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March 1-4, 2013
(Posted by Xavier, pics and captions by Kristin)

From the beginning of our Malaysian trek the weather had been getting progressively warm and humid. On Langkawi, because we did our beach thing, we really didn’t mind it much. Then came Penang, where it was not so much the heat as the humidity kicking into gear. Then KL, at times I was ducking for cover and seeking the comfort of an air conditioned building. Now came Malacca, oh baby. But Kristin was loving it. Her temperature definitely runs colder than my now over-heated, pores wide open body temp. Scene set? Here we go.

We arrived into Malacca (also spelled Melaka), via bus, mid-afternoon. We found out we needed to take another bus (local bus) from the “Central” station (this place was on the edge of town!) over to the historic old part of Malacca, where we were staying. Jumping onto the overcrowded (I mean a sardine would have asked for a bit more wiggle room) local bus, fully backpacked (remember we do the double backpack, front and back) we hung on for dear life, because this bus driver seemed to enjoy having his passengers sway back and forth as he took each curve as if he was late to some important date. No seriously! Hanging on by one hand to one of those overhead handles, I strained with everything I had as I, along with everyone else, leaned closer to our tipping point. COME ON BUS DRIVER! Do you have some sick bet on how many passengers you can knock over? Finally making our destination we got out of the bus and into the hot, humid weather in Malacca.

We were greeted by a slew of festive trishaw drivers, all blaring a music mix guaranteed to include “Gangnam Style.” (After four days in Malacca, we now cringe whenever we hear it.)

After looking over the shoulder at a map of some nice tourist guide lady, we got our bearings and proceeded to swelter over to our hostel. Okay, okay, okay, it’s hot and I’m freaking dying, but Malacca is something special.
We crossed over a bridge of a wonderful canalized river with pedestrian walkways on both sides, and into old Malacca.

It was a Friday afternoon and you could sense a level of activity growing on the streets as all the local merchants were starting to set up for the night market that runs every weekend Friday through Sunday. Arriving at our destination we were greeted warmly by Joe, the owner of Galileo Guest House.

Once in our private room (yes, every now and then we splurge on our own room) I quickly put the air conditioner on full and stood in front of it. One last note on Joe, he was an A-1 host providing us with all sorts of information, tips, recommendations, always with a smile and a genuine concern for our comfort. He runs a great, clean guesthouse and has pride of ownership. We will always remember his special effect night lights in the hallway.

Old town Malacca can probably be covered on foot in one day if it weren’t for all the historical buildings, fort, museums, fantastic antique shops, wonderful eateries, temples, plus the great weekend night market! You can see a growing segment of businesses catering to both the local and international traveler.

We started, because it was literally up the street from us, with the weekend night market.

Walking down the now closed to traffic main street, we dabbled in many of the local foods, drinks, and pastries.

I was on a mission to buy a light weight, cool long sleeve shirt. Kristin was on a mission for some good local coffee. But on our first night out, Joe told us we had to go check out the talent show stage at the head of the street. It turns out that every week the local retirees do a staged karaoke show, and with accompanying lady dancers who want to show they can still shake a leg or two.

But these folks were good, and the audience loved them. I mean, at one point I thought if they have “New York, New York” on their karaoke I might just jump up there and get this whole group to sign along with me. It was that type of ambience.

This lady was seriously into it!

Yes I know that I’ve complained and whined a lot about the heat and humidity in Malacca, but the evenings were remarkable. Walking down the canal walkways stopping in on some of the many inviting cafes, bars, or restaurants to have a late night bite and drink, enjoying the quiet-running tourist ferries (the only boats allowed in the canal) cruising up and down the canal, was a must-do every night we were there.

One night we ran into this beautiful couple.

And what we really liked (we’re showing our age here) was that by midnight the loud festivities would shut down and only the quiet more romantic cafes would stay open. We had a favorite place we were partial to because they had Strongbow cider for Kristin. We also met a pair of cool musicians who gave us some CDs we can’t wait to listen to when we get home (check out Salam Musik on iTunes!).

If you’re in need of some authentic old Chinese antiques, Malacca is the place. It was unbelievable the amount of antiques you could find here and the stuff, wow! Large armoires, desks, bookcases, chests, doors, hinges, door knockers, chairs, tables, one of a kinds, hand made, forgotten craftsmanship, etc, etc, etc. And of course the larger best preserved pieces the larger the price tag. Many we saw already had sold stickers on them and were ready to be shipped around the world.

