Melaka Rocks!

Melaka's landmark site - The Dutch Square, reflected on a puddle of water after the rain. A beautiful square comprising Christ Church, the Stadhuys and the Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower built in 1886.

I'll never forget that it once took me almost two hours to drive from Jurong East to Orchard Road. It was a rainy Friday evening - a perfect formula for a disastrous peak hour traffic jam. But two hours to cover 15 kilometres of wet tarmac was totally absurd.

Sometimes, I do think that driving in Singapore could have possibly shortened my life over the years with such bad daily traffic and roads populated with inconsiderate drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, and more so whenever I see a bright beam of LED lights, casting a holy halo over my car as it exalts several dollars from my Cashcard despite the constipated traffic.

Ever since, the feeling of driving into Malaysia has been liberating. More so now with our tiny island getting more populated than ever, and our roads embezzled by ostentatious cyclists and jaywalking pedestrians glued to their smartphones, taking their own sweet time sauntering across the junction with their earphones, totally oblivious to their surroundings. The time it took for me to reach Orchard Road on that evening could have brought me to Melaka, plus the bonus a healthier car and driver - less carbon deposits in my engine and a lower blood pressure for me.

Melaka has a very special place in my heart for some reasons. It was where I went for my first overseas study trip as a design student some twenty years ago. It was where I've brought many on photography field trips before. There are some wonderful memories where friends were made, friendships were forged, happy moments were lived, and reminiscences that will last forever.

Less than two hours on the highway before turning out at Ayer Keroh, plus an additional thirty to forty minutes into the heart of the historical town, you would have arrived in Melaka before anyone in the car needed a toilet break.

"The main historical town is so manageable on foot that you could just leave your car parked safely in the hotel and explore the entire destination easily in your Havaianas."

Other than the extremely short and straightforward journey, it is mainly due to the charm and beauty of this little UNESCO World Heritage Site that keeps me wanting to go back. The main historical town is so manageable on foot that you could just leave your car parked safely in the hotel and explore the entire destination easily in your Havaianas. Alternatively, there will always be bicycles for rent from some hotels, the colourful Hello Kitty decorated trishaws for hire, or a local taxi to get you around.

Well, I'm still not too sure about our very own Botanical Gardens being conferred with the prestigious title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Until then, Melaka is the nearest one we could visit.

Melaka is also well known for its wide selection of superbly tasty food. Their Peranakan food needs no introduction with several established restaurants all within walking distance from one another. Other not-to-be-missed delights are mouth-watering Nonya laksa, ice-cold chendol, fragrant chicken rice balls and silky wanton noodles, just to name a few. Not forgetting the mélange of roadside food stalls at the weekend night market that will leave you all confused about what to have for dinner, while constantly wiping the drool off your mouth.

When the night falls on weekends, the entire 500-metre long Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat) comes alive as hawkers shake up the two rows of shophouses with their woks and clogs. From souvenir magnets and fake Lego toys to pineapple tarts and carrot cake, the Jonker Night Market is a little treasure trove that excites both the young and the old.

In addition to the popular Geographer Café housed in a well conserved pre-war shophouse, my usual and mandatory hangout is the new Hard Rock Café. To be honest, I felt that it was rather out of place in the beginning. A spanking new building with bright neon signs, blasting rock music by the river within a historical city? No way.

"It is the friendly staff who would always remember my name and bring out my thirst-quencher whenever I return that have kept me wanting to go back."

However, it has now become a ritual for me to have a few pints of ice cold Kronenbourg Blanc at the bar while enjoying the nightly 'live' band performing to the audiences' requests. Most importantly, it is the friendly staff who would always remember my name and bring out my thirst-quencher whenever I return that have kept me wanting to go back.

I guess I have found so much comfort in Melaka and it has made me feel so much at home, walking down the familiar lanes, chatting with familiar faces, and enjoying my favourite songs with my frosted Blanc glass in the air. To me, this little heritage town truly rocks! And perhaps, I could even have my drink earlier at Hard Rock Café Melaka than in Orchard Road on some days too.

