After the hustle and bustle of Singapore’s thriving streets, we were looking forward to slowing down a bit so we headed to Melaka (who’s slogan, posted on big signs across the city, is don’t mess with Melaka), a quick four hour bus ride from the city towards Kuala Lumpur. At the bus station we quickly spotted friends. We coined the term “friends” to anyone that looked lost, foreign or adorned the most distinguishing factor, a huge backpack strapped to their backs and a smaller one strapped to their fronts. This time our friends were a couple from Connecticut who, instead of a backpack, were sporting a large fancy rolling bag, a huge engagement ring on the lady and a nice looking watch on the man. Clearly our careful preparations to look as unassuming as possible, were not needed on this leg of our trip. They were headed to Melaka for the weekend. Coincidently, we picked the best time to visit the World Heritage town, every weekend, two of the main streets in the town shut down and transform into a food lover’s paradise where food hawkers sell everything from fried oysters, to toilet bowl themed ice creams. By pure chance, we had planned this part of our trip perfectly.
Once on the bus (with our crouches snapped tightly in place) we cozied into our seats. About an hour after crossing the border, we noticed a drastic change in scenery, skyscrapers and concrete that dominated Singapore quickly transitioned to lush fields of palm trees, ferns and pineapples. Billboards also changed from English websites for cheap airline tickets and eateries to advertisements for skin cream with women in hijabs with no distinguishable words.
When we arrived in Melaka, our friends got out at the same hotel stop we did, only for them, it was their final destination. We gathered out belongings and set out to find our hostel. For anyone traveling without data or wifi, we highly recommend the app, Maps.Me, it allows you to use maps and location settings without being connected to wifi. Our hostel, Ringo’s Foyer, was located a block from the night market and next to a restaurant touting live frogs in an aquarium, similar to a fancy seafood restaurant with a live fish display. There was no doubt that these frogs were not just cute pets but most likely someone’s main meal or appetizer. When we arrived at Ringo’s Foyer, we were greeted by Howard, the hostel’s owner, who invited us to join a few of the other guests to tour the Night Market. The hostel spanned four floors: the main area with dorms and our private room were on the first floor, the common room was on the next floor (complete with a big TV, DVDs and arcade style video games – Ross was stoked) and the fourth floor was a yoga area, bikes and a roof deck with a bar and espresso machine. This was a backpacker’s paradise!
On the Night Market tour, we met a few other hostel guests, a New Yorker on a three month jaunt, a Canadian on her last week after backpacking for three months alone, another solo British backpacker who planned to travel around seven months and was on month three and a Swiss traveler, who looked no older than 17 who was taking a few months off to travel before heading to school to be a doctor. We noticed that once you embark on any kind of extended traveling adventure, you are no longer defined by what you do but more of “where you have been, how long you’ve been going and how long your total trip is”. This might be for a few reasons, to bond over a common thread (the love of traveling), to brag, to share tips about the last place you went or in most cases, probably just a conversation starter.
At the market, we sampled huge BBQ oysters (from a stall decorated with news clippings about his business, always a good sign) with garlic and chili sauce, radish cakes (a Malaysian delicacy?) and “cook your own” satay skewers. The whole town was electric and alive at night! Each street vendor specialized in their one dish and because of this, every morsel was delicious. The tour included a few stalls that Howard liked and ended with an Indian restaurant, just in case people were still peckish. At the restaurant, we had our first “lost in translation” experience. Still in search of the “legendary US$1 beers” we ordered a large beer and a coke. The coke came to the table quickly and the large beer ended up being a large OJ, close enough. About half way through the OJ, we realized the large pieces of ice floating in it. After consulting with the British solo backpacker, who looked much more versed than us when it came to traveling, we took at chance a gulped down the rest as quickly as possible. Ross found out later that the ice-OJ worked as a natural stool softener.
The next day we filled up on French toast, the first real breakfast (besides toast loaded with Nutella) that we had all trip and set out to explore the city. After a present walk beside the river, we joined a free tour led by the Melaka tourism board. We learned that Melaka houses some of the oldest temples in Malaysia and that Muslim men are allowed to marry three or four wives but must treat them all the same. Also we toured one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia and right next to it was the oldest Chinese temple in Melaka.
After the tour, we made our way to a river cruise, which looking back on it, was a bit underwhelming but for less than US$5 for both of us, we couldn’t complain. On the tour we learned that the settlers of Melaka were goat farmers and the women rolled the papers for cigarettes. Another point of interest on our map was a well just out of town so after the river cruise, we decided to find it. We walked about 30 minutes (nothing in comparison to Singapore) only to find a dilapidated wall housing a four by four foot well with a small plaque in Mandarin and English explaining that we had indeed found the well. We learned that the tourist map, well helpful is not necessarily always offering the cream of the crop for tourist stops.
That evening we met up some other people from the hostel and set off on bikes to see the Melaka Straights Mosque, or as it is informally known as, The Floating Mosque. We weaved through the back alleys of Melaka past stray cats and shoeless kids playing until we arrived at the mosque, just in time for sunset. Beautiful is an understatement. Even though we are both agnostic, sitting on the jetty watching the sun set behind the mosque while being serenaded by the evening call to prayer was both spiritual and almost magical. Just a week prior, Natalie had read about the mosque in Travel + Leisure and now there we were, watching the magic in person. Unreal.
Our bike ride leader asked us if we were hungry and it wasn’t until then that we realized that we definitely were. We followed him back to what we thought was town and we took a turn away from it. After a few shady looking bridge underpasses and after passing a few suspicious characters, we decided that this must have all been a ploy to rob us and take us for ransom. About 10 minutes after we asked the kindergarten question of “are we there yet” with a nervous tone, soon after, we pulled into a stadium sized outdoor food court. The food court was lined with food hawkers from all different types of cuisines – from Indian to Chinese. There were some foods that we were familiar with and others that we were seeing for the first time. Take any kind of noodle dish you have ever had and then multiply the possibilities by 10. We were in noodle and rice heaven. Then came our second translation mishap – we ordered two beers and two huge beers came to the table instead! Not only were we in noodle heaven but now we were in beer heaven! We indulged on dumpling noodles, a salted fish and pork bubbling clay pot dish, chicken wings and we topped it all off with sweet bean dumplings.
On the way home from our biking adventure, we heard aggressively loud house music coming from the streets with blinking neon lights, upon further inspection, we saw that the music was actually coming from small bike rickshaws with space for three (we later found out the bikes are called trihaws) decorated with stuffed animals, blinking lights and fitted out with amplifiers and huge speakers. We knew that we had to ride one. As soon as we got back to the hostel, we locked our bikes and headed into town. We fittingly picked a Pikachu trishaw and laughed quite possibly the hardest we have all trip.