Melaka world Heritage site in South West Malaysia is a key tourist destination and it did not disappoint.After leaving Johor Bahru we travelled the 220km to Melaka.
We would have preferred to do this, as we had done most of our travel so far, on the comfortable and straight forward train system, but with no train station in (or near to) Melaka, we opted for the bus.
This leaves from Larkin Sentral JB, a bustling hub of market stalls and food court, and journeys the not so scenic 2 and a half hours of motorway, passing mainly palm fields until it reaches Melaka Sentral (which is actually not that central!)
Again either side we chose to use grab, this is not through a lack of taxis but just because it’s a little more convenient, and the price is set.
An amazing parenting win has also come solely from using grabs; we practice more unschooling than homeschooling, mainly because if we attempt any kind of structure to our lessons our 5 year old rebels, this included recognising numbers.
When you order a grab, you are given the license number to identify it, so what started with me simply announcing the number to my wife to help spot, slowly turned into both children taking over the grab spotting and finding great excitement in who would spot the right sequence of numbers first!
We were staying at the Atlantis residence, a condo made up of 4 x 40 floor tower blocks with a central pool and and just about every other facility you could think of – from gyms to bbq areas and squash courts and saunas and….
But what we were most excited by, after our slight isolation in JB, was the rows and rows of restaurants that surouded it.
On arrival in fact, after a quick tour of the towers, including the typical Malaysia glass bottomed bridge, we jped straight out to the nearest Nyonya restaurant.
Nyonya is the traditional term for the Han women, descendant of Chinese imigrants, among the straights of China. The cuisine is a mixture of Malay and Chinese and quite unique to Melaka.
Within walking distance we found a quiet little Nyonya restaurant, which shortly after we sat down quickly filled up with locals – who seemed a little ammused, but still welcoming, to see a tourist family in what seemed to be the favourite local spot.
With everything on the menu called something completely alien to us, “Pie Tee” had already been recommended to us and we already loved “Rengdang” so the Nyonya version was a must, otherwise we chose blindly.
Pie Tee which translates as “top hat” looks exactly like pastry versions of their name sake filled with a sweet and sour filling.
Rengdang is a highly spiced curry, sometimes just spicy and sometimes really spicy.
We (the bigs) enjoyed everything and could have had serving after serving of the pie tee, the kids however decided that they weren’t interested – perhaps after a couple of weeks in JB of comfortable food choices.
Their distaste of our restaurant was compounded somewhat when we ordered the only dessert of the menu – Ice Kakang.
Our Malaysia book made it clear this mixed dessert of ice, syrup, beans, jellies and milk?? Was a delicacy we had to try, but for two perhaps over tired under 5s it was not the pudding they were expecting (and even the over 5s weren’t so keen)
Having said that the kids seemed more happy with the menu choices of a Malay family they chose to join part way through our meal (both adopted family and we, were happy with the arrangement)
Next day we headed out to one of the main tourist attractions, Dutch square.
This is the main tourist hub, just off of Jonker Street and at the foot of the hill where the famed St Paul’s church stands.
Here we found a plerethra of the brightly decorated and LOUD trishaws, ready to take you for tours of the city.
We chose to save these for the night time when they light themselves up with hundreds of fairy lights, and instead head up the hill.
First though to keep the kids happy we grabbed a couple of soft scoop ice creams – with only one flavour choice mixed.
The kids seemed to love it, however with the over riding taste of durian (or penicillin) it wasn’t our favourite.
The walk to St Paul’s is easy, if not a little warm at the middle of the day. At the top we found the impressive 15th century ruined church complete with the cage which previously guarded the remains of St Francis Xavier.
There were small stalls selling gifts and food, scattered around the church and on the decent, down to fort Famosa, a small historic (ruined) portugese fort the other side of the hill.
We finished the day in a nearby play park, and once home headed straight out to, a little embarrassingly, the best restaurant experience in Malaysia.
I say embarrassingly because instead of a local Malay or Chinese or Indian, it was a western steakhouse.
Where we were “convinced” by the waiter to buy the bucket of beer.
The littles ate spag’ bol’ and played on the swings, and the bigs ignored the mosquitos and sat by the waterside drinking bottles of pilsners.
We quickly found ourselves a routine in Melaka, and this included a short walk to breakfast every morning for Roti Chanai (tishu for Avery)Roti (bread) Chanai (flying) is the traditional Malay breakfast.
It’s half way between a naam and a chipati with a flaky texture. It’s served with curried dal or chicken broth or whatever is going really, plus chilly sauce.
The making of it is impressive, with the chef first flinging and twisting the dough in the air to create it’s thinness (flying bread) then folding this into multiple layers to make the flaky crust.
More impressive though was Avery’s personal favourite, which rather than adding the folds; the ultra thin dough is cooked and whilst still flexible wrapped into a pyramid and drizzled with honey.
