Thursday, October 3, 2013

Destination: Malacca (Malaysia)

Malacca Straits Mosque
My first traveling within the greater SE Asia region took me to Malacca, Malaysia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and promised to have plenty of history and culture to explore. The weekend took plenty of unexpected turns, but I now have one more country stamp in my passport.
Our humble hostel

Ruled at various times by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British governments, Malacca became a diverse and culturally rich town over the centuries. Its location by the Malacca straits ensured that it always received a steady stream of shipping commerce.

With a perfect weather forecast, our party of six arrived by bus late at night at the Fernloft Hostel, a comfortable little place that had only been open for a month.

Deciding to rent bikes for the weekend was the best decision that was made during the trip. With no real bus system, this made it far easier to reach some of the more distant sites without spending lots of ringgit on cab fare.

Without further ado, enjoy the sights of Malacca!



Bukit China

Grave at Bukit China
The largest Chinese graveyard outside of China, Bukit China (or "Chinese Hill") is located just outside of the historical center of Malacca. We entered at the base next to a small, old Chinese temple. 

There are even a few graves for Malay chieftains and Muslims. Most of the graves were small and featured a small arch, but a fair number were ornately decorated, such as the one above.

Bukit China hillside, full of graves of varying grandeur
A few wild dogs roamed the hills as we followed a winding path around the graves. At the top, there was a nice panoramic view of the surrounding area, including the Malacca Strait. Dotted with a few cargo ships, this body of water connects the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 

Overall, very pleasant place to stroll around and observe some testaments to Chinese tradition and heritage.

St. John's Fort 

Mike, doing his best Dr. Strangelove impression
Riding our bikes through town, we rolled up (get it?) to this old Portuguese fort that was rebuilt by the Dutch in the 1700s. Malacca was a critical trading port back in the day, and at some point Europeans decided to get involved as well. The fort was fairly small but, with its location at the very top of the hill, had a decided schematic advantage against any would-be marauders.

Interestingly, the cannons pointed inland and not towards the sea. Portuguese control of the water must have been fairly complete, and they only had to worry about local Malays charging up the hill from the east. We later visited the site of the old Portuguese settlement for lunch, and it was nestled in between the fort and the Strait.

Malacca Straits Mosque

Entrance to the mosque

Continuing our bike journey, we crossed over a bridge over to Malacca Island, which I later learned is completely man-made. Amid all of the construction was this gem. Built in 2006, the mosque was beautiful, with lush scenery surrounding it (see the first picture of the post). Just behind the mosque lie the water of the Strait, providing an amazing backdrop.

Unfortunately, the guys were all wearing shorts and the girls had no head coverings, so no one made it inside the mosque. Nevertheless, it was a magnificent sight to behold, and its location on the water made it that much more impressive.

Bridge between the mainland and Malacca Island

Malaysian Music Video

"Tu Hi Tu" crew
This was, without a doubt, the most unusual and memorable part of the trip. Returning from the mosque, we entered a small park when we encountered a small film crew. They promptly informed us that they were shooting a video and we proceeded to turn around. However, they wanted us to be a part of it!

Turns out that the guy in blue was the singer of the song "Tu Hi Tu." So we all rode behind his trishaw, a Malacca vehicle that consists of a bicycle with a sidecar for two passengers. Luckily, the song was pretty groovy, and we had a grand time fist bumping in the background (which is pretty hard to do when you are also pedaling extremely slowly).

Getting ready for some bike dancing
Close-up shots. My Popeye shirt matched the trishaw pretty well
The final video will supposedly hit YouTube in December. I did check it to see if the song was already posted, but the versions of "Tu Hi Tu" that are up are not the same as this guy's.

If the fist-bump-into-royal-hand-wave becomes a household dance move, you now know where it all started.

The rest of Malacca

Christ Church (Anglican, 1753), the oldest active Protestant Church in Malaysia.
This is perhaps the most popular image of Malacca in tourist brochures
Malacca River at night. Love the old water wheel
Malacca's Sultanate Palace, now used as a museum of ancient Malacca
Malacca trishaws. They are all quite florid, and have speakers at the base that bump American Top 40 tunes during the ride
Malacca is just about as quirky as a tourist attraction can get. The gaudy trishaws rule the streets with their slow pedaling and loud music. The night market featured everything imaginable, including scented ear wax candles (which I absolutely refused to buy - why would anyone in their right mind stick something on fire into your head?)

We ate delicious yet fairly unsanitary satay for dinner, which involved dipping various food items into a community pot of this peanuty-meat sauce to cook them. One of the local cafes featured a singer/guitarist who was absolutely incredible. Singing in both Chinese and English, she had the small crowd in a trance. 

We even saw some fellow named Master Ho who holds the Guinness World Record for piercing four coconuts with one finger (12.15 seconds).  For my first trip to Malaysia, Malacca offered plenty of pleasant surprises that made this a successful weekend outing.


Travel Notes

  • Just because a town is accessible by bus does not mean that it is easily accessible. It took 7 hours to arrive in Malacca from Singapore, and the return was even worse, as the crush of Malay workers returning to Singapore for work Sunday night meant an 11 hour commute (part of the group took a taxi, making it only 8 hours)
  • Having an itinerary is way better than not having one; even if you don't want to outline every minute of the day, you will at least have something to fall back on if everything else hits the fan
  • Spend your money on food and drinks, not on accommodations (unless you are traveling alone, then it might be wise to find a single somewhere)
  • Taxi fares in Malaysia are completely negotiable. Each taxi is supposed to be equipped with a meter but no one used them. 

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