Deep red, vibrant Malacca City-A A +A
Thursday, June 28, 2012
THERE are two things to note when you visit Malacca (Melaka in Malay), the 3rd smallest of Malaysia's 13 states and a historic city that has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, since July 7, 2008. One, if you have only one day to spend in Malacca, do not go on Tuesday because many museums, shops, restaurant are closed, especially in the Jonker Street area. Two, the red buildings doesn't mean that red is the state color. The government reportedly decided to paint them red to get rid of stains from betel nut spits.
We got to this vibrant old city in time for lunch on board a van provided by the Malaysian Tourism Office. Malacca City is the state capital which is 148 km south east of Malaysia's capital city Kuala Lumpur. It was an almost 2-hour smooth ride through excellent and maintained highways with five other media colleagues -- Edith Regalado, Peter Alagos, Bong Lacson, Marianne Carandang and Butch Maguinto along with Gerard Pecson of Philippines' Air Asia, and Simon, our Malaysian tour buddy.
To get energized for an afternoon of tour, we had a tummy fill at Pei Zing, a Chinese restaurant in the city's business district. It's a no frills-dining place with a huge dining area that serves your orders fast. We finished our lunch consisting of steamed fresh fish, sauted kangkong and Chinese pechay, curried pork, shrimps with garlic, and steamed tofu, in 30 minutes as everyone was excited to get around. We didn't want to miss any of the tourist sites on our itinerary.
Malacca is loaded with tourist attractions, owing to the exploits of the various European powers that shaped it - the Portuguese in 1521, the Dutch in 1641, the British in 1824, the Japanese in 1942. Its accession into the federation of Malaya was in 1948. The Chinese also had a hand in its development and the Chinatown area is most interesting.
Period Dutch colonial buildings are the biggest draw, being located right in the Old Town, around Dutch Square.
Malacca is by no means a small city so exploring on foot is a good idea. You could rent a bike or take trishaws -- complete with blaring pop music and fake flower decorations.
Dutch Square (Town Square)
This is where the deep red buildings of the Stadhuys (Town Hall) and Christ Church reside. The Stadhuys is the oldest building, while also here is the Chinese-built Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower. It looks Dutch though that was built in 1886. Dutch Square is a beautifully kept part of the city and is easy to get to, being seated next to the river and within reach of everything else. The town square is a useful meeting place and also a good spot to pick-up a trishaw.
This mid-18th century church is a Malacca icon and was erected by the Dutch on the site of a Portuguese church. It is the distinctive red, arch-faced church on Dutch Square and is the oldest Protestant church in the country. Bricks were brought in from Holland for its construction. Inside are handmade church pews and the huge roof beams. On the floor of the church you will find Dutch tombstones. Taking photos is not allowed.
A Famosa Fortress (Porta de Santiago)
The A Famosa Fortress is the remains of the Portuguese fort erected on St. Paul's Hill on their arrival in the early part of the 16th century. You can still get a perspective of its grandeur through the large arched gate. The British demolished the fortress to use the materials for other building projects, although Sir Stamford Raffles had the arch and all that remains today saved in 1810.
St. Paul's Church
Taking a path up the hill will lead you to this church. It was originally built in 1521 by the Portuguese. It became a fortress in 1567, until 1596. After the Dutch siege it became St Paul's, before it was known as Nossa Senhora da Annunciada (Our Lady of Annunciation). It has been used as a burial ground for the Dutch. You can still see the tombstones, along the walls of ruins of the church. St. Paul's Church was a favourite spot of St. Francis Xavier, and upon his death, his body was temporarily interred here, before being sent to-Goa-in-India.
St. Peter's Church
St. Peter's Church is surprisingly Malaysia's oldest functioning Catholic church and was constructed in the early part of the 18th century.
Cheng Hoon Teng Temple
Across the river from the churches and fortress is Malacca's most famous and oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia -- Cheng Hoon Teng -- which has an inscription dating 1685 commemorating the deeds of by Kapitan China Li Wei King. Cheng Hoon Teng was constructed using imported materials from China, and features stunning carvings, images and d‚cor. The temple really does come to life at festival time and remains dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin).
Just across the road is the opera theatre and the Fragrant Forest Temple (Xianglin) and Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple.
A cruise along the Malacca River is a must to take in the ancient Kampong Morten part of the city. The route takes you along a boardwalk and past a number of sheek looking houses decorated with large paintings.
Heeren and adjacent streets
This is the residential heart of Old Malacca just west of the Malacca River, with its narrow winding streets, beautifully decorated houses, tiny shops, temples and mosques. Colleagues say it looks like Macau. The whole area is undergoing a renaissance with new shops, restaurants and hotels catering to tourists mushrooming everywhere. However, the area still has a lot of atmosphere and is worth having a look around. One of the streets in this area is Harmony Street (officially Temple street or Jalan Tokong), so called because it contains the prayer houses of Malaysia's three main faiths - the Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese temple, the Sri Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Hindu Temple, and the Kampung Kling Mosque.
It was a leisure stroll along the street after the temple visit -- observing the locals' life, and shop for some for antiques and some local souvenirs. Just like anywhere, make sure you bargain with the vendors.
Try some unique stuff to eat, like grapes-dipped in chocolate or caramel encrusted kiwis. Jonker Walk has many food and drinks outlets which serve Nyonya laksa (laksa with coconut milk) and desserts including the sinfulÿdurian cendol.
Taming Sari Revolving Tower
The 110 m-tower seats 66 people at a time, taking them on a 7-minute ride for a view of Malacca. The ascent takes 1 min, you have 5 min on the top and 1 min for the descent. It offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the historic city and the coastline. We did it after a stroll of the town and it gave us a whole new perspective of Malacca.
Certainly overwhelmed with the sheer quantity and quality of tourist attractions in Malacca, the city definitely deserves a revisit.
Philippines' Air Asa, the country's newest low cost carrier, launched its first international flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on June 9 with daily afternoon flights complementing Malaysia's AirAsia that has been operating the same route since 2005. It flies daily from Clark to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 28, 2012.