Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane in Melaka

It's really easy for Singaporeans to fill out the address fields on international forms.  City: Singapore.  State: Singapore.  Country: Singapore.  Yup, like all things we love to make convenient in the forms of 2-in-1s or 3-in-1s, our little island is also a 3-in-1!  That said, you can imagine how much (or should it be how little) land we have.  Unless you count making a 1 hour-odd drive (2 hours or more if the roads are jammed) between each end of the island a road trip, there really isn't much of a road trip you could do within the country.

Thankfully, we have our much bigger neighbouring country up north, Malaysia, with lots of road-trip worthy land.  Over the years, it has become increasingly convenient and affordable to make short road-trips into Malaysia even if you don't have your own car.  For travel into the nearer states, the most popular mode of transportation would be coach buses. 

Here are some of the larger coach travel operators in Singapore:
Grassland Express & Tours Pte Ltd Konsortium Express & Tours Pte Ltd Luxury Tours & Travel Aeroline

Booking your tickets:
  • A return ticket costs about SGD50+ on average for a return journey booked from Singapore, prices will vary accordingly during peak/non-peak periods.
  • Tickets can be booked online, or just make a visit to any of the tour agencies.  A good concentration of tour agencies may be found in these following locations:
    Pearl Centre / People's Park Complex / People's Park Centre / Golden Mile Tower / Golden Mile Complex
  • It may be cheaper to book a 1 way ticket in Singapore then purchase a return ticket in Malaysia for the returning leg, as the tickets there will generally cost the same amount but in Ringgit, so it's literally half-price!  Of course, this is a riskier approach and you may get stranded should you not be able to secure a return ticket.  If you intend to travel over the weekend or during some Singapore or Malaysia public holiday, it is highly unadvisable to take this approach.  Purchase tickets separately only if you have a flexible travel schedule.
  • The tour companies usually have several pick-up and drop-off points within Singapore and Malaysia.  Provide them with your lodging information and they will be able to advise a drop-off point nearest to your accommodation.
  • "Relak one corner" - Depending on how generous/patient the tour executive is feeling that day, your coach may end up waiting for tardy/missing passengers.  On my return trip, we waited for well up to an hour for a tardy and unapologetic ajumma who blamed it on wrong information being passed down to her.

This weekend trip was mainly a relaxing one with some casual town exploration and lots of eating in mind.  I've heard that Malacca is like an olden Singapore in the '60s or '70s - rich in history and heritage, and so was quite intrigued to make a visit personally.  Whilst researching on the state, you may be puzzled by the presence of 2 different spellings, Malacca and Melaka.  The latter is actually the Malay spelling for the state.  Whichever name you choose to go by, it's not wrong.

Without further ado, let's take a little walk around town!

Lodging:  Hangout @ Jonker
Hangout @ Jonker - building
with the round glowing sign!
If you're heading into Malacca over the weekend, you'll want to stay somewhere near Jonker Street for easy access to the night market there which only operates on Friday and Saturday nights.  Apart from the night market, the whole stretch of Jonker Street is also lined with some of the best eats in town.  Although never having stayed there personally before, I knew of Hangout @ Mt Emily's existence in Singapore and it seemed to have a good reputation as a clean, fun and wallet-friendly backpacker's hotel.  So while there were several other options for hotels in Melaka, I decided to give Hangout @ Jonker a shot, and was not disappointed.  The hotel is safe, modern, clean, and there's wifi access in rooms as well as computers near the pantry area on the ground floor.  Best of all, it's located just a stone's throw away from the mouth of Jonker Street.  No problem going back to the hotel for a quick shower/nap in the middle of your day whenever you feel like it.  And given that the weather is similar to Singapore - hot & humid, it was REALLY GREAT to be able to cool off and rest up after a long walk before heading out again.

Local Eats:
A&W Fast Food Restaurant
Being an '80s kid, going to the A&W house along Thomson Rd was part of my early childhood.  It was a major bummer when A&W disappeared from our sunny shores around the late '90s, so I can never resist a meal at A&W overseas when I come across one! Miss those curly fries and coney dogs!  Find an A&W outlet in Malaysia at their official website.

Calanthe Art Cafe
A very quaint cafe with the attraction being the 13 different states' coffee types on their menu.  A must go to satisfy the coffee connoisseur in you. ;)  Address: 11,Jalan Hang Kasturi.
The famed Crumble - much toooo sweet, even for sweet-toothed me.
Sak Ke Mah
Surprisingly, not many of my peers know what this snack is.  I've had it since I was a toddler, and it's also another damn hard to find snack in Singapore today.  Even in Hong Kong, I could not find Sak Ke Mah (沙琪瑪) of the standard I remembered from my childhood.  BUT.. I found it here in Melaka - at the large pastry manufacturer, San Shu Gong (三叔公) right across the street from my hotel!

San Shu Gong building
Also a relatively new landmark in Jonker, the San Shu Gong building stands 4 storeys high, and the ground floor is filled with oodles of asian pastry delicacies at very reasonable prices.  A great place to stop by to pick up some snacks as souveniers.  Address: 33 Jonker Street

Restoran Sup Lembu Tangkak (东甲牛腩面)

What is this?  It's cow intestines soup noodles. :P  Unlike pig intestines which have a really unique texture and taste which I cannot bear, cow intestines are really clean and taste almost like normal meat, 'cept a bit more chewy.  The restaurant seemed pretty popular too.  Worth a stop if you're in the area.  Address: 37, Jalan Merdeka, Tmn Melaka Raya
Chop Chung Wah Hainanese Chicken Rice
Malacca is famous for its authentic Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls.    Right across the street from my hotel, I was able to beat the long queues for this Chicken Rice by heading over early.  The rice balls are about the size of a ping-pong ball and have a nice sticky consistency which I liked.  The chicken however, I found rather tough and stringy.

