The Historical City
Malacca, one of the most historical and most visited cities in Malaysia is without doubt the little gem awaiting to be discovered. Often forgotten by visitors, yet still terribly overcrowded with countless foreign visitors, it is together with George Town in the island of Penang and of course Kuala Lumpur, the greatest highlights for anyone visiting the country. These are in any case just a small example of the incredible beauty and countless landscapes, lush jungle, historic cities or amazing idyllic islands and beaches scattered all over the nation.
Gladly, this is a second time for me in this city. And while back in 2013 it was a terribly rushed day trip from KL where we did only spend 3 hours wandering the streets, considering 2 hours to come and another 2 to return by bus, it was certainly not enough. On this occasion, it was well enough time and much better planned ahead hence a great chance for also updating this travel guide and bringing it in line more descriptively and complete.
A few notes on history, it was founded in the 14th century by Sumatran prince Parameswara, who escaped to the Malay Peninsula when the state-city once he ruled, Srivijaya in the island of Sumatra, fell to the Majapahit. The Portuguese soon saw the potential on such a strategical location at the confluence of the river and the Andaman Sea in a natural harbour on the Straits of Malacca, and conquered to their empire in order to grow their colonies in the hyper profitable trade route, yet not for long. The Dutch came after taking over the Portuguese and as last, the British in the 19th century until Malaysia’s Independence in 1963.
A long history, many cultures and plenty of sights to see. From the Portuguese era there is not much left bearing the remains of two forts. However from the Dutch are many greatly preserved and notoriously what makes the city itself today, the Dutch Square. The British influence can be seen in the hundreds of buildings around Jonker Street area, these are the same style you can find elsewhere in Malaysia, and in Singapore. The shophouses, where the most famous element are the doors and windows on the upper residential floor and the arched or colonnaded porch at the street level with the family’s business. The sino-Portuguese architecture, also known as Chinese Baroque or the Straits eclectic style. No wonder why the old colonial areas have been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Since the city is quite small and very compact, the sights are literally one after another. Just walking the streets around are actually the only way to see them all, and will not take you longer than half a day to fully explore hence why there is no reason to start your day very early and finish late as it’s manageable during comfortable hours. Consider to avoid travelling here on Tuesday because it’s the day when most museums and shops are closing for their rest day.
Now in order to give you few notes with regards to the cuisine, it managed to retain a blend of Peranakan, Chinese and Portuguese with traditional Malay. Of course while noodles, spicy curries, satay and rice are the main base of the dishes, here you can find more sea food and fish and other local options such as Hainanese chicken rice, which although not from Hainan in China, was made here in Malacca by Hainan immigrants to Malaysia. It’s a delicious boiled chicken with rice balls. Another great dish worth to try is satay celup, where incited of dipping the skewer in boiling water, it is dip in boiling satay sauce.
For more information and history about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Malaysia’s currency is the Ringgit (RM). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Malacca
- Jonker Street West of the river, it is the heart of Chinatown and most famous street in the entire city. Lots of shops, restaurants and bars along and on the side streets.
–Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple On Jalan Tokong (Harmony Street), parallel to Jonker, it is the oldest functioning Hindu temple in Southeast Asia.
-Kampung Kling Mosque Also on Jalan Tokong, meters ahead, it is one of the oldest in the city established in 1748, with the current brick building dates from 1872.
-Cheng Hoon Teng Temple Few meters ahead on Jalan Tokong. It is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia, having an inscription dating 1685 commemorating the deeds by Kapitan China Li Wei King.
- Dutch Square Area East of the river, it is the major sight and reason number one why tourists do come to visit the city. It’s the heart of the once Dutch colonial center, surrounded by almost all of the original houses there built in the 17th century.
-Queen Victoria Fountain built by the British, it’s located at the front of the Christ Church and Stadthuys.
-Christ Church Built between 1741 and 1753 in replacement of a Portuguese structure in the same place, it is the oldest Protestant church in Malaysia still in use. The bricks were shipped from Zeeland in the Netherlands.
-Stadthuys Completed in 1650 as the office of the Governor, is a reproduction of the former Stadhuis that once stood on in the Friesland town of Hoorn in the Netherlands from 1420 until 1796. Nowadays it is the Museums of History and Ethnography.
