Friday, 9 July 2010

On the strait and narrow in Malacca

We have recently been travelling through South East Asia. In addition to all of the exotic experiences that area of the world can offer, there is also a lot of inspiration for interior decoration to be found there – at least for Husfruen, who loves the old fashioned colonial style. One of my favourite pastimes in connection with travel is to locate hotels that not only offer five star service, but have delightful decor too.

On this trip we were working most of the time, but we had a few days to ourselves when we could relax and do what we wanted. We stayed at a number of nice hotels, which we will probably show you later, but today we would like to share with you our visit to Malacca.

CHRIST CHURCH is Malacca’s most famous building. 
This small, and attractive town in the Southwest of Malaysia has a long and proud history and has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The town was founded 600 years ago, and according to legend derives its name from a tree that grows there. Parameswara, a prince who fled from Sumatra, stopped to rest under a tree growing by the river. A small deer appeared out of the forest and startled one of his hunting dogs so that it fell into the water. The Prince took this as an omen that here the weak could triumph over the strong and saw it as a good place to establish the capital of his new kingdom.

CYCLE RICKSHAW. Owners decorate their “beca” with flowers by day and lights by night.
Strategically placed on the narrowest part of the strait that bears its name, Malacca is halfway along the sea route linking China to India and the Near East. The town quickly became an important trading port, and was soon one of the most powerful sultanates in the region. A port like that was irresistible for the European colonial powers. Portugal conquered the it in 1511. The following century the Dutch invaded Malacca in 1641 and ruled it until they ceded it to the British in 1824. Malacca was governed by first by the British East India Company, and later became a crown colony until 1946 when it became part of the newly independent Malaysia. In addition to the European colonialists, Chinese and Indian merchants have left their mark on the town. Such a rich and varied history has left an impression on the town, both cultural and culinary but most noticeably in the architecture.

A LITTLE OF THIS AND A LITTLE OF THAT. The varied history of Malacca can be seen in its architecture.
Malacca can offer the traveller many different kinds of accommodation, from the simplest hostel to modern (and boring) international chain hotels. However, if you want to visit Malacca and live in historical style, there is only one place to go: The Majestic Hotel.

The building is in shining white, and stands beside the river, where in times gone past, Chinese Junks and European ships loaded with the riches of the Orient sailed past. The building is a part of Malacca’s colourful history. The main house was built in the 1920’s as a mansion for a wealthy Chinese businessman. It became a hotel in 1952 and was run as such for nearly fifty years before closing. Fortunately someone saw the potential in the old building and restored to its former glory. A new wing housing most of the rooms and suites was built on the grounds of the mansion. This was finished in 2008 and everything is obviously brand new inside, but the original style has been strictly adhered to, so a wave of nostalgia envelopes you as you enter.

LOBBY. Here the guests are greeted with a cold drink and wet cloths, during check in. The cold wet cloth is especially refreshing when entering from tropical warmth and humidity.
LIBRARY. The Portuguese floor tiles are so beautiful and I just love the way that the bookshelves have been painted to match. It is a nice contrast to the standard dark hardwood or white shelves. At home, we have exactly the same chairs in the room that will someday become our library. Now, I have new inspiration for decorating that room.
The building shows Dutch, Portuguese, British, Chinese and naturally Malayan influences. Floors are either teak, or colourful Portuguese tiles. The furniture is mahogany, upholstered with dark leather, while the panelled walls are painted in light pastel colours. The rooms are lit by lamps in traditional Chinese porcelain. Colourful oriental carpets and thick cushions of silk decorate the bedrooms, and the bedclothes are of finely woven white cotton.

COMFORT. We slept soundly in this bed.
After checking in we were escorted to our room by a young man carrying a basket. We both wondered what it contained. It turned out to be a full tea service. We were served surprisingly refreshing green tea in tiny cups.

TEA CEREMONY. The small cups of green tea were just what we needed after a hot day on the road.
The bed was a magnificent four poster, without a canopy though. The bathroom was open, with sliding louvered doors if privacy is needed. The bathtub rested on thick marble floor tiles 

The bathtub was so inviting that we both leapt into it (though not at the same time). The separate shower had a tropical showerhead, which was akin to standing under a warm waterfall.

BATH SALTS provided a lovely scented bath.
SUITE. Some of the rooms had a stylish sitting area in addition to the bedroom.

The rooms also provided ample reading material. The hotel had recently served as location for a photo book about Malacca’s unique Nyonya culture, and that of course held the place of honour on the coffee table. Nyonya is a term for rich Chinese that have adopted parts of the Malayan culture as their own. This fusion of cultures has resulted in a very special style of clothing, architecture and cooking that is only found here.

There were lots of glossy magazines as well. Hubby found the latest edition of the watch magazine “Revolution” and would probably have spent many happy hours leafing through that, but there were after all sight to be seen

DELICATE. This crystal lamp made a delicate contrast to all the other lamps which were in Chinese porcelain.
The hotel’s restaurant was the only thing that disappointed us slightly. Not that the food was bad in any way, it just took forever to prepare. When it finally arrived at our table though, it was served in a very attractive manner, so perhaps that is what took so long.
POACHED EGGS were served with all the trimmings. The bacon however, was made of beef as Malaysia is a Muslim country and pork is not on the menu.
Every weekend there is a night market in Jonker Street. Here you can find locals and tourists, shoulder to shoulder. As well as the more normal touristy souvenirs, there are shops selling genuine articles, also antiques, but don’t expect to find any bargains here – the shopkeepers know what their stock is worth, though it is definitely worth haggling.

In a shop called “Beyond Treasures” we met a tiny old Chinese lady who proudly showed us everything that was on offer, and that was quite a lot. Her shop stretched far back from the street front. There were quite a few quasi antiques on display, which she brusquely brushed aside. “Pfft, you don’t want such rubbish! Come here, and I’ll show you something special from before the Cultural Revolution.” And out came one gorgeous vase after another. We ended up with a nice little bowl that according to Feng Shui will bring happiness to our house. “You take this, and you turn towards north, east, south and west, then you place it in the south.” So has been duly performed, and all we have to do now is lean back and enjoy the happiness.

Flower painted wooden clogs is another thing to shop for in Malacca. They are quite different from the traditional Dutch clogs. One can actually wear these. We only bought a fridge magnet version.

A VARIETY OF FOOD. Chinese Dim Sum is only one for the meals offered by the street vendors on Jonker Street. Another stall pressed juice out of sugar cane while you watched.

Malacca is only two hours by bus from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. If you are visiting either of these cities, a day or two in Malacca is well worth considering. We spent only one night there, but we managed to see quite a lot in the little time we had available.


  1. Ojojojojojoj......det var litt av en reise!! Det så jo så deilig ut. Jeg likte spesielt badekaret da ;o) Elsker sånne badekar med løveføtter! Artig at du fortalte så mye fra turen og det dere så. Følte liksom at jeg var med dere ;o)
    Tusen takk for koselig hilsen.
    Ønsker dere en fortsatt flott sommer. Håper det går bra med deg etter operasjonen. Hils mannen.
    Sommerklem fra Gro :o)

  2. Amazing!! Would love to visit too!!