After our few days in Singapore, it was time for us to head into Malaysia and try out long distance travel on a bus. We were a bit apprehensive, as we’ve heard both good and bad things regarding SE Asia’s bus system, but the journey from Singapore to Malacca was relatively easy. Singapore to Malacca is about 4 hours drive time, although this does increase once you add in potential traffic and the border crossing, and we were hoping to get a bus with a bit of room (long legs and all), but were skeptical as they do tend to make things in Asia a fair bit smaller then we’re used to. There were dozens of options online for buses that took you right from Singapore central into Malacca; however, we read a few stories online that they will only wait a certain amount of time at the border, and if you miss it because it takes you longer to get through, then too bad. We figured as we’re travelling on Canadian and British passports, it was going to take us longer to get through than if we had Singapore or Malaysian passports, so rather than risk it we decided to take a local bus through Singapore to the border, and then get a Malaysian bus from there. This meant we could just get on the next bus available at whatever time we made it across.
It may be different at different times of the year; however, the border crossing was so smooth and only took us about 10 minutes in total to do, so we probably would have been fine with a direct bus. Having said that though, you can almost guarantee that if we had taken the direct bus, something would have gone horribly wrong and it would have taken ages to get through thereby missing our bus, but it worked out fine the way we did it. And it meant that Rich wasn’t stressing about having enough time or missing a bus.
The bus station on the Malaysia side is about 10 minutes away from the border crossing, but you can’t walk or get a taxi to it, so they have special bus services that run between the station and the border (if you’re not on a bus that’s going straight through to your destination). We hopped on the next available one and arrived safe and sound in Johor Bahru, Malaysia to try and get a bus ticket to Malacca. We were both impressed with the bus station, as they had a centralized ticket system, which meant we could rock up the counter and book the next bus at the time that suited us, rather than trying to figure out what company it was and then booking through them. Tickets in hand, we got a few snacks (can’t forget the bus snacks) and pretty quickly we were on a coach to Malacca.
Malacca is a historic port town that has gone back and forth between various different countries/companies/colonization’s before being handed over to Malaysia. Because of this, Malacca has a really fascinating mix of buildings and culture, and a great deal of history. Malacca was once the biggest port in the South Eastern hemisphere, due to its location between Europe, India, and China and it became a place where sailors could dock and ride out the monsoon season before heading onwards towards their destination. As such, it was a lucrative port to control (shocking). It went back and fort between the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the British for years before Malaysia (and Malacca) finally gained independence in 1957.
These days, Malacca is a fairly big city, but most of it’s history is centered around the old town and Jonker Street, and it’s easy to walk everywhere. We were originally going to only stay for 2 nights, but after getting there and being told that the Jonker Street Night Market (which only runs Friday and Saturday) was well worth staying the extra day, we decided to stay for 3. Being low season, we had our pick of where to stay and ended up at Jonker Tan Cheng Guest House , a great little home stay just a block from Jonker Street.
We arrived at about 7:30pm and noticed during the ride from the bus station to our
accommodation that there wasn’t a whole lot of places open, and we (me) were starving. Our host checked us in and when we asked if there was anywhere close by that was still open, he nodded and told us he would show us one of the best restaurants in Malacca that was just down the road. A bit skeptical, we stowed our bags in our room and followed him down the road to where there was indeed a restaurant still open. And it was packed! To hungry to even think about going somewhere else, we thanked him and managed to get a table at Pak Putra, which served Northern Indian and Pakistan food. We ordered a few dishes and some naan bread, and I think I would rate it as one of the best meals we’ve had thus far. It was so delicious; fresh with so much flavour in it, and the naan breads were cooked in a big kiln and served with dahl sauce to dip in. It was so good that we went back the next night as well and tried something else!
Something that we’ve noticed about Malaysia is that nothing seems to open till after 10am, and even then, it seems like it’s when the shop owners decide to open. We struggled in Malacca to find places to get breakfast and mostly ended up at overpriced cafes that catered to tourists (and were therefore open). Although the food was usually still delicious, it was never quite what we were looking for, menu or price wise. Breakfast aside, we really enjoyed Malacca and, as we had the time, decided to embrace the relaxed feel of it and not get up super early to try to fit everything we wanted to see in.
We spent our first day wandering around the town centre and eating basically. We didn’t do much, although we did spend an hour or so at a lovely riverside cafe to do some writing and going through photos, so it felt like a productive day. Malacca is quite neat in the fact that you don’t need to do anything specific or spend money as long as you’re okay just wandering around taking in the sites. So that’s what we did! I have to admit, I got so caught up in Malacca that I didn’t take a lot of pictures, but I do think that that’s okay sometimes.
On Friday we started the day much the same with a late breakfast before heading out. We decided to walk further into the old town and visit a couple museums for the morning, although the information in the museums was pretty basic and not terribly informative. Fun fact – museums in Malacca close every Friday between 12:15 and 2:45 pm, although we’re not sure why! It’s a good thing to know if you happen to be there on a Friday and are trying to visit some of them.
Once we had our fair share of history (and lunch), we headed towards the Melaka Straits Mosque, which is built on stilts so when the water is high enough it looks like it’s floating. Unfortunately, the tide was out when we got there, but it was still neat to look at. They welcome all visitors, and anyone can go into the mosque as long as you’re appropriately dressed, which we were not so we did not go in. It’s a fair walk from Jonker street, as the mosque is built on the ocean rather then the river, and it was getting pretty late by the time we were finished, so we grabbed a Grab to get back to our accommodation as we wanted to head to the Jonker Street Night Market.
They close the entire street (and some side streets too) off to vehicles for the night market, and there is a mix of food stalls and hawker stalls (which sell all sorts of stuff). They also have entertainment going on at various points throughout the street, as well as a stage at one end. We decided to make our way through the stalls and just eat whatever took our fancy. After trying various bits of meats and satays, we got chatting to a local, who happened to be our Grab driver from earlier in the day. He suggested we try fried carrot cake, as it’s a pretty local dish. Fried carrot cake is not actually carrot cake that has been fried (I’m not sure if I’m disappointed by that or not), but rather stir-fried cubes of radish cake. Not sure why it’s called carrot cake, but it’s popular in Malaysia as well as Singapore and it’s pretty delicious.
While wandering around, we bumped into our host who told us he was going to take us to a traditional Malaysian place and to come quick. We followed after him for a few streets before coming to building that looked like a giant shrine, where he ushered us in and, holding his finger to his lips, told us it was just starting. Bewildered, we went through the doors and discovered he had brought us to what I can only describe as a Malaysian dinner theatre. It was full and obviously filled with people from the same group (from Hong Kong we quickly found out), so we grabbed a table right at the back and watched the performance. Our host spoke very little English and didn’t elaborate any further, so with a shoulder shrug to each other, we decided to wait it out and see was in store. We ended up watching a mock traditional Malaysian wedding, which was pretty cool. We didn’t get any food – I’m assuming as we weren’t part of the group who was actually meant to be there – but as we’d just ate a fair amount at the street market, we were okay with that. We spent about an hour there watching the performance before deciding to thank our host and quietly slip out, as there was more food to be eaten else where.
A traditional bamboo instrument played by the ‘groom’, which I think is called an angklungs.
We finished the night with a steamed lotus seed bun before heading back to our hotel, feeling full and very amused.
Malacca was a pretty good start to Malaysia, but it was time to leave and head to Kuala Lumpur to see what Singapore’s sister city could offer us.