An Unforgettable 2 Days in Melaka Itinerary

by Oct 3, 2019Itinerary, Malaysia

In this Melaka itinerary post, I’m going to show you how you can pack the best sights to see and the most delicious foods to eat in Melaka into two unforgettable days. You’ll also learn how to stay at a renovated shophouse turned heritage hotel, where to eat Peranakan food, and how not to miss the fabulous Jonker Street Night Market. And I’ll give you some insider tips on exchanging money, buying SIM cards, traveling solo, staying safe, and getting around the city.

Melaka is definitely a stop everyone should put on their Malaysia itinerary. It’s got so much history. It was here that the Malay Kingdom began. Melaka had not one but three colonizers: the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British. All leaving a little bit of their culture behind when they left. And you can’t overlook the contributions Chinese immigrants have made to Melaka’s stunning architecture and rich and complex food culture. This suggested itinerary will help you manage your time so that you can see all the important sights of Melaka in two days.

This Melaka itinerary is part of my 2-week and 3-week Malaysia itinerary. 

If you don’t have time or inclination to tour the city on your own, you can also join a convenient Melaka day tour from Kuala Lumpur.

Is it Melaka or Malacca?

Before you get started on your itinerary, let’s clear up a few things about the spelling.

You’ve probably seen the two ways to spell Melaka:

Melaka and Malacca.

Which is correct?

Malacca is the old spelling under the British. You’ll notice it used in Singapore and by hotels in Melaka. Melaka is the official government spelling for the city. You’ll come across it when booking buses for Melaka.

I’m going to use Melaka in this post unless an organization or business uses Malacca.

Now that we’ve cleared up the spelling business, grab a cup of coffee and let’s look at what to do in Melaka.

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Along with visiting Melaka, I also did research on the history and culture of the city. Most of the historical information in this post comes from the book, Crossroads: A Popular History of Malaysia and Singapore. The cultural information in the post comes from a variety of books on Malaysian and Peranakan cultures in articles, 10 Best Books about Malaysia and 10 Books to Read Before Visiting Singapore. I also used information from Rough Guide Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei and Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore, & Brunei

A Bit of History for Your Melaka Itinerary

Located along the Straits of Malacca in southwestern Malaysia, Melaka is a historical city of 484,000 people . Malays consider it to be the most important city in the country’s history. It’s here where the Malay Kingdom originated.

Until the fourteenth century, Malays didn’t have their own nation or kingdom. The kingdoms of Java and Sumatra had always ruled over them.

Independence finally came in the 1300s when a member of the Malay royal family, Parameswara, declared himself ruler of the Malays. He was kicked out of Sumatra. He fled to the island of Temasek (Singapore), where he killed the local ruler and made himself king until the Thais drove him out. Looking for a suitable place to start his own kingdom, Parameswara ended up on the Malaysian Peninsula.

One day, his son, Iskandar Shah, was out hunting when he encountered a mouse deer that was ferociously attacked his hunting dogs. Impressed by the mouse deer, Iskandar took it as a good sign. And while sitting under a tree called the Melaka tree, he decided to make the area the future capital of the Malay Kingdom. He named his new home Melaka.

Parameswara established a kingdom as powerful and as rich as the Srivijaya’s, stretching from the Malay peninsula to Sumatra. From 1400 to 1511, Melaka became the most important trading post in the region, attracting people from Asia and the Middle East.

Traders from the Middle East brought Islam to the Kingdom. This new religion spread quickly throughout the local populace, uniting the Malays even more.

Melaka was successful for several reasons: The government catered to the needs of traders, kept port fees low and consistent, and controlled piracy. Trade grew and people became wealthi

Travel Tip: Best Days to Visit Melaka

Your Melaka itinerary should include a Friday, Saturday, and/or Sunday stay so that you can attend the Jonker Street Night Market. It’s one giant outdoor party filled with loud music, food, and drink. During the other days of the week, lots of businesses and restaurants close between 4:00 and 6:00 pm, so Melaka becomes as dead quiet as a cemetery at night. Sunday’s the best day to begin your Melaka itinerary because weekend tourists are gone by then and hotel prices drop.

Day 1 of Your Melaka Itinerary

Most people arrive by bus from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. I suggest leaving these cities around 8:00 am so that you arrive at noon, giving you have a half day in Melaka.

From Singapore, the bus ride takes around 4 hours and from KL, it’s 3 hours. You can read about how to travel from Singapore by bus in this post.

