Hi everyone, hope you’re weekend is going great. A slightly different blog this week as Steve and I agreed we needed to add a new section – a weekend get-away section. We’ve been doing some cool and not-so-cool trips in recent months, and figured the 2-3-hour-til-you-get-there-variety-adventure is equally worthy for inclusion on our Singapore kids adventure blog – we hope you agree and that you suggest great adventures too! To get this started, I must write about one of my favorite cities in the world – Malacca.
Please note: there are four spellings for Malacca. Melacca, Malacca, Melaka and Malaka. I decided to go for Malacca because some of the biggest Websites spell it this way, but all are right, I believe. Therefore, it’s your choice.
Anyway, my first visit to this great city goes back more than 10 years when Steve and I enjoyed our very first Christmas together there in 2003. It immediately captured my heart. Back then, it was a city with the greatest potential, and when I went back in 2006, I could see that potential coming to life. However, it was our most recent trip (2014) that I really experienced a jaw-dropping WOW. Becoming a UNESCO world-heritage city in 2008 (I believe), money is obviously pouring into this city to ensure it has a place on the world-wide heritage map.
However, with growth comes change and there is opposition from the locals – who are facing higher rents, contending with big corporations coming in, etc… I really REALLY hope this heritage status doesn’t change what makes this city so very special – its artistic heritage, beautiful architecture, abundance of antiques, maritime history, colonial heritage, etc… So far it seems to be hanging onto its old ways, but please, local and National Government, be wise enough to understand what makes Malacca special and maintain it for the future? That’s your job right now, and if you lose sight of this for short term financial gain, you will definitely lose something truly remarkable in the world.
If driving, Malacca is an easy, straight-forward three hour drive into Malaysia – essentially turn off before you hit KL. There are freeways all the way, so it’s a smooth drive, but do remember to buy the Malaysian equivalent of the ERP card and put about 100RGT on it to cover tolls there and back. If you don’t drive, there are regular bus services leaving Singapore to Malacca as well, so either way, it’s not a difficult place to get by road.
I know a lot of people don’t feel safe driving into Malaysia and of course, we hear a lot of horror stories. We’ve been driving into Malaysia for more than 10 years, and apart from a couple of “meal tips” to the local cops, we’ve never had a serious issue. The roads are also world-class, so it’s not a challenging place to get around. You obviously have to make your own mind up on that, but take the bus if you feel anxious.
One of the great delights on our recent trip is the opening of a brand new boutique hotel, which is right on the riverfront and a five minute walk from Jonker Street. Casa Del Rio is a beautiful hotel, with nice big rooms, including a day bed and pull out trundle, which means a family of four can be comfortable. A most important feature of this hotel, however, is a balcony, and that means Mum and Dad can have an evening together when the kids are finally off to sleep. It’s also got a roof top pool (which can be a bit freaky when the kids scramble on the edges), gym, spa, and one of the nicest breakfast buffets I’ve experienced in Asia. The restaurants on site are also superb, and the pizza we had the first night – after arriving late – was excellent. The cost of a room/night is just over the $400SGD mark, which is not cheap, but it is so beautiful I’d be very happy to go again.
There are LOADS of hotels in Malacca, all in and around Jonker Street, including very cool B&Bs, big chains not too far away from the action, etc… However when going away with the family I want two things – a balcony for the grown up bit of the evening AND a swimming pool. If these things aren’t important to you, there are definitely more choices, but Casa Del Rio is beautiful. We’re definitely going back and between us, I’d love to go back alone and enjoy some spa time, as well as some peaceful antique buying time. Not easy taking crazy kids into the sprawling antique shops I must say.
Things to do as a family? Where do you start! There’s a Portuguese Galleon Replica right in the heart of town, which doubles up as a museum – you can’t miss it. It’s a great place to explore and I was amazed at how deep it went. Being a convict, prisoner or slave would have been unbearable and it gives you that context. The kids loved running around, but for us, it was a fascinating look into the maritime history of the area. Malacca is full of museums and galleries, due to its colonial and maritime past, but do check out the Galleon at a minimum, and of course, the museums do come in handy in the rain – which we had to contend with. Some of them are a bit old and tired, but that adds to the appeal for me.
If your family enjoy walking, the riverside is fantastic – whether you walk deeper into the heart of Malacca, or out towards the sea. In fact, the walk to the sea has gotten a lot longer. I met a guy who’s lived in Malacca for nine years and the seafront apartment he bought when he arrived is now a long way back from the water’s edge. That’s the price of development in Asia.
The river cruise boats are definitely worth a trip, and the boys very happily say back and enjoyed it, while I enjoyed taking photos of the magnificent artwork on the buildings along the river. While art is everywhere in Malacca – even in the words painted on the side of buildings – this is one of the things I love most about this city. It’s such an unusual thing to see anywhere in the world and it’s beautiful. You also get to see a traditional Malay village on the boat trip, gorgeous bridges, the massive construction projects taking off, water life, and more. Well worth it.
Jonker Street now has a night market – Friday/Saturday/Sunday I believe – which is terrific, because it’s blisteringly hot during the day. Jonker Street is famous for its antique shops, and while there are less today than when I first started going, there are still plenty to enjoy. Equal to the shops, the architecture down this street is beautiful – inside and out. You’ll walk into a magnificently painted building and find a central courtyard opened to the day. It’s just one of those places that constantly surprises you, and that makes me very happy.
Things to buy in Malacca – apart from the obvious – include the spices that are sold everywhere. The nyonya curry power should definitely be top of the pops if you like a good curry. On the last trip I also discovered a honey shop just off Jonker Street, selling big bottles of gorgeous honey and other products. I only wish I bought more, but have since discovered honey from Malacca in the Chinese herbal remedy shops in Singapore. Give it a go, it’s definitely great honey. There are all sorts of trinkets you can buy in this city, as well as great Asian art, big pieces for the home, as well as small stuff. Expect a car-full on the ride home.
There is a lot more to do and discover, but hopefully, I’ve inspired you to go or perhaps go back if you haven’t had such an amazing experience on previous visits. Some people tell me this. I adore this City and hopefully you’ve picked up a deep passion for Malacca that it is my privilege to share. Now, with Casa Del Rio opening up in the center of town, it’s definitely going to be a regular jaunt for our family. Malacca is one of the rare places driving distance from Singapore, which has something for everyone. It would also be a perfect place to take the grandparents, or friends visiting, who want to see something other than Singapore. You can spend more money when you save the cost of flying somewhere right?