Melaka is home to some of the most important historic sights in Malaysia, with leftovers from Portugese, Dutch and British colonial times, resulting in a unique mix you won’t find anywhere else in Asia. The city by the river has a character all its own and the night market, great food and little cafes along the riverfront make it a fun city to hang out and relax. It’s my favorite weekend getaway from Singapore and a great side-trip from Kuala Lumpur, so add it to your trip!
Melaka has been in a strategic location along the trade routes from Europe, the Middle East and India to China through the Strait of Melaka for centuries. That attracted all the great trading powers, and the Portugese developed the city as a harbor for 150 years, before the Dutch took over for the same period, followed by the British for another 150 years prior to Malay independence. That has created a unique history among Asian cities and you can find the traces of the colonial history throughout town. In the center, you’ll find the old church, townhall and clocktower.
Above the town center, you’ll find the old fortress and the ruins of an early church – both worth climbing the hill!
Just across the river, you’ll find another crowd favorite, Jonkers night market, with lots of delicious street food to try out and some shopping opportunities along your snack-trail. You can also tour an old shop house and get a glimpse how Chinese traders lived in town.
But while many tour groups “check off” the main sights on a day trip with the inevitable selfies taken, there is a lot more to Melaka. The city has done a great job developing the riverfront in the last five years. The old, crumbling path along the river, snaking through the town, has been redone into a boardwalk with lots of trees, flowers and lights at night.
Small bars, coffee shops and restaurants have sprung up, making this the perfect place to leisurely read a book over coffee or to take an evening stroll, enjoy a drink to enjoy the sunset and settle in for a leisurely dinner. Despite tour groups crowding the tourist sights on weekend days, the river promenade is still a quiet place with few people wandering along or handing out. I can easily see myself “getting stuck” in Melaka a while to relax and hang out, forgetting about time.
Travel Tips: Melaka is around 2h 30 minutes drive from Kuala Lumpur and 3h 30 minutes from Singapore. Keep in mind that border controls can turn the trip from Singapore into a 5-6h trip. There are numerous buses from Kuala Lumpur for less than $10 and very comfortable coaches from Singapore for $20-40. It’s a little quicker, if you have your own car (especially from Singapore).
Getting around Melaka is easy – uber is widely available and very cheap with rides around town around $1-2. A lot more fun are the most elaborately decorated tricycles on the planet. They have gone from flowers to full-on LED light-shows, making it one of the most hilarious rides, especially at night – have your camera ready!
Hotels are inexpensive, with hotels like the great Holiday Inn or Hattan Hotel offering comfortable accommodation. You are also starting to see boutique hotels springing up near the old town and bargain backpackers in old, converted shop houses.
Bottomline: Melaka is a great place to explore the history of the region, enjoy fantastic food and while away the time along the beautiful riverfront. It’s easy to get to and inexpensive, making it a great getaway from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur or a relaxing stop on a longer trip through South East Asia – I recommend yo