I took the bus from Singapore. Buses from there can drop you off at Melaka Sentral bus station, or at certain hotels..

When you buy your ticket to Melaka, you’ll have the option of choosing your drop-off point. I chose Melaka Sentral, but then paid the bus driver S$5 to take me to my hotel. He dropped me off 5 minutes from my hotel. This wasn’t an official dropping off point.

1. Checking Into Your Hotel

Begin your Melaka itinerary by either checking in or dropping your luggage off at your accommodation.

I highly recommend staying at one of the heritage hotels in the historic Chinatown area of Melaka. You won’t be disappointed.

What are Hertiage Hotels?

Heritage Hotels are renovated shophouses from the 1800s and early 1900s. Back when the British ran things in Malaysia and Singapore, merchants would have their shops on the first floor and sleeping quarters on the second floor. There was usually an open courtyard in the middle of the shophouse. This was so that air would circulate and cool down the premises.

Because owners were taxed according to frontage facing the street, they made their buildings long and narrow.

The British required that the second floor be built over a five-foot walkway (sidewalk) so that people could continuously walk down the street and still stay in the shade during sunny days and dry during the daily rain showers.

To attract customers, merchants would paint their shophouses in beautiful colors like that of an Easter egg and add European style decorative designs to the façade and pillars. The more prosperous a merchant was, the more elaborate the designs were.

One other tidbit you might find interesting is that the second-floor room that was directly over the sidewalk had a spyhole whereby the occupants could peep at whoever was on the sidewalk below.

Heritage Hotels – Where to stay in Melaka

Melaka is the perfect place to splurge just a little (you don’t need to spend too much for a unique experience) on your own shophouse experience while in southeast Asia. Heritage hotels in Melaka are cheaper than those in Penang. You can read more about heritage hotels in Penang here. 

Aava Malacca Hotel

AGODA | BOOKING.COM

I paid US$45 for a terrific hotel, the Aava Malacca Hotel, a few blocks from Jonker Street. If you appreciate beautiful architecture and décor and lots of color, you’ll love this place. It also has an infinity pool overlooking Riverwalk. Breakfast is included in the price. Make sure to upgrade to a room with a window. Because shophouses were built long and narrow, you’ll often come across hotel rooms with no windows.

Other great hotels in Melaka:

I didn’t stay at these hotels, but from my research, they are the top places to stay in Melaka:

  • Super Budget (Under US$50): Omni Hostel Malacca – AGODA | BOOKING.COM – newer hostel, super clean, friendly owner, right on the Melaka River
  • Budget (US$50 – $100): 19straatheerenAGODA | BOOKING.COM – centrally located hotel, in an old shophouse but with modern décor, friendly staff
  • Mid-range (over US$100): 5 Heeren Museum ResidenceAGODA | BOOKING.COM – Wow! This place is stunning; it’s like you’ve stepped back in time; traditional Nyonya furniture and décor; great breakfast; great location on Heeren Street. If I had the money, I’d stay here.

Travel Tip: Getting Around Melaka

If you’re in Chinatown or the Colonial center, you can get around by foot. However, if you’re outside of these two areas, I highly suggest getting a Grab (like Uber) or taxi. There aren’t many sidewalks, so you’re constantly walking in the street and the streets (and sidewalks) are full of holes, making walking an unpleasant experience. There aren’t many traffic lights or signs, so crossing the street can be a nightmare. Streets are broad and buildings are spread out.

2. Have Peranakan food for lunch

Your first fun activity of day 1 of your trip to Melaka should be to get some food into your belly. What better way to do it than by exploring the unique and little known cuisine of the Peranakans! Melaka is going to be your best opportunity in Malaysia to try Peranakan food. I found there to be more Peranakan restaurants here than in Penang or KL and nd cheaper ones than Singapore.

Who are the Peranakans?

I knew little about Peranakans before visiting Southeast Asia. But the more I learned, the more fascinated I became and the more I researched their culture.

The Peranakans were the children of Chinese, Arab, or Indian fathers and local Malay mothers. Chinese Perankans were the most common. But Melaka has an Indian Peranakan community as well albeit smaller.

Male Peranakans were also referred to as babas and females as nyonyas. Baba-nyonya culture. And the food as Nyonya cuisine.