The landmarks of Melaka - Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower and Christ Church.

A Melaka trishaw adding life and music to the heritage city. Often elaborately decorated and blasting loud pop music, they can be quite costly to hire for a short tour of the city. But it's part of the Melaka experience.

Locals by the Square.

The Queen Victoria's Fountain at the Dutch Square. Built in 1901 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

A flock of swallows animating the skies at the Dutch Square. Swallows are a common sight in the heritage city, often seen building their nests along five-foot-ways.

Going up to St Paul Hill right after the rain. Probably the best time to visit the open-air historical church on top of the hill when all tourists have left in seek of shelter.
Reflection of a remaining wall of St Paul's Church after the rain.

Steps leading up to St Paul's Church.

Old Portuguese tombstones in St Paul's Church, and lots of tourists on a typical weekend.

Close-up of the beautiful carvings on a Portuguese tombstone.

Statue of St. Francis Xavier erected in 1952, standing in front of St Paul's Church. He broke his right arm a day after consecration when a large casuarina tree fell on him. Ouch...

Local musicians at A Farmosa gate. Always nice to see the locals performing in public, adding life and flavours into the atmosphere. Yes, gave them a good tip after the photo was taken to appreciate their performance.

A vendor along Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat).

Vendor selling local snacks along Jonker Street.

A popular fried carrot cake stall along Jonker Street Night Market. Street food are the most delicious to me, always.

A traditional clock and watch repair shop along Jonker Street. This shop is probably no more than 2 square metres.

Getting some light and breeze for a good read.

A vanishing trade - the joss paper goods maker along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. Imagine having a job that all your hard work will always be burnt in the end.

A static train display located near Dataran Pahlawan Megamall.

Extravagant decorations on many Melaka trishaws.

Often decorated and themed with familiar cartoon characters. Somehow for some unknown reason, Hello Kitty is the most popular.

A gathering of cartoon characters.

A visit to The Royal Press Museum. Replicas of traditional medicine packaging done in the past.

The main hall of the Royal Press Museum. With a 75 year history, it is one of the oldest surviving letterpress publishing house in the world. Guided tours were previously available at RM12 per adult. But they have closed the tours till further notice.

Lettering sets made of lead. Workers had to manually pick each letter and set by hand, one letter at a time, onto wooden boards to form the sentences and paragraphs.

Thousands and thousands of letters in four main languages - English, Chinese, Arabic and Tamil.

The inconspicuous signboard of the Royal Press at No. 29, Jalan Hang Jebat.

An old linotype machine that still rocks! Had the privilege to see a demonstration of it in action. Simply fascinating and ingenious.

The tranquil Melaka River in the evening.

Taking a boat ride on the Melaka River with the locals.

Vibrant wall murals along the Melaka River adding life and colours to the evening stroll.

A quiet walk along the Melaka River to discover many interesting back lanes and shophouses.

The River is home to many monitor lizards. Not hard to spot one every time I'm there.

The Melaka River can be gorgeous in the evening.

An interesting bird and pet shop. Mind the bird flu.

Ducklings at the pet shop.

Flight and light.

Evening rendezvous.

Breakfast at Hatten Hotel.

A visit to the cemetery at Bukit Cina. A good escape from the tourists at this small but scenic hill of the dead.

Walking past a Malay village from Bukit Cina.

VW Kombi along a back lane.

There are plenty of old signboards in Melaka. It is interesting to take a closer look at them as they seem to reveal layers of time and the history of the city.

Pre- and post-war shophouses.

Possibly the most popular and recognisable shophouse in Melaka - The Geographer Café.

In light and in shadow.

A brightly painted side of a shophouse.

Primary colours.

Rising party walls.

All shophouses in the historical site are lit with red spotlights at night, rendering a rather eerie atmosphere on weekdays when the streets are mostly deserted.

Brightly painted shophouses.

The breakfast courtyard of Hotel Puri.

