|Malacca is the capital of the state of Malacca, on the west coast
of peninsular Malaysia. There are some interesting legends surrounding the
foundation and naming of Malacca (in Malay its spelt Melaka). According to the
16th century Malay Annals, the city was founded by Parameswara, a descendant of
Alexander the Great. More likely, he was a Hindu prince and political fugitive
from nearby Java. The legend goes that Parameswara was out on a hunt in the
region and had stopped to refresh himself near what is now the Malacca River.
Standing near a Melaka (Indian gooseberry) tree he was surprised to witness
one of his hunting dogs so startled by a mouse deer that it fell into the
river. Parameswara took this as a propitious sign of the weak overcoming the
powerful and decided to build the capital of his new kingdom where he stood,
naming it for the tree under which he had been resting. Another account says
Malacca is derived from the Arabic word Malakat, meaning market. Malacca
had a navigable harbor sheltered by nearby Sumatra across the narrow straits,
ample supply of fresh water, enjoyed a prime location relative to the shifting
monsoon winds, and had a central location in regional trade patterns, all of
which soon made it a prosperous trading town. Its fortunes increased with its
official adoption of Islam in the 14th century. The Sultans of Malacca were
soon attracting Arab traders from far afield. However, Malacca continued to
trade with merchants of all races and religions. After the visit of the Chinese Muslim Admiral Cheng Ho in the
mid-15th century, contact between China and Malacca intensified. In exchange
for protection against Siam, Malacca became a vassal state to Ming China. To
ensure Malacca's safety, a new powerful kingdom was founded by the Sultan of
Samudra-Pasai. The power of the Malays began to rise through the 15th century. In the Malay Annals, the Sultan Mansur
Shah was mentioned as having 6 wives and the fifth was stated to be a daughter
of the Ming Emperor. However, in the Chinese chronicles, no such event was
Things started to change with the arrival of the Portuguese in
1509. They were at first welcomed, but Indian traders soon turned the Sultan
against the Portuguese and they had to flee. In 1511 the Portuguese returned,
and at their second attempt seized the city. This marked the start of the
formation of a large Eurasian community. The Portuguese turned the city into a
massive walled fortress complete with a tower bristling with cannon. It was
believed that such fortifications could withstand the encroachments of other
European powers eager for a slice of the Asian luxury goods trade.
An alliance between the Dutch and the Sultanate of Johor Bharu saw
the loss much of Malaccan power. In 1641 the Dutch navy put a blockade on Malacca
and they seized the city after six months. During the siege much of the
Portuguese city was destroyed.
Only after 150 years did the Dutch lose their hold on Malacca. In
1795 The Netherlands was conquered by the French, and the British were keen to take
over the Dutch holdings in Malacca. By that time, Malacca had lost most of its
former importance although it remained an important part of Asian trade routes.
The A Famosa gate is all that remains of the Old Portuguese and
Dutch forts. As the Napoleonic Wars wound down the British knew Malacca would
be returned to Dutch control. In order to make the city indefensible the city
walls were blown down. A last minute intervention by a British officer saved
the gate. Shortly after its return to Dutch rule, the Dutch and British
governments swapped colonies - British Bencoolen in Sumatra for Dutch Malacca.
Malacca is a center of Peranakan culture. When Chinese
settlers originally came to Malacca as miners, traders and coolies, they took
local brides (of Javanese, Batak, Achenese, and other descent) and adopted many
local customs. The result of this is an interesting mix of local and Chinese
cultures. The men are addressed as Babas and the women Nyonyas by
their servants meaning Master and Mistress. A small group of Eurasians of
Portuguese descent continue to speak their unique Creole, known as Cristão or Kristang.
The older part of the city proper has, in addition to the old
palace and the large buildings left by the Europeans, many private houses and
shops from nearly a century or more ago, put up by Chinese traders. Many of
these have beautiful details such as moulded porcelain tiles and painted
plaster reliefs on the front. Unfortunately, they tend to be not well preserved
and the city government decided to paint all the buildings in the historical
district a bright brick red some years ago, which detracts from their aesthetic
Note that on Tuesdays, many museums, shops, restaurant are closed,
especially in the Jonker Street area. If you have only one day to spend in
Malacca, do not go on Tuesday!