Today, people refer to Chinese Peranakans as Straits-born Chinese. You know the movie and book, Crazy Rich Asians? They were Straits-born Chinese (Peranakans). Lee Kuan Yew was also one. However, nowadays if you’re walking down the street, you can’t tell Peranakans apart other Chinese.

When did Peranakan culture begin?

It’s unclear when these cross-cultural marriages began. One legend goes that the Emperor of China married off one of his daughters to the Sultan of Melaka in the 1400s. She brought along several hundred servants and retainers, who married local Malay women. However, there isn’t any record of this in China. so it’s unlikely that this actually happened.

It’s more likely that Peranakans originated from Chinese spice traders. In the 1500s, the Chinese were active in the spice trade, and  some settled in Melaka at the time.These traders had wives and children back home, but they would have been stuck in Melaka for many months waiting for the monsoon winds to change course so they could return to China. In the meantime, they would have found it financially beneficial and personally fulfilling to marry into a local Malay family.

What is Peranakan food?

When the couple married, they each brought a little of their culture to the family, developing a new hybrid one: Peranakan.

One of the most interesting customs involved the food. Peranakan cuisine can be best described as a mix of Chinese recipes with Malay ingredients (coconut, chillis, tamarind, lemongrass, shrimp paste, pandan leaves, etc.). It’s spicy from the chilis and sour from the tamarind. Some popular dishes are laksa, achar (pickled vegetables), otak-otak, and lots of sweets called kueh.

You can learn more about this culture at the Peranakan Museum and the Baba House in Singapore and at the Baba Nyonya Heritage House Museum in Melaka.

Where to eat Peranakan food in Melaka?

I tried two Peranakan restaurants in Melaka: Nancy’s Kitchen and Kocik Kitchen.

Nancy’s Kitchen is the most famous of the two. It’s a plain and unattractive restaurant. Not fancy like the Peranakan restaurants in Singapore.  It’s in a strip mall outside of the Chinatown neighborhood, so it’s best to take a Grab or taxi to get to it. They also offer cooking classes.

Kocik Kitchen is in Chinatown. It’s a bit older looking but it’s also more colorful than the drab Nancy’s Kitchen.

The service was much friendlier at Kocik. The staff at Nancy’s Kitchen were kind of rude.  This was one place where I was made to feel uncomfortable eating alone.

However, the food at Nancy’s Kitchen was fresher and better tasting than at Kocik’s. I had their specialty, Candlenut Chicken, and water spinach with shrimp paste and chili peppers. At Kocik I had the famous Peranakan dish, Assam Fish. It was dry and not so fresh. I couldn’t taste the tamarind or lemongrass flavors, just a lot of spice.

3. Baba Nyonya Heritage House Museum

PRICE: MR16 entrance fee + MR4 guided tour fee | OPEN: M-Th 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; F-Su: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm | TOUR LENGTH: 1 hour

The next stop on your Melaka itinerary is a visit to the Baba Nyonya Heritage House Museum. This was the highlight of my trip to Melaka

The Baba Nyonya Heritage House Museum was the family home of the Chan family, a Peranakan family that first came to Melaka in the early 1800s. Chan Cheng Siew married a local Malay woman named Chee Gee Geok Neo. His only legitimate son married a woman from another Peranakan family. The house will give you an idea of how a wealthy Peranakan family lived.

The family still owns and manages the house, but they have immigrated out of Malaysia. You can see a family portrait of the current multi-ethnic extended family.

The house is huge. It consists of three shophouse lots. It’s three stories, and there are two or three courtyards. My favorite section was the huge kitchen with some unique devices and equipment for cooking Peranakan food. The interesting thing is that the kitchen is open to the rest of the house including the dining room.

The museum doesn’t allow you to take photos.

I highly suggest going on the tour. You’ll learn so much more about the family and Peranakan culture than if you walked around on your own.

You might be tempted to skip this thinking that you can tour a Peranakan house in Penang. Don’t! The house in Melaka is more authentic than the one in Penang (Pinang Peranakan Mansion). 

TRAVEL TIP – Exchanging Money in Melaka

Not easy to do! I had trouble exchanging money in Melaka. There was one ATM machine (at a 7-11) in Chinatown, and it didn’t take my foreign bank card. I walked for 30 minutes outside of Chinatown alone at night until I found a May Bank to get money. A bit stressful as the streets were pretty deserted, and I made the mistake of making eye contact with strangers, resulting in some harassment. The two best banks are May Bank and HSBC. I’ve read, but I cannot confirm, that there are ATM machines at Melaka Sentral bus station.

