I'll never forget that it once took me almost two hours to drive from Jurong East to Orchard Road. It was a rainy Friday evening - a perfect formula for a disastrous peak hour traffic jam. But two hours to cover 15 kilometres of wet tarmac was totally absurd.
Sometimes, I do think that driving in Singapore could have possibly shortened my life over the years with such bad daily traffic and roads populated with inconsiderate drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, and more so whenever I see a bright beam of LED lights, casting a holy halo over my car as it exalts several dollars from my Cashcard despite the constipated traffic.
Ever since, the feeling of driving into Malaysia has been liberating. More so now with our tiny island getting more populated than ever, and our roads embezzled by ostentatious cyclists and jaywalking pedestrians glued to their smartphones, taking their own sweet time sauntering across the junction with their earphones, totally oblivious to their surroundings. The time it took for me to reach Orchard Road on that evening could have brought me to Melaka, plus the bonus a healthier car and driver - less carbon deposits in my engine and a lower blood pressure for me.
Melaka has a very special place in my heart for some reasons. It was where I went for my first overseas study trip as a design student some twenty years ago. It was where I've brought many on photography field trips before. There are some wonderful memories where friends were made, friendships were forged, happy moments were lived, and reminiscences that will last forever.
Less than two hours on the highway before turning out at Ayer Keroh, plus an additional thirty to forty minutes into the heart of the historical town, you would have arrived in Melaka before anyone in the car needed a toilet break.
Other than the extremely short and straightforward journey, it is mainly due to the charm and beauty of this little UNESCO World Heritage Site that keeps me wanting to go back. The main historical town is so manageable on foot that you could just leave your car parked safely in the hotel and explore the entire destination easily in your Havaianas. Alternatively, there will always be bicycles for rent from some hotels, the colourful Hello Kitty decorated trishaws for hire, or a local taxi to get you around.
Melaka is also well known for its wide selection of superbly tasty food. Their Peranakan food needs no introduction with several established restaurants all within walking distance from one another. Other not-to-be-missed delights are mouth-watering Nonya laksa, ice-cold chendol, fragrant chicken rice balls and silky wanton noodles, just to name a few. Not forgetting the mélange of roadside food stalls at the weekend night market that will leave you all confused about what to have for dinner, while constantly wiping the drool off your mouth.
When the night falls on weekends, the entire 500-metre long Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat) comes alive as hawkers shake up the two rows of shophouses with their woks and clogs. From souvenir magnets and fake Lego toys to pineapple tarts and carrot cake, the Jonker Night Market is a little treasure trove that excites both the young and the old.
In addition to the popular Geographer Café housed in a well conserved pre-war shophouse, my usual and mandatory hangout is the new Hard Rock Café. To be honest, I felt that it was rather out of place in the beginning. A spanking new building with bright neon signs, blasting rock music by the river within a historical city? No way.
However, it has now become a ritual for me to have a few pints of ice cold Kronenbourg Blanc at the bar while enjoying the nightly 'live' band performing to the audiences' requests. Most importantly, it is the friendly staff who would always remember my name and bring out my thirst-quencher whenever I return that have kept me wanting to go back.
I guess I have found so much comfort in Melaka and it has made me feel so much at home, walking down the familiar lanes, chatting with familiar faces, and enjoying my favourite songs with my frosted Blanc glass in the air. To me, this little heritage town truly rocks! And perhaps, I could even have my drink earlier at Hard Rock Café Melaka than in Orchard Road on some days too.
Lovely pineapple tarts, fresh from the oven.
Facts and Figures:
Accommodation: The Majestic, Hatten, Casa Del Rio, Courtyard @ Heeren, Hotel Puri, Aldy Hotel, Holiday Inn, The Explorer, Gingerflower, 1825 Gallery Hotel, so far.
Equipment (photos above from multiple trips):
DSLRs: Nikon D810, D800E, D700, D750 with 17-35mm f2.8, 24-120mm f4, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.4
MILs: Samsung NX1000, NX500 with 30mm f2, 85mm f1.4
Point-and-shoot: Nikon P330, Sony HX50V, Samsung EX2F
Take Exit 231 'Ayer Keroh, Bandaraya Melaka', about 200 km after the Malaysian immigration via Tuas Second Link.
The remaining 16km into the heart of Melaka historical town would take 30mins with good traffic, 45mins on weekends, school holidays and peak hours.
Roadside parallel parking requires a parking coupon, which can be bought from many provision/souvenir shops along Heeren Street (Jln Tun Tan Cheng Lock) or Jonker Street (Jln Hang Jebat). The police do come often on motorbikes, so don't save that few Ringgit. Though you can try ignoring the parking fine and return home.
Many shops are closed by 7pm along Jonker Street. Weekdays are usually very quiet along the streets at night, almost deserted and with some difficulty finding dinner. So don't expect any vibrant night life other than on weekends. On weekday evenings, the only concentration of activity would be at Geographer's Café and Hard Rock Café, or at the shopping centres like Dataran Pahlawan and Mahkota Parade.