Don’t Mess With Malacca

by Michael

Malacca is a two hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur: True.

You can get from central Kuala Lumpur to old Malacca in two hours: False.

We took a train to the main bus station in Kuala Lumpur and then waited a half hour for a bus that dropped us at the main Malacca bus station, then waited for what seemed like an hour before taking a crowded city bus to the old city of Malacca. What was advertised as a two hour trip took more than four. Ah, the joys of travel.


In any event, we made it and enjoyed a few highlights in the old town and around.

St. Paul’s Church

We spent our first afternoon in Malacca walking around the historic district, which includes St. Paul’s Church. Again, lack of planning or research means that we were surprised to find out that St. Paul’s is now merely ruins at the top of a hill. Built initially by the Portuguese, today only the outer walls remain. There is a nice view from just outside the ruins of the modern city. 




View of Malacca from the top of the hill.

Plying the area around St. Paul’s Church are tri-shaws — three wheeled pedal-powered craft, that look like this:



The more decorated the better. Also, apparently the louder the accompanying music the better . . .

Pokemon and Frozen appear to be the clear frontrunners, although Hello Kitty is a close third. We could not bring ourselves to take a ride.

Baba Nyonya Museum

The term baba nyonya is used to identify the descendants of Chinese immigrants to the straits of Malacca who have been there for hundreds of years. The term baba nyonya literally means man woman in their language. The baba nyonya do not identify as either Malay or Chinese and now comprise a very small percentage of the overall population, much smaller than the share of population descended from more recent Chinese immigrants.

The museum was originally the home of an affluent baba nyonya family and their servants, of the three connected shophouse buildings in a row, two are now converted into a museum, while the third houses a cafe on the ground floor and lodging upstairs. We didn’t know that we had booked part of the old three-part home until we went on the tour of the museum next door!

The tour itself was more entertaining than the Blue Mansion in Penang, with occasional jokes about interpersonal difficulty and expectations in a large Chinese family. Most notable was that the cover at the top of the staircase locked, so nobody could sneak out at night — no late night trips to the local pub!

Photos were prohibited except one main area:


Villa Sentosa

While we had seen a lot about the Chinese culture in Penang and Malacca, Villa Sentosa was our main chance to soak up more Malay style. This old house, still inhabited by a kind elderly woman, was the home to a prominent Malay family. It sits on a bend in the river, next to other Malay-style homes — raised off the ground likely in response to periodic flooding.


View from across the way.

The home was the ultimate open concept, with few walls. You could see from the dining area across a living room, open-air light well, to a sitting area just outside of the bedroom. The home still belongs to the original family and is surrounded by the rest of the family’s homes on the compound. Our elderly host was the youngest daughter of twelve children and was very proud of her family’s lineage. Her English was somewhat limited, but she was able to convey some basic information about her family and the home. Sadly, her limited English combined with what was likely some form of short-term memory loss meant that she repeated the same information and phrases over and over again. It was a lovely visit, but I was somewhat relieved when it was over.




Our host even insisted that we sit for her to take our picture in the wedding chairs.


And she insisted that we try out the (very old) gong:


Sunday Night Street Market

Jonker Street and several surrounding streets are taken over by shops and food stands every Sunday night. It’s lively and tasty. I enjoyed veggie fritters unlike the Indian pakora I’m used to as well as fried radish in Chinese spices. Elizabeth and I shared a cooked scallop in it’s shell with unknown things added for flavor. If you can figure it out from these photos, please tell us.


After enjoying the street market on Sunday night, it was a surprise to find that there was absolutely nothing open on Jonker street on Monday night. So sad.

Nancy’s Kitchen (located in a strip mall)

Sometimes the best food isn’t in the tourist zone. Elizabeth did some research and we found Nancy’s Kitchen, a Baba Nyonya restaurant outside of the tourist area of Malacca. It was a bit of a walk — which showed us a more modern Malaysian neighborhood — and when we arrived we had a 30 minute wait to be seated. The bakery next door held us over, and a friendly cat decided to sit with me while we waited.


New Friend.

I think we were the only international tourists in the restaurant. One of our dishes included a couple of large nuts with a tasty truffle-ish paste inside. Initially I thought they were just cooked with the dish to release flavor — only after eating a bit did I figure out that I was supposed to pull the paste out. It was delicious. Well worth the walk and wait.


Malacca Street Culture

In addition to the wonderful street food at the Sunday night market, we also stumbled upon a large Indian parade. This was a pure accident. We went to the Discovery Cafe to book our bus ticket, then across the street to an ATM. As we walked back, a large procession passed us. We have no idea what it was for, but it was musical and colorful.



Star Wars: Rogue One

For 15 Malaysian Ringit (under $4), I went to the theater to watch Rogue One. It was Monday afternoon, so the theater was mostly empty. After a long time traveling, it’s nice to sit and watch a movie in English for two hours. It helped that  it was a good movie. I hadn’t planned to see the movie here, but a transit issue resulted in us staying an extra night so I had free time.

Speaking of that transit issue, apparently booking more than 24 hours ahead is a good idea when planning to travel on January 2 since everyone else was also on the move following New Year’s celebrations and travel. So we had to wait until January 3 for a bus to Singapore — we had already booked our flight from Singapore to Jogjakarta, Indonesia, so this sadly meant less time in Singapore.

Closing Note: the title of this post comes from signs around the city that say Don’t Mess with Malacca, presumably a play on the fact that the flag of Malacca looks sort of like the flag of Texas.


[This blog post describes our trip to Malacca, Malaysia, January 1-3, 2017.]

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