4. Tour Chinatown

The next activity on this Melaka itinerary is to tour Chinatown. It’s probably the most interesting part of Melaka to wander around in.

Chinatown is not large—four blocks one direction and four blocks the other. The area is along the Melaka River and directly across the river from the Colonial area.

Chinatown is where the Chinese merchants lived and did business. You’ll find the oldest temples and mosques here, the best shophouse architecture, art galleries, and lots of souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Chinatown has three must-visit streets:

  • Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street)
  • Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Street)
  • Jalan Tukang Emas (Harmony Street)
You’ll be starting from the Baba Nyonya Museum, which is on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street). This street is where the wealthiest merchants lived. First, make your way to 8 Heeren Street to check out its restoration project (it closes at 4:00 pm). Then continue walking up and down this street, getting in photos of the elegant shophouse architecture.
You’ll find these interesting elaborately decorated Asian buildings called clan associations around Chinatown. Clan Associations are organizations based on family name, dialect, trade, or hometown in China. These associations helped new immigrants settle find work and housing, helped members start businesses and communicate with family in China, and provided assistance for funerals. You can find these organizations all over Southeast Asia wherever there are Chinese immigrants.

The most important street is Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Street). You can find lots of shops, cafes, and restaurants. This street is probably the best one for finding souvenirs from Malaysia. If you’re in Melaka on the weekend, you’ll return here after 7:00 for the Jonker Street Night Market. 

If you spot a sign for Perankan kueh (sweets) or pineapple tarts, grab some to snack on while you’re doing your walking tour. Pineapple tarts are Portugal’s contribution to Malaysian cuisine.

Check out Jalan Tukang Emas (Harmony Street—named this because of all the religious buildings here). I loved the Chinese Buddhist temple, Cheng Hoon Teng (7:00 am – 7:00 pm; free) is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. It’s dedicated to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy.

You can also find on Harmony Street the mosque, Masjid Kampung Kling (built by Indian Muslim traders in 1748) and the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia, Sri Poyatha Vinayagar. I didn’t go into either of these two places.

Finally, walk along Lorong Hang Jebat, a street along the Melaka River. Here you’ll find the Cheng Ho Museum (Open: 9:00 – 6:00 pm | 20RM)—a museum dedicated to Cheng Ho (Zheng He), a Chinese admiral who visited Melaka several times on his way to Southwest Asia and Africa from 1405 to 1433. His ships were exponentially larger than Columbus’s. Supposedly, this is the site of Cheng Ho’s original warehouse.

The information about Cheng Ho and his voyages is extensive, but politicized. You won’t see many original artefacts. Instead you’ll see lots of shoddy dioramas. to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the museum.

5. Jonker Street Night Market

COST: free | OPEN: F, Sa, & Su: 7:00 pm – 12:00 am

The Night Market begins at 7:00 pm and goes until midnight on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. During the Night Market, Jonker Street is closed to traffic. Vendors open stalls selling food, drink, and other goods on the street and the shops along Jonker Street stay open late. It’s like one big street party.

What was interesting was that the people selling the food and drink were young college or high school students and families.  Each vendor specialized in some kind of food or dessert. Try the potato slices on a stick (ask them to sprinkle cheese on them) and the sticky rice snacks covered in crushed peanuts. They sold barbecue meats, vegetables, and seafood as well.

TRAVEL TIP – Is Melaka safe for solo travelers?

As a solo traveler, the old part of Melaka felt safe. My biggest concern was falling in a hole or open sewer (there are so many!) while walking down the street at night. Some streets also lack street lamps, making it even more hazardous. I also walked around outside of Chinatown looking for an ATM late at night and was harassed a couple of times.

Day 2 of Melaka Itinerary

Start day 2 of your Melaka itinerary in the colonial area.  This is where you’ll see the remains of the three European powers that occupied Melaka at one time or another during its history: the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British. The afternoon is spent walking along the Melaka River to a Malay village.

You can switch this itinerary around and do the Melaka Riverwalk and Kampung Morten in the morning and the Colonial Center in the afternoon. Either way it will be hot in the morning and even hotter in the afternoon.

To get to the colonial part of Melaka from Chinatown, cross the Melaka River. You’ll come to a roundabout called Dutch Square. Right in front of you, you’ll see a beautiful fountain and a group of large red buildings that stick out like a sore thumb. These buildings are the Stadhuys, the townhall for the Dutch and British colonial governments, and Christ Church.

