Malacca: A historic city with modern street art

Pio Calderon · May 6, 2020

It being a port city, Malacca is a cultural mishmash of the foreign influences that have docked along its waterways. Occupied by the Portugese, the Dutch, and then the British at various points in history, the city’s various landmarks and culture show the interesting mix of influences. Adding to the mishmash of the three cultures is the influence of the Peranakans, the local Chinese-Malay group.

During my stay in Singapore, I decided to take a weekend trip to Malacca, which is just three hours by bus from the Lion City. Here are some highlights of my short trip and essential to-do’s if you ever find yourself in this historical city.

By Day

Take in the History

As I mentioned in the intro, Malacca has a very rich colonial history. And it definitely shows.

The most popular landmarks are definitely its churches: the Christ Church and the Church of St. Paul.

The former is a symbol of Malacca, with its brick-red Dutch colonial style architecture being immediately recognizable. It’s smack dab in the middle of Malacca, with lots of colorful tuktuks around it waiting for passengers.

Church of St. Paul (well, the relic of the church) rests on top of a hill, offering wonderful views of the city. This one was established during the Portugese occupation, but was renovated once the Dutch came.

If you’re one who’s not very interested in old churches, probably a stroll along the Malacca River would do the job. Rows of al fresco restaurant are set up on both sides of the river, providing a wonderful view of the street art decorating the riverside buildings.

Some quirky things I found while walking around were this gift shop inside an airplane…

and this Mr. Universe statue of a muscleman with a young boy’s face.

The Malacca River essentially divides the city into two halves. The churches I mentioned earlier belong to one side of the river, as is the majority of the historical museums. The other half hosts the Old Town, a grid of Peranakan-style houses where most hostels and restos can be found. Walking around the Old Town is a wonderful experience, as the juxtaposition of modern street art on dilapidating houses provides an interesting and beautiful contrast. I’ll give a tour of some interesting street art later on.

Malacca is well known for its museums. Almost every corner has a museum with a different theme. As there were too many museums (and I’m not really a big museum person tbh), I just picked two that seemed the most interesting to me.

The first museum I visited was the Melaka Maritime Museum, a replica of the Flor de la Mar, the Portugese ship that supported the Conquest of Malacca. It’s definitely an eye-catching museum.

Inside the ship are different set pieces depicting the maritime history of Malacca. It reminded me of the museums I went to in field trips during preschool. Actually, the day I went to the museum, there appeared to be a field trip as the ship was crowded with kids in PE uniforms.

The museum’s exterior looked interesting, no doubt, but the actual content of the museum wasn’t my cup of tea. It was also very crowded inside and the AC was acting up. I would say it’s a museum for field trips, but not one I would elect to visit voluntarily.

The other museum that I went to was the Baba and Nyonya House Museum, which was inconspicuously located beside other similar-looking houses in the Old Town. The museum is an exhibition of how the ethnic Chinese-Malays, the Baba-Nyonya, lived during the days of old.

The museum is not a traditional museum per se, but an actual house where a family lived during the Baba-Nyonya era. It’s not a roam-whereever-you-want-type of museum, but a guided tour across the house. What’s interesting is that the tour guide is an actual descendant of the house’s owner. I had a wonderful time as it’s essentially a historical home tour.

No pictures were allowed inside except in the receiving room. The tour at the Baba and Nyonya House was a memorable one, and something I definitely recommend to get more insight on the history of the city.

Sample Local Cuisine

While in Malacca, one has to try the local cuisine. The most popular dish is the Nyonya Laksa, a regional variant of the laksa. Had a serving at Peranakan Place along Jonker Street. Really nice laksa – sour and packed a lot of heat.

Another popular dish is Chicken Rice Balls, which I had in a hole-in-a-wall. It’s basically chicken rice, but the rice is shaped into bite-sized balls. Nothing different from the taste of usual Singaporean chicken rice, but it’s definitely easier to eat. Perfect for lazy people like me.

As for desserts, I tried this really interesting dragon fruit egg-shaped ice pop I found along Jonker Street. It was very refreshing as the daytime heat in Malacca is no joke.

On a more traditional note, cendol is a popular dessert in Malacca. A blend of green flour jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup, cendol is very sweet but offers a distinct earthy taste.

Admire the Street Art

Street art is very much a thing in Malacca. I found the city to have a modern vibe because of the art murals all over the Old Town. Considering that Malacca is a city with deep history and rich culture, the overall vibe of the city is really unique - it’s mind-bogglingly both vintage and modern.

Even the interior of the hostel I stayed at, Nomaps was painted with interesting designs. (Sidenote: Nomaps has really nice interiors and is very centrally located. I recommend it!)

Here are some snaps of interesting pieces I came across while walking in the Old Town.

By Night

Shop at Jonker Walk

The city really comes alive at night with lights and streetfood. In the early evening, Jonker Walk reveals itself as the center of nightlife as makeshift stalls and food carts get set up. I’m a big foodie, and I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of food choices in Jonker Walk. Lots of interesting juices and grilled seafood. Also a lot of local dessert like cendol and putu piring.

Ride the River Cruise

Taking a ride on the Malacca River Cruise is a must-do activity at night. The illumination of the street art on the buildings lining Melacca River is just gorgeous to look at.

Final Thoughts

Malacca is a wonderful city to visit for a day or two. Max, three days. Not a lot of things to do apart from visiting historical landmarks, museums, and eating local cuisine.

However, I fell in love with the aesthetics of the city, specifically the modern-vintage vibe of the Old Town’s old buildings and street art. It’s definitely worth a short bus trip from Singapore or KL just to see it.

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