At one time, so the guide book said, there were at least 80 different languages and dialects being spoken in and around the Port of Malacca or Melaka as is the local spelling. It’s placed right in the middle of the spice route between India and China and so sea traders from across the world would drop anchor to stretch their legs so to speak and then partake in whatever sea traders do in foreign ports far from home with a ship full of silver, tin, gold, spices, fine linen and the odd human slave. Malacca is on the south west corner of the Malaysian peninsula and sits virtually at the cross road of the Singapore Straits and the famous Malacca Straits. Coming from India with the south west monsoon blowing you down-hill at a pleasant 10-15 knots it would be no effort to pull into Malacca for a quick reprovision and then push on to the Far East. Coming the other way you have the north east monsoon doing exactly the same but in the opposite direction. As they say.......too easy. So Malacca in her heyday would have been a gloriously exotic place to visit; a literal melting pot of race and religion and full of the colour and heady perfume of danger you associate with ports in the Far East.
|the narrow street and rickshaws give it a distinct character|
Malacca today is not quite the swashbuckling Mecca it was in the past and it was sadly missing any Jonny Deep characters and the only ship that resembled the Black Pearl was a replica Portuguese square rigger painted a ghastly mission brown and stuck on concrete in the middle of town right next to the children’s fun park. Alas, the only danger came in the form of fat middle aged men who approached you on the street trying to organise your stay in Malacca based solely on their prearranged itinerary and, as it happens, with their car and driver at your disposal. No thanks pal, we’re just going to wander around and see what we find but thanks anyway. You’re wasting your time then, came his testy little reply, you should have stayed home and visited your children”. He might have had a point on that last comment but hey dude, let’s drop the attitude. He was the only nasty pirate we met and we can safely say the people of Malacca, despite the saturation of tourists were, as usual, friendly and polite.
|the old fort of Santiago or what's left of it|
So while Malacca of old was, for obvious reasons missing in action, there was still present a distinct feel and character to this place and it came to you as you wound your way down the narrow cobbled streets and over the small foot bridges that crossed the city canal or stared up at the crumbling facades with their Dutch, Chinese and Portuguese influences or sat in one of the many art/studio style coffee shops and drank in the kind of bohemian other worldly atmosphere that filters through the town like the gentle waft of incense. It’s a cool place to visit. We only had two days and one night so narrowed our experience to just exploring around the hotel ( and what a hotel, more later) and there was enough good shopping and eating in this square kilometre to keep you going for months.
|inside The Baboon House, a very cool art/studio/gallery coffee shop with tasty beef burgers and cool iced lemon teas|
The tourist sites are limited to the aforementioned replica ship, a crumbling Portuguese fort, enough museums to lead you to early onset museum depression and the open air city tour bus trip that takes in the sites of the city. We did the latter and all we saw were hotels and the dirty facades of cheap apartment blocks. Sitting on the seat in front of us was a young Malaysian boy 7-8 yrs old (school holidays) and throughout the entire bus tour he was glued to his game boy thingy twitching and rolling knobs as some character went through a city slashing and mutilating anyone he saw. Maybe he was missing the old Malacca. The tragedy was that his father was sitting next to him, watching and doing nothing. It was some of the most violent images I have ever seen and I really had to reign in Mr Manning the school teacher before I grabbed the thing and through it into the canal thereby proving violence begets violence I suppose.
|everyone having a wild time on the open air bus tour|
Our hotel experience was wonderful and the best we have ever encountered. It was recommended by our good friends Dan and Elise and overall it was a lesson in how to offer excellent service in stylish and comfortable accommodation. We were met at the door with a glass of chilled water, our luggage taken to the room, a paper of my choice delivered to our room and a sumptuous breakfast thrown into the bargain. The room was a blend of Asian, Portuguese and contemporary styling and the bed was big and perfectly comfortable. The staff was superb and could not do enough to make you feel at home. (240 rm...approx A$80 per night)
|bathroom in hotel room|
Our trip back to Port Dickson and the Admiral marina was a mixture of buses and taxis and went without a hitch. Public transport here is cheap and efficient. Our last leg into Port Dickson was on a local bus that was full even when we got on. The driver saw my walking stick and moved a young guy off his seat very quickly but poor Diana was left standing, but not for long. An elderly Indian woman seemed to become the bus seat controller and as people got off and seats became available she ushered this one here and that there. She had a mission to get Diana seated and when a seat became empty nearby she pushed Diana’s bag with her foot next to the seat to stop anyone claiming it and gestured for her to sit......sit....yesss....you sit there!! Again it was just fascinating to be part of this small and probably tedious routine for most of the passengers as they made their way home or over to a friend’s house for a sleep over. For us however, it was the fact that we part of another community if only for a short while and that we were accepted without rancour or discontent. It’s a feeling you get as you travel more and more, this sense of belonging to what is the global community of humanity and that is comforting to say the least.
|water feature in dining room of hotel and a good way to close this blog with this artists shot (Diana) that captures some of the style and history of this town|
And, what’s more, it was a very fitting way to say farewell to the city of Malacca, that port of many voices connected as it was through the simple human desire to trade. Cheers Rob