Many of the places we have visited on our trek are designated “World Heritage Sites”, meaning that UNESCO has recognized them to protect them as cultural and historically significant sites. Old Malacca is such a place. Your typical old Malacca type home is a 20- to 40-foot wide rowhouse, running several hundred feet deep and only 2 to 3 stories in height.

Most if not all of them have at least one large opening, floor to ceiling (like a 2 to 3 story open patio), in the home. This was done as a way to cool each household and to give each household an open air area. Many of these buildings (homes and businesses), have been restored to their original magnificence, but some have preserved much of the building, both inside and out, in a way that shows its age more, while trying to keep it as safe as possible. Such is in the case of the mysterious and enchanting Baboon House.

There is also your share of museums here too, including many we didn’t make it to, and one that was closed for repairs (damn, I really wanted to see that one). We particularly enjoyed visiting the preserved home (actually 3 homes side by side) of a wonderful old wealthy Chinese family (no pics allowed), and a museum we didn’t know anything about but were so glad we went to — the the museum for Cheng Ho (aka Zheng He), the Chinese man, warrior, eunuch (yeah, they did that stuff back in the day so that they would stay faithful to the emperor) who put Malacca on the map.

The story so goes that Cheng Ho, a high-ranking eunuch was given a command to go out and establish new ports for the expanding empire and build relationships with foreign powers.

Among the many ports he frequented was Malacca, the most significant and his favorite. The museum gave us a good historical insight to Malacca plus it has in it’s possession an impressively large and old collection of original Ming vases, plus untold riches from back in the days of Cheng Ho.

Our only knock on Malacca would have to be their love affair with the fruit durian.
What is durian you ask? Hummmm, let me explain it this way. If you were to cut one open in the fruit section of your local supermarket, you would soon be able to smell it in every corner of the supermarket. What does it smell like, you ask? Oy! Well, extremely pungent in a rotting, ugh, rotting flesh way. Yeah, I know, I didn’t mean to sound gross, but Kristin and I would have to struggle to make it by any stand selling it without going through some kind of stomach retching convulsions. Now if selling the fruit wasn’t enough, they also make candy, coffee, ice cream, drinks, all sorts of stuff, out of it. One place has a dancing Durian out front to entice you in for a try. DON’T DO IT!!! But I guess it sells (the Chinese love it). Well no buyers here.

What we did buy was my light weight long sleeve Indian style shirt, Kristin’s supply of instant coffee for our trek, and in the process we found one of the most unique and best coffee places ever, offering coffee typical of each of the 13 states of Malaysia. We tried two. Yum.

We ventured outside of old Malacca only a few times, a couple of times for some very satisfying culinary delights (see Mmmmmalaysia blog). We climbed a hill with an old historical Chinese cemetery (reportedly the largest outside of China).

The cemetery occupies the highest hill in town, with great views.

And went to see an old traditional Malaysian home, which is also opened by the family as a museum.

Unfortunately the home was not open, but we enjoyed the walk back down the canal to take in all the mural art along the way.

Some were pretty good.

And who doesn’t like a big picture of food?

One evening we did the requisite river cruise.

I even got a haircut…when we went to the tailor shop!

She had a soft spot for me as she whispered “you’re very handsome” several times in my ear while cutting my hair. Umm, okay, but Kristin is sitting right there lady. But it was the cool wet wash cloth that she used to reach under my shirt to rub down my chest that left me wondering, why oh why are you not my regular hair dresser back home!

We stopped at a pretty cool old temple near our guest house.

It was guarded by some cheeky dragons.

It had some special areas to remember the ancestors.

And some cheeky clowns!

On a special note we really enjoyed eating at a small family run diner around from our guesthouse. Little Momma’s sits right on the canal, serving some of the best inexpensive dishes we’ve had, and the best laksa I’ve ever eaten. It was a joy getting to know them and being like part of the family. Thank you Little Momma (on the left, with her brood).

We left Malacca falling in love with the people, the food, the history, the feel, the walks along the canal, the streets, the buildings and for having shared this place with each other. But mostly for always coming back to an air conditioned room. Aaaah.

With a quick one day stop over in Singapore our next country to explore would be China. But first Hong Kong.