This is the second instalment of my Malaysian travel diaries, regarding my adventures in Melaka, the historical gem of Malaysia. Things here are crazy and relaxed at the same time, like an active city with a chilled out vibe. A lot of Malaysians come to work here, so they are happy to hang out with you, as they are travellers too!
On the bus from Kuala Lumpur (ticket for 2 hours of travel 9RM – $2.80, massive reclining seat), I had the pleasure of having a guy stare at me unabatedly for 2 hours. He even switched seats to get a better view. I ignored him and mentally went through my knowledge of Taekwondo so I would be ready if he tried anything. At the end of the trip, he tried to talk to me as we were getting off the bus. This is the conversation (italics are my thoughts):
“Hi, where are you from?”
“I like Australia! I’m from Iraq, I have many friends in Australia”
“Where do you come from in Australia?”
Nowhere you’ve heard of I’m sure
“Are you married?”
I used my Lonely Planet to get the right bus into town, although all it said was ‘get the number 17 bus into town’, so I still spent 15 minutes circling the bus station until I found it. A 40c bus ride later I was in the beautiful town square in the historical centre of Melaka, which is full of colonial style buildings, everything is covered with flowers and the song Gangnam Style blares constantly from the decked out rickshaw that tourists take to see Melaka.
Lonely Planet recommended I stay in China Town, which has many cheap guesthouses, so I trundled off, hoping to find something suitable. It turns out I’m pretty hopeless at map reading (like you guys didn’t know that already – and don’t even talk about Austria please, I’m trying to forget). So I was walking down a street, looking like an overburdened turtle, when a tall white guy rides up to me on a bicycle and asks me if I already have a guesthouse. I say no, and he shows me to a guesthouse just up the next alley, the Sayang-Sayang Zero Art guesthouse. It has 6 beds, although 2 are taken by the people who work here, so it’s pretty small! I pay 15MR ($4.70) per night for a bed. At the moment there is only one other tourist here, Lluis (pronounced Luiz), a guy from Spain who is going to Australia next. I think he likes visiting during Australia Day as he was there this time last year as well!
The guy who showed me to the guesthouse is Chris, a long-haired lanky guy from Bulgaria, and he works in the bicycle shop connected to the guesthouse. He has been in Melaka for over about 2 months and has loads of funny stories about the place. One of the local characters is a guy they just refer to as ‘the crazy man’. Apparently he just hangs around the front of the bike shop and annoys people. Chris described how he would steal stuff like flowers, red Chinese lanterns, paintings and other stuff and make these little gardens behind the bicycle shop, or sometimes in the middle of the road which annoys motorists no end as they have to wait until he moves it off. “He gave me this pack of cards” said Chris, showing us a packed of Tiger Beer playing cards, “but it was probably because he stole my phone”. A few days ago the crazy man was arrested and put in jail, but a lady friend sprung him, so now he walks around town with her by his side. He has calmed down a lot and is no longer annoying people – not sure how scary that makes Malaysian prisons, but I’d rather not find out!!!
Another story included a spot of sabotage to the bicycle shop, either by the crazy man, or more likely from a competitor. The first time someone had inserted a stick into the lock used on the front door, but with the help of some tweezers, a crisis was averted. The next day, Chris came and found that someone had used a bicycle style lock, which had been threaded through the two door handles, to lock it. As Chris was standing there looking at it, a tourist walks by and says that it is his lock, and that someone had stolen it three days ago. Chris then rang the owner of the shop, who then organised someone to remove the lock. Sometime later Chris sees the guy walking away, but the lock is still intact. He goes to the shop to see how this is possible, and it turns out they cut off the door handles to remove the lock.
Back to my experiences here in Melaka though. I arrived on a Sunday which meant that the Jonker Street night market was on, a large market which has lots of different foods (although catering more for the Chinese tourists), as well as Melakan souvenirs and other typical market items. Earlier that evening, I had gone on a bicycle ride around Melaka with the girl who ran the guesthouse, Ying (although mainly she sat on a reclining sofa and watched YouTube videos) and a friend of hers, both Malaysians that were in Melaka on a ‘working holiday’. The ride was absolutely amazing, and I was able to see a side of Melaka that I would never have dreamt existed. I think I might try and walk some of the stretches and get some photos of the places we rode past.
After the ride, we had dinner at an Indian restaurant where I ate with my hand for the first time, the food was absolutely delicious. First you wash your hands at a sink, then you sit down and they place a banana leaf in front of you. Then they put some curry, some cucumber salad and some pickled cabbage on your leaf. After that comes a big helping of rice, over which is poured a watery curry containing potato and other veggies. Lastly, if you order meat, it comes in a separate bowl next to your banana leaf. You then shove it into your mouth (or, if you’re a newbie like me, all over your face). My meal was 8MR ($2.5) because I had it with chicken, but if you go vegetarian it’s half the price at 4MR ($1.25). The meal was so massive that I couldn’t finish it all. Next time I’ll probably go vegetarian because while the chicken was good, I didn’t really need it! Also, everyone else here at the guesthouse is vegetarian (bunch of hippies really) so I feel kind of awkward eating meat!
Back to the Night Market though, I went there with Venice, the friend of Ying’s that came with us on the bicycle tour. She explained to me what all the different types of food were and encouraged me to try a durian puff (bad idea, I couldn’t get the taste out for ages). As I explained the market was mainly geared towards the large number of Chinese tourist that visit, so there were lots of fluoro-coloured deserts, dried and fried squid, salty plums, as well as a whole range of sweets that I would never think of, and am still not sure want to try. I mean, where in Australia can you choose if you want your (sweet) pastry with chocolate, red beans or corn?
