Sunday, May 27, 2012

Malaysia: Melaka overnight

After visiting Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia, Ivan Man Dy explores Melaka, both of which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage inscription. Text and photos by Ivan Man Dy.

Melaka (Malacca), they say, is where Malaysia began. Founded in the 1400s this city can certainly claim historical pedigree more than any other in Malaysia. Its long list of narratives include Malay sultanates, Chinese migration, Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese occupations.

Similar to its northern sister city, Georgetown, Melaka boast of a multicultural legacy brought about by these currents of history. However, unlike the former, Melaka's historic center is noticeably smaller and in fact, may well just be zipped through for the obligatory photo opportunity as I noticed with a lot of day tour packages.

Not for me though. As a heritage junkie, historic towns like this appeal to me a lot and I opted to stay overnight.

The thing with Melaka is that the historic center is actually small enough and everything can be covered by foot. At the center of it is the red-colored Dutch Square whose landmarks include Christ Church (1753), the oldest Protestant church in Malaysia, and the Stadthuys, former residence and headquarters of the colonial Dutch governors, which today houses the Museum of History and Ethnography. This is where the trigger happy tourists let loose and it's interesting that just a few steps up (and RM10 entrance fee) will lead you to a fascinating and quiet crash course on the city's rich narrative.

At the back of the the Stadhuys is St. Paul's Hill where stands the ruins of Portuguese-built St. Paul's Church (1521). Inside are some old European tombstones as well as the temporary burial spot of the Catholic Jesuit St. Francis Xavier before his remains was transferred to Goa.

Also in the area is the A Famosa, the only remant of Melaka's original Portuguese fortifications. To further highlight this 130 odd years of Portuguese occupation, parts of the original city walls have been excavated and rebuilt. Think a super mini version of Manila's Intramuros walls.

End your walk of the area at English-colonial style Proclamation of Independence Memorial Hall, where the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman announced the country's independence from Britain in 1957.

The history of Melaka has always been tied up with trading and the Melaka River certainly played a very big part in it. Take a stroll at the refurbished river promenade before heading on Chinatown across the river. Located on the three major streets (which are all parallel each other) very close the Dutch Square, this is perhaps the liveliest part of the old town. Lined with traditional shop houses that still function in their original purpose, they range from simple to really ornate.

Jalan Tokong is home to three places of worship: the Taoist Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (1645),the Hindu Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple (1785) and Islamic Kampong Kling Mosque (1868). The former two lay claim to the oldest in the country. And of course, a cliche we often heard in Malaysia, Jalan Tokong is a known as the 'Street of Harmony'.

Over at Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, don't miss the charming Baba Nyonya Museum for an insight on the lives of the culturally-rich Peranakan Cina (Chinese-Malay) community. And if you are so really historically-inclined, walk about 25 minutes from the Dutch Square to Bukit Cina (Chinese Hill), supposedly the largest Chinese cemetery outside China. Huff and puff your way up to view the burial mounds or light an incense at Sam Poh Kong. This temple is said to have links with the legendary Ming Dynasty explorer Cheng Ho, another of Melaka's great touchstones in her fabled history.

So much history, all captured within one overnight stay. Definitely worth the sleep.

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