The Melaka Tourist Information Center is on the right side of the roundabout. It may be the worst tourist information center I’ve ever come across. When I was there, it was staffed by a sulky, uncommunicative human being. I didn’t find any information that would have been helpful to me.

1. Porta de Santiago – A’Famosa Fort

COST: free | OPEN: 24/7

Ignore Dutch Square for now and start with the remains of Portugal’s role in Melaka’s history and the oldest European structure in Asia with a visit to the ruins of A’Formosa Fort. In English, A’Famosa means “the famous.” All that remains of the fort is a small gate house. I like to start with the fort and St. Paul’s Church rather than Dutch Square as it’s nicer to climb up to the church in the morning than the sweltering afternoon.

You can get to it by walking up Jalan Kota Street to the other side of St. Paul Hill.

The fort was built in 1511 by the Portuguese. Originally, there were long ramparts and four major towers, one of which was four stories. It originally covered the entire hillside. The fort contained Portuguese government offices, a hospital, five churches, storage rooms for ammunition, the governor’s residence, and townhouses.

How were the Portuguese able to conquer the Malay Kingdom so easily?

The Portuguese arrived in Melaka in 1511, when cracks began to appear in the Melaka Sultanate. As time went by, the later descendants of the Sultan became less capable and more slothful and corrupt. The residents of Melaka consisted mostly of foreign traders who had little sense of loyalty to the Malay rulers. So, when the Portuguese came looking for a port to help them control the spice trade, Melaka was ripe for their taking.

With their superior weapons, the Portuguese easily defeated the Malays. The royal family escaped to Johor and the Riau Islands (near Singapore).

What did the Dutch and British do with the fort?

When the Dutch conquered Melaka, they took over the fort. You can still see the company logo of the Dutch East India Company on the gate of the fort. Look for the inscription, ANNO 1670, the year the Dutch took over the fort.

The British  destroyed A Famosa when they first colonized Melaka in 1795. Thanks to Sir Raffles, at least the gate was saved.

2. St. Paul’s Church

COST: free | OPEN: 24/7

About ten minutes by foot uphill from A Famosa, you’ll find the remains of St. Paul’s Church (1521), also built by the Portuguese, taken over by the Dutch, and destroyed by the British.

Under the Portuguese, the church was called the Church of Annunciation. When the Dutch replaced the Portuguese, they converted it to a Dutch Reform church and renamed it St. Paul’s Church. They used it until they built Christ Church in 1753. Then it fell into disrepair. The British used the church as a storehouse for ammunition and explosives.

The Portuguese had two main goals in Melaka: making money and making Catholics. They were unsuccessful in both. They were too strict and cruel to the Muslim population to convince them to convert.

Francis Xavier attempted to convert Melakans while he was in the city from 1545 – 1552, but he was unsuccessful. He died in Macau, but his body was interred in the church for 9 months before it was moved to Goa. There’s a blocked off area in the church where his body lay. You can see his statue in front of the church.

Why did the Portuguese fail?

The Portuguese didn’t have an easy time ruling Melaka. They were continuously fighting off attacks from enemies, and they lacked the manpower to control the port.  Melaka could never attract the best and brightest Portuguese. Most who lived there were illiterate and corrupt, resulting in a colony that bled money for Portugal. Muslim traders refused to trade with them. So, Melaka’s prominent position in the economy of Southeast Asia faded and never bounced back to what it had been like under the Malay Sultanate.

3. Sultan’s Palace (Istana Kesultanan)

COST: 5 MR | OPEN: Tu – Su: 9:00 am – 5:00 or 6:00 pm

The next stop on your Melaka itinerary is the palace of the Malay Sultan, Istana Kesultanan. It’s at the base of St. Paul’s Hill. Just follow a trail down from St. Paul’s Church.  You’ll get to learn a lot about Malay history at this fascinating replica of the original palace.

The original palace was burned down by the Portuguese. The palace you see now is a replica built based on old drawings of and documents on the original. Like the original palace, this recreation was also built completely out of wood using no nails.

You’ll see the Sultan’s bedchamber and his throne room. You’ll also come across exhibits on the people of Melaka and their customs and traditions. There are two main exhibits that tell the story of two famous heroes from Malay history: Hang Tuah and Tun Kudu.

There are other smaller niche museums nearby like the Stamp Museum, the Islamic Museum, and the People’s Museum.

