Malacca (or ‘Melaka‘) is the oldest town in Malaysia and one of the country’s major historic attractions. Melaka (map) can trace its roots back to the 15th century when it was founded by a prince from Temasek (present day Singapore). The settlement grew very quickly due to its favourable geographic location at one of the world’s most important shipping lanes: the Straits of Malacca, which connects the Far East with India, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Melaka is a great day trip from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore but I recommend spending a few days there to truly appreciate its history, culture and atmosphere. Scroll down to view my Melaka photos with suggestions for things to do, see and eat in Melaka.
A short history of Malacca
…Malacca was second only to Venice in global trade in the 15th century. The port was regularly dominated by the cacophonies of hundreds of busy merchants who conversed in more than 50 different languages. The air was constantly filled with the scents of exotic perfumes and spices. The shelves at the market place were stacked with porcelain and silk from China, tea from the Indian foothills of the Himalayas, rice from Burma, dates from Arabia, carpets from Persia and a host of other merchandise.
In the early 16th century, the first Portuguese armadas arrived in Malacca, [and] proceeded in one swift move to conquer the weakened Malaccan Sultanate. The Portuguese ruled Malacca for 131 years (1511 – 1642) before finally conceding defeat to the Dutch, who in turn ruled the Sultanate until the Treaty of London (1824) by which Malacca was given to the British in exchange for the British colony of Bencoolen in Sumatera.
Source: preface of my university thesis
Through the centuries, Malacca became a melting pot of cultures. Immigrants from China, India and the Middle East settled in Malacca and assimilated themselves by adopting local customs. They soon became known as the Baba-Nyonya/Peranakan community. In addition, the mix of European (Portuguese and Dutch) and Asian groups created new ‘Eurasian’ communities. This cosmopolitan landscape exists till today and manifests itself in the local customs, architecture and cuisine in Malacca. During my recent visit, I spent a few days exploring Malacca in search of this unique melting pot of cultures.
Things to see in Melaka
Melaka’s melting pot of cultures is also evident in its cuisine. For instance, the Peranakan (Malay-Chinese) cuisine has its origins in Melaka. Portuguese colonists brought their cuisine with them too, which then fused with Malay, Chinese and Indian influences to create a cuisine unique to Melaka. Don’t miss the Portuguese specialties like Devil’s Curry and the famous egg tarts. Melaka food is a real treat so come hungry! Here are some of my favourite dishes:
I feasted on various Melaka specialties such as ‘onde-onde’ (glutinous rice flour/pandan balls filled with palm sugar) and sambal (chili paste) dishes such as sambal kangkung (water spinach) and sambal chicken, and asam pedas fish (spicy sour fish curry). And I certainly didn’t miss the satay (BBQ chicken/beef/pork on skewers) as well and the infamous Nyonya Laksa (a curry broth with chicken and prawns)! It’s incredible!
I also visited the Potuguese Village on the outskirts of town and had a terrific dinner there!
Check out this blog post with food and restaurant recommendations in Malacca.
I spent a weekend in Melaka but it really wasn’t enough to see all the sights and discover more of the Malacca cuisine. I have to go back! 🙂
Getting to Melaka
Melaka is a roughly two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. You can get there easily by bus or taxi if you don’t have your own car. Search for rental cars in Malaysia.
Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to visit Malaysia. Check the Malaysia visa requirements and apply for an online visa here.
Where to stay in Melaka
I highly recommend staying at the Casa del Rio, with its spacious rooms, riverside setting and excellent location.
I can also recommend the luxurious Majestic Hotel, the lovely Nest House guesthouse, or one of the boutique hotels housed in beautifully restored historic houses, such as Timez Hotel (links to Booking.com).
Read about things to do in George Town Penang, Malaysia’s other UNESCO World Heritage listed city.