When nearly all of Malacca best attractions are almost within minutes of walking distance to one another, what more can a tourist ask for? In fact touring the place is so convenient that I find it a waste of money to join a tour agency, well, if you had joined one, the guide is probably laughing all the way to the bank. Malacca is a place where a tour guide is not needed!
A brief history of Malacca
Malacca started was a tributary city to China until the Portuguese conquer the city in 1511. In 1641, the Dutch (Holland) defeated the Portuguese and ruled the city till 1800’s. In an Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824, the British and the Dutch decided to carved out their sphere of influence mainly in South-East Asia, as a result, Malacca was ceded to the British. In the Second World War, Malacca was under the Japanese Occupation. After the war, it became part of Malaysia in 1963.
With a history as rich as this, it was no wonder that Malacca was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
The listings of the following attractions are in no preferences order, rather it is written with the way I travelled from one attraction to another.
Malacca attractions- top 10
1. Christ Church Melaka
Top the list of Malacca top 10 Attractions has to be the iconic Christ Church Melaka. It was built by the Dutch in 1753 after 12 years of construction to commemorate their occupation of Malacca from the Portuguese Empire in 1641.
Originally a Dutch Reform Church, it was later consecrated as an Angelican Church when the British took over Malacca from the Dutch in 1824. Like Malacca, the church witnessed the growing up of Malacca as a historic town. No tourist should miss this piece of history.
Originally painted in white, the red coat came in 1911, and had since became the hallmark of Malacca, recognized around the world.
The church proper.
In the 2 days I was there, I saw at least 7 couples enjoying their wedding photo-shoot.
Queen Victoria’s Fountain
Another side-show of Christ Church is the vintage Queen Victoria’s Fountain. It was built in 1901 by the British to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty’s reign. The fountain is a photography delight for many. The exquisite architectural design would have many visitors realize that it must be a significant structure.
Red Clock Tower/ Tan Beng Swee Clock Tower
Do not missed out the Red Clock Tower, or Tan Beng Swee Clock Tower, steps away. It was erected in 1886 in honor of a Chinese tycoon Tan Beng Swee, who generously contributed land for a Chinese cemetery and the nearby bridge surroundings. The clock is an import from England.
Since it was just beside Christ Church, you just can’t miss out this one. For over 300 years, the Stadthuys, commonly known as Red Square, was the official governor and officers of the Dutch and British, likened to today’s City Hall. Today it is being converted into a museum.
The museum, however, was usually overlooked by tourists who either came on their own or guided. The focal point was still the Christ Church. The museum display was quite boring though, one has to have a good background knowledge of Malacca history to understand the many pictorial exhibits of Malacca during the colonial period. Which many who managed to enter just had a walkthrough, perhaps also due to the limited time they had. The fun at the Red Square is interesting, the fun gets even better if you hop onto a trishaw for a ride, when a one hour trip would probably cover Malacca top 10 must-see attractions, depending on how long you plan to stay in that attraction. The trishaw sits two passengers, you could bargain the price down to RM$30.00. The ear-breaking hip-hop songs they play from a mini hi-fi hidden at the back of the trishaw are the jam. Most passengers were seen laughing and snapping pictures all the way to another attraction.
The Christ Church serves as a very good starting point for touring Malacca. From here, you can easily take a 5 minutes walk to Jonker Street (Chinatown) or A’Famosa. A’ Famosa is probably the next iconic historical structure in Malacca after the Christ Church. The fortress was built by the Portuguese commander Afonso de Albuquerque after he lead and defeated the Malacca Sultanate in 1511.
When the British took over the control of Malacca from the Dutch, the fort was ordered for complete destruction, if not for the timely intervention of Sir Stamford Raffles (who later went on to be the Founding Father of Singapore in 1819). As a result of the intervention, today we get to see the Porta de Santiago, a small gate house, which is the only remaining part of the fortress still standing. The fort, if not destroyed by the British, was extensive and huge, it housed offices and ammunition storage rooms. Upon driving out the Portuguese 1641, the Dutch fortified the fort even further. On the gate arch has a line of inscription which read “ANNO 1670”, it was a result of their renovation works. Some said A’ Famosa is just a photography stop. Well, they probably has no one guiding them on the history of Malacca. But even for those who knows nothing about the place, knows that it must be a very iconic one, the large crowd tells you the answer. The many who comes on their own or upon recommendations is a further endorsement. Travel agencies will bring you to places where they want you to see, is convenient to them or is profitable to them, but individual travelers go to a place usually on hearsay or after some research.
Inside the fort, some buskers provide entertainment for the busy crowd.
4. Dutch Graveyard
At the back of A’ Famosa lies a hill which houses the St. Paul’s Church. On the way up to the church hides the Dutch Graveyard which is usually by-passed by tourists, probably due to its eerily quiet environment. The graveyard is in a very pathetic state, laid almost in ruins.
