Melaka, formerly Malacca, is a town and port, on the Strait of Malacca. The city was founded about 1400 as part of a Malay kingdom. Malay rule ended in 1511, when it was conquered by the Portuguese and it developed into the most important trading port in Southeast Asia.
Throughout our previous travels in Malaysia, we had not visited Malacca, so this time I arranged for us to travel to the city. We had booked a morning bus from Singapore to Malacca (or Melaka) in Malaysia. A couple of hours later, including a stop to cross the border between Singapore and Malaysia, we arrived in Malacca. We caught a taxi to our hotel, the Gingerflower Boutique. When we arrived, we were told that they were moving us to their sister hotel, the Heeren Palm Suites, just down the road. Our room was amazing – spacious and beautifully laid out, with a very modern bathroom. It also had working air conditioning!
After resting up for a bit we decided to head out to explore and get something to eat. We had found a vegetarian restaurant on Happy Cow that was a 20-minute walk away, so we thought we give it a shot. From the Heeren Palm, we walked across to Jonker Street, which ran parallel to the street where we were staying. Jonker Street is the main tourist street in Malacca, is full of boutique shops and restaurants, and has a popular street market at the weekend. During the week it is a lot quieter. At each end of the street is a big arch to show you that you have reached the right place! We walked down Jonker Street popping into some of the shops and checking out the menus of restaurants.
At the top of Jonker Street, we crossed the bridge over the Malacca River, which has a path that runs on either side and is lined with bars and restaurants. We made a mental note to explore this the following day. Across the road from the river is the Dutch Square.
THE DUTCH SQUARE
The Dutch Square of Melaka is in Bandar Hilir and is the city’s most famous landmark. The square is surrounded by buildings painted in red, which gives rise to its popular name Red Square. One of the most picturesque points of Malacca, the most prominent buildings of Dutch Square are the Christ Church and the Stadthuys.
Built between the 1660s and 1700s, the red buildings are characterized by large windows and wrought iron hedges. The entire area of Dutch Square is vibrant and is always buzzing with tourists.
The distinctive Christ Church Melaka is the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia. The Church was founded in 1753 but was not consecrated until 1838. We decided to pop inside to have a look around. It was quite plain inside, which was expected, but there were some interesting information panels that gave some of the history of this historic church.
A major highlight of the Red Square is the Queen Victoria Fountain, standing proudly at its centre. The century-old fountain was built in 1901 to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria.
THE MARITIME MUSEUM
Malacca has many museums. The most distinct of these is the Maritime Museum which is close to Red Square. It is easy to find as it has a replica of a treasure-laden 16th-century Portuguese galleon right outside. This galleon was the Flor de la Mar, which sank during a storm in 1511 somewhere in the Straits of Malacca.
ST PAULS CHURCH
One of the major vantage points of Malacca is St. Paul’s Hill. It was originally known as the Malacca Hill during the Malacca Sultanate period and Mary’s Hill during the Portuguese Malacca. It was a bit of a climb up but worth the effort.
Atop the hill are the ruins of the Church of St Paul, which was built in 1521 making it the oldest church in Malaysia and Southeast Asia – there is not much left of the church itself, but it is fascinating to walk around.
Coming down the other side of St Paul’s Hill we arrived at some more ruins, A Fomosa, the remains of an old fort. The city of Malacca was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511. To suppress the attacks of the Malacca Sultanate, they immediately started the construction of temporary camps, as well as the main stronghold called the Fortaleza de Malaca, now better known as A Famosa. The Portuguese took around five months to complete the buildings. Many of the labourers died from the scorching heat and shortage of food.
We had wanted to visit the Malacca Malay Sultanate Palace Museum but it was sadly closed for renovation.
In the late afternoon, we headed out again. The heat of the day had dissipated a bit, so it was a lot more comfortable to walk around – but it was still humid. We decided to take a walk down by the river. There were lots of bars down here, with music pumping out. It seemed that they were trying to make this out to be a party town, but everyone we saw was not teenage party animals and were there just to have a drink and enjoy the river. As we walked, we were passed by the river cruise boats, which were travelling at quite a lick, creating large bow waves. The sun was setting as we walked and the lights on the bridges and riverbanks started to shine brightly. After about 10 minutes we had cleared all the bars and it was a lot quieter and more pleasant altogether. We crossed a bridge and followed the river on the opposite bank, meeting a woman who was taking her tortoise for a walk. Karen who loves tortoises, got chatting with the lady and asked how old the tortoise was, about 5 years old, and what was its name. It didn’t have one – which seemed a little odd.
One of our favourite things to do when visiting a new city is to check out the street art. We found some great examples in Malacca, most of which were along the river walk.
MELAKA STRAITS MOSQUE
After another late breakfast, we decided to head a bit further afield. I had read about a mosque called the Melaka Straits Mosque which is also known as Masjid Selat Melaka.
Built on the 40-hectare man-made Malacca Island (locally called Pulau Melaka), the mosque overlooks the Malacca Strait, one of the longest and busiest straits in the world.
