A cosmopolitan city by the sea

Located on the southwest coast of the Malay Peninsula, half-way between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, the pretty port city of Malacca was once one of the world’s most important centres of trade.

Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008, much of its eclectic colonial architecture has since been delightfully restored, while a flood of new interest (and money) led to the arrival of new promenades and boardwalks lined with cafes, teahouses, restaurants and boutiques. With its finger still very much on the cultural pulse, Malacca’s many charms make it an essential part of any Malaysian itinerary.

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From lively Chinatown to historic landmarks

Over the last seven centuries, Malacca has morphed from a simple fishing village to the hideout of a Sumatran pirate prince; from a colonial outpost fiercely fought over by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, to a cool, cosmopolitan 21st-century city by the sea. It has a ridiculously rich history and one which has left an indelible mark on the city’s language, architecture, culture and cuisine.

Wander its cobbled streets and you will hear chatter in Malay, Cantonese, Hindi and Kristang (a creole blend used by people of mixed Portuguese and Asian ancestry), and catch wafts of Hainanese chicken rice, prawn laksa, satay and sambal in the air, as you pass by Taoist temples and Victorian fountains.

A good starting point is the cochineal-coloured Dutch Square, one of the oldest parts of the city, flanked by photogenic landmarks such as the Clock Tower, Christ Church and Stadhuys, once the official residence for the Dutch governors and the town hall. From here, aim upwards to the summit of St. Paul’s Hill to admire the sea-and-red-rooftop views and the atmospheric ruins of St. Paul’s Church, home to the temporary tomb of Saint Francis Xavier (whose body was interned here between his death in China and final resting place in Goa).

Down below, lies Porta De Santiago and the hulking skeleton of A’Famosa, the last remnants of a mammoth Portuguese-built fortress which was almost blown to bits by the British when they retreated to Penang. Cool down in the air-conditioned Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum, surrounded by wonderful tropical gardens – symmetrical fan palms, shimmering pools, tweeting myna birds – and built in traditional Malay style with multi-tiered curlicue roofs, grand pillars and not a single nail.

Across the water is Chinatown, the liveliest part of the city, packed with rainbow-bright shophouses, art galleries, antique and curio stores and weekend night market on Jonker Street – stock up on beaded slippers, enamel teapots, Peranakan ceramics and batik wall hangings at bargain prices – as well as dozens of al fresco places to eat and drink. Pushed for time? Hire one of Malacca’s tripped-out tricycles, covered in Hello Kitty cuddly toys, plastic flowers, flashing lights and blaring sound systems, and be wheeled around round the sights like a modern-day princess. Even if you’re not in a hurry, it is worth hiring one for a 15-minute spin anyway – they are a blast.

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