tampin. The scenery along they way consisted of palm tree plantations, banana trees and more palm trees.

As we reached Tampin the train attendant notified us of our stop. Good that he did as none of the stops were announced. On the platform, Edmond, a guy from the hotel was already waiting for us. We booked the Courtyard@Heeren hotel after reading some praises about their service on the internet. And indeed the service so far is great. They respond lighting fast to inquiries via email, and the driver was already waiting for us at Tampin. On the way we chatted a bit, and he asked us if we wanted to try some Nyonya cuisine at a place that they recommended. At first we were a bit hesitative, because usually you are led to some tourist trap. But after talking a bit it sounded like a good plan for dinner so we agreed. Edmond immediately called the restaurant to get reservations. We quickly checked in to the hotel and changed clothes before heading out to the restaurant.

The food was awesome, real nice flavors and local home style cooking. We had some prawns, vegetables and fish and a very special local dish that only this restaurant makes, some banana flowers. Every dish had its own distinctive taste and texture. And it all was not too expensive. The lady owner, Amy, came to have a chat with us as she was curious where we were from and how we found the restaurant. After dinner Edmond was already waiting for us to bring us back to the hotel. On the way back he showed us around Malacca pointing out places of interest. We stopped at a little pineapple cookie home bakery where we picked up a box of yummy cookies. They have a funny combination of salt and sweet flavors which make them interesting and delicious. We decided to have a drink at the Geographer Bar, which was very lively and packed with tourists and locals. There was some live music and people were dancing to the sometimes unrecognizable Malaysian-English interpretations of famous songs. After a few drinks we called it a night and headed back to the hotel, only a few streets away from the center of town. Tomorrow we will explore Malacca some more, but we already like the place a lot.

The darkness of the room hides the daylight from us. We are just in time for the breakfast buffet at our Hotel. It is served on the first floor of the antique eighteenth century Dutch building. The selection is good, but not too fancy. They do have an egg counter where we order two soft boiled eggs. Little do we know that soft boiled here in Malaysia is actually hardly boiled so egg white runs out when I crack the shell. We ask the waiter to toss them back in the water for a couple of minutes, until they are hard boiled, which turns out to be the soft boiled that we are used too. Different countries, different customs. The hotel is fully booked, but we do want to stay a bit longer in the area. But for this they have a solution, they are looking in to the option of renting us their serviced guest house. This would be great for a night.

After breakfast we head out to explore, it is a bit gloomy outside with a hardy noticeable drizzle of rain. We borrow a big umbrella and head out on to the streets of Malacca. It is actually quite pleasant as the heat is moderate, so we can explore without getting too wet, from the transpiration that is. First we walk down the famous Jonker street. This street is closed off from traffic during the weekends to host a night market. But today the street is not closed yet, and the side walks are narrow. Despite the gloomy weather there are quite a few people out, making strolling down the street kind of a hassle. Linda found a store with a wide selection of linen dresses and tops, so she shops her heart out and gets a nice selection of summer wear.

On our way to Stadhuys square we stop at a little local eatery where we have the local variant of chicken rice. The rice is served in little balls, and the chicken is steamed. It makes a nice little meal. After that, we made our way to the Stadhuys square. Here there are some remains of the Dutch colonial times like a church and the 'Stadhuys' which means city hall. The buildings are all painted in a terracotta red color, and in the middle of the square is a fountain from the English colonial era. Next to the old Dutch church is a small line up of souvenir stalls. Here we buy a magnet for our ever growing collection. In every country that we visit, we will buy a fridge magnet. They are small and easy to carry along, so a good souvenir we thought. I think we will have to get a pretty big fridge to host all the magnets that we have collected so far.

On the square there are some new age rickshaws. They are equipped with quite annoying and loud radios that blast disco or house tunes at idiotic loud volume. I can not see why this would attract people, but apparently it does as you see tourists mounting the discotheques on wheels for a 'rip off' ride around the town, not our cup of tea.

We make our way up the hill to the little Museum of history. Here I discover that the town of Malacca has close ties with my birthplace, Hoorn. As it seems, the Dutch VOC ships heading to the east, and in specific Malacca, left from Hoorn. In the museum I find old paintings of the Hoorn harbor. Quite a surprise, and interesting to explore. We roam around the small Museum for a bit, learning about the turbulent history of this town when suddenly we were SMS'ed by Edmond, our driver and hotel representative. He managed to secure the house stay for the extra night and asks us to confirm. We head back to the hotel to make arrangements with the hotel in Kuala Lumpur, and to confirm our extra night in the service apartment.

