If you are Peranakan, like me, you may find it hard to resist the urge to caress all the beautifully old Peranakan tiles in Malacca. If you’ve always wanted to see how it feels to live like an old Baba or Nonya, Malacca is the perfect place for it. Almost every shop you enter in Jonker Street makes you feel like you’re walking into an old Peranakan home.
In this day and age where everything old is being torn down to make space for yet another big, tall, character-less building, it is heartwarming to see so much restoration being done in Malacca to protect its beautiful old shophouses.
I first visited Malacca on a class trip at age 12. I remembered two things from that trip – the food, and the visit to A’Famosa.
A’Famosa (which means “The Famous“) is probably Malacca’s most visited site. The fortress was built in 1511 by the Portuguese as a stronghold against foreign invasion. In its time of glory, it housed hospitals, churches, stockades and townhouses. Today only a portion of the walls remain.
Within A’Famosa, atop Bukit St Paul (St Paul’s Hill), is St Paul’s Church. Or rather, what remains of it. Allegedly, it used to be visited frequently by St Francis Xavier, and upon his death, the church housed his temporary tomb which is still in existence today though it is fully fenced up.
There are often street artists and musicians within, and young children selling all kinds of knick-knacks. Among the smiling street vendors, buskers and the photo-snapping tourists, there is a quiet dignified air, especially when walking among the recovered tombstones that now line the walls of St Paul’s Church.
Malacca has no shortage of hotels but do try to stay in one of the little boutique outfits if you can. Many have been beautifully restored to their former glory, and are conveniently located. I recommend Courtyard @ Heeren. But for those who prefer something more like a ‘real’ hotel, I’ve heard that the Hatten Hotel is pretty good. Hotel Puri is pretty too, but the Peranakan theme doesn’t continue into the bedrooms, which is a shame.
If you choose to stay around Jonker Street, you’ll have lots to do to keep you busy without having to leave the area, all within walking distance. See if you have the time to pop into this quaint little library right on Jonker Street. There’s a small collection of children books, both in English and Chinese. Stay and have a read and seek some respite from the scorching sun; nobody will chase you out.
If you’re planning a trip to Malacca, I highly recommend a visit to the Baba Nonya Heritage Museum – It’s made up of 3 double storey beautifully restored Baba-Nonya shophouses jam packed with old Peranakan pieces of history. Join the tour; it’s only 45 minutes long and is very enjoyable thanks to the guides who share so passionately about stories of old typical Peranakan families, like how the daughters of the family were not allowed to meet any visitors that called upon the home, so they would clamour to peep through a hole in the floor of the second level to get a good look!
Prices: RM 16 for adults and RM12 for children. Tip: Book your tour online to reserve your spot.
We usually like visiting places on weekdays when there is less crowd, but this time round, we were in Malacca over the weekend and got to experience the Jonker Street weekend market. It’s situated right in the middle of Chinatown, and at around 5pm, the hawkers start pushing out their carts and when night falls, the sleepy street changes completely.
It is bursting with colourful lights, all kinds of food smells fill the air, and I’m not sure if it’s a weekly thing but when we were there, there was a public karaoke competition going on. We were told performers had to pay a token sum to perform, complete with their own backup singers and dancers. They all had such a good time that it was hard not to be absorbed in their happiness.
Tip: Skip restaurants one Friday or Saturday evening, and head out for street food. You don’t even have to grab a table – just buy and eat your food along the way, and when you’re done, repeat!
Many visit Malacca simply to satisfy their stomachs. I love searching for places that have been passed from generation to generation, and my favourite has got to be Kocik Kitchen. It’s pronounced Ko-chick and means “little aunt” or “youngest aunt”. I love how the restaurant hardly seems decorated to look like one, but that furniture has simply been cleared aside for tables to accommodate guests. And that’s exactly how it feels like, that you’ve been invited for dinner as guests of Kocik. Here, I recommend the cincalok omelette and the ngor hiang. Prices were not exorbitant and we liked it enough to return twice in the same trip.
And if there’s a Kocik restaurant, one would wonder if there’s a Makko restaurant? Indeed there is! Though the two are unrelated, both as sisters, as well as restaurants. It was on our list of restaurants to visit but it was closed when we went. Nancy’s Kitchen was full when we showed up so we ended up ordering their famous kueh pie tee to go.
Is Malacca worth a visit? I absolutely think so. There are so many interesting little shops to visit, so much beautiful architecture, and the nice quiet pace can be quite refreshing.
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