This hardens to a flexible crispy texture.
Our rounds of roti were accompanied by fresh fruit juice, coffee and ginger tea.
As a side note as a coffee lover it’s hard to get something that satisfies my European taste.
Malay coffee (Kopi), seems to contain almost as much condensed milk AND sugar as it does water. Asking for none of either condensed milk or sugar is only met with less.
Over time I learnt to only part mix the drink, leaving the majority of the milk and sugar at the bottom of the cup.
Food was certainly a highlight in Melaka with none so abundent than at the famous night market on Jonker Street.
This is a festival of stalls, with the air filled with music and the smells of whatever is cooking.It’s an eclectic mix of savoury, sweet, seafood, meats, Chinese, Malay, Indian, Tai, actually anything you could imagine.
It happens every week on a central street (which splits into two) called Jonker Street.
We headed to the night market hungry, and looking forward to meeting our friends from Johor Bahru who had stopped by for the weekend.
It wasn’t dark yet but the street was bustling, we jumped from stall to stall trying anything that caught our eye.
Typically each item was 2 – 5myr (40p to £1) the colourful steamed buns particularly caughts the kids eye, as did, surprisingly, raw squid on a stick which as Dexter was being brace as so was Daddy.
We finally found our friends at the Jonker World Heritage Park, where we also found that Avery has a strange resemblence to Dr Gan Boon Leong; Malaysian Mr Universe!
Our exploring for the night ended when we came across an open air food court with music, a very spicy Rangdang stall and fresh watermelon to drink.
Bigs relaxed whilst Littles played happily, so much so they had to be carried home (the kids that is).
Being explorers ourselves, we were drawn to a little museum just off Jonker street, following the life and travels of Cheng Ho, perhaps the greatest explorer we had never heard of!
The Cheng Ho cultural gallery follows the Ming Dynasty Admiral who visited Malacca many times while en route to the Western Ocean from 1405-1433.
After an initial informative movie we we’re released to the labrinth of ancient artifacts which the admiral had collected on his travels, and now filled every nook of the building.
Although plenty to look at, the way the exhibit had been displayed left the kids a little bored but a “village life” model scene, with hilariously out of proportion models did leave us in histerics.
In all honesty the movie at the beginning was probably the most fascinating part, with the lack of any real information (or imagination) for each artifact making them a little difficult to be excited about.
However we are now keen to learn more about this impressive explorer.
With 1 week left in Melaka, and 3 weeks in Malaysia we were aiming to tick off a few more of the heritage sites offerings, before heading back to KL.
But our trip was cut short…
6 weeks in Malaysia was the longest we had spent on one trip, even we were suprised when we had cancelled our flights home and delayed our return for another 2 months.
This happened because we found ourselves somewhere that truly had everything we needed long term.
Not only this but we felt at home, among people who welcomed us with open arms.
We talked as a family about the possibility of living here longer.
As a country Malaysia has so many cultures and beliefs, that ours do not seem out of place.
It has warm weather, multiple layers of rich history and maginificent scenery.
Homeschooling is accepted, the cost of living is cheap and English is spoken fluently in most cases.
On the downside it’s on the other side of the world from friends and family.
A worry we had was; what if the worst happened? What if someone we love fell ill or even died.
We decided together, that really, it would make no difference where we were in the world.
In that situation the plan would be the same from near or far. We would get on the next plane and be home soon enough.
We never thought that it would become a reality.
On the 16th of March at 8 am, 3 weeks before we were due home, we woke up in Malacca; to the devastating news that Emma’s Dad had passed away suddenly.
He was 54 years old.
In a daze we booked the soonest flight out of Kuala Lumpur. Packing happened slowly as we moved items around rather than organizing them and finally we got in a taxi.
Friends who we had only met a few weeks before dropped everything and opened their home to us, fed us and the next morning got us to the airport.
That wasn’t how our Malaysia trip should have ended; right now we are broken.
My beautiful wife has lost her only parent in her encouraging and supportive father, my children have lost their grandad.
A grandad who played on the floor with them, even though he had a bad hip, who couldn’t swim, but setup a pool in the garden, and who totally and utterly adored them.
Of course sitting on the plane at the start of our 16 hour journey home, we are well aware that our worst thought has come true and our future plans have come into question.
It may change, but right now we are of the frame of mind that loosing my father in law so suddenly and at such a young age is further validation in those plans we were making.
This man was devoted to raising his son and daughter, he worked hard his whole life, this was both honorable and necessary but he spoke about finally retiring to France – he deserved to live out those plans.
I know what he would have said to ours though – the same thing he said to me when, after just weeks of dating his daughter, I phoned from the other side of the world to ask for permission to marry her.
“Go for it”
So we now have a very very hard journey ahead, I can’t begin to imagine how my wife and brother in law are really feeling.
All I know is that we have just lost a good man.