Trip Start Apr 30, 2004
88Trip End Jan 28, 2005
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Where I stayed
Woken by a loud bang, not the Germans this time but a big bad thunderstorm. Torrential rain lasted about 3 hours. Queues for toilet and shower left us plenty of time to pack and ready to move on as soon as the rain stopped.
Melaka, another of the British Straits settlements, was once the greatest trading post in South East Asia, and although its importance has long since diminished, it's still a city full of history. With its beautiful Peranaken (person who is half Chinese, half Malay) shophouses, Portugese and Dutch architecture, Buddhist, Taoist and Indian temples, and Islamic mosques, Melaka is also a mosaic of Chinese, Islamic and European cultures.
We walk from Little India through the Town Square, past Stadthuys town Hall (1641) over the Melaka River and into Chinatown, where we find a new small hotel called the Hereen Inn, not to be confused with The Hereen, which is twice the price. We have though, treated ourselves to a 9 pound a night room with its own, queue free toilet and shower. Hot water heaven.
Tai Pee for me, Rene has Nonya Popiah. Baba Nonya (straits Chinese) traditional food served in the traditional Peranakan interior of Cafe 1511. It's right next door to the Baba Nonya Heritage Museum. Rene's Nonya Popiah was a kind of savoury pankake stuffed with sweet potato, beansprouts, chilli and chopped vegetables. The Tai Pee were little pyramid shaped srping rolls, both were delicious.
A short walk (we saw two monitor lizards in the river) followed by chocolate brownie and apple crumble at Hereen House, led to exhaustion and a 2 hour siesta. We make no apology whatsoever for this, the ultimate, in workshy fopishness.
At night, the Chinatown area of Melaka is very quiet, a lot of cafes and restorans only open during the day, so there's not a huge choice. The popular Geographer Cafe is open and we sample a local dish called Nasi Lemak. Rice cooked in coconut milk, served with dried anchovies, boiled egg, peanuts and cucumber slices.An odd mix, but very tasty.
We have a TV in our room, but it only shows Malaysian channels. We drift into sleep, trying to guess what the news headlines are.
Expenses (Malaysian ringit 7 / pound): Accom 68, lunch 10, afternoon tea 15.50, earbuds 1.35, necklace 6.0, beer 12, dinner 24, internet 3.
Thurs 22 July - Day 81
This mornings hunt for a bicycle or moped to rent proved fruitless, so we followed a heritage walking trail, the highlight of which was a man (the only one left) making exquisite and minute silk shoes for bound feet. Binding feet is illegal now, but he has a thriving business selling the shoes worldwide as souvenirs. He also has some fascinating horrific photos of bound feet, the toes all end up tucked right back under the foot. The woman though looked pleased as punch with her deformity. Rene's size 7's look monstrous next to the tiny doll's shoe of a shoe.
Mid afternoon, we partake of another chocolate brownie, but this time in Restoran Peranakan, a traditional Chinese merchants house. As in a lot of these properties, there is a central small courtyard open to the elements and often filled with plants and palms. By allowing the warm rising air in the house to escape, the open area causes a continuous circulation, and keeps the inside relatively cool.
Running through the middle of Melaka is the Melaka River. So, with that in mind we were more than a little surprised yesterday, when we saw 2 monitor lizards swimming and feeding alongside its edge. Today, standing on the bridge over the river, we saw two more. A huge big fella about 6 feet long, sunning himself in a large hole in the river wall, and a four footer sunbathing on top of the wall. They are completely motionless and very difficult to spot, we only saw the lizard yesterday because we happened to spot what looked for all the world like a log, swimming upstream, as we crossed the bridge.
There's a chance of a close up photo of the big fella's head from above, so camera in hand, I clamber over a wall and start edging across an area of scrub. I can see the smaller one ahead. The cunning plan being to kind of shoo him along so I can get near enough to the wall to reach my arm over, and swivelling the LCD monitor on the camera, take a photo without having to lean right over the wall and therefore scare the big feller off. The plan started really well, I crept within 10 feet of the lizard before he noticed me, then he very slowly turned his head (it was the shape of an otters) and looked at me, he didn't however shoo along. Monitor lizards look scary, but I'd read they generally shy away from human, this lizard obviously hadn't read that book. I thought one more step should do it, but this is where my plan was scuppered. Because I'd been concentrating so hard on not disturbing the lizard on the wall, I hadn't noticed how successful I'd been at not disturbing the lizard in the scrub, until that step. I virtually trod on its long tail, and startled it, it bolted for the wall, taking my living daylights with it. There was now 2 on the wall, they were obviously in a top lizard sunbathing spot and weren't prepared to move, so I left them to it. We spent a good hour watching these 3 and 2 others in the river.
Harpers, a restaurant close to the bridge and overlooking the River is out of our budget price range, but it comes highly recommended and is in a beautiful old building and Rene's got her heart/stomach set on going. If the maitre D refuses us entry (many up market establishments have a no shorts, no sandles rule) he'll be in the river in a flash. Rene's not to be messed with when she's hungry. Luckily he saw the look in her eyes and we were quickly shown to our table.
The creamy prawn chowder starter came in a huge hollowed out bun, so as the soup level lowered, the sides of the bun were broken off and dipped, delicious. My prawn nana (prawn and pineapple) was pretty tasteless and very disappointing, Rene's salmon and noodles was a much better choice. It was a good night out and a real change, and althoughto travellers 120R is a hefty bill, it's still only 17 pound and that included 3 beers and a coke.
Expenses: accom 68, dinner 120, breakfast 8, internet 4.5, afternoon tea 12, phone 0.5, drinks 5
Fri 23 July - Day 82
Heavy rain again this morning. We're heading for the Perhentian Islands this evening, we're booked on a bus leaving at 8pm, so Rene spends part of the morning on the internet looking for accomodationoptions. Malaysian railways have a line called the Jungle Line which runs up through the middle of Peninsular Malaysia and skirts round Taman Nagara National Park. It's meant to be a beautiful train journey, and is how we'd planned to get from SW to NE Malaysia. We discovered, to our complete bewilderment, that the train only runs through the night. no idea why, so the bus it is, less than half the price of the train.
While Rene's interwebbing, I'm on the hunt for a short, back and slap (haircut). We passed a small shop yesterday with a red leather chair inside, there were implements on the wall, but it was quite dark with nobody about and I wasn't sure if it was a barbers or a dentists or both, so I left it. Today there's three Chinese ladies inside, they know a little English and it's soon apparent one of them is a barber, so in I go. All three women are about 60. A pair of clippers appears, but there's no guard, she uses the flat of a comb as a guide. The other ladies are sewing and all three sing along to Chinese music on the radio. They were lovely and my haircut was fine, so with sideburns still intact I rejoined Rene.
The rest of the day slowly disappeared, with packing, checking out and getting a bus to the bus station. There's huge housing developments on the outskirts of Melaka, much of it on reclaimed land, the trip to the bus station took a big loop round them all.
The bus to Khota Bharu left bang on 8pm, our seats were right at the back and had a little more leg room, anything that may increase the small chance of any sleep is a bonus.
Expenses: internet and drinks 6.5, haircut 12, bus 3, lunch 20.74, toiletries 29.06, cake 11, snacks 6, left luggage 7, bus to K.Bharu 64.