UAE residents have a problem. We’re so spoilt with year-round sunshine, clean beaches and so many entertainment options right on our doorstep that when it comes to choosing a holiday destination to top what we have here at home, it can be a challenge. Thankfully Malacca (also known as Melaka in Malay), in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, ticks all the boxes. Only a two-hour drive from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, it’s convenient. Its resorts have family fun aplenty, while its shopping and historical sites will be sure to keep both kids and adults stimulated. Here are our top five things to do in Malacca.
1. Take a trip down memory lane
Malacca is a Unesco World Heritage City, so the historical sites are a must. Head for the Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum, located at the foot of St Paul Hill, a modern replica of the palace of Sultan Mansur Syah, who ruled from 1456 to 1477. The palace is divided into chambers and galleries. The three-storey museum showcases Malay weaponry, arts, jewellery, costumes and the royal bedchamber. The museum also includes an Islamic hall and an ‘audience hall’ that rulers would have used to receive community members and to discuss current affairs and politics. This is a perfect spot if you want to get a glimpse of the architecture from Malacca’s bygone days. From there, climb up the hill of St Paul where you can marvel at the ruins of the church, which was erected in 1521. Built by a Portuguese nobleman, Duarte Coelho, the chapel was constructed as an act of gratitude following his escape from a storm in the South China Sea.
As you head down the hill, stop at A Famosa Fort. Previously known as the Porta de Santiago, it’s the oldest and only standing European fortress in Asia. Next, you must visit the Stadthuys – also known as Red Square, which was an office for the Dutch governor during colonial times. The building is now a Museum of History and Ethnography, displaying traditional costumes and artefacts from Malacca’s rich history.
2. Get a piece of the action
If it’s excitement you and the kids are after, head over to A’famosa Resort. Named after the 16th-century Portuguese fort of Malacca, A’Famosa Resort is surrounded by beautiful countryside and rolling hills. The resort is rated one of the region’s top leisure destinations. A half-hour drive from Malacca, it has an Animal World Safari, a Water World and Cowboy Town. There is a shuttle bus that runs around the resort, giving you a chance to stop at all the attractions.
First on our list is the sports and recreation centre, which is perfect for adrenaline junkies – the go-karts will fulfil anyone’s need for speed. Next up, visit the water park – the largest one in Malaysia – which has one of the longest lazy rivers in the country. Then get in touch with nature on a wildlife safari, where you can see up to 100 different species of animals. You can feed elephants, ride camels and even pet some of the tamer animals. Marvel at majestic tigers and beautiful giraffes on an adventure safari ride, or step on a motorised barge headed for Monkey Island to catch a glimpse of brown lemurs and monkey squirrels.
You won’t want to miss Cowboy Town. The entertainment centre of the resort hosts daily Wild Wild West shows, and has a number of great restaurants. The area really comes alive with a nightly carnival and fireworks display.
Day rates start from Dh70 and overnight family packages are also available from Dh395. Visit www.afamosa.com for more information.
3. Taste the street life
Malacca’s Chinatown, Jonker Street, is the perfect place to take in some street culture. This was once a wealthy area filled with colonial residents. Over the years it has transformed into a buzzing hive of clothing and crafts outlets as well as restaurants.
With shops and stalls featuring unique pieces that date as far back as the 17th century, it attracts bargain hunters looking for handmade Chinese porcelain, decorative metal work, old coins and paper money that were used during early Malaccan trade and commerce. But it is the night market that is the highlight – especially on weekends. With a collection of stalls that sell just about anything from souvenirs and kitsch crafts to tasty treats, a must-try is Malacca’s delicious take on pancakes – a crispy crepe that crumbles and melts in your mouth!
The bustling street also features bistros and restaurants. Your best bet is to look for street stalls to sample true Malaccan cuisine and sample unique flavours. You are guaranteed to leave a few pounds heavier!
4. Watch from the water
Bustling with traders from all over, the Malacca River, or Sungai Melaka, was once the centre of commerce in the city, and led to the area being dubbed ‘the Venice of the East’ by visiting European merchants.
Jump aboard a 45-minute river cruise, which passes under many bridges that were once an integral part of life in Malacca. The cruise allows you to soak up the city’s history and admire its grand architecture. There are many old churches, mosques, traditional Malaccan houses and temples that are still standing.
One of the highlights of the cruise is the Kampung Morten, a ‘living’ museum that showcases a traditional Malay village. If you’re interested in experiencing the real Malacca, opt for a home-stay to experience what it’s like to live in the village. River cruise prices start from about Dh20 to Dh25 but prices are subject to change.
Not far from the river is another marvel, the Masjid Selat Melaka Mosque. It is also known as the Floating Mosque because, built on stilts on the man-made island of Pulau Melaka in the Malacca Straits Sea, at high tide it appears to be floating on water.
