Saturday, January 30, 2010

Melaka, Malaysia

Originally we had a flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur that would have given us five days in Singapore, but after three days, as delightful as they were, we traveled on into Malaysia. We took a bus to the Malaysian border town of Johor Bahru and then caught another bus to the town of Melaka (sometimes spelled Malacca). The border crossing was a breeze; the bus waits for everyone to disembark and go through both Singapore and Malaysian customs before going to the bus station in the center of town. Of course we didn't know the bus would wait so we almost missed it. We were wandering around when the driver yelled at us to get back on.

We had to fight a slew of hagglers trying to sell us stuff when we got off at the bus station, but eventually we found an ATM, got some Malaysian cash (ringgits) and bought a bus ticket to Melaka. We could have booked a bus from Singapore all the way to Melaka, but it would have cost us $22 Singapore dollars ($15 US) each. Instead, the bus to the border was $2 Singapore ($1.50 US) and the Malaysian bus was only 19 ringgits ($5.50 US) each. That works out to be less than half price! Every dollar counts when you're on a budget.

There were only three of us on the bus to Melaka, which would probably under normal conditions take two hours, but instead took four because we stopped every 45 minutes so the driver could have a smoke (lots of smoking here). We also stopped once for food, where we got to try our first Malaysian food. Malaysian food is essentially noodles in various forms; they eat noodles at all meals here. With eggs, with meat, with vegetables, sometimes all three, sometimes as soup, sometimes like pasta. So far we haven't been disappointed. The sauces are spicy, but very tasty. We also saw our first squat toilets (hole in ground with no toilet paper, just water to clean yourself up with) and ubiquitous prayer rooms. Malaysia is an Islamic country (70% of women wear head scarves, but no burquas) and there are public prayer rooms everywhere.

Melaka is a cute town with a long history. Europeans (Portuguese, Dutch and English) used the port as a trading center and the Chinese also ruled here for a time. This church, for example dates from the 1500s:
From Melaka

Melaka is also a very multicultural city. There is a sizeable Chinese population with a large Chinatown. It's also quite modern. There are a couple new malls, including two movie theaters. One of the days while here we saw Sherlock Holmes for only 7 ringgits ($2 USD)! The movie had two sets of subtitles: Chinese and Malay. The movie was a great way to escape from the heat. It's super hot and humid here and we're sweating constantly. Luckily, it's safe to drink the water (and ice) here and there are fruit juice vendors everywhere. At least once a day we stop for cold juice (lime is our favorite), which cost between 1.5 and 2 ringgits (40 or 50 cents). For lunch one day we had lime juices and they cost 3.5 ringgits and I was mad that they overcharged us, but then realized I was mad about roughly 50 cents. A rip-off is still a rip-off, however.

Apart from the movie, we've been mainly walking around, seeing the various sights, and eating. The food, as mentioned, is quite good, and very cheap. Our most expensive meal was at a really awesome satay place where you cook your satays at your table in a personal vat of peanut sauce oil. We stuffed ourselves, including coconut drinks and appetizers and the total bill was 29 ringgits ($8.50 US). Other stuff is cheap as well. Our hostel, with a private room is costing us 25 ringgits ($7.50 US) per night, including free breakfast, coffee or tea and wifi. It's a great deal.
From Melaka

From here we were supposed to go to Kuala Lumpur and couchsurf with some people there. In fact our plans were to leave this morning, but last night we got an e-mail from our couchsurfer saying something came up and she couldn't host us. So instead we stayed another night at this hostel and will tomorrow head over to the East Coast of Malaysia, to the town of Kuala Terrangganu where we hope to then go to the Perhentian Islands. They're supposed to be incredibly beautiful. It's about a nine hour bus ride, and then an hour and half ferry, although we won't be able to take the ferry until the next day. Internet is also supposedly sparse on the islands so check our Spot page for updates of our location if you don't see any newer posts.

Here are the rest of the pictures from Melaka:

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