Malacca: A City of Multicultural Diversity
Malacca: A City of Multicultural Diversity
The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the bus by the riverside in Malacca, was the brightly coloured, flashing neon, music blaring tricycles decked out with anything from pictures of Pokemon to designs of Hello Kitty, that were racing up and down the road fearlessly. The second thing I noticed, were the tourists. There were a lot of tourists in Malacca.
This is one of Malaysia’s favourite weekend getaway spots, and I was wondering if I’d made the right choice to travel here. It was busy, it was bustling, and it was chaotic. Tricycles were speeding around, buses were dropping off more people and river cruises boat tours were racing along the river.
Later that evening though, I was gorging on inexpensive but delicious local food in a food court in the suburbs, away from the old centre, and I was beginning to enjoy the lively atmosphere of this multicultural city. The dishes were varied, from Portuguese Chicken to Tikka Masala. There were influences from everywhere, and I soon discovered, to my delight, that under the surface of the tourism boom in Malacca, there was a huge and diverse history just waiting to be found.
I visited the ruins of an old Portuguese fort and church on a hilltop, looking out over the Strait of Malacca, I walked the streets of the UNESCO World Heritage old city, and under the loud noise of the tricycles whizzing past with their music blaring, I found that this mixture of Chinese, Malay and European heritage was unlike anywhere else in Malaysia. Malacca, was for me, the most multicultural and intriguing place I’d visited in Malaysia. You just had to go looking for it, to find it.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Malacca is found overlooking the Strait of Malacca, on the western coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The city is extremely well connected by overland routes to the rest of the country, and to nearby Singapore which lies to the south. There is an international airport just outside the city, but despite this, there are few flights into Malacca. Kuala Lumpur International is in fact just one hour and a half away by bus, so many travellers will find it just as convenient to land in KL, then transfer directly to Malacca. Alternatively, spend a few days in KL, then catch a bus from KL Sentral.
If you are travelling from Singapore, then there are many direct buses running from the Queen Street Bus Terminal, as Malacca is an increasingly popular weekend getaway for Singaporeans. Journey time from Singapore can be as little as three hours, however, this all depends on the queues at immigration. Try to avoid the weekends and rush hour times when locals cross the border after work.
From southern Malaysia, there are many direct connections too, such as from Johor Bahru. If you are arriving from the north, then you may need to change at Kuala Lumpur to get to Malacca.
Malacca also has an international ferry terminal, with passenger ferries running routes across to various ports on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which lies just a short distance across the Strait of Malacca.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Ride the Crazy Tricycles
You will soon find that Malacca is easy enough to stroll around on foot, with a compact city centre that is based around the river. You will, however, also find that many visitors choose to travel in style, on the ridiculously vibrant and loud tricycles that swarm the streets, with neon flashing lights and loud music blaring. It’s an unusual sight, and you might find that you want to take a ride too.
Malacca was captured by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and turned into a trading post, in what was just the first in a series of foreign invasions. The Portuguese built a church on the high hilltop near the river, which was then turned into a fortress. Now the ruins make for an interesting look at the colonial past. If you would like to learn more about the descendants of the Portuguese then head to the Portuguese Settlement, an area where many of those who still speak a dialect of Portuguese live.
At the base of the Portuguese ruins can be found the city’s main square, with buildings painted in a vibrant red colour, and distinctly Dutch and British in character. The Stadthuys is the old town hall, while the clock tower is a favourite place to pose for pictures. It’s an intriguing show of the heavy colonisation of Malacca by different nations.
Jonker Street is the most famous street in Malacca, as this is the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage area that encompasses much of the old quarter and the Chinatown. Here you can find many old townhouses, Chinese temples and a lively street scene with great food to be had.
Outside of the city, in the suburbs, can be found the incredibly picturesque scene of the floating mosque. The mosque sits out on the Strait of Malacca and at sunset, it makes for an incredible setting, as the fiery tropical sunset contrasts with this unique piece of architecture.
