Travel

Published: Saturday October 4, 2008 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday July 11, 2013 MYT 11:08:43 AM

Malacca mustn’t be missed

Discovering the sights, sounds and delicious flavours of Malacca are now much easier with a rented car and GPS device.

Some people can tell many tales of travel in cities halfway around the world and offer smart tips on where to go and what to do, but are stumped when asked about what’s interesting in their own backyard.

Sadly, it seems many Malaysians are more familiar with the sights and sounds of other countries than their own.

The Kampong Kling Mosque.

This is a pity because Malaysia is a country blessed with ancient rainforests, challenging mountains, a thriving metropolis and a fascinating potpourri of culture and heritage, all waiting to be experienced.

With this in mind, Mayflower Car Rental has now come up with a self-drive tour that allows visitors to explore Malacca’s Heritage Trail with the help of a GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation device, Garmin Nuvi 205.

The GPS device is preprogrammed with all the places of interest along the heritage trail, complete with information and pictures, and a few other recommendations. All you have to do is key in your destination and press Go. The device will then automatically calculate the route and guide you via a simple, real-time map to your destination.

It sounded simple enough and we were eager to give it a go.

We began our journey from Kuala Lumpur by selecting the Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple, one of the country’s oldest temples, first.

The GPS device is programmed to track the vehicle’s speed and warn of speed traps, which is neat. But we found it to be annoying after a while because the device would beep every time we went above the speed limit, which was often.

As we neared the temple, we got a little bit confused because the device couldn’t detect the tiny back roads we inadvertently drove into. But it did recalculate our route and put us back on the right path when we took a wrong turn.

Since the religious attractions we were visiting were all within walking distance, we decided to park the car and take the device along. It works on foot too!

Hoe Kee ChickenRice shop’s famous chicken rice balls.

The Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple is dedicated to Ganesh, the Elephant God.

Apparently, it was the Dutch who provided the local Hindu community with the plot of land to build it.

Next door is the intriguing Kampung Kling Mosque, one of the oldest in the country. It sports a typical Sumatran design with a three-tiered pyramid-shaped roof in place of the conventional dome. The minaret resembles a pagoda, reflecting Far East influences.

Nearby is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, which has the distinction of having won a Unesco award for outstanding architectural restoration.

Stepping into the temple felt like stepping back in time. Its carved roof, ridges and eaves are elegantly decorated with Chinese mythical figures in coloured glass and porcelain.

A little further away is Jonker Street or Jalan Hang Jebat.

Here you will find some of Malacca’s oldest dwellings. The street is a magnet for antique collectors and bargain hunters, who come in search of art objects, furniture, Peranakan kebaya and knickknacks at the many galleries and shops that have sprouted here.

As the sun sets, the immaculately constructed Peranakan buildings are lit with red spotlights to better highlight the architecture and elaborate carvings. Come weekends, Jonker Street is closed to traffic and transformed into a night market selling all sorts of things.

A church in Dutch Square.

The selection of food here is not bad either, with a variety of restaurants, pubs and cafés offering all kinds of specialties.

Don’t forget to try Malacca’s famous chicken rice ball. The rice in this Malaccan speciality is boiled in chicken stock and flavoured with ginger, garlic and shallots. It is shaped into golf-sized balls before serving. The rice is eaten with steamed or roasted chicken, black bean and lotus root soup, Shanghai cabbages and assam fish.

According to Tan Hin Kit, 38, owner of Hoe Kee Chicken Rice (located at the end of Jonker Street), the rice ball concept began in the 1960s when his mum opened a shop by the port.

“The port back then was very busy; everyone was in a hurry. We didn’t have fancy cutlery, so the rice was made into balls and served in a plastic sheet for easy eating by hand. The trend stuck. We relocated the shop to Jonker Street in the 1970s, and my entire family, with the exception of a brother, is now involved in the business,” said Tan.

Another unique Malaccan delicacy is the Satay Celup, which is found only in Malacca. It is an interesting variation on the usual satay, whereby an assortment of raw and semi-cooked seafood, meat and vegetables on skewers are dunked into a boiling pot of peanut sauce.

Capitol Satay Celup, which is always packed, is a popular shop offering this delicacy.

