The epicentre of the spice trade in the 15th century and once colonised by the Portuguese and Dutch, Melaka today is a melting pot of cultures and the home of some fantastic food
I love Melaka! This is where I grew up before emigrating to the UK and I still keep going back for more. Apart from family, the thing I miss most about it is the chilled-out attitude of the people in Melaka, the wonderful flavours of food that sprang from the melting pot of cultures, and the beautiful arcitecture. No trip to Malaysia is complete without a trip to this lovely city.
You could do Melaka in a day trip from KL. However, I would recommend a two-night trip to truly savour the city, especially at the weekend. Your hotel can book you a private taxi or you can take any of the numerous coaches that leave from KL central bus station. Here are a few insider tips on what to do when you get there.
Where to go
The A'Famosa fort: the remnants of an old fort built by the Portuguese, who invaded Melaka in 1411. Only a bit remains but let your imagination rebuild what would have been an amazing fort. Take a walk up the hill to enjoy a breathtaking view of Melaka and the Straits of Malacca.
The Stadhuys and clock tower: very close to A'Famosa and great scenery for pics. From here, walk over the bridge to Chinatown, which springs to life at the weekend.
Jonker Stree, Chinatown: if you want to experience a night market, this is the place. Frequented by locals and tourists alike, it's a great place to grab a bargain, buy some antiques and savour some local cuisine. The weekend market is run by the local state government and is very safe. Everything is strictly controlled, so don't wory about the food: it is all fresh. There are also some great bars if you want to relax, grab a cold beer and listen to some music. Make sure you wear comfortable clothing.
Where to shop
Mahkota Parade and Dataran Pahlawan (across from the A'Famosa fort). Nice and air conditioned, these two malls are great hideaways from the hot afternoon sun. The food courts are good places to try some local fare (there are various fast food outlets available too) and the shopping is great.
Where to eat
Where do I start? Well, the food courts in the two malls mentioned above are where the locals go. Next to Mahkota Parade is Newtons, a great outdoor food court run by the local government to attract more tourists. But guess who else goes there? The locals. Just grab a table, note the table number, then walk around and see what you fancy. Don't be shy - ask locals what they are eating. They are more than happy to share some ideas. Try the char kuey tiaw (fried flat noodles) or some proper satay. Another favourite of mine is the clay pot chicken rice.
If you're feeling adventurous, ask any taxi-driver to take you Umbai, a traditional Malay fishing village with shacks serving very fresh seafood cooked in the traditional Malay style. Beware: fresh means swimming around. Pick the seafood you want from the tanks, then pick the style you want them cooked in, from a list on a board. The guys are great at suggestions but if you are not spice-inclined, say "No chili Padi!" Stick to bottled drinks. Note: there's no alcohol served here and you should dress conservatively to respect the local culture.
My absolute favourite place to eat is Jonker 88 on Jonker Street - I always come here when I'm in Melaka. Try their famous chicken laksa noodles followed by chendol, a favourite local dessert. You'll need a few hours on the treadmill after this one.
Another good place is Chicken Rice Ball in Jonker Street. Ask anyone - they will point you in the right direction.
Where to stay
There are loads of accommodation options in Melaka. Try to stay in the city centre. The Equatorial is located smack bang in the middle of the historical areas. The Majestic (very posh) is in Jonker Street. The Bayview Hotel in Jalan Bendahara is a good four-star, and the Renaissance Melaka Hotel on the same road is a very well established five-star. There's no shortage of guesthouses, especially in Jonker Street and Chinatown. I would not recommend Melaka Raya, especially for families; it lacks character and is popular for night clubs and other 'services' at night.
Melaka is a must, must, must. For too long, it was just a coffee stop for those driving from Singapore to KL or a popular primary school field trip, known only for its history. Now a bustling city, it has come on in leaps and bounds, and has everything you want. Ipoh and Penang have traditionally been known as the food havens of Malaysia - but with its combination of cultural influences from the Portuguese (piri-piri springs to mind), the Dutch and the Baba Nyonyas/Peranakans, there is no doubt that Melaka has more to offer on the food front than anywhere else in Malaysia. Add to that great culture, history, shopping and a chilled-out attitude, and it's clear Melaka is amazing!