Stay – Accommodation
Malacca has a whole range of accommodation, from luxurious resorts to local homestays and family run guesthouses and hostels. The closer you are to the river, the more you can expect your accommodation to cost, as this is the centre of all things in the city. For those looking for an upmarket choice, you should consider the Casa del Rio, a five-star resort that really embraces the Portuguese history of Malacca.
Other great options can be found in Chinatown, on the edge of the UNESCO World Heritage Area, where many of the old Chinese inspired townhouses have been converted into charming boutique hotels, many of them independently run. Backpackers should look away from the river, and to the southeastern side of the city, which is the newer area with shopping malls and more apartments. Here, you can find much cheaper dormitories and value guest houses, but still be within reasonable walking distance of the historic sights.
Eat – Restaurants
Malacca, like everywhere in Malaysia, is a foodie’s paradise. The unique multicultural society of the city ensures that the cuisine of Malacca is particularly special too, with influences from Portugal, England, China, Malaysia, India and more to be found in local dishes. Some of the best and cheapest food will be found in the local markets and food courts, but there is also some great – although more upmarket – food to be found in the restaurants along the river. Try Asam Pedas, a delicious local fish curry, and make sure you sample the Chicken Ball Rice, a Chinese influenced dish.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
West coast peninsular Malaysia experiences a wet and dry season, however, you will find that in Malaysia, it can rain any time. It’s warm all year round too, so you needn’t worry about the temperature, but if you want to maximise your chance of dry weather, then visit in January, February or March. If you are just visiting for a few days, try to travel to Malacca midweek, as most local tourists – and there are lots of them in Malaysia – will visit on the weekend.
Safety – Possible risks
Malacca is an incredibly safe city to visit. There is very little crime, despite the large number of tourists who visit every year, and you will find that you will have little trouble. The only real danger is getting knocked over by a tricycle as they whizz past on the streets, so be careful when strolling around the city centre!
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
The cost to visit Malacca can vary dramatically depending on your style of travel. If you want to spend hundreds of dollars on a luxury or boutique hotel, then that’s easy. Equally, if you want to spend as little as 3 USD on a basic dormitory with shared bathrooms in a dilapidated old townhouse, then that’s equally doable. Visiting many of the UNESCO areas are free, while the Portuguese ruins have a small entrance fee. Eating out is very inexpensive too, as the best food, as with anywhere in Malaysia, is the local food, and you can get a huge plate of curry for 4-5 USD or a steaming bowl of Laksa for 2-3 USD. Western food, or eating at one of the more touristy restaurants along the riverbank, will inevitably cost more, and you can expect to pay around 10 USD for a meal overlooking the water.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
The recognition of Malacca as a UNESCO World Heritage area in 2008 was a great step towards the preservation of not only the unique architecture and buildings of the old town but of the unique Peranakan people, descendants of the first Chinese settlers to arrive on the west coast of Malaysia. Take the time to visit the museums and to eat at the Peranakan restaurants to learn more about the diverse culture of these people, to encourage the further preservation of their history in the face Malaysianisation. It may be interesting to visit the Portuguese settlement too, where you can meet the descendants of the original Portuguese colonists, who have an equally unique mixture of cultures and languages that is in danger of being lost too.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Malacca may at first glance seem overly touristy, and in many ways, that’s because it is. The UNESCO World Heritage areas draw in visitors from across the world, and for many local tourists as well as international tourists, Malacca is a popular weekend getaway. Look beyond the flashing tricycles and the boat cruises on the river though, and dig a little deeper under the surface of Malacca when you visit. You will find that Malacca has a lot more to offer those who are interested in Malaysian multiculturalism and history than many other cities on the tourist trail in the country. You will find remnants of Portuguese, Dutch, British, Chinese and Malay culture and history everywhere, in the architecture, the cuisine, and the local dialects. It’s really a fascinating place to discover, but a lot of it is hidden behind the masquerade of weekend getaways and bus tours.
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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
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