Our first port of call in Malaysia was the UNESCO town of Melaka, which is nestled on the west coast of the peninsula below Kuala lumpur. The journey from Singapore to the town was uneventful being mainly two good roads (the 1 and the 5), but I was feeling an increasingly vivid sense of excitement about truly getting into SEA and taking that first footsteps on our journey. Then perhaps this was only due to the bus driver using the roads as his own personal formula one track. The guide books assured me that Melaka was an amazingly beautiful town but when we arrived at the bus station called Melaka Sentral I realised that the town was really at the centre of a modern city and we had arrived 5 miles or so away. The next thing I realised is that it was damn hot, even by Singapore standards.
We made our way into the bus station to find a ATM from which I needed to extract the local currency (Ringgits). At that moment I had nothing but a little Singapore money. The ATM spat me out £10 worth and refused to give me anymore. I tried all my cards, VISA, MasterCard and Switch but nothing worked. A rising sense of worry hit me; I was in a very foreign country with almost no money at all. Being the first time I had experienced this dread I was quite mortified by it. Now, of course, I don’t give it a second thought. You see I soon learned that all my banks and credit card agencies block my cards once I cross any border. I have to make a round of phone calls to the UK at high cost to get them working again.
“It’s for you protection,” they always tell me.
“It’s an automatic system,” they sometimes claim.
“Well turn it off!”” I ask, but this of course they cannot do. Nor can it learn. I am journeying around SEA and will cross many borders, if they know that it is me using the cards in Laos can they not work out that it is also me on the border town with Cambodia?
Anyway, we caught a taxi to our Guest House (Number 20) that was within the old town on a street called Jonker Street, which is within the China town centre of the district.
The view from our Guest House
The China Town here is made up of the classic open fronted stores, which could be selling anything from soap to singlets, and mansions built to house the rubber barons that made the port so profitable.
Temples abound in the area
I sat under the aircon in our room trying to cool down enough for my mind to focus. Sufficiently cooled we went exploring. The old town is split in two by a large river running through the middle. One side is the China town, resplendent with many Malaysian-style temples the other by a fort called A Famosa atop a steep hill.
The fort on the hill contains the bones of those who fought the British
Surrounding the base of this fort are all the museums and attractions. The history of Malacca is extremely complex, but the general gist is that the British took it over from its previous European incumbents and the town flourished into a major trading port. If one is really interested, then a particular historical-fiction novel gives a lively account of the period through the eyes of its eponymous hero. The novel is called, “Flashman and the Great Game” and features many of the heroes and villains from that era. Most notably the great Victorian explorer and adventurer James Brooke who after having his penis shot off by pirates went on a bloody rampage across the coast and put all pirates to death. Such success he had that he was able to be appointed the Raja of Sarawak and British influence in the area was cemented.
You wont get much of that tale in the excellent Independence Museum, it mentions him only a little, but the British did have a massive influence here until the Japanese invaded and after the country had a long hard slog to independence. Something that they are particularly proud of. The museum recounts all this and includes the later struggle against communists that much of the SEA has suffered from.
The car which the President drove to Independence
One of the peculiarities about Malaysia is the price the beer. Being a Muslim country, the locals don’t drink hardly at all and beer is consequently imported for the minorities and foreigners and costs a lot of ringgits. I was paying 14 for a large bottle and some nicer places had it even higher in price.
James goes glass-eyed as he realises the price of beer in this bar
On the recommendation of the guidebook, we tried the national dish; Satay at the Capitol Satay restaurant near the (very) little India north of the main square. I have always been a big fan of this in the UK and had been looking forward to trying it in its home. We went to the restaurant, which was a run down place and full of locals (both things I know know are actually good signs), and was seated at a table with a large gas bottle burner underneath and a hole in the middle. They then brought out an entire cauldron full of peanut satay sauce and turned on the gas bottle. A flame licked the bottom of the sauce and it started to bubble. We were then invited to take plates of uncooked food from a large open front fridge and cook it ourselves in the bubbling brew. It was quite a lot of fun, although the multitude of other tables and therefore open flames made the already hot environment akin to a furnace. We boiled the meats, vegetables and cheeses and then tried vainly to get it onto our plates and into our mouths without making a mess everywhere. Eventually I realised that making a mess was all part of the fun and got stuck in.
Cesca, unfortunately, doesn’t particularly like satay, was suffering a little from the heat and not liking the mess when she spilt a big dollop on her top…
After that we adjourned the meal. I am just glad that, what with the port being so close, the locals probably have heard worse swearwords.
After a few more pleasant days exploring Melaka
This is Melaka: temples and Tuk-tuk’s
we decided to head back to the station and catch the bus to our next stop, Kuala Lumpur.
KL is the capital of Malaysia and, so far in our journey, the city I have enjoyed the very least. I don’t know what exactly I don’t like about KL, for it has another great China town, a smooth running transport system, large open spaces and of course those twin towers to visit. It is also very very busy, smelly with big open drains, packed to the gills with traffic, and full of a feeling of danger. I think I got the sense that it was not a city at peace with itself in the way say, Melbourne is. Anyway, we had a mission to perform while here, which was to find Cesca an international plug adapter for her computer and camera chargers. We decided to try in one of the large malls and were pointed towards the low Yat tech mall across town in the Golden Triangle area.
Riding the monorail train service was an experience. I had no idea so many people could fit in such a small space without undergoing gravitational collapse and becoming a black hole. The joke was not lost on me that, what with the monorail going in essentially a very big circle, and the crush inside, if we were to hit something then we might well discover the Higgs Boson make the Large Hadron Collider obsolete over night!
Eventually we reached the stop (Imbi) and made our way down the correct mall. The city was thronged with people and, strangely, masseuses and we gingerly picked our way through them all. The Low Yat mall was even busier.
I grabbed an iced coffee and jumped into the throng. 7 floors of pulsating technology of all possible types. I expect it was my friend Kieran’s very idea of heaven. I saw everything under the sun that required a plug, all manner of Mp3 players, laptops (including the new IBM mini laptop – nice!), phones of types I have never even heard of (and I read Engadget!), huge stores of computers, bags, geek clothes and multitudes of music and gaming shops.
One strange thing, amongst many, was that here they don’t buy games they go to a store and pay for a few goes like an arcade but with PS2’s.
It was also a place that had no idea of the recommended retail price. By shopping around we were able to find one store selling the needed adapter at a quarter of the price of the others. And although it does have a cheap Made-In-China look to it, it does work fine.
That night the heavens opened and we spent the evening in the China Town market watching the world flow by. The market runs South to North along Jl Petaling behind the main China Town roads. It is thankfully covered and we escaped most of the rains retribution. Food in any China Town is always much of a muchness, but it was a pleasant meal nonetheless with lots of fluids to replace those we have sweated out during the day.
The next day we spent hiking up to the Menara KL communications tower, which has fabulous views of the city and surrounding areas and is well worth the hike through the thick forest that circles it. It is definitely the best place to take pictures of the Petronas Towers.
The cost of entry includes a video console which gives you a window-by-window tour of the city. In the afternoon we walked over to Merdeka Square, which was hosting a cycle race. This large open space is basically different colonial buildings surrounding a cricket pitch. Its openness makes sunstroke a real possibility and so we made our way down to the north end which boasts a large set of fountains, the spray from which cooled out heads nicely.
We left KL the next day and I was glad to get away from the chaos of that city. I don’t suppose more people live there than London, or that the streets are any less chaotically laid out, but I didn’t wish to return any time soon.
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