5. St. Paul’s Church
See the stairs at the back of A’Famosa on the right of the picture? St. Paul Church is located at the summit of St.Paul’s Hill. There are 2 routes to access it, one is through the back of Stadthuys, the other is behind A’Famosa.
Which ever route you opt for, an uphill task is inevitable. A long flight of stairs of more than 200 steps (estimated) uphill usually scares off most tourists. As such the guide would usually leave the group on their own at A’ Famosa. But if you had missed this trip, you are probably missing an incredible part of Malacca history.
St. Paul Church began as a chapel, it was built in 1521 by a Portuguese sea captain in appreciation for surviving enemy attacks while sailing in South China Sea. Due to its strategic location of being at the peak of the hill, it was later fortified with guns. The Church was badly damaged during the invasion by the Dutch in 1641, but the Dutch continued to use it as a Protestant Church for the next hundred years. When the Christ Church at Red Square was completed in 1753, St. Paul Church was disused and deconsecrated. The story of St. Paul’s Church did not end there. In 1924, a burial vault was found and opened. The many tombstones lying by the side of the wall are the results of the excavation.
In vacation I often find it ridiculous that people simply love to be photographed with the iconic attractions or scenery or things without knowing the historical background of it, or did so because the guide told them to. Many who had taken pictures with these tablets do not even know what it is all about. They had avoided the Dutch graveyard, if they had known that these tablets were actually tombstone, they would probably run away. As a result, I had waited for nearly 1 hour to take these pictures with no obstructions.
Francis Xavier (1506-1552) was a Roman Catholic missionary. His mission was to spread Christianity among the Portuguese settlers. It was estimated that he had successfully converted more than 30,000 to Christianity, an astronomical figure indeed, even by today’s standard. In 1952, the statue of St. Francis Xavier was erected at the front of the ruins church in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of his stay in Malacca. The following day, however, a falling tree broke its right arm.
By the side of the ruined church were rows of stalls retailing the usual souvenirs. Canned drinks and mineral water was the most saleable, after climbing the stairs. Most visitors would stay there to enjoy the scenic view from St. Paul Hill.
Overlooking the A’ Farmosa from St. Paul’s hill.
Besides the scenic view at the top of the hill, there are animal charmers as well to add some entertainments. This guy probably has no time for his lunch, the queue for a chance to be photographed with his pet never ends.
6. Melaka Sultanate Palace
Down the hill of St. Paul Church, and by the side of A’Famosa is another interesting attraction, Melaka Sultanate Palace. It is actually a replica of the 15th century palace based on records from the Malay Annals. The Sultanate of Malacca was the ruler of the city before it fell into the hands of the Portuguese in 1511.
It was said that the grand palace was built without using a single nail.
The Sultan and his court followers.
I thought the exhibition was excellent, being informative with many pictorial, audio and visual effects. But the many who came here were already worn off by A’Famosa and going up the St. Paul Hill, especially under the simmering weather, leaving little interest for very good exhibits like these.
The cost of admission is RM$2.00 per entry.
7. Proclamation of Independence Memorial
Again, steps away from A’ Farmosa is another important chapter in Malacca history. The Proclamation of Independence Memorial was officiated by Malaysia first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1985, some 38 years after Malaysia Independence. The original house was actually a British colonial building used by the British administrators for social activities.
The exhibits have so much details of Malaysia’s route to Independence and are displayed in chronological order that one feels like being brought back to the turbulent years of yesterday. Witness the many manuscripts, video shows and audio playback, some of which are not seen or shown before. The place is fully air-conditioned, and there are no admission charges.
That’s how near the museum is to A’Famosa. That’s the beauty of Malacca, being able to see an attraction after another without being on any mode of transportation. Just walk!
8. The Malacca Fort
Having finished the major must-see attractions near A’ Famosa, it’s time to go to the famous Jonker Street, or Chinatown. Taking the same route where we came from, a 5 minutes walk back would bring you to an another recent discoveries, The Malacca Fort. Malacca, seems me to be a place where you can find treasure anywhere. Perhaps I should start to dig.
Compare to A’ Farmosa, where there is still a ‘gate’ to see and photograph with, this is even worse- only the ruins of a once heavily fortified fort remains. Interestingly, the site was discovered just not long ago in 2006.
The fort exhibits today is a reconstruction of how the fort looks then, based on historical data.
9. Jonker Street, Chinatown
From the Christ Church, take a 3 minutes walk through the bridge, and you’re in Chinatown or Jonker Street, probably the busiest street in Malacca.