-Tang Beng Swee Clock Tower Although it looks Dutch as the buildings nearby, it is in truth a structure built by the British in 1886.
-Bastion Middleburg At the west side of the square, it is a reconstruction atop the original foundations.
-Water Wheel Next to the Bastion, it is a replica and reconstruction of the Dutch engineering.
-Jalan Gereja The main street behind the Christ Church from the right side, containing some colonial structures and the market.
-Saint Francis Xavier Church On Jalan Gereja, a short walk from Christ Church. Dating from 1874.
-Jalan Laksamana The second main street in the Dutch colonial area. Full of historic red houses. It links Saint Francis Church with Christ Church
-Jalan Kota This street connects Dutch Square with A Famosa, surrounding the hill behind, with several mansions on the way now converted into museums.
- Fort A Famosa Meaning “the famous”, it is some of the oldest surviving European architectural remains in the whole of Southeast Asia, dating from 1586 when built. Nowadays only few walls and a gate standing.
-Porta de Santiago The only surviving part of the fort. Notice the year 1670 and the VOC (logo of the Dutch East India Company) inscription, this was added after the Dutch took control of the colony from the Portuguese and expanded the fortifications.
-Saint Paul’s Church At the top of the hill that lies behind the For A Famosa, was originally built by the Portuguese in 1521 as Nossa Senhora da Annunciada. It was fortified thereafter in 1567, and took by the Dutch who named it Saint Paul’s, becoming an important burial ground for the Dutch.
-Governor Museum Located atop the hill as well, was used as the official residence and office of the Dutch Governor of Malacca. Notice at the front, the car parked under a roof, it was the one the Father of Independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman took for a city rally to announce Malaya’s independence to the crowd.
-Independence Hall Opposite the Porta de Santiago. Depicting a great history about the country, the colonial rules and its independence in 1967. Free admission.
-Memorial Garden Behind the Independence Hall, is one of the largest parks and garden within the city centre.
–Sultanate Palace Built in 1984 as a modern reconstruction of the palace of the Melaka Sultanate, without the use of any nail, houses the Cultural Museum. Entrance fee 10 RM.
- St John’s Fort Malacca’s other fortress located on top of Saint John’s Hill in Bandar Hilir at the south of the city. The circle bus 17 passes by here. Pretty views of the surroundings from the top.
Most travellers coming to the city arrive from Kuala Lumpur at the north, or Singapore to the south, and while the city boast an international airport, it is very small with not many routes served, hence an option to discard.
Coming overland by bus is very straight forward in incredible comfortable buses, and also considering Malacca is a small city, travellers usually spend the day here before returning back to the bigger cities. The bus station in KL is Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS), easy to reach by Kmuter or KLIA Transit trains from downtown KL. A one way ticket costs between 11 and 15 RM, but please be aware that tickets can sell quickly. Fortunately, more than one company is doing the same route, but it can be problematic on your return. The best you could do is to get return tickets already in place! do not risk it, we can speak from experience of having to spend over 2 hours at Malacca’s bus station for the next available bus to KL.
When arriving to Malacca Sentral, you can take the bus 17 for 1 RM, this bus goes to the city centre and runs in a loop route. Get off at Dutch Square, where the red brick Christ Church and Stadthuys are located. Allow at least one full hour for your return trip to the bus station considering the traffic can be severe.
Lastly, there is Grab available everywhere in Malaysia, this is the equivalent of Uber but better, and cheaper! Simply download the app, register and you are done. You do not even need to provide a debit/credit card as you can pay cash. You will always know the total fare, and the precise location of where you are going. This comes very cheap to be honest, and the most comfortable way to move around without any doubt, especially if you are 2 or more people as it turns to be cheaper than public transportation then.
As this was a day trip from our main base Kuala Lumpur, we cannot recommend any place to stay in the city overnight. In any case, this is one of the most visited places in the country hence very prepared for the tourism of masses. While there are not large properties nor many international hotel chains, there is a great selection from luxurious to more modest and everything in between. And considering this is one of the backpacker’s heavens, the amount of hostels and apartments for rent very large. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, Hotels Click, LateRooms or Ebookers, and rental apartment sites such as and airb&b.