4. Dutch Square

Once you’ve seen the back end of St. Paul Hill, return to where you started your morning itinerary of Melaka, Dutch Square.

Dutch Square is the perfect place to rest (around the fountain) and do some people watching.

The two main red buildings in the square are Christ Church and the Stadthuys. You can choose to see the two buildings now and then go to lunch or have lunch and then come back to see them.

5. The Stadthuys

COST: RM 10 | OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm

The Stadhuys was the colonial administrative center of both the Dutch and the British. It is now the Museum of Ethnography, devoted to Malay culture. According to the museum, you can blame the British and not the Dutch for the awful red color. The Stadhuys was originally white under the Dutch. It was the British who painted it red.

I have mixed feelings about recommending this museum. On the one hand, It’s not the most inspiring museum. It’s packed with shoddy displays and dioramas. The mannequins look like they came from a cheap department store. The museum felt less informative and more like I was being bombarded with nationalist propaganda. I want to learn more about Malay culture, but I would have preferred a less heavy handed approach.

On the other hand, the old red stone buliding with its rooms of dark wood beams is quite evocative. If you ignore the exhibits, it’s easy to imagine yourself walking through these halls 300 years ago.

Other than these two red buildings, the Dutch made little mark on Melaka’s culture. In 1641, they kicked the Portuguese out and administered the city until the British took over 183 years later.

Their occupation of Melaka didn’t bring the city’s glory days back. It continued to decline. The Dutch made Batavia (western coast of Java) as their trading and administrative center rather than Melaka.

6. Christ Church

COST: free | OPEN: M-Sa 9:00 am – 4:30 pm

You can next make a quick stop at Christ Church. It’s right next to the Stadthuys.

Christ Church is quite plain with its white-washed walls and lack of stained glass. The Dutch built it in 1753 to commemorate their occupation of Melaka. changed it to an Anglican church.

The Dutch in Melaka

Under the Dutch it was a Dutch Reform church. But when the British took over, they turned it into an Anglican Church, which is what it is now.

The Dutch were different from the Portuguese in that they weren’t interested in saving souls or punishing Muslims. They just wanted to make money.

However, they had a reputation as ruthless colonizers. If anyone defied them, they would kill the entire population of an area or burn all of their crops.

Because of the policies of the Dutch, the living standards of the Malays suffered greatly. They drove the Malays away from their traditional trading way of life into the less lucrative occupation of agriculture.

The British and Melaka

In 1795, Europe was at war and the Netherlands fell under French rule. The Dutch gave over its territories in Southeast Asia to the British East India Company temporarily so that they wouldn’t fall into the French hands. When the war was over in Europe, they were supposed to be returned to the Dutch. So, the British planned to move the whole population of Melaka (15,000 people) making the city uninhabitable for the Dutch when they returned. However, Sir Raffles thought this was unfair to the people of Melaka and convinced the British East India Company not to do it.

In 1824, the Netherlands and Britain signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty. The British would get everything north and east of the Straits of Melaka and the Dutch everything south of it. That meant that Melaka went to the British and became part of its Straits Settlement along with Penang and Singapore.

Melaka’s fate improved somewhat under the British, who invested modestly in the colony. But it really wasn’t until rubber was discovered and Chinese rubber entrepreneurs began investing in Melaka in the late 1800s that the city began to prosper again.

 

TRAVEL TIP – Where to buy a SIM card

I got a Malaysian SIM card at a Hotlink store on Jonker Street. The people who worked there were helpful at inserting the card for me and explaining how to use it. To add more data to your card, visit a convenience store like 7-11 and ask for a “tap-up” on your card. The Hotlink SIM card worked fine in Malaysia, but even though it was supposed to work in Thailand and Singapore, it didn’t. Singapore SIM cards should work for a few days in Malaysia. Most Malaysian SIM cards charge for text messages, so use What’sApp instead.

7. Lunch

Head back to Chinatown for lunch at Hoe Kee Chicken Rice (Open: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm) (4, 6 & 8, Jalan Hang Jebat, Melaka, Malaysia). Melaka has a famous dish that is a variation of the Hainanese Chicken Rice dish called Chicken Rice Balls. It’ll be a shame if you can’t sample this famous dish during your 2 days in Melaka. 

The staff will suggest which size of chicken you should order according to how many people are in your group. I was just one person and I paid 7.50 RM for the chicken and 1.50 RM for 5 rice balls (.30 RM per rice ball).

