Melaka is one of those places that seems to divide travellers. Some people I spoke to before I went for myself said there isn’t a whole lot there and one day is more than enough. Others said they loved it. I definitely fall into the latter category which once again put the importance of forming my own opinion to the forefront of my mind. I spent 2 days in Melaka and as it’s a small place, you can fit a lot of the top things to do in. Melaka is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its sleepy appearance can lead you to think there’s not much going on but I found there to be plenty of things to see and once you dig just a tiny bit deeper, you realise this city has a fascinating background.
From revisiting Malaysia this time around, I can truly say that I love how diverse this country is. From the mix cultures to the religions to the architecture, it’s a country that is great to explore. Melaka feels almost like it’s own little bubble and with such a big colonial history, it’s well worth a visit. Here you will find a mix of Dutch, Portuguese, English, Chinese, Indian and Malay, all rolled into one beautiful little place.
Where is Melaka and how to get there
Located just a 5 hour drive north from Singapore or a 2 hour drive south from Kuala Lumpur, Melaka is super easy to get to and a great place to stop to break up your Malaysian travels. It sits right on the Straits of Malacca, the stretch of water that lies between Malaysia and Indonesia.
I bought bus tickets from Singapore to Melaka through a great website, 12go.asia which provides all the transport options for your chosen route. Travelling by bus in Asia is the most affordable way and it saw us go through the exit border from Singapore and through the entrance border into Malaysia. Crossing the border by bus and on foot isn’t exactly quick and it will involve you getting on and off a few times with your luggage to get your passport stamped. It was mostly well organised but my best advice is to just go with the flow.
Where to stay
There are loads of hostels and guesthouses to choose from in Melaka, many which have an awesome artsy feel to them. Jonker Street is the main street so it’s a good idea to stay close to here as you only have 2 days to explore the things to do in Melaka. I chose to stay at the Melaka Jonker Tan Cheung Lok Guesthouse which was a cheap and cheerful base for my couple of nights there.
16 awesome things to do in Melaka
1. Go on a free walking tour
A few days each week, the tourist information centre runs a free walking tour around Melaka. The tour is funded by the state so it’s truly a ‘free’ tour and there’s no expectation to tip at all. This walking tour will see you spend around 3 hours taking in some of the sights of the Melaka, as well as tonnes of information about its past.
2. Learn about its history
I’m not usually much of a history buff but this place really does have a fascinating past that’s shaped how it is today. It has been colonised by the Portuguesertugese, and British before gaining independence, and this colonial past is still easy to see in the much of the architecture around Melaka. It also sits on the Straits of Melaka which was once a major trading route between India and China to move goods.
3. Visit the Dutch Square
This is the main square (in fact, I think it’s the only square in Melaka) and it’s a prime example of architecture from the Dutch colonial times. With its deep red buildings and fountain in the middle, you won’t be able to miss it. The Stadthuys building here was originally built for the Dutch governors and to be used as a town hall but today is a museum you can visit. To the left of Stadthuys you will see Christ Church which was built by the Dutch to replace the ruins of a Portuguese Church that was once there.
4. Talk a walk down Jonker Street
This is the main buzzy street and it’s full of restaurants, bars, shops and accommodation. Whilst it’s nothing as crazy as say, Khao San Road in Bangkok, It’s a fun area and you can walk the length of and see what Melaka is all about.
5. Ride in a trishaw
These things are awesome! a trishaw is essentially a bicycle with a trailer with seats on the back, but the drivers really go to town with them here. They were once the main mode of transport in Melaka before cars came in but today they are a massive tourist attraction. Each one has been decorated with a crazy theme like Disney’s Frozen or Pokemon and you can even choose the music that you want blasting from them! They have a set price for an hours hire and you can go pretty much wherever you want during that time.
6. Get a view of Melaka from St Paul’s Church on St Paul’s Hill
The ruins of this beautiful Catholic Church sits on the highest point in Melaka offering a nice view of the city. This chapel was originally built by the Portuguese, then rebuilt by the Dutch before the British used it as part of the fortresses in Melaka. It’s beautiful inside in all its simplicity and amazing to think it’s been there for so long!
