A Traveler’s Guide to Melaka & Kuala, Malaysia

Christina Oriel

 

This is an excerpt from an article originally published in AsianJournal.com. Read the rest here.

 

[Last] year, I crossed off three new countries on my travel bucket list.

 

One of the countries was Malaysia for four days as part of the “twin destinations” program that pairs a stop to another Asian country after the Philippines. [Editor’s note: I wrote about my trip to Vigan and surrounding areas in the Ilocos region of the Philippines in the LA Weekend Edition, Nov. 18.]

 

Along with about 20 high-performing travel agents from Southern California and Michelle Narvaez of Philippine Airlines — which re-opened its daily Manila to Kuala Lumpur route in June — I boarded a three-hour flight to KL on a Wednesday morning.

 

Day 1

 

Once we landed at the airport, we were greeted by our tour guide Steven, a young Malaysian man who, for the next few days, would pour out historical facts with hints of dry humor.

 

We settled onto the tour bus for a 40-minute drive to Putrajaya, the federal administrative capital of Malaysia that houses the major government agencies (their version of Washington, DC) for lunch.

 

The buffet spread featured staples in Malaysian cuisine like roti canai (Indian-influenced flatbread), satay, beef and chicken curries, and nasi goreng (fried rice with shrimp paste and chili). Meanwhile, the sweets table had some desserts that resembled those found in the Philippines, from ais kacang (similar ingredients to halo halo) to rice and cassava-based cakes.

 

Afterward, we headed to the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism and Culture office, where we received a welcome from tourism officials and a briefing of what the country has to offer. During the presentation, I mentally added Penang and Borneo to my ever-growing travel list.

 

For the next day and a half, we stayed in Melaka (also Malacca), a historic port city and UNESCO World Heritage site two hours south of Kuala Lumpur that has traces of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Japanese and European influences. While it isn’t a sleepy town per se, as high-rises and more modern structures like hotels and malls have sprung up sporadically, it is a welcome respite from a large, congested city.

 

With our indulgent lunch not yet fully digested, dinner was held at Seri Nyonya inside the Equatorial Hotel, which serves Peranakan/Nyonya cuisine that stems from Chinese immigrants in the 15th century. Malaysians with Chinese ancestry are called Baba (males) Nyonya (females), Steven explained. Across the course of the stay, we began to learn more about this infused culture. The meal was multi-courses, featuring stuffed egg spring rolls, sup hee peow (fish soup), telur dadar (omelette), and Sotong Madu (deep-fried squid).

 

 

Day 2

 

Our Thursday morning itinerary required wearing comfortable shoes as we would be walking around Jonker Street, the main thoroughfare of Melaka’s Chinatown, and its surrounding areas for several hours.

 

During our visit, it was not crowded with pedestrians on this street where you can find cafés, pharmacies, food stalls, and souvenir shops. According to Steven, Friday and Saturday nights are when Jonker is abuzz for the night market. We stopped at a small store selling mixes of teh tarik (pulled tea) and coffee (white coffee is a popular choice), which was a big hit with our group as each individual bought bags in bulk.

 

We made our way to the Red Square that serves as a center in Melaka along the river. Within the square is Stadthuys — considered the oldest Dutch building in the East, now carrying historical artifacts recounting the city’s long history of being colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch and British — Christ Church, and Queen Victoria’s Fountain.

 

Along the street, one can see ornately-designed trishaws (bicycle-powered rickshaws) that take and play loud pop music as they ride around the area. I rode in a “Frozen” inspired trishaw, while others were in ones decked out with Hello Kitty, Spongebob Square Pants or “Despicable Me” minions. An hour-long ride costs around $12, but thankfully, we don’t use one of the trishaws for more than 20 minutes because having someone cycle you around, while it’s humid and the streets are not flat, is laborious.

 

The Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum, adjacent to the Jonker Street, is easy to pass by, but is worth spending an hour inside. Owned and maintained by a family, the museum is composed of three restored townhouses that give an overview of Baba Nyonya culture, from how they entertained guests, celebrated weddings or used the bathroom. Photography is not allowed inside for maintenance purposes, but every inch of the structures is a feast for the eyes especially if you appreciate architecture.

 

Other sites to visit in Melaka include the Cheng Hoon Teng temple (Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism), Maritime Museum & Naval Museum, Sultanate Palace, and Porta de Santiago.

 

By mid-afternoon, we were hosted for lunch at Ramada Plaza Melaka — yes, another buffet. Though there was an abundance of options to choose from, having Nasi Ayam (steamed chicken with rice) and a glass of teh tarik were enough for me as I had been looking forward to trying local versions of these.

 

Afterward, we boarded the bus for the two-hour ride back to Kuala Lumpur, which we collectively had been awaiting.

 

This is an excerpt from an article originally published in AsianJournal.com. Read the rest here

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