The Origin of Chicken Rice Balls

Hainanese Chicken Rice is the national dish of Singapore, but you can find it all over Southeast Asia where Chinese immigrants live. The origins of the dish come from the southern province of Hainan. It’s boiled chicken on top of oily, flavored rice and with chili sauce on the side.

The Melakan version takes the rice and rolls it into balls.There are several theories as to how this concept started.

The most interesting story involves a fisherman named Hoe Kee and his wife that took place around 50 years ago. Hoe Kee was jailed for illegally fishing in Indonesian waters. While he sat in a prison in Indonesia, his wife thought of a clever way to make money. She started peddling chicken rice to laborers at the docks. But since the workers had little time for lunch, she came up with a way to make it easier for them to carry and eat their chicken rice. She rolled the rice into balls. The idea was a hit, and her dish became very popular. When Hoe Kee was released from jail, he joined his wife in the business. They eventually opened up a restaurant. Today the Hoe Kee Chicken Rice restaurant is still run by the family.

8. Try some White Coffee

A great place to rest and try some White Coffee during your 2 days in Melaka is at the Calanthe Art Café. You’ll love this cafe–decent food, great drinks, and friendly staff. It’s got some cool decor inside and a nice outdoor seating area.

They have tons of other flavored coffees including the Malaysian specialty, White Coffee. You can choose your coffee drink based on which of the 13 Malaysian states the coffee bean comes from.

Take a seat outside. Sometimes a guy across the street will play the erhu (Chinese stringed instrument) as you sit outside sipping your coffee.

You can come here for dinner as it’s one of the few places that are open in Chinatown after 6:00 pm. They have pretty good laksa.

White Coffee originated with the poor Chinese immigrants who worked in the mines around Ipoh in the 19th century. They roasted coffee beans in margarine, which gave the coffee a caramelized flavor.

But why is it called White Coffee?

Due to the condensed milk that Malaysians add to the coffee. It’s sweet but not as sweet as say Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. You can order coffee without the milk as well. 

You can pick up a bag of instant white coffee in stores in Malaysia. Don’t buy the coffee from a tourist shop, though (a bit pricey). Since Malays drink these instant packs of coffee, you should be able to find it in any old convenience store or grocery store.

9. Riverwalk

The next must-do activity on your Melaka itinerary is a walk along Riverwalk–a pedestrian lane along the Melaka River. This is a cool area. You’ll find lots of old restored buildings that have been turned into cafés and hotels. Alternatively, you can take a river cruise (RM27), but I found I could see more on my walk.

The only downside to the walk is the heat. So, you might want to start walking in late afternoon or take it slow by stopping off at the cafes, bars, and restaurants along the way.

Check out the cool street art and bridges along the way.

It’s1.5 kilometers to Kampung Morten.

10. Kampung Morten

Your walk along Riverwalk will take you to Kampung Morten, a Malay traditional village of around 50 traditional Malay houses surrounded by modern high-rise apartment and office buildings.

Register at the entrance of the village for a free guided walking tour. There are supposedly guided tours at 4:00 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Besides walking around the village, you can go inside a 90-year-old home turned museum, Villa Sentosa. It’s open from 9:00 am-1:00 pm and 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm. The owner, Ibrahim Hashim, or one of his family members will give you a tour of the home and tell you stories about what life was like in the village long ago. You’ll get to see artefacts from the family’s past representing Malay culture. There is no ticket cost, but you’re expected to leave a donation.

Don’t skip Kampung Morten. It will be one of the few times you’ll get to explore the most important aspect of Malay culture: the kampung. While Chinese, Indians, and Europeans lived in cities, most Malays resided in villages, called kampungs, where they made a living through farming.

Malay culture and values originated in the kampung. The villagers based their life on two principles: compensation and mutual responsibility. When someone in the kampung broke the law, he or she wasn’t punished (sent to prison). Instead, his or her family compensated the victim. And if a member of the kampung caused a problem outside of the village, then the whole village would be responsible for the actions of that one person. The worst thing that could happen to a member of a kampung was to be banished from it and left to fend for himself or herself. This is traditional Malay culture. Nowadays, though, more and more Malays live in big cities like KL instead of villages.

11. Dinner

Many restaurants in Chinatown close between 4:00 and 6:00 from Mondays to Thursdays. Before leaving your hotel, have an idea of which restaurant you’re going to. Wandering around looking for something that’s open will only frustrate you because so many places are closed on weekdays.

