Malacca lies on the west coast, about 150km south of Kuala Lumpur. When European minds think of the ‘old’ Far East; this is one of the places they think of…
Malacca has always been a trading port: spices, silk, gold, tea and other eastern commodities. In the mid 15th Century, the town thrived under the rule of a Malay Sultan, and so of course attracted the attention of the usual 3 European colonisers: the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally; the English. The English were the last in, but soon being distracted by better possibilities in Singapore, left Malacca as a sleepy backwater. In retrospect this was a good thing for us today, as much history remains and has not been ripped down by subsequent generations. Malacca today is probably the best preserved city in Malaysia and is seeking UNESCO World Heritage status.
It’s changed a lot since I was last here in 1984, the old part of town remains as I remember it – but its use has changed and it’s lot tidier. Jonkers Street (the main road in the centre) has become much more touristy; with restaurants, bars and a street market; in 1984 it was a high street with working shops and facilities. This is not a bad think, the buildings are preserved and its a pleasant place to wander about.
Much of the old town is built of ‘shop-houses’; which describes them well; they are fairly narrow buildings (3m), but very long. The front part is a small porch on to the road, then a shop, and then housing at the back, usually with courtyards as you move further backwards. Many of these buildings are quite dilapidated, but hopefully will be restored as time goes on.
The Straights of Malacca are slow running and rather murky, consequently the shore around Malacca is shallow (the reason the English moved on) and the beaches are not very good. There is an advantage to this; land reclamation is easier. I found it difficult to get my bearings when we arrived; until it dawned on me that the hotel we were staying in was about 1km out at sea from as it was before. More reclamation is in progress and the whole place gets bigger by the day.
Malaysians say that Malacca is Malaysia in a nutshell, its an attractive place to visit and well worth a few days stay.