Melaka: Venice Meets Goa Meets Madurai


Melaka - cover

Kartik Kannan writes about his visit to the World Heritage City of Melaka, which is a blend of Goa, Madurai, Venice and China! He offers a succinct view of his expedition of the beautiful place.

What is Melaka? Imagine the Tamil song Va Da Maplillae competing with the yesteryear Hindi classic Do Lafzon Ki Hain – that is Melaka!

The town has Venetian vibes with canals running through the periphery of the town, even as you listen to people speaking Anglicized Tamil, against the backdrop of European influences, like Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands. Small town, with relatively lesser tourists, and a bit of history thrown in makes a trip to Melaka pretty high on the relaxation scale. While the tour guides, certainly create more hype, to sell the town to Kuala Lumpur (KL) tourists as a day trip, Melaka needs 3-4 days of relaxed sauntering. Since I was short on time, and scheduled my trip between flights at Kuala Lumpur, I gave it a good 30 hours to go around town. To put it short, Melaka is Goa meeting Madurai meeting Venice, with a dash of China!

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Situated on the South West coast of Malaysia, Melaka is a sleepy port town, which the locals believe is the true Malaysia, given that KL is far too internationalized.

As soon as I made it to the city, I found a taxi and asked him to drive to the Sayang Sayang hostel. He dropped me off at the wrong Sayang Sayang hostel. It was then that I realized that there are 2 hostels of the same name. By the end of my stay, I came to know about 11 more Sayang Sayang hostels in and around Melaka. So I congratulated myself on being able to find the one I wanted in just 2 attempts, instead of allowing probability follow Murphy’s law! J

I had a room with a lounging couch, and a flight of stairs leading to a bed above. Add the air conditioning and the free Wifi, and you start thinking that the 80 Ringitts a night, is quite a steal. Of course, all of these came along with the added benefits of meeting other travelers in the hostel, to share travel stories with.

After a minimalistic, but long brunch at ‘Bakers Oven’, we started our stroll on the Dutch Square strip. The buildings on the road were doused in a shade of red, and the street was a shopper’s delight with a large number of shops selling antiques. Given the fact that I was backpacking, I settled for a couple of lighter souvenirs, one of which was a fridge magnet of Melaka. The souvenir shops, flank the Melaka river, which is reminiscent of the canals in Venice with houses on both sides. The canal ride is a lovely detour in between bouts of antique shopping, as the ferries keep stopping at many points to pick up passengers and show them around the length of the canal and the various touristy points in the city.

As you walk further on the  Stadthuys , you pass a couple of churches and a clock tower, which pale away, since most of your attention is taken away by the brazen noise and color of the trishaws, that lounge around to fleece tourists for a short ride around town. These trishaws are heavily decorated in shades of yellow, orange, pink and velvette and have loud popular music blasting, as you lazily jaunt down the strip up to the little hill that is the path to St Francis Xavier church. Negotiate anywhere between 15-40 Ringitts for a ride.

Melaka1 If you are accompanied by a lady, as I was, you are bound to find your trip punctuated by a lot of impromptu stops to the little shops at the Church. The Christ church is home to a historic museum, and is just a few meters away from a unique youth museum, which outlines the history of the youth movement in Malaysia and gives a glimpse into the lives of the early Malays. This place was a welcome respite due to the air conditioning in the midst of our warm afternoon walk in tropical Melaka (all for just 2 Ringitts).

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Right near the Church, is the clock tower, which probably is the most photographed structure in Melaka. As we walked further on the road, we saw a signboard that gave the direction and the distances to most places in Malaysia, and jocularly London and Portugal, too featured on it.

Sapped by all the walking, we turned towards Little India for some predictable vegetarian menu, but almost all of the restaurants in that area have majority of their items that are anything but vegetarian. Luckily, we did find a Tamil restaurant and our taste buds did not find a reason to be drought stricken, as the ‘rain’ came soon in the form of Sambhar.

Despite a tiring day I did manage to save some energy for the best part of the evening (twilight) for a quiet walk along the Melaka river. I soaked in the various shades of the river, while the sun set in the horizon. It’s often an aimless walk that takes you through streets that are largely representative of life in a particular place. I did just that for over an hour, before getting ready for a stroll along Jonker Walk, around Chinatown.

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It’s a shoppers delight to stroll through the mayhem of China Town. Women take to these streets and shopping like iron to magnets. Some parts of the Chinatown are getting Westernised. This has taken away the core charm of the place; however, that is what civilization has done to most holiday spots.

For today’s traveler, the challenge lies in discovering places that are yet to fall prey to commercialization, so I am all set to hone my instincts in spotting such places, that are not yet covered by Frommers, Fodors or Lonely Planet.

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