One thing to note is though the street and shop houses is open daily, but the night market only operates on Friday and Saturday, from 6pm till midnight. On Friday and Saturday nights, the street is transformed into the Jonker Walk Night Market – a lively bazaar with hawker food stalls and tourist-friendly stalls. The entrance to Jonker street stands tall a replica boat of Cheng Ho, the famous Chinese Eunuch who led seven expeditions with several hundred ships between 1405-1433 to setup trading posts and showcase China’s Ming Dynasty mighty naval power to as far back as Africa. It was said that he had visited Malacca 5 times. There was even a temple in Malacca named after him. The peddlers sells almost everything, from toys to clothing, handphone accessories, antiques, post cards, shoes, stamps etc. But do not attempt to find any pirated products here, you’d be disappointed. Malacca government has very strict laws governing copyright products. Besides keeping your curious eye busy with the many fun things around, the mouth and stomach must be fed with a bite at the many locals dessert or handpicked food. Which was what many visitors did while strolling down the street. This stall holders are making big bucks with the snake-long queue which never seems to end. And what he was selling was the simplest dessert of all, coconut water, fresh from the coconut itself. A very popular photography site, go have some fun with this macho man.
There are so many eateries along the busy street, be it in-house or street peddlers, but it’s certainly hard t get a seat, unless you have the patience and time to wait. If that many local foods and desserts are not your cup of tea or you just want to idle the time away while enjoying the busy street, then take a seat at the few western pubs along the street.
Watch aerobic dancing and karaoke singing by some. You could even hop-in to join in the fun.
Another thing to note in touring Jonker street, beware of pickpockets, the congested street makes anyone an easy target.
10. Baba & Nonya Museum
Again, a street across Jonker Street, or a 15 minutes walk from Christ Church would bring you to the famous Baba Street, where most shop houses owner are Peranakan, or Baba and Nynoya. These house owners are so wealthy that the street is sometimes known as Millionaire Street
Having planned the visit the night before, I wakeup with much excitement about visiting the place. I have heard of Baba & Nynoya for decades, but has never got the chance to have an insight view of the culture. Today, I finally got the chance to reveal the mystery surrounding it. I believed the existence of the unique Peranakan heritage was one of the reason Malacca was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. That reason is compelling enough to rank it as a must-see attraction.
But, wait, along the same street exists 2 museums showcasing Baba & Nynoya heritage. They are competitors. The entrance fee for both is the same, RM$15.00. To make a good comparison, I went to both.
Before we proceed further, let’s find out who are the Baba & Nynoya.
A brief history of Baba & Nynoya
Due to Malacca close relationship with China as a tribute state, it attracted a large influx of Chinese traders. These Chinese traders who often stayed here for months due to the monsoon got assimilated with the local culture and customs and eventually inter-married with the local Malays or Indonesians. Over time, a mixed culture in custom and beliefs of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Dutch, Portuguese and British gave rise to a new community. Peranakan Chinese, or Straits-born Chinese, became the collective name of this community. Where Peranakan means “descendant”. But they are more commonly known as Baba, for the man and Nyonya for the woman.
Sometimes, ‘Baba’ is used as the collective noun for the whole community. The emergence of the Peranakan gave rise to a culture never seen before in the Malay Archipelago, and soon followed the trade routes to Penang ( Malaysia) and Singapore.
Straits Chinese Jewelry Museum Malacca
The museum is actually a house belonging to the Ee family, a Peranakan. They had stayed here for more than 143 years, and some 5 years ago migrated to Australia after selling the house for about RM$4.6 million. Today, the settings inside is a collection of antiques from the many Peranakan families as well as the Ee famiy.
The Ee family. Flanking right and left of the owner are his wives, the woman below is their daughter. The elaborate entrance is an eye-opener by itself. The exquisite display of carved furniture is a prelude of what’s next to come. Being the first and only visitor to the museum before it is even open for business, when the tour guide switched on the hall lighting for the first time of the day, I got a big fright upon seeing what lays in front of me.
Wow, I yelled instantly.
A hall filled with awesome furniture and glittering jewelry! I felt that I was in a treasure island. It is no wonder that this museum is named as Straits Chinese Jewelry Museum.
The Peranakan embraces a mixed culture of Malay, Indonesian, British and European, though many of their designs and motifs still heavily features Chinese culture influence. It was very common for their jewelry to be embedded with sapphires, pearls and jades acquired through trading.
The showcase displaying of hundreds of pieces of real gold jewelry was a feast to the eye. The extensive collections of priceless heirlooms was said to be bought or donated from Babas and Nyonyas all over the world. The Baba engaged in spice, tins, rubber and shipping business. Their ability to speak two or more languages in English, Chinese and Malay put them in an advantaged position in those days. During the days when trading with China was a priority by the western powers, the many Chinese who became middlemen made roaring wealth, which they had no hesitation in flaunting it in the things they wore and used. In fact, Babas & Nyonyas are perceived as wealthy people. A fashion of jewelry showcasing the skillful craftsmanship and the beauty of the Nyonya with extravagance wealth.