Beautiful Peranakan floor tiles in the lobby of Hotel Puri.

A timber spiral staircase inside Hotel Puri. Timber spiral staircases are traditionally used in shophouses.

Visual connection.

Communication design and typography. Who says you'll always need a computer and a printer?

Parked along Heeren Street. The Baba Nonya Heritage Museum in the background.

An interesting roofscape of traditional shophouses.

The ubiquitous collapsible metal gate used at the entrance of shophouses.


More lanterns.

A common sight of beautiful shadows when walking down Jonker Street in the evening.

The St Francis Xavier Church. This distinctive twin-spired neo-gothic structure was built in 1856.

Door deity commonly seen on the main doors of temples, homes, association and clan houses.

Remains of joss sticks over a long long time.

Seeing the Historical town on a bicycle is becoming more popular. Many Guesthouses have bicycles for rent at a small fee.

Light and shadows, colours and texture.

Traditional wooden clogs for sale.

Jonker Street on a cold, quiet and wet weekday evening.

Look who's watching.

A replica of the 'Flora de La Mar', a Portuguese ship that sank off the coast of Melaka on display at the Melaka Maritime Museum. 

A decommissioned Agosta 70 class submarine named SMD Ouessant on display at the Melaka Submarine Museum. Visitors can walk through the submarine to experience the claustrophobic spaces.

The epicentre of the weekend Jonker Night Market - the karaoke stage. Be entertained by numerous senior citizens taking on the stage for a song or two, or as an accompanying dancer. Highly enjoyable watching them dance to the songs, of which many I could even sing along. One of the spots I enjoy most, always.

The bustling Jonker Weekend Night Market.

A popular merchandise at the Night Market - fake Lego.

Overwhelming crowd at the Night Market on every weekend.

On weekdays, Jonker Street is almost entirely deserted. Even finding dinner is an issue.

At a road junction of Jonker Street.

Lovely pineapple tarts, fresh from the oven.

More warm and yummy pineapple tarts.

The iconic Chee Mansion along Heeren Street, also known as the Chee Yam Chuan Temple, is used as the Chee family’s ancestral home. It was built by tycoon and philanthropist Chee Swee Cheng, the first chairman of OCBC bank.

Enjoying a good view and the cool evening breeze.

Three architecture students from University of Technology Shah Alam with their pencils and paper. An encouraging sight to see students using observation skills and sketching, instead of whipping out their smartphones to "learn" and capture everything blindly.


P.S. I'll be writing on my amateur food trail in Melaka separately. Though I'm neither a foodie nor a food blogger, I've managed to smell, taste and slurp from a few popular stalls to see what the buzz was all about. It would cover some places to go, street food experience and the awesome Hard Rock Café! Keep a look out!

Facts and Figures:
  • Accommodation (multiple trips): The Majestic, Hatten, Casa Del Rio, Courtyard @ Heeren, Hotel Puri, Aldy Hotel, Holiday Inn and The Explorer, so far.
  • Equipment (multiple trips): Various point-and-shoot, CSC and DSLR from Samsung, Nikon and Sony.
  • Take Exit 231 'Ayer Keroh, Bandaraya Melaka', about 200 km after the Malaysian immigration via Tuas Second Link.
  • The remaining 16km into the heart of Melaka historical town would take 30mins with good traffic, 45mins on weekends, school holidays and peak hours.
  • Roadside parallel parking requires a parking coupon, which can be bought from many provision/souvenir shops along Heeren Street (Jln Tun Tan Cheng Lock) or Jonker Street (Jln Hang Jebat). The police do come often on motorbikes, so don't save that few Ringgit. Though you can try ignoring the parking fine and return home.
  • Many shops are closed by 7pm along Jonker Street. Weekdays are usually very quiet along the streets at night, almost deserted and with some difficulty finding dinner. So don't expect any vibrant night life other than on weekends. On weekday evenings, the only concentration of activity would be at Geographer's Café and Hard Rock Café, or at the shopping centres like Dataran Pahlawan and Mahkota Parade.

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