If it’s authentic Nyonya food you hanker for, then head over to Ole Sayang Restaurant. The specialities here include Udang Masak Lemak Nenas (prawns cooked with pineapple in a spicy coconut gravy), Ayam Pongtay (chicken with fermented soya bean gravy and Chinese mushrooms) and Itik Tim (duck soup with salted Chinese lettuce and tamarind).

Of course, a visit to Malacca isn’t complete until you’ve visited the Portuguese Settlement and savoured the famous Portuguese grilled fish and other delicacies in open-air restaurants by the sea.

The adventurous will want to try their signature Devil Curry, a rich and fiery curry that may just prove too hot to handle for some €” consider yourself warned.

Eager for Portuguese food, we selected Portuguese Square in the GPS device and proceeded to follow the route marked out for us. Since I’d been to the square before, I was puzzled to find that we were being led in another direction. Maybe this was a short cut, I thought.

But after going more than 15km in the wrong direction and being led through narrow, laterite roads, we ended up at a Portuguese grilled fish stall in a small, darkly lit, obscure village.

We quickly got out of there.

To get around this GPS glitch, we decided to manually reprogramme Portuguese Square into the device and it led us to the correct place this time.

We were quite famished by then and was glad that Big Ben €” the owner of Pescado, Stall No 7 €” served us his recommendations of Salted Egg Crabs, Fried Lala, Portuguese Grilled Fish and other seafood, which were really yummy.

There is a stand-alone stall amidst the tables by the sea that you must also check out. Stall owners and brothers Tony, 42 and Robert Monterio, 49, go out to sea every day to free-dive for scallops, elephant snails, deep sea oysters, horseshoe crabs, cockles and clams.

“We have at least 12 different type of items for sale every day. Our fresh oysters and scallops are our best selling items. We get our oysters from a nearby island where we dive to the bottom of the sea during low tide. If we don’t have any oysters, we won’t open our stall,” said Robert.

He told us that they used different methods to catch horseshoe crabs depending on the cycle of the moon.

“There are 12 days in a month when the crabs come to shore to lay their eggs. On the days when they don’t, we will use a net to catch them. All our items are fresh as we keep them alive in a contained area in the sea if they are not sold.”

That night, we retired to the Renaissance Melaka Hotel.

Heritage sites

The attractions on the heritage trail are mostly within walking distance, so it’s best to make your way on foot. We began at Dutch Square, where Malacca’s historic red-painted buildings are located.

The Stadthuys, built in 1650, was the official residence of the Dutch Governor and is the oldest known Dutch building still standing in Asia. Today, it houses the History, Ethnography & Literature Museum.

Perpendicular to the Stadthuys is Christ Church, whose bricks were shipped all the way from Holland. Reputed to be the oldest protestant church in Malaysia, Christ Church is now an Anglican church.

Queen Victoria’s fountain, built to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, and the Malacca Clock Tower, presented by the wealthy Tan Beng Swee family, are all to be found within Dutch Square.

Next, we walked up St Paul’s Hill to St Paul’s Church, a chapel the Portuguese built, which the Dutch later used to bury their noble dead. St Francis Xavier was briefly enshrined here before his body was moved to Goa, India.

From here, we made our way down to the state’s most famous historical site, the formidable A’Famosa.

This ancient fort was built in 1511 by the Portuguese to consolidate position in Malacca. They clung on till 1641, when the Dutch breached their defences and took over. When the British came in the 19th century, they destroyed most of the fort.

Today, what’s left of it is the entrance wall (Porta de Santiago), which fortunately, is still well-preserved.

Nearby, you’ll find a replica of Sultan Mahmud’s 15th century wooden palace. The only building of its kind in Malaysia, the palace allows visitors a glimpse into the ancient Malay kingdom that once flourished here. It is now the Muzium Budaya and showcases Malacca’s royal culture via exhibits like clothing, weapons, furniture and a diorama of the court.

Facing the palace is the Historic City Memorial Garden, the spot where Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country’s first Prime Minister, announced Malaya’s independence from the British.

Whether you are a local or a foreigner, Malacca is worth a visit because it has an abundance of attractions. Be it heritage or food, Malacca has it all.

See Malacca in a different light with Mayflower’s 3D/2N Malacca Heritage Trail package. It includes two night’s accommodation, daily breakfast and 48-hour car rental with a GPS device. Visit allmalaysia.info for bookings and details. Packages start from RM760 for two persons.

Related Story:The Baba Nyonya culture

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