One week in Malaysia: Melaka and Kuala Lumpur

After a great few days exploring the clean, green streets of Singapore, we re-packed our bags for the umpteenth time and jumped on a coach to the colourful, charming streets of Melaka (also Malacca). This UNESCO world heritage city is only a short four-hour journey across the border from Singapore, a quarter of which is spent going through the two countries’ border controls.

We were looking forward to spending four days in Melaka having heard very good things about the food, the people, and the general feel of the place. It’s described by many as a cultural hot-pot on Peninsular Malaysia’s west coast. This is because at various points in time it’s been part of the Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Japanese colonies, all of which have had an impact on the architecture and culture.

Here, you can see the city’s Dutch influence:

Dutch Square, Melaka

And here you can see the influence of various other settlers:

The actual city is relatively large, but we spent most of our time in the smaller old quarter. Here, we loved simply walking around the quarter’s myriad of small, characterful streets and trying all sorts of different food in cool cafés—each of which is in one of Melaka’s amazingly designed houses with an open-air area in the middle (no idea what the technical term for this is). It was also interesting to come across so many different places of worship. In what must be a one-mile radius, we came across a large number of temples, churches, and mosques, all with their own unique history and design.

Food-wise, we had some great experiences, some eye-opening ones, and a near-death experience with one particularly spicy dish. We won’t bore you with all the places that we loved, but if anyone goes to Melaka and would like a few tips, reach out to one of us as we’d love to share! The one truly exceptional one I’ll mention is a small café called Bikini Toppings. We ended up going to this place four times in three days to have their signature coconut ice cream. No word of a lie: We doubt we’ll taste fresher, tastier coconut ice cream ever again. Droooooooool.

Bikini Toppings’ coconut ice cream

We also happened upon an amazing popiah, which is a Fujianese/Chaoshan-style fresh spring roll. We were having an iced-tea at a small Chinese place when the owner suggested we walk down the street and speak to the random guy selling food from his trishaw. “Best Chinese spring roll you’ll try,” she said. So, I walked down and ordered two for the princely sum of three ringgit each (just over 50p). They tasted so, so good that I walked back down the road after we’d eaten them and ordered two more. Thank you iced-tea lady for your very kind, and tasty, recommendation!!

Mouthwatering trishaw popiah

As for eye-opening experiences, our first meal in the city is the scene for this one. We arrived at lunchtime and were starving, so popped into the first place we saw and waited to be brought the menu. Within one minute, we’d had banana leaves dumped on the table in front of us and about six different types of curry from dubious-looking metal containers plopped onto said leaves. A different man then walked up and reached into what can only be described as a metal bin with his bare hands to drop some poppadoms on our leaves. After this, away the men went, leaving us to our lunch. With every single hygiene code broken, we nervously took our first few mouthfuls. However, the food was seriously good, so we ended up devouring it in no time at all. And what did we pay for all this? The monster-sum of £1.5 each. And somewhat miraculously, we didn’t get the shits. Hurrah!

Banana leaf lunch

And our near-death chili experience? Let’s just say don’t trust local waiters when it comes to the spice-scale here. Our waiter said a squid dish we were interested in was about a four out of 10 in terms of spiciness, so we thought we could take it with our relatively decent spice tolerance. Anyway, the dish arrives and within seconds of the first bite, we were both sweating profusely from the cheeks (who knew that was a thing?), breathing fire, and asking for extra water. When we were finished, the waiter came over and said something along the lines of: ” Oh yeah, maybe it’s a four for me but a nine for you. Whoooops!”

Here are a few more pictures from our time in Melaka, including a hilarious ride on one of the local trishaws:

After Melaka, we got on another coach, this time heading to Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia’s capital city turned out to be the least favourite city on our trip so far: It wasn’t remotely pedestrianised, which made it hard to get around; it felt dirty, and; there wasn’t very much of interest to do. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for us though as it meant that we had time to catch up with some photo editing, blog writing, and we even managed to watch the whole new season of Narcos.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. We really enjoyed visiting the colourful Batu Caves—a very popular Tamil shrine inside a cave at the top of 272 brightly coloured steps. We also splurged (in ringgit terms) on an Airbnb in the building with the highest infinity pool in KL for one night, which was a fun experience. The best way to avoid the city’s dirty, unpedestrianised streets is clearly to go to the top of one of the city’s skyscrapers. In fact, KL is arguably a very beautiful place from above, particularly at night when the light of the Petronas Towers dominates the skyline.

View of KL skyline from our Airbnb

At this point, we’d originally planned to go further north to the Cameron Highlands, Penang, and Langkawi. However, we fancied a change of scene (beaches, essentially) and so when we found cheap-ass flights to Krabi, Thailand, we booked them and took a week’s diversion from plan.

More on this from Lauren in our next blog.

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