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Getting to know Melaka

Back in the land of open sewers

sunny 36 °C
View Get Out The Map on The Rymans's travel map.

We arrived in Melaka around 6 pm on Sunday, right smack in the middle of the biggest national holiday this nation enjoys: Hari Raya Puasa, the end of Ramadan. We were hungry and tired of sitting down after a five-hour bus ride from Singapore, so we headed straight out for dinner, equipped with a trusty hand-drawn map provided to us by the manager of our guest house. We followed the map religiously, but somehow managed to get completely, utterly lost as the sun went down. It was a particularly bad time to be lost, since due to the holiday, the majority of shops, restaurants and even hotels were shut down. After it had become completely dark and we were all starving and had no idea where we were, we ducked into a gas station to ask for help. The attendant, an elderly Chinese man, saw us coming, grinned at us, waved both hands while shaking his head, and said, "No English," even before we could speak. Optimistically, we blundered ahead anyway, trying every way we could think of to ask for directions to the night market (the one thing that was open in town and which we thought he might recognize). He just laughed and repeated, "No English!" So we left.

After another half hour spent retracing our footsteps, fruitlessly consulting several maps and wondering if we would ever find our way back, we stumbled onto Jonker Walk, a well-known street in Chinatown and the main route for the night market. That wasn't where our hotel was, but at least it was on the map. I would like to say we wandered the market for a while, but wandering wasn't really possible; there were so many people doing the same thing that it was more a case of pushing, shoving, and very slowly making your way forward, leaping into any open space as soon as it opened up. There were hawkers and food stalls everywhere so that the aromas of mysterious foods cooking hung thickly in the air and garbage from discarded foods and drinks littered the ground. There were bright lights and blasting music and more open sewers to dodge. Ciaran was getting jostled at every turn and couldn't see anything at all in front of him, but didn't seem to mind. It took nearly another half-hour for us to turn the corner into another street where we found cafes and bars with little plastic stools at tables out in the streets. We chose one and finally sat down, feeling we really deserved the beer we ordered.

The first thing we had noticed after checking in at our very rundown guest house (just one notch up from the hockey bag rooms at the Topi Inn, we all agreeed) was the smell of open sewers. We'd conveniently forgotten about them during our sojourn in Singapore. It had only taken us a day or two to get used to being back in the land of cleanliness and conveniences, and now it was going take us several more to get used to the real Asia again.

As a result, our first impression of Melaka was not favourable, but now that we've had a few days to check it out by the light of day, we're much happier. It was apparently designated a World Heritage city some years ago, and after a look around, it's not hard to see why. Apparently Melaka was a significant port and trading centre back when Singapore was just a fishing village (hard to believe when you compare them now!), so its history goes back to the early 1500s. It was first colonized by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British. There are remnants of its history in the buildings and architecture, particularly in the oldest part of the city where we're staying. We've been wondering which of the three colonizers was responsible for the bizarre circular streets leading in all directions that caused us to get so lost when we first arrived.

Another word about the open sewers: there are creatures living in them. Yesterday as we were walking along (single file, as we always do to avoid being run over on streets without sidewalks), I heard a giant splashing sound and turned sharply around, expecting to see that Ciaran had fallen into the gutter during one of his numerous gutter-jumping attempts (which we can't seem to subdue). He was still on the road, but was looking startled and wide-eyed. Since he wasn't in the sewer himself, we assumed he had dropped something heavy into it by accident -- but no, he had not. He said the splashing sound was caused by a giant lizard leaping out and then plunging back in. He's seen this twice. I missed it that time, and I would have wondered whether or not he was making it up, except that this morning I saw the creature myself, swimming capably along in the muddy Sungai River that divides the city: a giant lizard, at least four feet in length, slowly but surely swimming its way down the river. It gave us all a bit of a shiver, but we felt better to imagine all the rats it probably gobbles up.

We stayed at the Eastern Heritage Guest House for our first two nights in Melaka, but were not impressed with its windowless rooms, lack of mosquito nets, feeble bedside fans or single filthy shared bathroom, so this morning we'ved into better digs here at the Discovery Cafe. For the same price, we have air-con and a clean attached bathroom, so we think we'll stay an additional night. There is actually a public pool here in Melaka, but it's been closed all this time for the holiday and opens again tomorrow. Our plan is to see what else remains to be seen this afternoon, and spend tomorrow swimming and catching up on some school work before we head to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands the next day.

We found a McDonald's in the new part of the city yesterday and are only partly embarrassed to confess to having eaten there. We could find little else appealing that was open during the holiday (the pig's organ porridge at the food court didn't entice any of us) and were in desperate need of some A/C and a place to sit. Ciaran got a Happy Meal that came with one of those lame little plastic toys that would normally keep him busy for about three minutes. In this case, he spent well over an hour playing with it and at one point declared that it was "the best toy ever" and that he would likely still be playing with it in India several months from now. I thought how low his standards have sunk to think of a dollar-store pinball-type gadget as the best thing he has to play with. Yikes. Wait until he returns to Ottawa and rediscovers Lego...

Posted by The Rymans 22:30 Archived in Malaysia Tagged family_travel

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That lizard sounds scary!! Keep the kids away from the edge!
Sometimes the big yellow M can prove comforting compared with another night getting lost in the dark streets of Melaka! The girls were just the same - in fact we still have a colouring book thing from some weird diner place in Thailand...


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