Sunday, October 6, 2019

Melaka: The Quintessential Day Trip

View of the streets of Malacca Malaysia from a temple

Possibly one of the loveliest daytrip locations from Kuala Lumpur, Melaka is not to be missed. A sleepy town filled with history, it was once a crossroads of the world. East met west in Melaka, where traders hawked their goods from as far away as Europe and as close as the Chinese kingdom. As a result, there is a unique blend of architecture, food, and culture to be found in present-day Melaka. Seemingly every passing culture has left their mark - the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Malays, and the Chinese - and their heritage has been surprisingly well-preserved.

Here's a quick guide to Melaka for the curious and nostalgic.

Stay: Ringo's Foyer Guest House

Interior of Ringo's Foyer Guest House hostel
A welcoming staircase from Ringo's Foyer Hostel staircase Malacca
Shoes on the staircase in Ringo's Foyer Hostel Malacca
The owner of Ringo's Foyer Hostel in Malacca

The very amiable and friendly owner of Ringo's Foyer Guest House.

The green rooftop of Ringo's Foyer Hostel
Interior decoration of the rooftop Ringo's Foyer Hostel

A definite highlight of my stay in Melaka was actually the accommodation. Ringo's Foyer Guest House is as homey as you can get. Walking up the staircase with "Welcome" in as many languages as there are steps, you are greeted by Sam the owner. Sam knows just about everyone in town; he is a born and raised Melakan, danced in a hip-hop group in university, and now runs the hostel. The place itself is lined with old antiques, vintage posters, and maps. There are several common areas for backpackers to relax and share travel stories, my favorite being the plant-filled rooftop. On some nights, the hostel will host biking tours around the city. I'd definitely recommend going, since Sam himself is the one leading the tour.

If you're looking for a friendly hostel with activities in a central part of town, Ringo's Foyer is the place for you.

Ringo's Foyer Guest House: A friendly budget hostel in the center of town.
Address: 46A Jalan Portugis
Price: ~$6 USD / night for a bunk bed

What to see around Melaka

The river dividing Malacca

Melaka is easily traversed on foot, and so this is how I would recommend you get around. For destinations further off the beaten path, traveling via bicycle is sufficient. If anything, you can call a Grab...but where's the fun in that? Enjoy the atmosphere and quaintness of Melaka, bipedally. Here are some sights to see:

Explore a Colonial Past

White building colonial architecture in Old Town Malacca
St paul's church interior courtyard Malacca Malaysia
A man resting near open air at St Paul's Church Malacca
Writings on tablets in st paul's church Malacca

The oldest Protestant church in Melaka, St Paul's Church is not to be missed. From the main square across the river, you can trek up a gentle hill to the crumbling yet well-preserved structure. Inside, engraved stones line the brick walls, which open out to a beautiful view of Melaka proper. 

Around St. Paul's Church are a few other structures from days of old. Simply walking around the neighborhood, you'll stumble upon some seriously ancient buildings right out in the open. Talk about a blast from the past.

Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum

A cat resting in the palace garden Malacca

The large garden in the sultanate palace museum Malacca

To experience the rich history of the Melaka region first-hand, check out the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum. The museum is actually a replica of the 15th century original. Inside you'll find detailed descriptions, figures, and artifacts of a bygone era. What I found more impressive was the garden that lies beyond the wooden structure itself; dazzling palms, flowers, and winding paths lend to a very royal stroll in the park. 

Bike to the Floating Mosque

Close-up of floating mosque architecture in Malacca The sunset in floating mosque malacca malaysia

A bit far from the main roads, the Floating Mosque is accessible by bike or car. It took about 15ish minutes to bike there from our hostel; the ride is smooth (not many uphills) and pleasant. The mosque itself is only accessible for worshippers, but it is quite beautiful during dusk. A nice spot for sunset hunters, and a lovely biking destination in Melaka.

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

The altar of Cheng Hoon Temple Malacca
A dreamy window in Cheng Hoon Temple Malacca Malaysia

A worship hall in Cheng Hoon Temple Malacca Malaysia

Built in 1645, the temple is the longest serving Chinese temple in Malaysia with a long and beautiful history. Evident are both classic Chinese motifs (dragons, tigers, calligraphy) as well as Malay accents. As the smell of sandalwood drifts from the main temple, you are reminded of countless other southern Chinese temples, red lanterns swaying from above. Upstairs, you can catch a panoramic view of the low-lying town itself. Whether you choose to stop by to snap a quick photo or to wander around the long prayer halls, Cheng Hoon Teng temple is a Melakan jewel that is not to be missed.

See Melaka on Foot

Melaka is a walking town. The place is small enough that you never really have to take a car anywhere. Biking is a lot more efficient. Walking even more so -- you can cover a lot of ground and see far more things on foot. Besides, there's no better way to soak up the views and quaintness of Melaka than bipedally. Getting lost in alleyways, stumbling upon street art, sampling all the food you can get your hands on...that's the best way to travel.