Some of the stuff they have here is not really my kind of thing. For example, Lluis insists on going to vegetarian restaurants for lunch (most non-vegetarian places here don’t serve meat and fish free dishes, and the Indian places that do only open at night usually, or have very limited menus during the day), and some of those dishes are really not my cup of tea, although a few are edible. It helps that the meals are so cheap, and I’ll see if I can order only half a helping (because they’re so massive I only eat half anyway) so maybe the price will be cheaper. The way they price things is pretty awesome too. You basically can choose if you want rice or noodles (or neither), then you add to your plate from the various buffet options, and at the end the person at the counter lifts your plate to weigh it (by hand, not on a scale), and has a look what you put on there (i.e. if you only took curry and no rice, you might pay more), and then tells you a price, which is between 4-6MR ($1.25-$1.90).
I have to be careful to strike a good balance between being too stingy (I get annoyed if the person in front of me pays 50c (Malaysian cents) less than me ($0.15), and way too pleased if I get the better price – as I said, it depends on the weight of the plate and what you have on there). On the other hand when paying for accommodation you can’t think like that otherwise you’ll be like ‘30MR for a room, are you crazy!’ Then you convert it to Aussie dollars and you think – ‘well, actually $9.40 isn’t too bad for your own room’. Then you fall into the habit of thinking that the money is worthless and before you know it you’re spending like crazy.
Everyone says alcohol is expensive, but I guess it depends were you buy it and what kind you buy. For example, you can buy 6 cans of beer from the local corner shop for 30MR, which works out to be 5MR each, about $1.55 a can (although they are slightly smaller, about ¾ of the size, of an Aussie can). So not expensive when compared with Australia (although I think only Singapore and Scandinavia can compare to Australia really), but a lot more expensive than neighbouring countries (Thailand buckets – 200ml of Smirnoff mixed with 2 redbull cans, about $7-8, and I’m sure Bali and Laos are even cheaper although I’ve never been there, must go and do some on-ground research).
As I mentioned earlier, every night we go for a bike ride around Melaka, and have dinner somewhere along the way. Tuesday night we went to a local night market in the next neighbourhood. Because it’s not publicised, and it’s not near the tourist strip there were not many ‘obvious’ tourists there (I say this because a lot of tourists from China and neighbouring countries come here, and it’s hard to tell if someone is Malaysian due to the Chinese and Indian settlers that came here a long time ago). You can tell if someone is ‘Malay’, the indigenous people of Malaysia, as they are brown-skinned and have distinctive features, but most of the other Malaysians could be Chinese or Indian by appearance. Similar to Australia, the Malaysian government practices ‘positive discrimination’ to ensure the indigenous Malays get more educational and job opportunities. This is one of the reasons non-Malay Malaysians study overseas, as the government-run universities give first preference to the indigenous Malays.
The day before (on Monday night), we rode our bicycles through the ‘suburbs’ of Melaka, which was kind of strange as it was just theses really narrow roads (room for one car) and ramshackle old (colonial style) houses, and you felt a little like you were invading their personal space as you could see right into their backyards, but the people (and especially the kids) were very friendly and would smile and wave at us as we drove past. We ate dinner at this awesome hawker centre that served all sorts of different kinds of food. We all got different dishes and tried each dish. I loved the noodles with pork mince and the deep-fried bean curd (smells like hell, tastes like heaven).
Warning: Totally random paragraph about a game of badminton ahead, feel free to skip J
After dinner we rode back to Zero Art and two Canadians and I had a couple of beers at the side of the river (the corner shop opens onto the river and provides seating for patrons), the river is lined with colonial style buildings, old lamps and is very atmospheric. At 10:30pm, 7 of us rode to the sports hall and played badminton for an hour. Venice doesn’t play, so I was partnered with Ken, the husband of the lady who owns the guesthouse, Ken and Lluis partnered and the two Canadians Maya and Dave were a team. We played, and whoever won had to stay on the court and play the next team. For example it was Tim and I vs the Canadians, we won, then Tim and I had to vs Jing and Lluis, then they won, and then it was Ken and Lluis Vs the Canadians. It was a lot of fun, but I think I pumped out about 2 litres of sweat which was totally gross! Tim and I did pretty well, although Jing and Lluis were clearly the superior team (Jing is an amazing player), but unfortunately the Canadians were pretty average as a team (even though they were engaged!), but as single players they were pretty good. I am really bad at singles, but am decent as part of a team.
In general, life in Melaka is pretty laidback. I get up, have my morning coffee run some errands if I need to, like buy a bottle of water (I found cheaper water at a nearby store, but still can’t find lithium batteries for my Steri-Pen, should have bought some in Australia before leaving!!) or go to the ATM. As I mentioned, life is pretty cheap here. If I spend 15RM on accommodation, 5RM for lunch, 5RM for dinner and 15RM for incidentals, then it costs about 40RM ($12.50) per day, which isn’t breaking the bank.
When I first got here, I intended on only staying for about 3 days or so, but then I asked Ying if she could show me any traditional Malaysian dances. She said no, but that a professional dance troupe was coming on Sunday, and they were staying at this guesthouse, if I wanted to stay till then and help out with the preparations. So I extended my stay for five more nights, and I’ve very excited to discover Melaka further.
I think I’ll leave you here today, hopefully leaving you with a taste of Melaka, and hungry for more adventures. Just be thankful I didn’t ramble on about my visit to the (awesome) Melakan museum, or my trip to the seaside with Venice… that would have another epic!
*I’m not, but in countries where you often get asked this question, it’s easier just to wear a wedding ring and fake it. I know, I know, I should be promoting the awesomeness of all us single ladies! After numerous pitying looks by other women and marriage proposals by the men, I save my energy for when I have time to get into a deeper conversation. I HATE fending off marriage proposals, especially when you’re stuck on a bus or a boat with someone for ages and can’t get away.