The mosque has been open to the public since 24 November 2006, and the opening ceremony was performed by Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Supreme Head of Malaysia. It took around MYR10 million to build this magnificent mosque.
The overall structure of the mosque bears a modern Islamic design, the main dome has a more Middle Eastern vibe. The façade is adorned by stained glass windows that feature traditional Islamic motifs, a brilliant shade of gold colours the dome, and the unusual minaret resembles a lighthouse.
The mosque was located a couple of kilometres from our hotel, so we thought we would get some exercise and walk to it. We were familiar with the first part of the route, but we then had to cross some major roads, which is always a risky affair in Malaysia. We then ended up walking through a more commercial area, which was largely abandoned and somewhat spooky. In the United States, we would have thought twice, or more about walking through somewhere like this, but Malaysia is generally a safer place, so we just carried on through. By now it was getting very hot – so we began to question our decision to walk. Eventually, we made our way to the causeway that runs to Malacca Island. At the end of this, there was a sign showing the vision for this island, with high-end apartment buildings, exclusive resorts, and a cruise ship terminal. Sadly, this vision has not come to fruition. Right in front of us was a skeleton of a partially built apartment tower. There was one nice development, built in a European style, that looked nice but there didn’t appear to be many people living there and the shops on the ground floor looked abandoned (we did hear that some of them open in the evenings).
We continued to walk through the island, passing along rows of empty buildings. It was eery and felt like we were on the set of a Zombie apocalypse movie.
Finally, we did reach the mosque and got to see our first signs of life for a while. We were greeted by the security guard at the gate who ushered us towards a room where we were given some clothing to wear to the mosque. This mosque is very conservative, so Karen had to wear a head covering as well as a gown. I was provided with Aladdin-style trousers, which were not the easiest to walk in.
The mosque is built on concrete piles and sits out over the waters of the Malacca Straits. It is square, with entrances on all sides above which sits a large semi-circular stained-glass window. You cannot enter the main prayer area, but you can walk around the sides of the mosque. The most outstanding feature of the mosque is the minaret that sits atop it, painted gold with blue trim – it certainly stands out. Being stuck in a prominent position and exposed to the elements, the mosque seemed to be suffering from the ravages of time. It was an interesting place to visit.
Before heading back, we checked out the shop on the mosque grounds and found they sold ice cream, which was a delight on this hot day.
Having braved the walk to the mosque we decided to chicken out on walking back and instead, we chose to take a taxi. The security guard at the gate who was chatty and a cheeky chappy ordered us a taxi (which we are sure he got a cut for) and when it arrived, we were surprised that the driver was a lady.
After a long, hot stroll in the morning to the Melaka Straits Mosque we decided to stay closer to home in the afternoon. So, we took a short walk to Jalan Tokong Besi a street which is better known to visitors as ‘Temple Street’ or ‘Harmony Steet’. The street is known for its three temples of different faiths: a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Chinese temple – hence the names ‘temple’ and ‘harmony’ for this street.
The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (also called the Temple of Green Cloud) is the biggest, the most eye-catching, the most richly decorated and the most intricately designed of the temples along Jalan Tokong. It is the oldest and finest of traditional Chinese temples in Malaysia – a fact underscored by a UNESCO award for outstanding architectural restoration.
The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple practices the Three Doctrinal Systems of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism and was the primary place of worship for the Hoklo (Hokkien) population in Malacca.
Cheng Hoon Teng was founded in the 1600s by the Chinese Kapitan Tay Kie Ki alias Tay Hong Yong. During the Portuguese and Dutch eras, Kapitans were appointed chiefs or headmen of the various ethnic communities. In its early years, besides serving the community’s religious needs, the temple also functioned as the official administrative centre and a court of justice for the Kapitans.
It is open to the public to visit, so you can walk around and admire the beautiful carvings and lacquered artwork. Sadly, there were no ceremonies happening when we were there, but it was still lovely to look around.
Xiang Lin Si Temple is a Chinese temple located opposite Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. This double-storey temple follows the Buddhist branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The temple is named after a monk from China, starting as a village-style wooden house in 1958 before being rebuilt in modern architecture as a double-storey brick building in 1985. It is much simpler in design than its neighbour and attracts a lot fewer visitors.
Just down the street from these Chinese temples is the Kampung Kling Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Asia. Constructed in 1748, Kampung Kling Mosque is today surrounded by Chinese shops, but this was not always the case. Centuries ago, the area was called Kampung Kling. Kampung means “village” in the local language. Kling, on the other hand, is what they used to call Muslim Indians who hailed from South India.
The mosque is almost concealed by a wall, which was added much later, but the structure becomes noticeable because of a towering minaret that kind of looks like the Chinese pagoda. Unlike most mosques in Western Asia which are built on a hexagonal or rectangular plan, Masjid Kampung Kling stands on a square plan. This timber mosque is covered by a triple-tiered roof. The central roof is supported by four primary columns while another set of four columns raises the lower two layers. The porch area of the mosque is bordered by a short Corinthian colonnade. Chinese ceramic tiles decorated the roof, some parts of the walls, and the floor. But the Chinese influence doesn’t stop there. The eaves of the roofs are curved like most old Chinese buildings. The carpeted floor of the main prayer hall can be accessed through several doors, one of which serves as the mosque’s iwan, leading to the courtyard behind.