After our administrative tasks, we head back to the Geographer Bar. The evening market is being set up, so we take a table at the outside and watch how some people set up a stall for some sesame snack. It is an odd spectacle. There is a young woman with three kids, I estimate the youngest, a girl, not much older that 5 years. Than there is another girl of about 12 and a boy of about 10 years old. The boy is trying to fix the battery of their car as it seemed to have drained. They are dangerously pouring water over the car battery whilst having it connected to another battery. But miraculously it works, and the car get started. We hear from the table next to us, that the women was feeding the youngest girl some beer just a few moments before we arrived, odd to say the least. With the car fixed the boy goes about fixing a ventilator by taping two electricity wires together. The youngest girl starts to work on the sesame snack. The thing is in a big round pan, and she needs to hammer pieces out with an iron pick and some sort of hammer. She is hammering for a couple of minutes, when the first customers are attracted by the child labor. The five year old handles the sales of a bag of sesame sweet while the mother sits behind them downing another beer, she got it all covered.

Next to the sesame snack stand, another stand is being set up. A guy arrived on a bike with side span. In no time he converts the vehicle into a cooking station for a fried turnip cake with egg snack. The market is coming to a completion, and there are more and more people on the now car free streets. We head out and start with the turnip / egg snack, which was delicious. Further down the street we have some siu mai and a drink. The night market actually offered less food than we expected. The majority of stalls were handcrafts or other merchandise. We decide to head out to the river to take a relaxing river cruise. We only have to wait a few minutes before our boat leaves. There are no other foreigners on the boat besides us. The captain turns on the radio and heads out on to the river. The sights of the town by night are quite nice, and we make a couple of photos along the way. The boat is very fast at times and the water sometimes splashes over the front. But all in all it was a nice ride, and worth the little wait.

On the way back to the hotel we pass by the market again. We decide to have little food at one of the bar / restaurants nearby the hotel. The food was nice, but the service kind of awkward. At the end of our meal, when we told the waiter that we were done, he just acknowledge our message, and sat down with his colleague to have a smoke, a bit too relaxed I'd think.

The next day we headed out to explore the other side of the river. First we move our luggage to the serviced apartment. Well it is actually a full blown house, not an apartment. The house is only a couple of months old. It has four bedrooms, two floors, a full kitchen, living room and the master bedroom has an en suite bathroom. It is located in an average street in Malacca. Yes it is a bit outside of the center of town, but the hotel arranges for Edmond to drive us back and forward between the hotel and the house, great service. We drop our luggage and head out to one of the malls in Malacca. It had started to rain a bit, so we figured we would be nice and dry there. We have a small meal at the food court and decide to catch a movie. We watched 'The Tourist' with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. It is good entertainment, but don't think too much, some things really don't make sense. After the movie we walk around a bit and cross the street to the mall on the other side. More shops and stuff we don't need so we don't spend too much time here. We take a white coffee at a coffee shop in the mall. A white coffee is a sort of Chinese coffee with cream, but then roasted with less caramel, so better quality and healthier. At least that is what we read on the explanation in the menu. Whatever it was, it tasted good.

On the map we found that the Jetty was close by. The Jetty is basically a pier with watering holes from where you would have a great view of the sunset over the Malacca strait. We were in the need of a drink, so we tried to find our way to this place. We had to risk our lives crossing the main road as there were no crossings, underpasses or overpasses to be found. Imagine you stay at either the Holiday Inn or the hotel next to that (the name has slipped my mind), you would be trapped between the Jetty and the road, and for every form of exploration you would need to take a taxi. I am glad we did not book one of those places. As we arrived on the Jetty it was almost empty, there were maybe around 5 people in the bar at the end of the complex. Nice and quiet, but not good business I assume. We chatted a bit with a Dutch couple that just had landed, and where obviously quite jet-lagged and waited in high anticipation for the sunset. I ordered a bucket of Tiger to keep us hydrated for the time being. We waited and waited, and then it was dark. Where was the sunset for which we were waiting for so long?! It was nowhere to be found, the rain clouds had covered it up too much.

We headed back to the river side, again risking our live and limbs crossing the busy main road. At the river side we had a nice dinner at one of the small restaurants before heading back to the hotel. From the hotel, Edmond brought us back to the house where we stayed for the night. An interesting night that was. We watched a little TV and I worked a bit on a project. Around midnight the 'fun' started. We heard the sounds of roaring engines. Cars with mufflers modified to expose the maximum possible amount of sound. Looking out of the window I see that the road next to us is converted into a race track as you would see in the fast and the furious. I see vehicles with green and blue neon lights under the body and rims more expensive that the little Hyundai or Toyota that they are carrying. The drivers are weaving through the normal traffic consisting of scooters, trucks and other 'normal' cars with a clear death wish in the effort to race each other. This loud spectacle lasted until around 02:30 in the night and as you can imagine it got quite annoying after a while. But eventually the noise stopped, the drivers might have run out of fuel, or maybe their mufflers fell off their cars.

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