Sunday, January 16, 2005

Melaka - Untouched in the tsunami zone

By Sara Benson

In Southwest Malaysia, the jeweled city-state of Melaka was born under a lucky star. South of the capital of Kuala Lumpur, Melaka was unscathed by the Indian Ocean tsunami that hit the equally popular tourist destination of Penang, 300 miles farther north along peninsular Malaysia's western coast.
As 15th century Muslim sultans repelled Siamese attacks along Straits trading routes, they forged an empire that spread Islam to the Indonesian archipelago and the Malay language and literature into the far corners of the region. A pirate Hindu prince, Ming dynasty ambassadors, Portuguese spice traders and Dutch and British colonialists all have stockpiled riches here.
Now Melaka has returned to its roots as a sleepy backwater, but its cultural fortune remains. Walking among the ruins of Bukit China (China Hill) or standing under the shadow of red-brick Stadhuys, once the town hall and Dutch governor's residence, visitors are quickly seduced by Melaka. You can peek into the antique Chinese Peranakan shop houses of Jalan Hang Jebat, also known as Jonkers Street. Then lunch on home-cooked Nyonya cuisine (perhaps rich coconut laksa soup) in a courtyard with rattan furniture and swaying palms. Around the corner, Cheng Hoon Teng temple is a florid glimpse of heaven amid street-side mayhem.
Take advantage of the afternoon breezes and board a riverboat tour of the old godowns (warehouses), wharves and traditional village houses. Or escape to the jungle and white-sand beaches of Pulau Besar, a tiny off-shore island.
Melaka never fails to deliver on entertainment, either. If it's a weekend evening, go straight to where the seafood is fresh and the drinks flow -- Medan Portugis, a short ride east of the city center. Multicultural Melaka is a festive city year-round. Highlights include Chinese New Year (Feb. 9 this year) and Fiesta San Pedro, honoring the patron saint of the Portuguese fishing community, held in late June.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"