A famed UNESCO World Heritage Site in Malaysia, Malacca (also known as Melaka) makes an excellent first or last stop in Malaysia, whether you’re coming from or headed to Singapore on your travels. This city has been recognized by UNESCO for its splendid mix of architectures, from the Islamic inspired structures from the days of the Malacca sultanate, to the Chinese shophouses in the cities’ Peranakan Chinese community, to the European influenced buildings and squares during the rule of the Portuguese and the Dutch.
As for the history of this fascinating city, the Portuguese came in 1511 and defeated the ruling sultanate in Malacca, and controlled this high strategic port until 1641, when the then mighty Dutch empire wrested control of the city away from them. In cooperation with the Sultan of Johor, the Dutch ruled over Malacca from 1641 to 1825, with occasional periods of British control during the Napoleonic Wars. The British took the opportunity to sabotage their friends during this time, as they shifted major trading to their own port city just up the coast in Penang.
Combined with the founding of Singapore in its superior location in the early 19th century, the port diminished in importance, but the architecture from its centuries of influence from the Portuguese and the Dutch remain to this day. Additionally, many modern attractions have opened in the area in recent decades, making Malacca a great place to end your time in Malaysia, or to get started on exploring this peninsular nation.
After routing the forces of the ruling Malacca Sultanate, the Portuguese constructed a massive fort to protect their newly won port. They named it A Famosa (meaning “The Famous” in Portuguese), and it at one time boasted four story high ramparts and four major watchtowers. While only one of the gate houses still remains today (The British trashed the fort when Malacca was placed in their “care” in 1808 during the Napoleonic Wars – some friends they were!), it still stands out as the oldest remaining example of European architecture in Asia.
Next, make your way to Chinatown, the oldest in all of Malaysia. This neighbourhood showcases some of the best examples of Peranakan architecture in this country, and the opportunities for shopping and eating well are particularly abundant. While here, be sure to try the Malaccan speciality of Chicken Rice Balls, a very savoury treat to have at lunch time. On weekends, a big night market takes places along Jonker Street as well, so try to time your visit to include this lively event if possible.
Rounding out the cultural architecture tours is The Stadhuys, a square built by the Dutch in 1650 to govern their newly acquired territory. Coloured in a very stunning red finish, these buildings housed the city hall, a church which still operates today, and The Museum of History and Ethnography, which contain tons of artifacts throughout the existence of this city, making this place a must-see on your sightseeing tour through Malacca.
If religious structures are an interest of yours, there are two Chinese temples in town worth your time. Cheng Hoon Temple is the oldest temple in Malaysia, and serves as a place of worship for Buddhists, Taoists, and practitioners of Confucianism. The most notable features here are a seven metre high flag pole that houses the remains of two of the patrons that fronted the money to construct this temple, and an opera house that delivers very moving performances.
Secondly, pay a visit to Sam Po Kong Temple, which was built to honour the sacrifice of Chinese traders who died on the high seas on their way to Malacca back in the late 18th century. Lacking a place protected from the elements to pray for their souls in the stead of their loved ones, they constructed this temple here so that they would never have to be without petitioners of their behalf.
Markets and Other Attractions
When you’re done tramping around to the various architectural delights of this picture perfect city, you will undoubtedly be very tired. Be sure to hire a trishaw in Malacca, and you’ll get back to your hotel in style, as many of these rigs are flamboyantly decorated.
After a relaxing dinner, sign up for a river boat tour of the Malacca River, where you can see more of this amazing place without having to take another step! Along the course of the river lies another modern attraction that sticks out like a sore thumb. Indeed, the Eye On Malaysia Ferris Wheel looks touristy, but it grants an aerial view of the entire historic core that will make it worth every Ringgit you pay to get on the elevated ride!
Finally, if the equatorial heat has got you down, the sight of the beach being erased by the breakwater at Malacca’s waterfront is a bit heartbreaking. Fortunately, a little known but beach fringed tropical island named Palau Besar lies just offshore. Unwind on the beach after a couple of sweltering days of sightseeing, and with a mango shake in hand, it will serve as a fitting end to your time in this storied city.