8 Things to do in Melaka, Malaysia – the Amsterdam of Asia
Things to do in Melaka – the Amsterdam of Asia
Am I still in Asia?
I thought to myself as I walked around the streets of Melaka.
Everything around me looked very European – the architecture, street art, cute little cafes and wait… did I just see a windmill on the road?
Melaka (or Malacca) is a beautifully preserved heritage city in Malaysia. With its colorful cafes, graffiti, random windmills on the streets – it looks more European and is unlike any other Asian city that I have seen. Seriously, with a river that runs across the city which can be mistaken as a canal, this Malaysian city made me feel like I was back in Amsterdam. Minus the dope.
Melaka is ONLY a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur, so many people visit it on a day trip but in my opinion, the city deserves at least a full day and night. The entire Melaka city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
How to Reach Melaka
Bus: Buses from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka run every hour from Kuala Lumpur airport (KLIA2) or Kuala Lumpur Sentral. The cost of a direct bus from KLIA2 to Melaka is 24 Ringgits per person. The cost of a ticket from Kuala Lumpur Sentral to Melaka is around 10-15 Ringgits. Do keep in mind that a bus ticket costs 11 Ringgits from the airport (KLIA2) to Kuala Lumpur Sentral, so opt for a direct bus if you are starting your journey from the airport. The bus journey takes around 2 hours.
The bus will leave you at Melaka Sentral, from where you can catch bus 17 to the main city which costs 1-2 Ringgits per person. This bus stops at all the main areas such as Dutch Square, Mahkota Parade, and Ramada Plaza. If you don’t have a Malaysian SIM card, download an offline map of Melaka on your phone for walking directions from the bus stop to your hotel.
Where to Stay:
If you do end up visiting Melaka, I strongly recommend you stay in Olive Flashpackers. This hostel is in the heart of Melaka. Just let the driver of Bus 17 know that you need to get off at Ramada Plaza and its just 7 minutes’ walk from there.
This newly renovated hostel is unlike any other hostel and has everything that a traveler needs – starting from super comfortable beds in a very spacious dormitory, games, FREE to use toiletries, bathroom clogs (traditional Melaka), hair dryer, ironing board, lockers, many shelves, etc. It’s affordable and super convenient. Seriously, you will not need to unpack your toiletries, towels, etc.
Recommended reading: Reasons to visit Malaysia
Here is a list of 8 things to do in Melaka –
01 | Get on a boat for a River Cruise
A fun way to see the best of Melaka is by taking a 45 boat ride on the river. The boat will take you on a circular trip and will cross some famous landmarks, Melaka eye, cute riverside bars, a lot of street art and more! The best time to do this is at sunset so that you can see the beauty of this city as the colors change.
The entire city glows as the darkness descends and the reflection of lights on the water makes the city look bejeweled. This is the best thing we did in Melaka. Seriously, there is no better way to see this beautiful city than this. This costed us 20 Malaysian Ringgits per person and was worth every penny. We also received cookies and juice with the ferry tickets.
Tip: get ready to be sprayed with some river water if you take the front row seats.
02 | Visit Jonker street at night (Chinatown)
Jonker street is the main Chinatown area of Melaka. Just like every other Chinatown, many vendors open small stalls on the streets selling different souvenirs, tank tops, knick knacks, food and drink items. This street starts from the canal that is next to Dutch square and ends at the end of the road. In my opinion, Chinatown in Melaka is way fuller and offers more things to do than the Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur.
03 | Check out the Heritage Landmarks, Temples and Mosques
There are many famous landmarks in Melaka that are mostly next to each other, so can be visited together in just a few hours. Visit A’Famosa Fort (Porta de Santiago), Dutch Square (that has a clock tower and windmill), Saint Paul’s Church, Christ Church, maritime and museums, Malacca Straits Mosque, etc. It’s amazing how this little town has Mosques, Churches, Chinese Temples, Hindu and Sikh temples next to each other.
04 | Ride a Tricycle and Feel Like a Child
As we entered the main heritage area of Melaka, we saw many tricycle rickshaw carts that were excessively decorated with toys, Disney characters, flowers and LED lights. Each one was very true to its theme in matching colors – Hello Kitty, Minions, Superman, etc. Here are a few pictures.
Perfect rides for little kids, no? Wrong.
To our surprise, we saw a few grownups sitting on them and some of them looked slightly embarrassed. We then got to know that these carts can be hired for 30 – 60 minutes and in that duration, they ride around the famous landmarks. At night, these carts light up in psychedelic colors and play super loud music. They are very expensive (RM 30 for 30-40 mins) but we decided to ride one anyway, much to Sandro’s embarrassment.
05 | Explore the city on a bicycle
The best way to explore Melaka is on a bicycle (just like Amsterdam). Many different kinds of bicycles are available for rent for around 15 – 20 RM for half or full days. Melaka has a good road system for bicycles and it is definitely one of the more affordable ways of exploring this city.
06 | Visit Geographer Cafe or Discovery Cafe for a drink
Geographer Café is perhaps the most famous cafe (or bar) or Melaka and is a perfect place to chill over a few beers. This cafe is in the middle of Jonker street and is easy to spot. The best table is the corner one on top that overlooks the length of Jonker street. The food here is not the best so it makes sense to only enjoy beer a few drinks here. A glass of draft beer will cost you RM 15. Alternatively, you can also visit Discovery Café, which is as popular and you can spot this cute yellow building from a distance.
07 | Enjoy Local Nyonya Food
My favorite way to enjoy a new place is by experiencing the local food. The local food here is Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine which has been passed down from early Chinese migrants who settled here. The result is a mix of Chinese and Malaysian and is definitely worth a try!
My recommendation is not to eat at one of the overly expensive restaurants in or around Jonker street. Instead, try to find a place which is visited by the locals. We were lucky enough to find one such place where we enjoyed fish ball soup, rice balls, salted fish salad and roasted chicken. The rice balls tasted heavenly when dipped in soup. Yum. A must try for dessert lovers is Cendol. It is a local delicacy that is made with coconut milk, lurid green noodles and gula Melaka (Malacca sugar). I also tried sea coconut juice which was brown in color and did not taste like usual coconut water. I really enjoyed trying different iced teas and different coffees.
08 | Walk Around Aimlessly
In my opinion, the best way to explore a city is on foot and Melaka is no exception. This city is a photographer’s delight and every corner has a sight to behold. I recommend you take out at least an hour to walk along the river or the main town to explore this charming city on your own. Who knows what you may end up discovering? Keep in mind that it’s always summer in Melaka so do this only after 5 pm and do not forget to carry a hat and a bottle of water. An excellent spot for a photograph is THIS corner next to the wheels.
Apart from these 8 things, there are a few other things that can be enjoyed such as a visit to the 3D Museum – we did not to do this because the entry ticket is extremely expensive and it makes more sense to visit one of the bigger 3D museums in Langkawi or Bangkok. It is also possible to visit the beach but we decided not to do this as well because we have seen many beautiful beaches and we wanted to enjoy the main beauty of this town – the river.
A big thanks to Olive Flashpackers for providing a complimentary stay to Sandro and I.
All opinions are my own, not influenced by any third party.
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A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.Sonal Kwatra Paladini