In 2008, I had the great fortune of landing in Singapore, where I started the journey of a lifetime. After regrouping in South East Asia’s most hustling and bustling hub, I decided to head north towards Kuala Lampur. En route however, I made the decision to stopover for 2 days in Malacca, the third smallest Malaysian state, located in the straits of Malacca – a paradise for pirates in days gone by. Here are my impressions on road as I discovered a city steeped well in history – a great stopover for any wanderer on walkabout.
2008: Malacca, Malaysia
Allow me to prelude this blog by suggesting how very unfair it is to be a woman some days.What prompted this particular outburst? Squatting. That’s right boys, after downing yet another bottle of water to combat the unbearable heat, women have to squat over little holes in the ground that are more often than not crawling with bugs and send stenches flying up your noses that would turn the manliest of men green in the face – with disgust, not envy. Yes, I squatted many a days during my time in Malaysia and yes, I’ve had just about enough of it. Phew. Okay, rant complete. Now, grab a cup of tea and read on …
After a brilliant couple of days in Singapore, I got up and left bright and early, around 7am, to check in for my bus to Malacca. I got to the bus terminal (located in a shopping mall) far too early, typical Westerner, and passed the time by buying a mystery drink, just for fun (I do that often here and find it’s the best way to find out what something is! So far I have discovered that I love Sweet bean buns – delicious!) After having to take a shuttle from the terminal to the bus itself, I finally found my bus and jumped on board. For those of you who know how directionally impaired I am, that was the hardest part of the journey. “Go find the shuttle outside the building” said the kind ticket man behind the counter. “What shuttle?” I thought, as I roamed back and forth outside the building like an idiot! I have definitly learned that as a foreigner you just have to suck up your pride and get use to asking the stupid questions.
Despite the odds, I found my bus, only to find that there were only 4 of us traveling to Malacca. On board, I met the funniest couple from Singapore who took me under their wing and guided me through the passport terminals between Singapore and Malaysia. I had no idea there was a formal checkpoint during the trip – duh! The forth member of our company was a Chinese businessman and the 4 of us became a little group, waiting for one another and eating together en route – it was fantastic! I brought some naturally preserved guava slices (so gross) and a Milo ovaltine drink for the trip and 5 hours later, we finally pulled into Malacca.
Upon reaching the interstate bus terminal, I headed to the domestic bus terminal to take town bus #20 where I was to disembark 2 stops after the Equatorial Hotel. Another adventure. So I hopped onto the bus, backpack in tow and headed towards my hostel! Somehow (after a confusing exchange), I made it clear to the ticket collector that I needed to know where Equatorial hotel was, or so I thought. I saw the Equatorial hotel come and go but thankfully saw my hostel from the window and hopped off at the next stop.
The Kancil hostel was beautiful, although it looks like nothing from the outside, the inside was gorgeous and the owner tries really hard to make it just like home. After pulling in, I headed out straight away since daylight is the solo woman travellers favourite time of day. The first thing I noticed was the lack of sidewalk! I was basically walking into traffic and it was the most frightening road experience ever, BUT if you learn not to hesitate and hope to God that no one hits you, it’s not so bad. I made into the historic district where I went firstly to the remains of old Portuguese Fort called A’Famosa, the bit that survived the English invaders who wanted it destroyed so that it couldn’t be used against them after they handed it back to the Dutch (Stamford Raffles, the same one whose name marks the famous hotel in Singapore, intervened to preserve what remains of the old fort – it’s thanks to him that not all of the fort was destroyed).
There were a ton of stairs leading you to the top of the Fort, all the way to St.Paul’s Church, on the very top of the hill. Enter the first typical giraffe move of the trip. I got all the way to the top of the fort when my sandal broke. Broke! It was the worst possible timing ever! However, thanks to globalization, a Carrefour (french grocery store chain) appeared to me through the heavens and I was able to wander not too far before finding some new shoes (which I had to buy in men’s design, shocked.) I then turned around, determined to complete my adventure up the Fort and reached the top, this time in comfort. I then headed down and saw a whole bunch of rickshaws practicing for a festival
held every year at the end of May! They are adorned in beautifully colored flower necklaces and decor, a real sight as they all cycle in tandom to the music and an are choriographed by a woman who I believe was British… weird!
