Friday, August 29, 2008 Malaysia Malaysia

Plan B: Melaka

We keep coming back to Korean food... [IMG_4905]
Bibimbap! [Enlarge]

So, we found ourselves in Melaka (Malacca), a place we didn't originally intend to visit. Its name is very funny if you're Greek, too, as it sounds exactly like a Greek curse-word. Anyway, we're glad we came here—it's a wonderful mix of different cultures. Six hundred years as one of the region's most important ports has augmented the native Malays with immigrants from nearby Sumatra, China, and the former colonial occupiers Portugal, Holland and Britain. The blending of these different peoples with their varied cuisines and cultures makes Melaka totally unique. It's a good thing that we didn't go here first or we might never have left. We randomly picked the Fenix Inn from the many budget options on Hostelworld, and it turned out to be spotlessly clean, well located and wired for internet. The best part was that there was a Korean restaurant just up the road. Yum!

There's plenty to do in Melaka—a lot of it for free! We walked up to the hilltop church of St Paul which the Portuguese built ten years after they overthrew the local Muslim Sultans and destroyed their main Mosque. After the Dutch ousted the Portuguese they continued to use the church—there are some massive tomb stones propped against the walls, all inscribed in Dutch (there's a particularly tragic memorial at the bottom of the steps dedicated to five members of one family, mostly children, who all died within a few months of each other). When the British took over, they decided the church tower would make a fine lighthouse, so they turned it into one. Pragmatic to say the least.

You can buy highlighter pink or highlighter yellow at this Melaka night market stall. [IMG_4927]
Dye your hamster [Enlarge]

We also enjoyed walking up Jonker Street, the heart of Chinatown, and the surrounding lanes. A buzzing night market is held here every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We discovered that's the place to go if you've run out of pink or yellow dye for your hamster.

If you're willing to fork over a few ringgits we'd recommend the Maritime Museum. It's housed in a replica Portuguese ship—made mainly of concrete, but you (almost) couldn't tell. When you pay your entrance fee you're give a plastic bag to put your shoes in—shoes are forbidden inside the exhibition rooms of the ship. Take our advice and use the bag rather than the shoe racks at the doors otherwise you'll end up having to cross the red-hot deck in bare feet to retrieve your shoes... It's impossible to run fast enough, and we literally burned our feet.

We first entered Malaysia on 13th July. We've had a few days in Singapore and a few more in Brunei, but still, we've been here a lot longer than we ever anticipated. That's simply because we like it so much.

Decorated trishaw [Enlarge]

But we have to move on, as we're still north of the Equator, still west of the date line. We're two years older than we were when we left home. We feel like we've skipped so many places already, but the truth is there's a lot of world left. Tomorrow we're going to catch a ferry across the Strait of Melaka to Sumatra, the western most island of Indonesia. It's one of the most earthquake prone areas on the planet. And just for good measure, the sea crossing we've chosen is pirate territory apparently, although they mainly target container ships going to Singapore or Hong Kong, so we should be okay. We're then going to work our way down through Indonesia before catching as short a flight as possible to Australia (there are no boats—we've checked).

So as we leave Malaysia for the last time, we think back on our time here. Before we came we had expected to have a few difficulties—like it would be hard to find sunscreen, it would be a bit dirty, transport would be unreliable and hard, there wouldn't be many places with internet, there would be an infestation of touts. We're happy to have been completely wrong. What does this mean for the rest of our trip? Should we reassess our expectations for Indonesia? Perhaps it just tells us that we should travel without any expectations at all.