I had dinner at the Calanthe Art Cafe. I loved the cocunuty flavor of their laksa. As a solo traveler, I felt comfortable eating here alone.

Other options in Melaka:

More Ideas to add to your Melaka Itinerary

If you’re staying longer than 2 days in Melaka, consider these places to visit:

Floating Mosque (Masjid Selat Melaka) – a frequently photographed mosque on the outskirts of Melaka; the best time to go is at sunset; you’ll need to take a taxi or Grab to get there and back; it might be hard to find a taxi back to the city center (Rough Guide Malaysia, Lonely Planet Malaysia)

Bukit China – This is the ancestral cemetery of the Chinese community; today it’s also a park (Rough Guide Malaysia; Lonely Planet Malaysia).

Sam Poh Kong temple – A temple dedicated to Admiral Cheng Ho; located at the base of Bukit China (Rough Guide Malaysia)

Portuguese Settlement – An area of Melaka where the descendants of the Portuguese settlers live; you can still hear the people speak Kristang, a dialect that mixed Malay and Portuguese (Rough Guide Malaysia)

Maritime Museum – Located in a recreation of a Portuguese shop, this museum is dedicated to the maritime history of Melaka from the Malay Sultunate to the British occupation (Rough Guide Malaysia; Lonely Planet Malaysia)

Cheng Ho Cultural Museum –Located along the Melaka River, this museum is dedicated to the life of Cheng Ho and the history of his voyages to Melaka. (Rough Guide Malaysia, Lonely Planet Malaysia)

Dutch Graveyard – You can explore the graves of Dutch and British settlers here; located near St. Paul’s Church, the Dutch graveyard (Rough Guide Malaysia)

Little India – Chitty-Peranakans are the descendants of Indian fathers and Malay mothers; a colorful neighborhood a kilometer from Chinatown; Visit the Chitty Museum – on the history and culture of Chitty-Peranakans; Sri Subramaniam Thuropathai Amman – colorful Hindu temple (Lonely Planet Malaysia)

List of Sources for Melaka Itinerary Post

Along with visiting Melaka, I also researched the history and culture of the city and of Malaysia. You can find a list of the books I’ve read on Malaysia in the post, 10 Books about Malaysia: Read Before You Go! For this post, I specifically used the following sources:

So, there you have it: an activity-packed two-day Melaka itinerary filled with amazing food, a fascinating and tragic history, stunning architecture, and a kaleidoscope of cultures. This itinerary will give you a chance to explore Melaka’s Malay, Chinese, and European heritages.  To add its Indian heritage to your itinerary, you’ll need to add another day or cut something out of this two-day itinerary.

If you have any questions about this post, please feel free to leave a question in the comment section below!

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easy-to-follow itinerary guide Melaka Malaysia
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12 Comments

  1. Wow- I love the heritage hotels- great pics!

    Reply
    • They are pretty cool!

      Reply
  2. I loved visiting Melaka, we have dropped by twice for day trips and one overnight. I wish we had stayed longer – we missed several of your suggestions but I am sure we will put them to use next time.

    Reply
    • I hope you get a chance to return to Melaka!

      Reply
  3. Great insight to somewhere that’s been off my radar so far! You’ve made me want to visit now -added to the bucket list!

    Reply
    • I’m glad! I hope you get a chance to visit Malaysia.

      Reply
  4. Great post, some of those heritage houses look amazing. I visited the region when I was a teenager with my parents (back in the 1980s!) but I’d love to go back, I’m sure I’d appreciate it more now.

    Reply
    • The heritage houses/hotels are the best part of Melaka. I hope you have a chance to return.

      Reply
  5. How beautiful, this looks so exotic 🙂

    Thanks for a good read!

    Reply
    • Chinatown and the Colonial Center are quite beautiful.

      Reply
  6. Thanks for this guide to Melaka! The place looks so charming I’d be happy to visit on my trip to Malaysia…

    Reply
    • Thanks! I hope you get a chance to visit soon.

      Reply

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About the Bamboo Traveler

Julie Krolak

Hi! I’m Julie, the Bamboo Traveler!  This blog is devoted to helping the inquisitive traveler explore a country’s history and culture. On this site, you’ll find itineraries to help you plan your trip, reviews to help you make more informed decisions, lots of history and cultural information to help make your travels more meaningful, and book recommendations to help you understand a place more deeply.

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