Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Melaka / Malacca Magic

We had done the research and knew where and how to get to Melaka. It would involve a bus and the Monorail with a change to the LRT to get the bus stop from our hotel in KL. We had already had one bus experience and it was great. Clean, comfortable, efficient and well the roads are good so why not speed EH! As we departed the hotel with what is rapidly becoming excess luggage we thought about the stairs in those transport networks and the large numbers of commuters and knew our bags and us weren’t necessarily a good mix. Doubts began to arise. So much for “Travel light and travel far” the motto with which we had left Bangkok in early June!

A quick rethink and we decided a teksi (I just love the Malay words that look like phonetic versions of English – but that is another story) to the bus station and then proceed as planned. Now I blame the Kiwi couple that posted on the Net that you could teksi to Melaka for a very reasonable price, for what happened next. We inquired at the teksi stand about the price to the bus station, which was way over the odds and then “Well how much to Melaka?”

Next minute, we were sitting in a luxury vehicle zooming along the highway with a very eloquent driver pointing out sights and beaming at us in the rearview mirror. Nice…

To be honest finding balanced vegetarian meals here in Malaysia has been more of a struggle than we anticipated. At first we wanted to try Malay or Chinese only but even the reliable veg offerings of Indian cuisine had proved elusive in Penang, so on arrival we were keen to locate what seemed to be a very elegant pure vegetarian restaurant boasting its Baba Nyonya tradition that Ian had discovered in his constant research into eating options.

From our selected hotel we bee lined to the “Veggie Planet” trying not to be disconcerted by the streetscape. Yet again we were soon in a construction and redevelopment zone that provided no pedestrian access and forced us to walk into or alongside the bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trucks and buses, clinging to the blue corrugated iron fencing demarking the construction site and consuming what might have once been a footpath, hoping not to be run over.

Our joy at finding the restaurant a cool, quiet haven with tasteful decor and THE most delicious food was indescribable. For the next 4 days we returned to eat there via different routes all fraught with pedestrian hells and loved every meal. We even considered staying one more day just to taste something else on that menu. Instead we forfeited the complimentary but bland breakfast at the hotel on our final morning and were delighted to savour one more delicious moment.

However there is more to Melaka than just one restaurant and that first walk had us wondering if we had missed the whole heritage experience by 10 years or so! But no the UNESCO World Heritage Zone was certainly alive and thriving. It just happened to be in the opposite direction to our newly found favourite restaurant.

We had no trouble at all amusing ourselves in the crowded street markets, the various themed museums, the cemeteries with stories and head stones dating back to the 15th century, and the many other tourist hangouts in Melaka. The Baba Nyonya heritage house was my personal favourite, despite the disappointment at not being able to photograph the most spectacularly restored and presented, converted Dutch house I have ever laid eyes on. 

The rickshaws or cyclos or whatever one would like to call them are in a category all their own in this town. Garishly decorated with all manner of kitch and cute in the stuffed toy department, blaring loud music and sporting flashing, neon lights they ply the streets day and night looking more like alien creatures than any acceptable form of transport. Needless to say we were not tempted to climb aboard.

In Melaka it seems the Dutch history, the Portuguese traders, the British colonial experience, the Indonesian influences added to the already colourful Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures ever present in Malaysia. In the current population there is evidence of both cultural fusion and complete separation of these vastly different influences. The current population of expats also seem to be doing their level best to add to the multicultural melee and have their own colourfully quirky pets!

We truly enjoyed the atmosphere of the old town and marveled at the sheer numbers of tourists who had come to see a part of their own culture, while we outsiders stood by more than a little overwhelmed by the diversity, harmony and lively exchanges.

By the way the newly acquired Birkenstocks got a thorough workout and with the humidity I have a few nice welts to show as evidence. No doubt a time will come when they are not only broken in but totally dilapidated just like the last pair!!!

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