Our bus dropped us in the iconic Dutch square, the face of this UNESCO world heritage town with its red buildings. We found our hostel, found food, sweated a bucket and began exploring.
Firstly we visited the postcard pretty square with its church from the Dutch era, warehouses marking its trading past and fountain laid to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
Melaka is well known for its historic past as a trading town. It was founded in the fifteenth century and quickly became successful and wealthy, flourishing because of its position on the major trade routes from china and India. Due to its geographic location on the straits of melacca, protected by sumatra, typhoons and dramatic weather did not affect this area and allowing for quick development. The colonial era actually caused great decline to the town due to draining its resources and mismanagement. It began with the Portuguese in 1511, quickly followed by the Dutch in 1602 who imposed high taxes on the town. Finally the town was handed to the British in 1795 but the competition with Singapore as an emerging port continued its demise further.
We followed the path up to the ruins of St Paul's Cathedral which stands tall on the hill overlooking the town and out to sea. It was constructed in 1521 by the Portuguese however later found use as a military base for the British in wartime. It reminded me of a similar Portuguese ruin, the cathedral of St Paul’s in Macau which also now stands in ruins overlooking the town.
We dove into the Peoples museum, partly to escape the heat. Inside was an eclectic mix of exhibitions from culture to space (featuring a display of meteorites.). The most interesting exhibition was about beauty and body mutilation in different tribes around the world. There was information about the neck ring tribes of Myanmar, the use of tattoos and piercings, the lip plate tribes of Africa and foot binding in Chinese cultures. Although random it was an interesting to compare all the different ways identities are formed.
Just around the corner stands another historic mark of Portuguese settlement is Porto de Santiago constructed by slave power, recycled as the headquarters of the Dutch East India company. The British tried to destroy this inner city fort leaving today only one gate standing today.
We went to explore the palace of the sultanate who founded and ruled Melaka until colonial times. The original palace burnt down but the replica is stunningly ornate and vastly different from any western palace ideas. It’s dark oak wood has a dramatic effect. It was constructed without using nails. The palace was used for administrative duties and the sultanates city residence. It did make me laugh that while the King is called the sultanate, the queen is a Sultanah!
We got the bus to the old Portuguese settlement, although there is now nothing to show that this harbour front ever had European settlers. Ricky rescued some crabs trapped in a net but it wasn't long before we were ready to head back to the town. After no bus appeared for a long time we decided to "hitch" a lift! It didn’t take more than a few seconds for someone to pull over to help us. The Malay guy who picked us up was very pleased to have visitors and began pointing out landmarks and asking us questions.
In the evening we headed to Jonker Street, the weekend street markets in Chinatown. The delicacies were strange, different to street food we had tasted elsewhere. Portuguese egg tarts, meat buns and durian puffs! We tried a durian and as expected it was strange and potent!
Malaysia has been a great contrast to the countries of south east Asia both in food and in culture. It is more modern and affluent whilst still distinctly Asian in its street food and we are looking forward to a seeing more in our next stop, Singapore.