Street art graffiti in an alleyway of Malacca

A cluttered store in Malacca Malaysia

Lovely white building in Malacca Malaysia
Jonker Street in Malacca Malaysia

A chinese temple performing a ceremony at night in Malacca

A hawker in Malacca with a flashy bike

Of course, the crumbling facades and old wooden houses of Melaka are a highlight - especially for urban photography enthusiasts. What makes these structures so exciting are the classic Peranakan elements, the painted tiles, the wooden bannisters...hallmarks of old school Malaysian Chinese architecture. Just take a walk around the block and you'll see what I mean. It's a particularly romantic and nostalgic walking town. 

A crumbling facade with a bicycle in Malacca
A shed in Malacca Malaysia

Chinese doorway architecture in Malacca

Shophouse in Malacca Malaysia

Go Treasure-Hunting

Frames and mirrors at an antique store in Malacca Malaysia
A chelsea stool at an antique store in Malacca Malaysia
Old dusty books and sunlight in an antique store of Malacca Malaysia
Interior of an old store in Malacca Malaysia
Mini statues at a dusty antique store in Malacca Malaysia

A light clinking bell sounds as the door creaks open, and an old shopkeeper will nonchalantly mutter hello without looking up. The sunlight filters through the opaque windows and hits the shelves in a way that's almost poetic. Treasure hunting in Melaka sure has its charms.

The old school, nostalgic vibes of Melaka are quite evident in the countless number of antique shops and art sellers. Go back in time by walking into one of these quiet, dusty spaces.

Unique textile at a craft store in Malacca Malaysia
Chinese calligraphy at an art store in Malacca Malaysia
Pottery at a crafts store in Malacca Malaysia

A potter at work in his store in Malacca Malaysia

It's not only antiques available for browsing; Melaka is also home to a great many talented craftspeople.  Try finding unique handmade pieces to decorate your home or as souvenirs for loved ones. Delicate pottery pieces, calligraphic art, and handmade illustrative batik are all up for grabs. It's just a matter of finding them.


Okay, first and foremost the food in Malaysia is amazing. Everywhere I've gone I have only encountered delicious food. Melaka is no exception. My advice? Eat. Everything. There is such an amazing mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malaysian food that will be sure to shock your tastebuds. And don't forget to eat all things gula melaka -- this brown sugar is special to the region and famous for its deliciously nutty flavor.

Butterfly Pea Zongzi: East & West Rendezvous

Butterfly pea zongzi from east meets west rendezvous malacca

Zongzi - traditional Chinese sticky rice triangles - are beloved by all; old Chinese grandmas and aunties will usually wrap these and send them to their grandkids' families, or wrap them during festive seasons. These particular variety are unique for their blue tint, derived from butterfly pea coloring. Color aside, the filling is also surprisingly delicious and generous. Typically, zongzi will have peanuts, pork, and lard mixed in. These babies are almost purely meat, braised with some sort of tasty sauce. A great midday snack on the go.

East & West Rendezvous: Quick snack shop known for their butterfly pea zongzi. Grab one to go!

Address: 52, Lorong Hang Jebat
Hours: 9:30AM - 5:30PM, closed Wednesdays

Chicken Rice Balls at Kedai Kopi Chung Wah

Hainan chicken rice balls famous in Malacca
The chili sauce at kedai kopi chung wah to go with your chicken rice
Interior of bustling kedai kopi chung wah malacca malaysia

Chicken rice balls are a specialty staple of Melaka. Think about it like this: take your normal Hainanese chicken rice, but roll the rice into little balls. Dip the balls into the sambal provided, and rip into your chopped chicken. The white kind, of course (ah yes, the roasted vs. white cut chicken debate will forever live on...but I am firmly in the white cut chicken camp). 

The chicken itself is super tender, slightly sweet from the light sauce used to flavor it. Dipped with the chili sauce, you'll get an explosion of taste. Then, take a bite of your Hainan rice balls, which are flavored with the fat from the chicken broth -- made even more amazing thanks to the glutinous texture of the chicken balls. The cucumbers provide a crunchy refreshing respite from all of the drama happening in your mouth. The perfect combination of taste and texture, all for less than US $5.

Kedai Kopi Chung Wah: A bustling place near Jonker Street selling classic Melakan Hainan Chicken Rice balls.

