Day 31-38 – Malaka, Malaysia 16th-23rd Oct 2011

16th October 2011

Waking early we partook of the hostel breakfast – toast and jam – and then headed to catch the bus. After a mad dash through the sweltering heat we arrived with less than the 30 mins prior to departure as detailed by the booking info slightly stressed but first in line as it turned out. There were only a dozen passengers and the company (Delima) were fairly chilled about it all! Leaving Singapore behind we headed for the border with Malaysia – a rather long causeway of no man’s land snaked between immigration centres; Singapore was a formality of passport and exit visa, whilst Malaysia was immigration cards, passports and luggage, but still pretty straightforward. Re-bussing we were on our way to Melaka.

Nestling on Malaysia’s west coast, Melaka was founded in the 14th century by Parameswara, a Hindu prince from Sumatra. A major stopping point on the East-West trade route the town flourished until the arrival of the Portuguese, who systematically set about destroying the town, jealous of its commercial success. During successive occupations of the Dutch and then the British, Melaka ceased to be the force it once was as a port, but what it now lacks in trade it more than makes up for in history and culture. A major area of settlement for Straits born Chinese, the intermingling of Chinese men and Malaysian women gave rise to the Baba Nonya people and a rich heritage of culture and cuisine being a mix of Chinese, Malaysian and Portuguese tastes and flavours.

We arrived mid-afternoon and took a taxi to the Old Town Guesthouse. Shared with the family who runs it, the large open plan centre is lined with comfortable rooms and toilet facilities, whilst the modest kitchen and lounge a shared with the proprieters. After settling in and unpacking we strolled around to find somewhere to eat and settled in the end for the food court across the road from the guest house. The food was all strange, a whole different menu from Indonesia, but we found something that we could all eat which was not really spectacular, and turned out to be a bit expensive too.

17th October 2011

Morning sneaks in quietly and we surface from our reveries to head out into Melaka for our first proper look around. The key areas are Chinatown, on the west side of the river, and the old Dutch square in the centre. However recently land reclamation from the sea has given rise to new development and the south side of the town has 2 large shopping malls on either side of Jalan Merdaka. One thing is certain, the town is very compact and most of the major sites can be encompassed in a walking tour that is not too tiring on the legs.

We decided on the old town and armed with map left the guest house in search of some history. First off was the Stadhuys, the old Dutch administration building, behind that perched on the hill is St Paul’s church affording an excellent view of the harbour and then down to what is left of the old Portuguese fort.

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Mateo tried his hand at some photography; the last one above is one of his, as is this next one…

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Next to the fort were some armoured cars and an old Cadillac once used by the governor.

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From Porta de Santiago (the fort) I could have thrown a stone to the first of Malaka’s malls which we then entered for a look-see, and a chance to escape the heat of the day in air conditioned luxury. These were the steps leading up to the mall, rather splendidly bedecked with a map of the city in tiles.

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After walking for an eternity through the shops and levels we eventually returned home via a supermarket to stock up on essentials, eat some dinner and then retire to our beds.

18th October 2011

Chinatown here we come! Centred around Jalan Hang Jabat, also known as Jonker Street, lies Melaka’s chinatown. Colourful and pungent it houses some old buildings of note and one of Malaysia’s oldest Chinese temples, Cheng Hoon Teng, constructed of materials imported from China and dating from 1646. A picture speaks a thousand words, but I can’t put all of them in the blogs, so here a few of them.

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Pretty isn’t it? Walking on we inevitably ended up at the mall where preparations for Deepvali/Divali were under way..

Melaka 126 and then back home for some well earned rest.

19th October 2011

Avast ye land lubbers! After a brief stop at the UE Tea House, where we partook of some sort of sweet pasties and were accompanied by some Chinese ladies singing Karaoke, we set off to find the pirate ship this morning (the Maritime Museums). Housed in a reconstruction of a Portuguese ship the museum tells of the history of Malaka as a port and strategic point on the trade routes, and the resulting destruction of its status by the occupation of first Portugal and then the Dutch. The museum itself is quite impressive, but the exhibits are mostly textual, but for the boys it was a chance to harsher there way about the ship and pretend to be pirates for a while. There is a secondary museum next to the ship which housed more in the way of exhibits and spanned early boats and canoes to space adventures and meteorites.

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Just across the road was the naval museum, and we dashed into the entrance just as the heavens opened in what has come to be a standard rain/thunder storm in the afternoons. This museum was dedicated to the Malaysian Navy, first formed as a branch of the Royal Navy, and displayed uniforms from all ranks around the walls, plus boards telling the history of the navy. The centre was taken up with a wasp helicopter and various guns from decommissioned ships, and outside was an old attack boat from WW II – Absolute heaven for small boys!

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The boys demanded some instant food, now! and so we capitulated and visited McD so that they could fill their stomachs, but not necessarily enrich their bodies, after which we took the shortcut back to the hotel with happy children.

20th October 2011

We decided to head out of Melaka today to go and visit the Butterfly Park (Taman Rama Rama) and then the Rainforest Jungle (Hutan Rekreasi) some 10km north of the city. So, armed with water , a packed lunch and cameras we walked the short way to the bus stop. Whilst waiting we were joined by two Indonesian women on a short holiday from Jakarta – we exchanged experiences, and then to our surprise a people carrier stopped next to us and a lady asked if we wanted a lift to Melaka Sentral, the bus station. Her name was Susan and she endeavoured to do one good thing every day, and we were the good deed for the day! Very kind and a lovely lady to boot.