What? I can't haz dark soy sauce?! :(
Note: They do not serve you condiments other than the chilli sauce on the table.  Not being a fan of chilli sauce and liking the dark sweet soy sauce with my chicken rice, I asked for some, and got a very grumpy reply that they did not have any available, bleah.

Retro interior
Opens at about 9am if I remember correctly. Head there as early as you can if you want to beat the insane queues which start forming as early as 11am, especially on weekends.  Address: 18, Jalan Hang Jebat

Jonker 88 Laksa

Another famed eatery with long queues along Jonker Street.  Served up here are variations of Nonya Laksa, and a really rich chendol dessert.  Not for the health conscious!  Address: 88 Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat)

Teh-si goodness
Stopped for afternoon tea at a random coffeeshop along Jonker Street.  It's really awesome to just sit down for a cup of coffee/tea and watch the world go by.  And you don't have to be in a snooty or atas coffee place to do it.
Photo credits: JacksonKoh
If you're not at Capitol Satay by 5pm, you can expect to queue for at least an hour to get a seat.  Not being the kind to queue that long for food, we sussed out another Satay Celup place and found Restoran Ban Lee Siang.  It was also pretty packed when we arrived, and a snaking queue also started forming when we were about halfway into our meal.  After eating at the restaurant, we concluded that Satay Celup is definitely not for the hygiene freak. The pot of satay sauce is never changed between groups of customers.  I guess as long as people do not 'double dip' their half-eaten food into the sauce.. it's not soooo bad?  Also helps that the pot is always over a fire.  Heat kills a good percentage of germs, right?  Address: Jalan Ong Kim Wee

Popiah uncle doing his thang!
During the day, street vendors along Jonker Street are a common sight.  I'm always a sucker for street food when I'm travelling abroad, so if the stall looks relatively clean I'll take a whack at it.  Must eat local food to get a feel of the local life, mah! :)
Yummy popiah!

Ringo Bar
1 of the 2 most popular bars along Jonker Street, Ringo Bar has a live one-man band.  With his trusty guitar, he belts out mostly oldies which come in a variety of English, Mandarin and dialects.  Right across Ringo Bar is the Geographer Cafe. The 2 bars are friends, and their live bands take turns performing throughout the night.  Address: 11, Jalan Hang Lekir

Foreground: Cheap beer
Background: Young beer
girls on duty
During happy hour, beer is as cheap as 40RM for a bucket of 5 bottles.  C & I averaged 2 buckets a night. -__-"

What to do, what to see:

Night market in action
Wooden clogs, how retro.
Jonker Walk - Apart from the food, Jonker Street also has shops selling apparel, crafts and other knick-knacks.  The highlight would be the night market which has many stalls selling all sorts of stuff at wholesale prices, and flavourful street snacks.  Open on Fridays and Saturdays from about 6pm onwards, till about midnight.

Left:  A night market stall owner has all his stuff jammed into his car.  Really quite a sight to behold!  Wonder if he can even see his rear view mirror... Lol~

Right:  Wooden clogs, or cha kiak, for sale.  This was also a common form of footwear in Singapore in the '70s.  I loved stomping around in these to create a ruckus. ;)

Christ Church Melaka - An 18th century Dutch Colonial architecture, this church is the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia.  The unique coral red paint on the building makes it a very prominent landmark in the town.  Also present are lots of gaudily decorated trishaws in the atrium area outside the church, something you won't typically see outside a church in other parts of the world!

Ruins of St Paul's Church - Another historical site left behind by the Portuguese, this church is no longer functional since the erection of the Christ Church Melaka.  For those who have never walked amongst historical ruins before, this is probably a good place to start.  Perhaps because I had just returned from Angkor Wat not too long ago, I wasn't that awed by the ruins here...  It's still always fascinating to see historical architecture though!

A'Famosa Fort Melaka - One of the oldest European (Portuguese) surviving architectures in Asia, the tiny gate house is the only part of the fortress still standing (and looks like it may well crumble to a pile of rubble in a few more decades).  The fort is heavily touristed during the cooler parts of the day, so if you want a clean shot of the fort, you'll have to brave the sun.  In the vicinity of the fort, there appears to be a museum of historical modes of transportation in an open park setting.  Quite interesting to see these up close as well.

Portuguese Village - Descriptions/photos of this place on the tourist map make it a whole lot nicer than it really is.  Unless you're intending to go for a seafood meal (which does not look cheap either), skip this place altogether.  It's quite a far walk from the town area (and this is assuming you know how to navigate there correctly the first time), and there really isn't much to see.  We set out in the morning, got a little lost, and finally found the 'village' about an hour or two later.  When we entered the 'village', it was a really 'WTF' feeling... Apart from the signboard screaming 'Welcome to Portuguese Settlement', it seemed like we walked into a huge empty carpark by a dirty beach, with an old school-like building at the side. O_o""""  Other than the couple of tatty wooden boats on the beach shore to entertain us shutterbugs for awhile, there wasn't anything else interesting in sight.  We weren't keen to shell out good money for whatever seafood cuisine there was either, so after taking a breather under the shade, we left the place hot, hungry, and feeling totally deceived~~~

Some other interesting sights spotted along my walks around the Jonker area and its vicinity:

Release the Kraken!
Spot the sleeping shopowner?
Singapore in the past, Melaka today!

Check out my Google Map of Melaka below!
View Melaka, Malaysia in a larger map
Posted by dawn.wong on 9/09/2010 11:45:00 PM in , , , ,


Useful information ..I am very happy to read this article..thanks for giving us this useful information. Fantastic walk-through. I appreciate this post.