Where to go and
What to See?
Food for Thought
- Stadthuys - completed in
1660. Nowadays, it houses the historical museum. This is one of the oldest
Dutch buildings in the east.
- Christ Church - this church
was built between 1741 and 1753. It replaced a Portuguese church, which was
shattered. Bricks were shipped from Zeeland in the Netherlands. On the floor of
the church you will find Dutch tombstones. It is the oldest protestant church
in Malaysia. On the altar you will see sacramental silverware, still bearing
the Dutch coat of arms. Open: Thursday - Tuesday.
- Red Square - beautiful
Square around Christ Church and the Stadthuys. On this square you will find the
Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower, it looks Dutch, but it is not. It was built
- Porta de
Santiago - You will find these remains of the Old Portuguese fort A
Famosa on Jalan Kota, around St Paul's Hill. What you can see nowadays is a
mostly Dutch reconstruction, bearing the VOC coat of arms.
- St Paul's
Church - take a path up the hill and it will lead you to this church. It
was originally built in 1521, by the Portuguese. It became a fortress in 1567,
until 1596. After the Dutch siege it became St Paul's, before it was known as
Nossa Senhora da Annunciada (Our Lady of Annunciation). It has been used as a
burial ground for the Dutch. You can still see the tombstones, along the walls
of ruins of the church.
- Muzium Budaya - Below the
hill you will find this museum (Melaka Cultural Museum). It is a reconstruction
of the istana of the Sultan. It was built in 1985.
- Baba and Nyonya
Peranakan Museum. Step back in time with a visit to this museum which is an actual
Peranakan heritage town house and is a great example of Peranakan culture. It
is located on Heeren Street (now known as Tun Cheng Lock Street).
- Jonker, Heeren
and adjacent streets - This is the residential heart of Old Malacca
just west of the Malacca River, with its narrow winding streets, beautifully
decorated houses, tiny shops, temples and mosques. The whole area is undergoing
a renaissance with new shops, restaurants and hotels catering to tourists
mushrooming everywhere. However, the area still has a lot of atmosphere and is
worth having a look around. One of the streets in this area is Harmony
Street (officially Temple street or Jalan Tokong), so called because
it contains the prayer houses of Malaysia's three main faiths - the Cheng Hoon
Teng Chinese temple, the Sri Poyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Hindu Temple, and the
Kampung Kling Mosque.
- Cheng Hoon Teng
Temple. Oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia and has an inscription dating
1685 commemorating the deeds of by Kapitan China Li Wei King.
- Portuguese Settlement - Here is where the descendants of the Portuguese who conquered Malacca
in 1511 live today. The settlement, located just southeast of the city centre,
consists of tidy rows of mostly wooden houses leading up to the Portuguese
Square (Malay Medan Portugis) and Hotel Lisbon on the waterfront. The
people here may look Malay but peer into their houses and you'll see the
characteristic altar with status of Jesus and Mary perched high on their walls.
Quite a few still speak Cristão (or Kristang), a Portuguese patois. There are
also many restaurants for you to sample Portuguese fare. The most interesting
times to visit is during Intrudu - usually in February - when the you'll
get a Songkran-like drenching with buckets of water thrown at you; Festa San
Pedro to commemorate the Feast of Saint Peter in June, where there are
processions, cultural shows and general merry-making; and Christmas when
the whole settlement is decked in decorative lights.
- St John's Hill and Fort. Malacca's other fortress located on top of St John's
Hill in Bandar Hilir, south of the city. Pretty views of the surroundings from
- Hang Li Po's Well - Legends have it that Hang Li Po was a Chinese princess from the Ming
dynasty who was sent to Malacca to wed Sultan Mansor Shah in the 15th century
when the Malacca Sultanate was at its zenith. She had 100 followers who were
all settled on Bukit China, which means Chinese Hill, and this well, at the
foot of the hill, was where they got their water.
- Poh San Teng Temple - This temple is located at the foot of Bukit China and next to Hang Li
Po's well, was founded in 1795 by Kapitan China Chua Su Cheong as a graveyard
temple. The main deity is Fu-te Zhen Shen. the temple was built to allow the
descendants of those buried on Bukit China to conduct prayers to their
ancestors away from the heavy rain and strong winds.