The two ladies were at a loss for things to do and asked if they could join our adventure, and so the 7 of us caught the bus to Taman Rama Rama. Well, not to the door. We were dropped off on the side of the main road to KL and told that we had to cross over and then take a right by the Toll Booths and we would find the place. Thankfully there were traffic lights at the interchange so we made it across safely and were soon approaching the doors of the Butterfly Park.

Butterfly park 048 The marvellous public bus

Taman Rama Rama greets you with various bird, lizard and monkey cages before you get to the main attraction, the butterflies. There were beautiful specimens without a doubt, but disappointingly few species to feast the eyes upon. Oskar was once more blessed with a personal visit from one of natures creatures – he must have something about him that makes him attractive to animals, Dr Doolittle-itis perhaps?

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After the butterfly house there were millipedes and scorpions, crocodiles and tortoises, and a whole host of snakes, mostly constrictors, to goggle at and, if you are a bit scared of snakes like me, get rather nervous about. Particularly when we were invited to go into one of the cages (at our own risk) and see the snakes close up – we think that they were Mangrove Cat Snakes, only slightly poisonous, and they were hanging in the trees that were low enough that I had to duck underneath them.

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Leaving the serpents behind we ate our packed lunch and then walked back to the main road to get to Hutan Rekreasi. Thankfully we had good timing and a bus turned up straight away to speed us back towards Melaka, depositing us on the side of the road leaving us to once more cross to our destination. As the name perhaps suggests, this forest is a recreation park with free entry and designed for the public to walk around and enjoy – indeed there is even some exercise equipment if you are so inclined, not far from the life size Dinosaurs. The forest is lush and green, inhabited by creepy-crawlies (one of which bit Mateo on the toe and his resulting screams of agony sent the local wildlife scattering in all directions) and monkeys swinging through the trees and causing leaves and branches to tumble to the ground. Oh, there were some mosquitos too – thank goodness we had thought to bring the spray.

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We eventually made it out of the forest some hours later footsore but happy and traversing the busy road again set off to Melaka on foot towards the zoo where there was a bus stop proper. However there were no buses and so we flagged down a taxi who took us home for the princely some of RM 15 (about 3 GBP). Another day over, and still loads to see.

21st October 2011

Education and blogging day for the boys. Grammar and maths followed by creative writing, or is it history, as they recollect and put into words their experiences of the last few weeks. Much hilarity ensues over the various photos they include in their posts and the stories associated with them.

As a reward for their hard work we head over to the mall where on the top floor there is a food court and at the back is a Kids Fun park with slides and best of all a water park full of fountains and jets to run through whooping with delight.

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Dinner in the food court before heading back to the guest house under cover of darkness to bed.

22nd October 2011

A lazy morning for me and the little boys whilst Tania and Oskar went to visit Bukit Cina, the Chinese cemetery just along from the guest house. On her return the boys dived into their gaming devices, and Tania went off to explore whilst I started on the packing, again. On her return she regaled us with tall tales of giant lizards as big as a man – photographs were no real proof as there is little to measure it against, and despite looking we never managed to see it again!

Later on we explored Chinatown again finding my next car and then sampled the delights of Jonker Street after dark where the street is closed to traffic and the market stalls come out to sell tat and street food.

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And so our last night in Melaka drew to a close.

23rd October 2011 Off to Kuala Lumpur

Rising early-ish we ate a hearty breakfast, finished up the packing, said our goodbyes and tramped up the road to the bus stop. After 10 mins we grabbed a passing taxi (never did work out the bus timetable) and headed to Malaka Sentral to catch the first bus to Kuala Lumpur. Despite tales of busy streets and transport, and that it was a big city, we thought that a few days in the nation’s capital was not to be missed.

We finally caught a midday bus and arrived a few hours later in KL. After a quick hop on the LRT we walked a little while to find the hostel we’d booked for the next few days. Oskar and Tania spotted it first, Ribbon Stayzz – a place that a French brother and sister had mentioned to us whilst in Melaka – and so we arrived. We were told that we had a 6 berth dorm for the first night, and then for the remaining time we would have to move to a 4 berth dorm with an extra mattress. Not an auspicious start, and the fact that we had to pay in advance! So we paid for one night to start with and shifted our gear up the stairs to the dorm. It was spartan but comfortable – but there was an unmistakable musty smell and all of the beds, pillows and sheets were humid to say the least! There weren’t any windows and I guess that the a/c recycling the moisture of many persons’ breath over time had contributed to the moisture in the room.

Whilst Tania searched the web for another hostel to stay in, I frantically looked around with Oskar to find a sports bar showing the Rugby World Cup final (France v NZ) but to no avail! In any event, France lost by 1 point. Oh well, c’est la vie.

So, we left the hostel en famille and strolled around KL’s Chinatown to get some food before checking out an alternative hostel (very nice, we’ll take that one from tomorrow please) and then tiring for a rather damp and uncomfortable night’s sleep. I should say that as hostels go it was OK and the people were friendly, fellow backpackers were happy to swap adventures and tips – it was just our room was damp, and as we have 3 kids in tow 4 or 5 nights sleeping on damp sheets is not acceptable!

Summing Up

I really enjoyed Malaka. A town full of history and modernity, a melting pot of race, culture and cuisine. A relaxed vibe that invited you to stay a while and sample its delights. The accommodation was great and well placed for exploring, and those people that we encountered were friendly and warm – though Tania and I both remarked that the Malaysians did not appear to be as open and friendly as the Indonesians. But, its early days yet! What will KL have to offer us? and then where next after that? So many choices, and in the back of our minds are the floods devastating Thailand and we are wondering if there will be anything of the temples and sites left for us to see by the time we get there in mid-November.

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