The wedding head gear for the bride. A Peranakan wedding celebrations could last for 12 days. Thereafter the wedding gown was properly kept to pass down to the next generation.
The Peranakan has a unique habit of going to a goldsmith shop, not just to buy the gold, but to engage the goldsmith together with their tools and equipment to their house to customize the jewelry they had in mind. It was one way of preventing the precious diamond which they acquired through trading from being stolen. Inside this hall exhibits many rarely seen tools and equipments used by goldsmiths then, though the function is similar to today’s. The Peranakan loves to have all things customized. There is nothing in the house without an elaborate carving design. Their furniture design feature strong Chinese culture, such as the picture below which feature a ‘bat’ which in Chinese mean ‘ luck’. The Baba & Nynoya are Taoists, strong believers of traditional Chinese gods, such as the Eight Immortals. Many of the things they owned featured the Eight Immortals.(picture below)
The altar hall, where they worship the Taoist gods.
A wedding room. Did you notice some lives stock are hiding under the bed?
On the first wedding night, a pair of live cock and hen would be placed under the wedding bed. If the cock walks out the following morning it would mean the wife would labour a boy and vice versa. That’s interesting isn’t it ?
The courtyard which brings natural lighting into a house which has almost no windows.
A well said to be 8 feet in depth was used for generations by the Ee Family.
The guided tour of the museum takes about 30 minutes, after that visitors are on their own to roam. There is no restriction on the time spent. At the end of the tour, they even offered a tasty Nyonya dessert and a cup of mineral water. They even gave visitors their email address for further queries. The guides and staff were extremely friendly, answering many of my annoying questions. When I discovered that I had missed out some pictures and went again the following day, they willingly waived off the entrance charges.
But what I liked most was the museum encouraged photo taking on anything you could see in the building. A drastic contrast to the other Baba museum I went to immediately after this.
The museum operating hours is 10am – 5pm ( Mon – Thurs) and 10am – 6pm (Fri-Sun). Note, there is no break time in between.
Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum
Along the same street, on the same row of shop houses or just a minute walk from Straits Chinese Jewelry Museum Malacca sits their competitor Baba & Nyonya House Museum. This museum has housed the Peranakan Chan families for a long 7 generations. The settings in the house was said to be of originality.
My apology for being unable to show any pictures of it, as the museum strictly prohibits photo taking. The entrance fee is similar to the other Straits Chinese Jewelry Museum, both charges RM$15.00. In fact, admission fee for both museums is considered expensive in Malacca’s attraction standard, for most of the attractions charged an average of RM$1.00 – 3.00, and many others are free to walk-in.
What puts me off by the Baba & Nyonya House Museum was the prominent display of the ‘no photography’ signage. The staff whom I double-checked with re-emphasized the rules again. Though I’m not a professional photographer and never tend to be one, I have always disliked places which prohibit photo-taking. It doesn’t matter where you are, photo-taking has become a form of participation in the event, occasion or place, when snapping through handphones and selfie has become a norm in the social world and a part of our life.
Though the museum has a rich history due to the 7th generations of families stay, an admission looks more like a walkthrough or walkpass, which was quickly rushed off by the guide in 30 minutes, very unwarranted for a cultural heritage this rich.
The guide invites questions, but when asked, her answers are either half-hearted or with no elaboration. The limited time they have for each slot of tour group also constrains the answering period. Overall, the group size seems to have no limit, my group of 22 people were cramped in the many congested rooms and halls.
The tour has 2 packages for the same price. The first is a guided tour, the second is ‘on your own’. Visitors who has chosen to be on their own are given a pictorial guide book with a brief explanation on the displayed artefacts. Do not attempt to join the guided tour secretly, for there are CCTVs monitoring every move. Unknown to these hidden rules, to get better details I had dropped off from the guided tour and requested a guide book. The staff refused to oblige, and quickly read out the hidden rules. It was only upon my insistence that a guide book was given. But then, he stayed close to me from then, probably ensuring that I do not join the group again. I find this house rule rather ridiculous, after all, the intention of the museum is to showcase a rich heritage and facilitates for a better understanding of the culture. Visitors who had taken pictures were quickly hauled aside to have it deleted instantly.
Perhaps the museum had pride itself too strongly. What’s more, visitors who wish to visit the museum has to pay close attention to the strict opening hours, or even know it before one comes. The Baba & Nyonya House Museum is opened from Mon-Sun, 10am-1pm, and 2pm-4.30pm, where 4pm is the last chance to join the guided tour. Many tourists who were unaware of this restrictive opening hours were turned off, as seen in above picture. To a tourist, time is money, I seriously doubt they would come back again.