At this point, I realized I had no money left (the shoes cost 15Ringets) so I headed back to my hostel – picking up some bread and jam for dinner on the way back – I read for a while and fell fast fast asleep at 6pm! Nightime isn’t the best time for me to be wandering around anyways so I didn’t miss much, although had I been here on the weekend I would have seen the night market that is suppose to be really something! Next time. Next time!
Oh! I forgot to mention! To end my first day in Malacca, I had a wonderful conversation with a French girl who was traveling with a friend – she warned me about the cockroaches that come out at night when you turn off the lights – wicked – future travelers take note, sport the flip flop at all times. The owner at the hostel also warned me about ‘snatchers’ who come by on their motorbikes and take the bag right off your back, so of course I wandered around like some pregnant women, bag in front… but hey, when traveling (or not traveling)… you gotta do what you gotta do!
After waking up nice and early, plopping some mixed-fruit jam (from Tesco, go figure?) on my oh so yummy 14 vitamin bread, I headed out to conquer the big tower that stands (and spins – oh!) in the middle of Malacca and is suppose to give you the most breath taking view of the city. Honestly? Besides being able to now distinguish the old Malacca from the new (see photo), it wasn’t really worth the trip. So, when my feet touched ground again, I took off quickly in the direction of historical enlightenment and came accross Christ Church, built by the Dutch and standing tall.
The Church is surrounded by rickshaws beckoning incoming tourists and smiling when you shake your head “No thanks!” (I think they are used to it since everything is relatively close – definitely in walking distance). After having my religious fill for the day, I headed to old Chinatown which was really something else! It consisted mainly of small roads and vendors but it had a wondeful feel to it and as you cross over the bridge, everything seems to fall back in time about 100 years or so.
Temples were everywhere, as were friendly people going about their daily routines. It was here that I tried the Malaccan Pineapple Tart (the shop keeper told me it was a delicacy – what do I know?) One way or another, it was a good call! The tart was scrumptious. I was running on a salad of sorts I had bought from a vendor on the street filled with fried goodies, pineapple, cucumber, lettuce etc. The salad was suppose to be refreshing, and it was – but there was definitely room for dessert.
Along the way back from Chinatown I headed to St.Francis Xavier Church – Francis Xavier was the founder of Catholicism in East Asia. His grave used to be in Malacca proper but was moved home to Goa a few years back. A quick history of Malacca for those of you who are interested: it gained it’s independence in 1957 (50 years proudly celebrated and displayed all over the city) and houses the 3 races of Malaysia in harmony – Chinese, Indian and Indigenous Malay. While I attempted to make my way to the former grave site of St.Francis Xavier which is now used as a wishing well, I got lost (surprise, surprise) and headed back before I could make a wish. C’est la vie! I got back to the hostel and met up with the two French girls. Note – anyone who ever knocked French Immersion in Canada, here is a prime example of why it’s important to know another language! After taking a relaxing afternoon stroll where I wandered the city, grabbed some noodles at the food court and read my book in the park for a while, I met up with the girls for another bite to eat! Prepare to be shocked. As we were walking, one of the girls decided she wanted McDonalds and together they agreed on a nice Starbucks to top it off! Well, I walked in to the MacDo, utterly ashamed, and Fazha (one of the girls who spoke very little english) bought me french fries just so she could take a picture of me eating Western food against my will. It was pretty funny, a little sad, and the perfect way to end my time in Malacca.
The next morning I hopped on the 8:30am bus to Kuala Lampur, the capital of Malaysia where my adventure continued…