Just beyond the mosque in the Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple, which was sadly closed when we visited so we could not go in. This Hindu Temple is one of the oldest functioning Hindu temples in Maritime Southeast Asia. It was built in honour of Vinayagar, a deity worshipped in Hinduism and venerated in other religions.
JONKER STREET NIGHT MARKET
Jonker Street runs through the heart of Melaka and is the main Chinatown street. It was once famous for its antique shops but has now given way to a lot of tourist shops plus the usual chains like 7-Eleven.
During the week, Melaka’s Jonker Street is open to traffic and has all manner of weird and wonderful places to explore.
Our visit coincided with the run-up to Chinese New Year so it was more active than usual, with a stage set-up for some live shows.
However it is at the weekend (Friday-Sunday) when it truly comes alive – the streets are closed to traffic and around 400 Jonker Street night market stalls open up selling traditional handicrafts and local Nyonya cuisine..
Planning your visit to Malacca
Bus from KL to Melaka (Malacca)
The best way to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka is by bus since it’s the cheapest and most convenient option.
The bus ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka costs about RM 10 or more, depending on the bus company.
The bus departs every 15 minutes with the first one at 3 a.m and the last one at 10 p.m. It should take about 2.5 hours to get to Melaka from KL by bus.
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to take the bus from KL to Melaka:
Take a bus, MRT, or taxi to KL Sentral.
From KL Sentral, take the KLIA Transit to Bandar Tasik Selatan.
Walk about 10-15 minutes from Bandar Tasik Selatan to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS).
KL to Melaka by train
The final option is to take the train. Honestly, this isn’t the best option as there is no direct train from KL to Melaka.
You’ll need to board the train at KL Sentral and it will drop you off in Batang Melaka, about a 1-hour drive from the city centre.
Bus from Singapore to Melaka (Malacca)
Getting around Malacca
If you are staying close to the centre of Malacca then most things are easy to reach by walking. Should you be away from the centre or need to reach a location further away you can use a bus or a taxi. The ride-sharing app Grab is a great option for ordering cars and taxis.
A fun way to get around a short distance is to take one of the trishaws, which you will find around the Dutch Square and other locations in central Malacca. These cycle rickshaws are elaborately decorated with artificial flowers and fitted with a boom box under the seat playing noisy music.
The best time to visit Malacca
The climate in Malacca is hot and humid all year, with plenty of rain. It has two rainy seasons in general, the first from end March to May and the second from October to middle of December (rainiest during November). As a result, the best time to visit Malacca is during the dry season, which lasts from mid-December to mid-March and June to mid-September. The average temperature during the day is between 30 °C and 34 °C, and between 24 °C and 28 °C at night. Temperatures rarely fall below 23 °C unless there is a heavy downpour.
Where to stay?
1. MID-RANGE: HEEREN PALM SUITES
Heeren Palm Suites is located in Melaka. Free WiFi access is available. Each room provides you with air-conditioning, a minibar, electric kettle and a seating area. The private bathroom comes with a shower and hairdryer. The Parameswara Suite also includes a bathtub. Extras include a sofa, desk and a safety deposit box.
At Heeren Palm Suites, you will find a 24-hour front desk and two well-restored air wells. Other facilities offered at the property include a library and luggage storage. The property offers limited free parking.
The hotel is a mere 5-minute walk from Jonker Street, 600 metres from Christ Church, 900 metres from Porta de Santiago and 1.2 km from Sam Po Kong Temple.
2. LUXURY – LIU MEN HOTEL
Situated in the heart of Melaka, the Liu Men Hotel is a charming 30-room boutique hotel that blends 1930s colonial art deco and Peranakan accents.
Years before World War 2 in Jalan Tokong, six shop-houses stood where once 6 families resided. After the end of the Japanese Occupation in 1945, the 6 families left and these shop-houses were transformed into a new home for a single large family.
Fast forward to the 21st century, the pre-war structure was given a new life. Liu Men stands proudly now as a restored heritage project, retaining colonial and heritage elements, and introducing influences of art deco & Peranakan designs.
3. BUDGET: GOOD2STAY HOTEL
Located about a 15-minute walk of the captivating museum “Baba and Nyonya House”, this 2-star Good2Stay Budget Hotel Malacca offers Wi-Fi throughout the property and a car park. The hotel is a short walk from the red-hued Dutch Stadthuys City Hall.
A bidet and a bathtub together with amenities like toiletries are also at guests’ disposal.
The property is in 15 minutes’ stroll of The Shore Oceanarium. You can reach the centre of Malacca in 10 minutes on foot. This Malacca hotel is situated 15 minutes’ walk from the air Jonker Street Night Market.