7. Try the famous chicken rice balls
You’ve only got 2 days in Melaka, so you need to be prepared for the food overload here because it’s just so good! If there’s one food that Melaka is famous for its chicken rice balls. These might sound a bit odd at first but they are literally rice that has been somehow moulded into a ball and is served with chicken. They are delicious little bites so be sure to try some (or a lot) while you’re there. Melaka gets crazy busy at lunchtime but your patience will be rewarded. I ate at Famosa Chicken Rice balls just off of Jonker Street and it seemed like a pretty popular spot!
8. …and afterwards try cendol
This dessert is known all over Malaysia but nowhere more so than Melaka. It sounds a bit strange at first as it’s made from palm sugar, coconut milk, some strange jelly-like worm things and red beans, but, it’s pretty good.
9. Go in search of street art
It came as a bit of a surprise to see so much street art in Melaka. Whilst Penang is famous for it in Malaysia and quite literally everywhere, Melaka also has its own burst of colour ready to jump out at you. There’s quite a lot of artworks along the river but you’ll also find pieces down many of the smaller streets too, so the easiest way to find it is to just wander around!
10. Explore Little India and try some delicious food
Melaka’s Little India might definitely be on the ‘little’ side but it’s a lovely area to walk around. You’ll be greeted by the colourful flower garlands being made, beautiful fabrics and of course the smell of spices. While you’re here, be sure to try some Indian food too. I ate at a restaurant called Selvam and scoffed down a banana leaf meal which comes with a selection of curries, sauces and rice.
11. Spend some time by the river
I always love walking along the river and it was no different in Melaka. As I’ve just mentioned, a lot of street art can be found here but also plenty of restaurants and bars down here as well as a number of pretty bridges that cross the river. If you prefer to be on the water then you can hop on one of the river tours and see it from here too. The guide who ran the walking tour recommended doing this just before sunset so you can see Melaka in the day on the way out and then lit up at night on the way back.
12. Jonker Street Hawker Centre
Ok, I seem to be talking about food a lot in this guide to Melaka, but I can’t help it, Malaysian food is delicious! I truly believe that the best ways to experience local food is to get yourself to the street food and just try anything. I ate at the Jonker Street Hawker Centre which was just a short walk from where I was staying and it was great. It’s not a huge hawker centre but you can get a tasty local dish for a tiny price and wash it down with a cold Tiger beer too.
13. Go shopping at Hatton Square
Away from the beautiful historic part of the city, you’ll find the shiny shopping complex that is Hatton Square. You’ll find all your usual high street shops here so if you fancy a little retail therapy then this is a good place to go.
14. Be awed by the incredible floating Melaka Straits Mosque
You’ll need to get a Grab or taxi out to here to see this incredible mosque but be sure you do. The Masjid Selat has been built on stilts above the sea and is simply beautiful. To go inside women are required to wear a hijab and abaya which can be borrowed from the mosque. I visited just before sunset and it was magical watching the sun go down over such an incredible building.
15. Visit the temples
With Malaysia being such a diverse country, it’s a great place to learn more about different religions and cultures. Melaka has a number of temples to visit from Hindu temples such as Sri Pogyatha VinoyagarMoorthi Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia, and the Chen Hoon Teng Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in Malaka.
16. Indulge your animal lover side at the Huskitory
Located about a 15 minute drive away from the main part of Melaka, you’ll find something really quite unexpected – a husky cafe. The Huskitory is home to over 20 huskies, both adults and puppies, and they are beyond cute. You’ll need to reserve your place as the cafe only has limited seats and you spend the whole session amongst a group of beautiful Huskies whilst the run around like crazy. There’s a small entrance fee that goes towards keeping the dogs but you also get a free gift as well as vouchers for food to feed the Huskies and a discount for the Huskitory merchandise. If you’re looking for an unusual thing to do in Melaka, then this is probably it! You can check out their facebook page here for more information.