After hearing and reading several reports that Singapore becomes a ghost town during Chinese New Year, I decided to take a weekend trip to Melaka (Malacca) rather than stay behind and likely starve. Eight hours (!!!) and several – ahem – experiences later, we arrived in the historic town. The difference between Singapore and surrounding countries will be a recurring theme throughout my travel accounts. It’s instantly apparent—a slap in the face that hits as soon as one leaves the country. If you find yourself traveling out of Singapore frequently, you’ll be reminded of how fortunate you are every time.
I haven’t been back in Malaysia for thirteen years, and never to Melaka. It’s beautiful in its own way, as all old cities are. It’s ragtag, untidy, refreshing after the orderliness I’ve quickly become accustomed to. Although we traveled there with a group, it seemed pointless and unnecessarily painful to remain with the rest, so we promptly decided to find our own way around. Wandering through the inner area of Melaka, I noted how similar their streets are to those in other Asian countries I’ve visited, bar Singapore. Maybe it is because I am pampered by cleanliness, but there’s something so delightful about grime. It adds character to a place, I feel. You can tell so much about people by their trash. Not that Melaka is a particularly dirty place, but anywhere feels at least a little messy compared to the lion city. And messes, whether physical or mental, are welcome.
It’s also more colorful than Singapore, almost garish with its decked-out, themed tuk tuks and red-roofed buildings. We climbed the ruins and looked out at a sky almost untainted by high-rises, pure in its clarity. Walking along the canal, I certainly wouldn’t say it’s Venice, but the breeze made it pleasant enough to stay. We stopped for a quick snack in a lovely café by the river, TukTuk Kitchen & Bar, which had unique decor and delightful coconut shakes. The rest of our day was relaxing, ending in a trickle, each person stumbling their own way back as the night wore on.
Our last full day was spent cycling through the ruleless traffic, weaving between all kinds of vehicles—I tried not to think too hard while doing this, given my past history with bikes and such (not a good one, I assure you). The fact that I am writing this now and am not a mangled smudge on the road is victory enough for me. Dinner was courtesy of several different stands down Melaka’s famous Jonker Street, filled with knick knacks and deliciously well-priced regional foods. We closed out our night with jolly, difficult-to-remember conversation and a rather amusing encounter at an Indian food centre.
Melaka was not a trip I had planned to make, but I’m glad I took the opportunity when surprised by it—an uncharacteristic move, but one I’m finding that I am doing more often than not. My few days there had me meeting quite a few unique characters and doing the most I can with this truly once-in-a-lifetime abroad experience. The stories Melaka has given me are quite worth the initial hesitation I felt regarding the trip.
The weekend was slow and easy, a languorous, much needed reprieve from the mundane frenzy that living in Singapore often is. Melaka’s greatest strength? Perhaps its ability to feel intimate and familiar despite the various noises and colors that are milling about, patching together a community full of diversity and rich in historical significance.
This is part of a collection of writing about my time in Singapore (and surrounding countries). For visual documentation of my adventures here, follow me on Instagram @mayisrad.