Randal and I took our first motorbike trip last week and I promise never to leave all the maps back on the boat ever again!
Melaka by Motorbike
Gelang Patah , our starting point, is just about midway between Johor Bahru (the red dot in the center of the tip) and Pontian Kechil directly west from Johor Bahru. We took coastal Hwy 5 from Gelang Patah to Pontian Kechil to Batu Pahat to Muar and then Malacca (British colonial spelling) or Melaka which is the Portuguese and Malay spelling. Road signs say Melaka. It was about 140 miles, we averaged about 40 MPH.
Randal and I had talked about visiting Melaka but hadn’t want to go badly enough to figure out how to get there by bus though it wouldn’t have been an obstacle if we’d really wanted to go. However, Melaka had factored into our decision to get the motorbike since much of the motivation for getting the bike was to do inland travel. Melaka, an historic trading port, has a marina but it was poorly built and has silted over. Cruisers do use it but we were never tempted especially after spending so much time north up the coast in George Town. Our friends Fien and Hans had taken their motorbike to Melaka and had really enjoyed the trip. So this past Monday we set off early in the morning and traveled along Coastal Highway 5 to Melaka. We had planned to go Sunday assuming the traffic would be lighter but woke to a rainy day. Monday was a bit overcast, but we decided to go. We left the boat at 8:30 am, the petrol station in Gelang Patah at 8:45 am and arrived at our hotel in Melaka sometime around 5 pm! It was a long day which included a short and long stop to wait out rain and our time spent lost roaming Melaka’s one way streets looking for our hotel. Fien and Hans had recommend their Melaka hotel and left me with a brochure which included a map. I had printed out a simple street map of Melaka which would have made it quite easy to find the hotel if I hadn’t left it and the Malaysia atlas back on the table in the pilot house on the boat. I’d put all the information together in a lovely plastic case and then left it on the boat. Thankfully I had actually looked at all the maps or we would have been even more lost. Randal was quite kind and didn’t get the least bit upset with me though he did have bouts of anger with the less than perfect highway signs and all of the one-way streets.
We had chosen Highway 5 instead of the inland expressway because we thought the traffic would be lighter and slower. And we thought a coastal road would be more interesting even if it is somewhat less direct. It really wasn’t so interesting but there were options to wait out the rain when it came. The first time was a quick shower just as we road into a small town so we stopped at a tiny restaurant with 3 plastic red tables and had some coffee with sweetened condensed milk (coffee susu) which is strong but not really so sweet as you might think. We had been told that the less you stir it the less sweet the taste but I wanted mine sweet so I stirred it all up. Twenty minutes later we were back on the bike but not for long. We soon ran into a downpour but luckily we were just across from a petrol station. We spent about an hour there. Randal ate ice cream and then potato chips and I had a few of the chips which ultimately turned out to be our lunch since our next stop was a restaurant in Melaka about 4 :30 where we ate an early dinner and got directions for our hotel. We left the petrol station in a light drizzle but thanks to that and wet roads, our shoes and shorts got sopping wet though I stayed drier than Randal who took the brunt of the wet.
The Cozy Hotel (photo from their website)
It was clean, comfortable, and at 80 ringgits or $25 (the motorbike rate) very reasonable. We could watch the movie channel and Hallmark if we told the reception desk to reset the TV from the more local Malay shows. We could even watch “The Nanny” with Fran Drescher which seems oddly popular all over Asia. But mostly we were out and about from early morning until about 4:30 and then we’d go back out and find a restaurant near our hotel and eat dinner. We were usually asleep pretty early and then up pretty early. In the lobby you could get hot water, tea or coffee so first thing in the morning I would put my raincoat over my PJs and go get us some. Our motorbike was parked in the small shed through the white door and that’s where it stayed because we could walk everywhere we wanted to go.
There was a tiny Zen-like enclosed area separating the rooms from what is really an older area of small shops.
We were about a 15 minute walk from the historic area, Chinatown and the funky Jonker St. So after a short rest, after a long day, we walked to the historic area just to have a quick look.
The heart of historic Melaka.
“Historically Melaka has been one of the most-sought after havens in the region. In the 14th century Parameswara, a Hindu prince from Sumatra chose Melaka as a favoured port for resupplying trading ships. From this time Melaka became protected by the Chinese in 1405, then dominated by the Portuguese in 1511, then the Dutch in 1641 and then finally ceded to the British in 1795.”
Southeast Asia on a Shoestring from Lonely Planet
What I find most interesting is that the old square rigged ship sailed with the prevailing winds to places like Melaka, George Town and Singapore and then had to wait months for the wind to change to sail home resulting in the sailors and traders intermingling and intermarrying with the local people impacting local culture, customs and cuisine.
Tuesday we got up bright and early and went off to first find breakfast, an Internet café and to see Melaka. We ate at Toast n Toast http://www.taufulou.com/2009/09/26/toast-n-toast-jalan-melaka-raya-melaka/ which sells toast with a variety of toppings. I had my whole wheat toast topped with peanut butter. Randal had an American breakfast which was toast and eggs, a hot dog and baked beans. The coffee and tea were good and so was my toast and Randal says his American breakfast was just fine. The owners were friendly and we stopped in for something to drink on our way back to the hotel in the afternoons. We asked where we could use the Internet and our young waiter directed us to Tom Net Online just further down the street.
Randal’s favorite place in Melaka where the computers were very fast and you never had to wait.
I thought we were stopping in to check email and Randal thought we were stopping for the morning!
But that worked out just fine. I knew my way to the historic area from our walk the previous evening and I knew that I wanted to visit the ruins of St. Paul’s Church and the art museum an activity best done alone because I can take forever looking at one watercolor painting. So off I went and had a lovely time.
Ruin on the left is from a Portuguese fort and Saint Paul’s is up the hill.
Old Portuguese and Dutch tombstones lean against the walls.
The church was built by the Portuguese, taken over by the Dutch and used for storing gunpowder by the British. On my way up the hill I passed a young man selling watercolour paintings so stopped to buy one. There were two other men selling pen and Ink drawings and old photographs just outside the church and a man playing the guitar and singing gospel songs inside the church.
It was a lovely and cool with lots of light and shadows.
I could have stayed quite a while but there were other things to see and I wanted to go to the art museum before I met Randal later for lunch.
Tea at a riverside café.
I was really thirsty and a bit hungry so stopped for some milk tea at a small café along the river. In the afternoon Randal and I took a short boat trip along the river.
This was the scene across the river.
The artwork on top is done in batik and the lower one is watercolor
Christ Church is, to me, the most memorable image of Melaka.
It was built by the Dutch in 1753 as a Dutch Reform Church but became an Anglican Church when the British took over the church in 1795. No photos were allowed inside
The entrance fee for the Museum was 2 ringgits, less than $1 US. There were dozens of lovely watercolor paintings and since photography was allowed I took lots of photos to study and learn from.
A photo, not a painting.
I took this photo from the balcony of the art museum and you can see the suits that had been hanging on the fence along the river transformed into human statues.
Victoria Fountain built in 1904.
The art gallery was on what we call the second floor. Randal noticed a door and we went outside onto a balcony and I took photos while Randal held the flag out of the way.
The trickshaws were all decked out with flowers and they played American pop music.
Then it was time for lunch….