- Bukit China - Bukit China is the one of the largest Chinese cemetery outside of
mainland China. Graves can be found here that go back to the late Ming dynasty
(mid 17th century). The earliest grave found so far dates to 1622, but
unfortunately many graves were exhumed during the British occupation of
Malaysia. Bukit China is a famous jogging spot for the locals and jogging
tracks are available all over the hill. When you climb on top of the hill, you
will have a nice view of the town.
- Kampung Morten - a village of traditional houses, it is located on the west bank of
the Malacca River.
Besides the usual Malaysian fare, you'll be able to sample some
rather peculiar Malaccan food. On top of the list is of course Peranakan or
Baba-Nyonya food, which until recently was totally un-commercialised and
confined to the kitchens of old grandmothers. Now, there are a string of
restaurants claiming to serve Peranakan food, most unfortunately seem to be on
the tour bus circuit. The dishes are slightly different from that of the Penang
Peranakan. Usual ones include ayam pongteh (chicken in bean sauce,
originally cooked with pork) and ayam buah keluak (chicken cooked with a
bitter fruit) and a whole array of desserts. Another famous Malacca dish is
what is commonly called "chicken rice ball".
Although it is called Hainanese chicken rice, it is not from
Hainan, China, but invented by the Hainanese immigrants to Malaysia a long time
ago. The chicken for this dish is very much the same as the boiled chicken
offered throughout Malaysia; what is unique is the rice - it comes in ping-pong
sized balls. Yet another Malaccan speciality is satay celup. It is like lok-lok found in other parts of the country but instead of dipping your skewered
foodstuff (fishballs, crabsticks, meat, prawns and etc) into boiling water; you
dip them into a boiling vat of satay sauce. The sight of boiling satay sauce
may not appeal to you but the crowds at the satay celup outlets seem to suggest
that many have overcome their phobias.
Of course, Malacca is where you'll find Portuguese-Eurasian food.
The greatest concentration of outlets will be at the Portuguese Settlement.
Seafood is popular, as is the fiery "devil curries".
The recent tourism boom has seen many new food and beverage
outlets open in Malacca, and especially in the heritage area of Jonker and
Heeren Street. However, competition is great and some outlets fail to survive.
Places you discover on your first visit may not be around anymore on your
Geographér Cafe is situated at Jonker Walk. The
restaurant/bar occupied a renovated old Malacca shop house. This café is quite
comfortable and lively/noisy restaurant/bar serving Malaccan standards with occasional
Jalan Kee Ann
Night Open Air Eating Stalls, Jalan Kee Ann. Open air eating stalls for
locals and visitors. It is a good place to eat and see the world go by while
eating in the open air. Local cuisines include won ton mee, popiah, yew keow,
sugar cane water, sup kambing, satay, and a lot of other fares.
Tengkera Mee Soup, Located along Jalan Tengkera near the
famous Tengkera Mosque. Noodles (many varieties) served Chinese style but by a
Malay/Muslim vendor and are therefore Halal. Open from mid-afternoon until when
the noodles are sold out.
Jonker Walk has many
food and drinks outlets which serve Nyonya laksa (laksa with coconut
milk) and desserts like cendol, including the sinful durian cendol.
Umbai is a
town between Jasin-Central Melaka borders in Melaka. The famous Umbai's Medan Ikan Bakar (grilled fish)
is located in Umbai Beach. Approx. 20-30 minutes drive from Malacca town. Come
and savour varieties of seafood grilled on open fire and served piping hot.
Have it with rice or just on its own with Assam dip.
The first fully air-conditioned 4 storeys
shopping complex in Melaka Raya is the "Mahkota Parade".
Built and opened in mid 1990's, this shopping complex is very popular with
locals and visitors alike. There are abundant car parks and a major
Departmental Store named "Parkson Grand" operates here.
Within this shopping complex, there are numerous shopping outlets ranging from
food outlets, photograph shops, book shops, souvenir shops, bowling alley named
"Golden Bowl" & Cineplex’s. "Mahkota Parade" is, indeed, a one-stop family shopping & entertainment centre.