The heat is stifling as I sit on the bed in our guesthouse. The ceiling fan hums and slowly dries the sweat on my skin until I just feel sticky. Outside is the noise of a nearby building site and busy traffic but here in the room it feels peaceful and calm.
We arrived to Melaka, Malaysia, in the early afternoon after a 3 hour bus ride from chaotic Johor Bahru, a border town with a lack of charm but interesting nonetheless. Melaka has a very different vibe. More liberal and easy going, maybe because of the thriving tourism industry. In Johor Bahru I covered my legs and arms as to not offend anyone. When, in a cafe, we asked if we could have a drink, we got a cold “no”. They automatically assumed we were talking about alcohol. Upon entering the hostel we had to take our shoes off. There was a pair of flip flops in front of every shower and toilet, for everyone to use, flip flop sharing. Muslim couples were not allowed to check into one room unless they could show proof of marriage and alcohol on the premises was strictly prohibited. Although Singapore is merely a kilometre or so away, you could instantly see the difference between the two countries.
The guesthouse in Melaka was a good choice, cheap and clean and spacious. After checking in we went for lunch. It seems very common in Malaysia for different food stands to share one space, like one restaurant with several kitchens serving different dishes. This “restaurant” was like a bare shop space. Grey walls, random plastic tables and stools, ceiling fans, cardboard boxes and buckets along the side and all the way in the back a little shrine with incense sticks. We ordered a Popiah each, a type of spring roll filled with lots of delicious things. The wrapper of this roll is like a thin pancake. A Teh Tarik, sweet and milky strong tea, gave us the necessary caffeine kick to go for a wander.
We found that although touristy, Melaka is fun and interesting. With cool shops, galleries and old temples side by side and colourful artworks on the houses along the river it’s the perfect mix of hip and historic, arty and authentic. Tacky, crazily decorated trishaws ride tourists around, pumping their stereos with terrible pop songs while locals go to pray in the mosque. In the heritage part of town, across the river from Chinatown, you can still see the legacy of the Portuguese and Dutch explorers who arrived here in the 16th and 17th century.
The relaxed atmosphere makes me want to stay for a while and take the time to explore, to stroll along the river and talk to the locals. To just relax and soak it all up.
In Johor Bahru we stayed one night in Double K Hostel. It’s a clean, friendly place and is very close to the bus terminal. It is a good place to spend one night if you are travelling from Singapore by bus and you don’t want to continue to your next destination on the same day.
Victor’s Guesthouse in Melaka was absolutely fantastic and we would highly recommend it to anyone. The location was very convenient, the staff incredibly friendly and the room we stayed in was spacious and clean. The price was also very budget friendly and we got some great tips for places to eat from William, one of the staff members.