Address: 18, Jalan Hang Jebat
Hours: 9AM - 3PM Monday - Friday, 9AM - 4PM weekends

Old School Dim Sum at Low Yong Moh

A variety of dim sum at low yong moh malacca
Busy diners at low yong moh dim sum malacca
Classic yellow signage at low yong moh dim sum malacca

If you ever wondered how OG Chinese Malaysians spend their early mornings, look no further than Low Yong Moh. This place is a super old school, efficient, and seriously tasty spot. Early mornings you'll see the elderly with their newspapers, ordering tea and dim sum in small, miniature containers. The menu is quite limited - so limited that I was basically able to order half of it in one go. Portions are appropriately tiny (it is dim sum) and taste is appropriately satisfying. All you need in a dim sum spot.

Low Yong Moh: Eat like the locals do. Address: 32, Jalan Tukang Emas
Hours: 6AM - 1PM, closed Tuesdays

Succulent Chicken Tikka at Pak Putra Tandoori

Delicious and juicy chicken tikka from pak putra tandoori malacca
A closeup of the chicken tikka from pak putra tandoori malacca
Cooks preparing chicken at pak putra tandoori
Night time eats at pak putra tandoori malacca
Naan bread from pak putra tandoori malacca

Alright so I had heard that this place was a bit pricey and not as good from the hostel manager, but hey I was only going to be in Melaka once and it was his word versus the 1,000+ reviews I ended up here for dinner. I'm glad I came in the end; the chicken here was something else. Juicy and piping hot, you can squeeze some fresh lime juice on top or ladle some spicy green sauce on top. Don't forget to add fresh naan bread, which comes with its own onion-heavy dipping sauce. An order of mango lassi will add a fresh, tangy note to every bite. Highly recommend for a late night visit.

Pak Putra Tandoori: Great quality Indian & Pakistani cuisine at a reasonable price. Address: 56 & 58, Jalan 4, Taman Kota Laksamana
Hours: 5:30PM - 1AM, closed Mondays

Sweet Dessert Overtures at Bikini Toppings

Coconut ice cream from bikini toppings malacca

Fancy a cold, refreshing dessert after a long walk around town? Look no further than Bikini Toppings, a small dessert shop seemingly straight out of Bali, right smack in the middle of the busiest road of the city. Bikini Toppings specializes in homemade rich and creamy coconut ice cream. While other flavors (like ube - very tempting) are available, I went ahead with the signature coconut. Several toppings are also there for your choosing; I went for crushed peanuts, for simplicity's sake. If you eat in, the ice cream is served in a lovely half coconut shell bowl. Southeast Asian dessert flavors mixed with chilled out ice cream parlor? Count me in.

Bikini Toppings: Local, coconut-based ice creamery
Address46, Lorong Hang Jebat
Hours: 10AM - 6PM daily

Caffeinate at The Daily Fix Cafe

Chinese lanterns at daily fix cafe malacca
Iced gula melaka coffee at daily fix cafe melaka

The perfect cafe is one with plenty of open space (as not to feel cramped), enough greenery to keep your mind at peace, lots of natural lighting, and amazing coffee. The Daily Fix checks all of those boxes, with the added benefit of some seriously cool vintage Chinese Malaysian decor. Call it Orientalist, but I can't get enough of the classic hand-drawn advertisements and old fashioned Chinese women in qipao selling me medicines and the like.

As it was a sweltering day, I ordered myself an iced gula melaka latte. I normally will never order a latte, let alone a sweet latte, but sometimes your body craves for things and you must accommodate those cravings. Lemme tell ya -- this was one seriously good latte. Probably the best gula melaka flavored thing I've tasted. The earthy sweetness of the sugar melded perfectly with the slight bitterness of the coffee, and the milkiness mellowed everything out. If you get the chance to visit this place, definitely order the gula melaka latte. But be warned, the wait may be quite long -- it's a popular spot for out-of-towners and locals alike.

The Daily Fix Cafe: A bustling, cute cafe with delicious gula melaka-based drinks
Address: 55, Jalan Hang Jebat 
Hours: 8:30AM - 11:30PM Saturdays & Sundays, 9AM - 11:30PM Monday - Friday

Relax at Cafe Calanthe

Art cafe installation at quirky cafe calanthe malacca
The quirky art at cafe calanthe malacca

For some seriously cool artsy vibes, check out Cafe Calanthe. A self-professed art cafe, it checks off all the boxes for a good cafe AND a good coffee shop. Cafe Calanthe prides itself on offering a taste of bitter brew from across Malaysia. Definitely get one of the manual brews here and enjoy it at one of the many low tables around their deceptively large venue.

Cafe Calanthe: Experience coffee from all over Malaysia in a creative space
Address: 11, Jalan Hang Kasturi
Hours: 9AM - 11PM Sunday - Wednesday, 9AM - 12AM Friday - Saturday, closed Thursdays


Phew! That was one long walk around Melaka. For anyone looking for a slower pace of life and a good dose of Southeast Asian history and culture, Melaka is your place. As it is very accessible from Kuala Lumpur, there is basically no reason not to go for a visit. Melaka and its many charms are awaiting; it's up to you to go find them for yourself.