If it wasn't for the traffic, the lack of sidewalks, and the heat, Melaka is a place where I could easily spend a week or two.
Older than Kuala Lumpur, the city has a lot of history and many historical buildings remain, mainly from the Dutch colonial period (17-19th century I believe). The Dutch came after the Portuguese and before the British. And before all these Europeans came Chinese men who inter-married with the local women creating a race called Baba-Nonya (or Perenakan). They have a distinctive cuisine and culture which is highlighted here in Melaka.
I stayed 3 nights in a lovely and peaceful guesthouse (built of wood, in the traditional style – see pic) where the owner went out of his way to help and spoke very good English. Yesterday I took advantage of the big backyard where I spent part of the day writing and preparing the photos for this journal. The town is much more pleasant in the late afternoon/evening anyway, after the heat of the day has subsided.
Taking a break (the first since starting the trip) was a good idea as it made me feel a lot more centered. By the time I arrived Sunday night, I was feeling tired, hot, somewhat frantic and had a bad case of the sniffles.
Melaka streets are almost as twisted as KL and chocked with traffic. The locals know the many short cuts and alleys that allow them to walk around, away from the traffic, but to the newcomer it's not obvious. Kenny (the guesthouse owner) drew me some extra lines on the basic map to help, but there is no way to know what is a dead end or a through alley at first, so I followed the main roads which are definitely not meant for pedestrians, trying to reach the shopping mall where I was hoping to buy antihistamines, swearing at the traffic that wouln't let me cross, and the lack of sidewalks and traffic lights. Pharmacies were still opened at 7:30 pm but the pharmacist was gone and I learned that antihistamines can't be bought over the counter in Malaysia. :(
I then had to backtrack through the traffic and go looking for a restaurant recommended by Kenny. When I finally found it (after checking my map like 100 times), there was a 2 hour line-up outside! And it was already 8 pm! Of course it was New Year Day, which was easy to forget in the 33 degree heat. The streets here were narrower, lined with small houses and restaurants, but still no sidewalks and still tons of cars! As I started looking for another place to eat, trying not to step in the gutter or get run over by a car, I had a mini breakdown... oh about 30 seconds long where I just wanted to go home. But then I saw a Chinese open-air food place. I couldn't read the menu or anything but I was hungry and tired so I stopped by. They were friendly enough, but the food took forever to arrive. I think they were trying to feed a dozen people using one wok or something. Finally got my food (rice, chicken in oyster sauce, greens). However by the time I left it was 9:15 pm and I had no idea how to get back to the guesthouse. I tried to follow one of Ken's shortcuts, but ended up lost in a maze of narrow lanes. Just at the moment when I realized that this maze of lanes was huge and that I really had no idea where I was going, I heard my name called from a car and by some strange coincidence, Kenny was there, returning from dinner himself with some friends. Saved. :)
On Monday I went out to explore the town, first the colonial centre on the east side of the river, then Chinatown, whose narrow streets are lined with ornate Chinese temples, shops, cafes and restaurants. And even a weird looking mosque. I stopped several times for refreshments and some food, and got on the last guided tour of the Baba-Nonya Heritage Museum located in three adjoining Perenakan houses from the 19th century, decorated in beautiful chinese woods inlaid with mother-of-pearl, tapestries, porcelain, etc. And it was air-conditionned. :) After that, I walked on the pedestrian (finally) riverside promenade. I made a stop at the Discovery Cafe to buy my bus ticket back to the KL airport (they act as an agent) and had to wait around quite a while for the ticket to be delivered (but met some interesting characters so it wasn't so bad, except I kept getting conflicting information from everybody).
After another stop for a cold drink/snack by the river (beautiful and peaceful here), I called it a day and decided to go back to the guesthouse... when it started raining. Caught without an umbrella or rain poncho, I was fair game for one of the rickshaw drivers who asked me if I needed a ride. The rickshaws here look like Carnival floats, all bedecked in paper flowers and flasing lights (see pics) and they play loud rock or bollywood music. :) He wanted 25 Ringgits (about $8) but I bargained him down to 15. I think it helped that he saw me looking at a 19 ringgits umbrella in a shop. Ha ha ha.
I had a heat headache by the end of the day, but a much better feeling than the previous day. And finally yesterday, after resting most of the day, I ventured out around 5:30 pm to check the centre of town in a different light, and also climb to the ruins of a Portuguese church (turned Dutch church, turned British store room) where I got a view of the sunset, big and red. These pics are still in my camera so they will come later. This was followed by another walk along the river and Chinatown again. It's much more pleasant to walk at night, and you see different things because this is when locals are the most active (Chinese women doing tai chi, etc)|.
Sorry for the long novel but I'm at the airport with time to kill. :) And who knows what kind of wifi connection I'll be getting in Cambodia!