We spent a few nights in Melaka (or Melacca). Melaka has a fascinating centuries-old history that swamps its actual dimensions. A tiny port city; its position was central to bustling trade with Indonesia, India, and the Middle East in the 14th century.Then came a Chinese princess who married the Sultan of Melaka in the 15th century, bringing along her Chinese entourage. The 16th century brought the Portuguese and soon after the Dutch, arriving in the 17th century. Then came British rule in the 19th century and the Japanese occupation during World War II. The British returned after the war but Melaka was later declared independent from colonial rule. Sumatran, Chinese, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and British – are you still keeping up?
To add to the already overflowing melting pot; traders throughout the years, had inter-married, bringing up children and creating mixed generations of Babas, Nyonyas, Chittys and Eurasians. Six hundred years of overlapping cultures, traditions, food and religions – a bewildering mix of historical influences can be seen all over; imprinted onto the forts, buildings, churches, memorials, and museums. Even the shophouses are confusing with Dutch measurements, Chinese screens, Portuguese gables and Malay materials.
To help us condense the complex history we joined a free city tour, run by Melaka’s Tourism Information Center, which starts at 9.30am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. This guided walk took us along many of the major sites and was a great way to see the town in an interesting and distilled version. A lot of tourism offices offer free tours so be sure to check them out.
At night the Jonker night market came alive. Throughout our Malaysia cycling we became obsessed with coconut shakes – fresh coconut blended with ice and coconut cream or vanilla ice cream.
Plus any other food stalls, especially the ones with oversized steam baskets selling steamed bao, dumplings or dim sum.
We walked all the way to Pak Putra, a tandoori restaurant that’s hugely famous, notable by the amount of tables and chairs they were setting out.
Huge tandoori ovens were crammed with skewered marinated meat.
Dinner lived up to the hype, it was delicious.
Soon enough we had to ride onwards through palm plantations, mangroves and smalls towns filled with wooden shophouses.
We were amazed by the generosity; Malaysian people are so incredibly friendly. We had heaps of “Welcome to Malaysia” yelled out, smiles and people going out of their way to help us. Usually a poor school-aged kid would be forced to take our order to ‘practice English’. But by now we had picked up a few words and could state our order in Malay which would make the staff laugh in relief.
Our luck seemed to be with us as on one particular hot stretch we were discussing needing a 7-11 soon for a cold drink. Suddenly a car slowed down and a hand appeared holding a plastic bag with a chilled sports drink and a bread bun. With a “Welcome!” wave he drove off. A few days later we were chatting about getting some fresh fruit at the next roadside stall when a car pulled in front of us. A gentleman opened his boot to reveal papayas, pineapples and watermelons; he was on his way home from a fruit run. He offered them all but we could only had room for two papayas, one to eat now and one to ripen by tomorrow. Astonished by the universe providing we started yelling out, “A million dollars!”, “Air-conditioning!”, “Steak Sandwiches!”, but that seemed to be the end of our lucky run.
Stray animals are everywhere, and although there are animal rescues and shelters it’s still sad to see street cats and dogs with injuries or diseases. Especially since we aren’t in a position of stability to be able to help much, it’s difficult to feel so helpless.
On one of our baking hot days a scrap of tan on the side of the road caught my eye. Grabbing the brakes I walked back to find a stray puppy, skeletal, timid and unnervingly not moving. Following me with her eyes I poured water into my hand but she wasn’t interested. I tried again, gently pushing her nose into my palm and she lapped for long time. We only had some pineapple cookies on us but I broke some up and she hungrily snuffled the lot and then drank water again. I gently felt her legs and back and set her on her feet but all she wanted to do was lie back down. Puppies shouldn’t be so lethargic which was really concerning. We decided she was just exhausted from the heat and starving, judging by her ribs.
We decided to take her to the nearest house but as we couldn’t carry her and balance the bikes, I set her down and walked our bikes some fifty metres to the nearest driveway. Walking back I didn’t see her where I left her. She wouldn’t have been picked up by a scooter, they would be going too fast to see her or even to care. I peered into the weedy ditch, softly calling and two tiny eyes appeared in the ferns. She had stumbled/fallen into the ditch and was hidden from view, no-one would have found her unless you knew she was there. It broke my heart to realise she wasn’t going to make it without help.
With Cleave holding onto both bikes I walked up the driveway to a row of houses, the only set of houses within eye distance as we were right in the middle of palm plantations. The first house was a man with his children but as soon as I started speaking he ushered them into the house and shut the door. A lady in next garden shook her head explaining that touching a dog was against her religion. With Malaysia being a predominate Muslim religion my hope of leaving the puppy with people was worrisomely slim. But then the woman told me to try the Indian family at the end of the row.
Knocking on the gate as politely as possible, a little boy, his grandma and his mum peered out. The mum immediately refused, not even opening the gate, but as I explained further; I was cycling with my husband, we couldn’t carry her on our bikes, the puppy just seems to be exhausted not hurt etc etc, with the puppy looking as pitiful as possible with its little tail curled up. She finally smiled and said they would feed and water it. I gently put the puppy down, and as I walked away they had unlocked the gate and were now crowded round her, cooing.
And so we rode on. Through the sleepy beaches of Sungai Udang, the mega building blocks of Port Dickson, the local shophouses of Banting – stopping never more than a night or two with the flat palm plantations a constant companion and the wide shoulder of Highway Five stretched out before us.