While the main dome looks Middle Eastern, the mosque’s four turrets feature typical Malaysian rooflines. The mosque is located at 35 Jalan Malacca Raya, about 0.2km away from Taman Pulau Melaka.
5. Head to the top
Take in an impressive panoramic view of Malacca from an 80-metre revolving tower – the famous Menara Taming Sari.
It offers the best view of the city – on a clear day, you can see straight to the sea! A full 360-degree rotation lasts only about seven minutes, and it is truly breathtaking. Not only do you get to see every side of the city from high above, it’s an opportunity to witness the mosaic of different architectural styles and to really appreciate the Dutch and Portuguese influences.
Look out for some of the city’s most popular sights, such as the Independence Memorial Building, the Flor de la Mar, a replica of the Portuguese ship, which is housed in the city’s Sea Maritime Museum, the Masjid Selat Melaka Mosque and the Strait of Malacca, and observe the city in all its and beauty.
Tickets cost Dh25 for adults and Dh12 for children. For more information visit www.menaratamingsari.com.
While the bustling heritage sites and museums of historical Malacca showcase Malaysia’s golden age, no visit to the country would be complete without experiencing the delights of the capital, Kuala Lumpur...
1. See double
Kuala Lumpur is home to one of the most popular attractions in Malaysia – the Petronas Twin Towers. Built in 1998, they were once the tallest towers in the world, standing at a towering 450 metres high. Head up to the 41st floor and walk across the sky bridge that connects the two towers. From there, you can go even higher to the viewing deck on the 86th floor for a sprawling view of the city. At the bottom of the Petronas Towers is the Suria KLCC, which has one of the largest shopping malls in Malaysia. It features high-end and high-street retail stores and also includes an art gallery, a theatre, an underwater aquarium and a science centre. Admission is Dh60 for adults and Dh30 for children.
2. Go local
Bustling with stalls and shops that cover up the cross-sections of Petaling Street, KL’s Chinatown is a popular spot for tourists to pick up knick-knacks and sample some Asian delicacies. It’s also a great opportunity to mingle with the locals and try out your bartering skills on the street vendors. We recommend trying the roasted chestnuts and a refreshing drink made from the longan fruit – perfect to beat the heat. Explore the other streets in the area and keep an eye out for houses and temples that highlight the city’s heritage – and have your camera ready!
3. Birds and butterflies
The Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park and Kuala Lumpur Bird Park are both must-sees. The butterfly park alone has over 6,000 butterflies in their natural habitat – on a stroll through the park you will be rewarded with 120 different species. Visit klbutterflypark.com for more information. At the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, you’ll learn to duck very quickly at this walk-in aviary! Over 3,000 birds swoop above your head. This is one spectacle you won’t want to miss. There aren’t many places in the world where you can marvel at exotic birds such as birds of paradise, the rhinoceros hornbill and changeable hawk eagle. Get the most from your visit and make sure you’re there for feeding time! Tickets for admission are Dh56 for adults and Dh45 for children. For more information, visit www.KLbirdpark.com.
4.Soak up the sunway
Kuala Lumpur has its own answer to A’Famosa Resort. Sunway Lagoon is a multi-park destination, offering plenty of entertainment for the whole family. Highlights include the six-lane conga challenge at the water park, the Buffalo Bill coaster and the Tomahawk ride at the Adventure Park. At the Wild Life Park, peacocks wander by, parrots are happy to mingle, and exotic creatures such as the Bengal Tiger and pythons make this a truly exciting experience. Tickets start from Dh100 for children and Dh120 for adults. Visit www.sunwaylagoon.com for more information.
5. Cheeky monkeys and ten million fireflies
Visit Bukit Melawati Hill to spot silver leaf monkeys and to Kuala Selangor for the fireflies. You’ll drive through lush tropics to get to the hills where these friendly monkeys, who welcome human interaction, have their habitat. At sunset, head to the Kuala Selangor Nature Park to see the nocturnal fireflies light up the Selangor River. Best seen in the summer, the little critters live in a tropical environment surrounded by groves and flowing water. Hop on a boat that takes you along the river, but be sure to keep your camera flash off so you don’t disturb their tranquil habitat. Wait and you’ll be rewarded with the sight of the river twinkling with millions of tiny flecks of light!
Save the date: July 1 – September 30
Malaysia Contemporary Art Tourism Festival: The country’s art festival has various exhibitions and events with artists coming from all across Malaysia. Visit www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my for more information.
Malacca is around a two-hour drive from Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. Fly Emirates from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur starting from Dh4,020.
You can get to Malacca from Kuala Lumpur by bus. See www.tbsbts.com.my for bus schedules and timings.