Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Melaka Malaysia

Just in case you are wondering about the weather here - it is an average of 30 degrees during the day and goes down to the mid twenties at night. It usually downpours(torrential tropical rains) once during the day for about one hour normally around dinner time- if you get caught in one of these downpours you will feel like you just came out of the shower.
We started today by taking a taxi from our KL hotel to the bus station to catch the bus to Melaka. However we forgot to negotiate the cab fare before we got in the vehicle and these guys don't use meters so we got stung and he charged us more than double the normal fare. We had no choice but to pay but Marianne did tell him he was a thief. Sorry Marianne I don't think this will make him change his ways.
We had previously purchased bus tickets for the two hour journey to Melaka at a cost of $3 each - we were a little concerned what the bus would look like. However much to our surprise the small 27 seat coach was quite comfortable with nice reclining seats. There were only 5 people on the bus and three of them were locals.
I napped most of the drive (so much for sightseeing). However when I wasn't napping I noticed a lot of rubber tree plantations which has become a major industry in malaysia. The trees were imported from north Africa in the 1980's and I remember our tour guide in Borneo telling us that these plantations provide an income for people in the jungle area where they cannot fish. The money is allowing these people to educate their children. On the downside the trees are spreading rapidly and taking over jungle areas.
Originally we had not planned to visit Melaka but we had an extra day before going to Singapore and I found a groupon for a hotel in Melaka which cost us $25 ($12.50 each).
Arriving at Melaka bus station we were immediately approached by a Muslim taxi driver - this time we negotiated the fare in advance. On the way to our hotel the cab driver introduced himself as Nana and suggested since we were only here one day we should hire a taxi to take us around the city and show us the sights. Of course he offered his services for 35 rm per hour which is about $13. So we agreed he would be our guide for the afternoon and would come back to pick us up at noon.
I was somewhat anxious about the $25 hotel as the last hotel I booked was the $18 one in sandakan and I was hoping to redeem myself from that experience. Much to our delight the Venus boutique hotel has only been open for three months and was very nice, new and clean. The room was very small with two twin beds but for one night and at a cost of $12 it was great as long as you did't want to stretch your legs or if you didn't mind listening to the person showering in the next room.
Nana arrived just before noon to pick us up and our first stop was lunch at his favorite local Indian restaurant. Marianne and I had lemon drink, a spicy vegetarian noodle dish and roti canai which was delicious. Cost $6 for three people. - yes we paid for nana's lunch as he waited outside for us. Again we never would have gone into this restaurant on our own, but I must say everyone in the restaurant was so friendly and made us feel welcome.
Off to see the sites - melaka is in southern malaysia on the straits of melaka. Population 788,000 In 2008 the world heritage committee met in quebec canada and at that meeting declared melaka an official UNESCO world heritage site. It is my understanding communities with this designation can then apply for restoration funding. Melaka dates back to the 1400's and has been ruled by the Dutch, Portuguese, and British and gained its independence from the british along with the rest of malaysia in 1956. So as you might imagine there is quite a mix of people here from dutch, Portuguese, British descendants to Chinese, Indian and Malay -- and over the years people from the various descendants have married creating quite a blend of cultures.
We quickly realized we had found a gem in Melaka. The city is so clean there are people sweeping the streets everywhere. Nana told us their equivalent to our mayor insists on a clean city and so it is. Looking around we were finding it hard to believe we were in Asia as the building style and decor is very European, probably influenced by the early European settlers. In the old days Melaka was a major trading port for southeast Asia used by the Chinese and Europeans.
Nana took us to some of the old fortress sites some of which date back to 1511. One of the old fortress areas had been covered up by the british with an embankment in the 1900's and was not discovered until 2002 when excavation was being done for a new complex.
We went into a church that was built in the 1700's and still holds services today. The seats of the chairs are made of interwoven bamboo and we watched as a lady was on her knees weaving with bamboo to repair the seat. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures.
We visited a museum which had displays and information about the history the battles and struggles in Melaka as well as the history and customs of the different cultures. There was also a display about war crimes and 911 was highlighted. From the Muslim perspective 911 was conspired by the american government. I took a picture of the display that outlines some of the questions they feel have not been answered by the government and in their view 911 was an excuse for america to go into Iraq and Afghanistan. I must admit when I read these questions I have had some similar thoughts myself. But I guess we will never know!
Nana then took us to Chinatown with its quaint streets and great shopping and even better prices than KL and no bartering This is the cleanest Chinatown I have ever seen and we were able to pick up some really unique treasures. It was also great having nana take our shopping bags back to the car so we could continue with our shopping.
He then took us driving and out to the bee farm to sample different kinds of honey including vinegar honey. Of course we purchased some. Back to the hotel for some rest before dinner and the river cruise nana suggested we go on.
Nana suggested he come back in the morning to take us for breakfast and to the bus station.
A little background about nana he is 59 and has lived in Melaka all his life. When he was 17 he went traveling in India and met his wife. She was 13 and he was 17 when they married. They have been married for over 40 years and have 7 children and 8 grandchildren. He has been a cab driver for over 35 years.
After a rest we made our way to river cruise - 45 minute cruise up and back down the river for $3.
This was the best $3 I have ever spent. The Melaka government has spent 35 million dollars to fix up the river area and it is just incredible I felt like I was on a European canal. All the cafes, lights, beautiful buildings this was a magnificent cruise. After the cruise we made our way to one of the river cafes for dinner and had a lovely honey and lime drink with a local chicken curry dish. A lovely dinner for $5 ($2.50 each). We then walked along the river and got a ride in a beautifully decorated Tuk Tuk before calling it an evening.
Nana was at our hotel at 8am and we went back to his favorite Indian restaurant for breakfast. This is a first for me having Indian food for breakfast. We had roti canai this time with egg and onion we also tried a cup of chai tea, all for $6 for 3 people. Off to the bus station with nana (did i Mention everywhere we go everyone knows nana). We asked nana how much we owed him for this morning and he said you are family now so pay me what you want. We then got to the bus station and nana put us in the hands of one of his friends who loaded us on the bus to Singapore, apparently the cost is $10 to singapore and I offered the money to the driver he told me to go get settled. We are now half way to Singapore and we have not paid for the bus ticket.
By the way nana stayed to wave goodbye as we drove out of the bus station and he also gave us his phone number to call him when we come back as he is sure we will and I think he is right. For all of nana's time we paid him the equivalent of $40 each. Probably too much by Malay standards but worth every penny! What a great day.
Update the bus ride is suppose to cost 30rm or $10 each but the driver has asked us to give him 40 rm $13
exact change for both of us - what a deal for a 3 hour journey. I will sign off for now to watch some of the sights afterall this is why we took the bus.

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