One of Singaporeans' favourite day-tour destinations, Malacca (Melaka) is known to be a charming little city, dotted with rustic buildings and throbbing with a rich heritage created by a past of strong Malay and Muslim tradition and subsequent European colonisation.
After flourishing under the auspices of the Melaka Sultanate as a benchmark of language, literature, and the arts of the Malay world, Malacca endured a series of takeovers under Portuguese, Dutch and British administration, and has achieved UNESCO World Heritage listening for its cultural legacy. As a result of strong ties with Chinese traders in the past, Malacca has a rich Peranakan (Straits Chinese) heritage which is centred around Bukit Cina (China Hill). A small group of Eurasians of Portuguese descent continue to speak their unique creole, known as Cristão or Kristang.
There are actually various tour packages to Malacca designed to let visitors immerse in the history and culture of what is dubbed by locals as The Historic State (Negeri Bersejarah), with a short 3 - 5 hours drive from Singapore linking you to the 3rd smallest state in Malaysia. Many bus companies operate from the Lavender Street bus terminal in Singapore directly to Melaka Sentral. Buses run up to an hourly basis from morning to evening, and fares can vary starting from around S$14 to S$50 one way depending on class of the bus. Companies include Transnasional and Malacca-Singapore Express.
If you are there on a free and easy itinerary, take a boat trip (45 min. from the Maritime Museum. Hourly 10am - 11pm. Tickets RM10.) along the Malacca River past 'Little Amsterdam', the old Dutch quarter of red-roofed godowns. Be sure to check out the ever popular and bustling Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat). This is where you can have a taste of delicious and authentic Malaccan dishes such as chicken rice balls, and experience the carnival-like atmosphere of the street, especially on weekends. Sample Malay dishes such as ikan asam pedas (hot and spicy fish) and cencaluk (a condiment made from fermented shrimps), or famous Peranakan dishes such as Itik Tim (a soup containing duck and salted vegetables).
For history buffs, Malacca's more important museums are the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum (48-50 Chinatown. Daily 10am - 12.30pm, 2pm - 4pm. Admission RM8.) and the Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum (Muzium Budaya, Istana ke Sultanan. Daily 9am - 5pm, except Fridays closed from 12.15pm - 2.45pm. Admission RM 2.), the geographical centre of Malacca. If you have time, check out the Independence Memorial Museum (Tue-Thu, Sat & Sun 9am - 5pm; Fri 9am - 12nn & 3pm - 6pm. Admission free.), housed in an elegant mansion, and the Museum of Ethnography (Stadthuys, Dutch Square. Daily 9am - 5pm, except Tuesdays closed and Fridays closed from 12.15pm - 2.45pm. Admission RM 2.), housed in one of the oldest Dutch buildings in the East.
Malacca's rich history is etched in historical sites around the city. Visit the structural remains of past Portuguese colonisation, the 1511-constructed Fort A Formosa - which suffered severe damage during the Dutch invasion. On Bukit St Paul, look out for St Paul's Church, built in 1521 by the Portuguese and subsequently used by the Dutch and British, and on Dutch Square, the iconic Christ Church (Mon - Sat 8.30am - 5pm. Admission free.), built in 1753 to commemorate the centenary of Dutch occupation of Malacca. Farther afield is St Peter's Church, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Malaysia, and St Francis Xavier's Church, a twin-towered, nineteenth century neogothic structure.
In Chinatown, check out Masjid Kampung Hulu, built in 1728 and is thought to be the oldest mosque in Malaysia still in its original location. Masjid Kampung Kling, built in 1748, features a pagoda-like minaret, English and Portuguese glazed tiles, and a Victorian chandelier hanging over a pulpit carved in Hindu and Chinese designs. Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (+60 6 282 9343. Daily morning - 7pm.) is thought to be the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. On Jalan Tengkera, Masjid Tranquerah features an architecture style of Chinese, Javanese and Arabic influences on the minarets and the roofs.
Keen on some retail therapy? Jonker, Heeren and adjacent streets form the heart of Old Malacca, west of the Malacca River, complete with narrow winding streets, beautifully and intricately decorated houses, quaint and tiny shops, particularly those selling antiques, and colourful temples and mosques. This area is undergoing a renaissance with shops, restaurants and hotels catering to tourists popping up along the streets, but retains its uniquely charming atmosphere. Alternatively, make your way to any of the several modern shopping centres such as Mahkota Parade Shopping Centre (Bandar Hilir opposite Padang Pahlawan. +60 6 282 6151. Daily 10am - 10pm.).