The first of two quick stops in peninsular Malaysia in between visits to Kuala Lumpur was Melaka, a 2 hour journey South of K.L. on a very nice air-conditioned bus. Melaka is a very quiet and peaceful coastal town with a rich history. In the 15th century it was one of the most wealthy kingdoms in the world thanks to its prime position for overseas trade within Asia. Inevitably being such a hotspot meant that it also attracted attention worldwide, resulting in a series of takeovers by the Portuguese, Dutch and, of course, the British.
Whilst modern day Melaka is just a reasonably nice, quiet town not far from K.L. The European influences from the various takeovers remain evident in the layout of the town and the architecture. The town is centered around the Dutch Square and church, and the way in which cafes and restaurants line the river is very similar to European cities such as Amsterdam.
Melaka's history, however, is more interesting than its present. There really isn't much to see or do beyond a very touristy boat tour along the river which would have been better if the pre-recorded commentary had been in sync with what we were passing. By far the highlight of the boat tour was a chance to get fairly close to a number of extremely large monitor lizards that bask on the river banks.
The liveliest Melaka gets is during the weekend night market when market stalls spread all the way along Jonker Walk, the central road of the town. We spent a good couple of hours wandering around the market checking out the random tat available and eating and drinking our way from stall to stall. Monique was still finding veggie-friendly food hard to come by so we were pleased to find that amongst the various meats on a stick available in the market there was also fried potato...on a stick.
Towards the top end of the weekend market we came across a stage where some people were “singing” and “dancing”. It wasn't clear whether the people on stage were actual performers or just members of the public having a go at amped-up karaoke, but for their sakes I hope that it is the latter. Granted, I didn't know the words or the melody to the songs they were singing, but I'm pretty sure they weren't supposed to sound like that!
One feature that marks Melaka out from any other place we have visited is its public transport. We have travelled by many forms of transport throughout Asia including tuk-tuks, songthaews, rickshaws, cyclos etc but none have been as colourful as the vehicles that are available for hire in Melaka – bicycles with side-cars that are elaborately decorated with fairly lights, tinsel and pictures of well known cartoon characters. Imagine a gypsy wedding on wheels. They also play music as they transport you, and apparently they will play whatever music you request. If you've ever wanted to be transported around a town in a Hello Kitty emblazoned cart lit up like Christmas and blaring out death metal then maybe Melaka is the place for you.