If you only have room in your brain to know three things about me, let them be this:
1) I love costumes
2) I love surprises—and secrets!—but am terrible at keeping them myself
3) I love food
Melaka is a city of many faces. Its culture is so diverse, in fact, that there isn’t even a good consensus on how to spell the name of the place. For the sake of consistency, I’ll stick with “Melaka,” but I’ve seen several other forms on signs all over the city. While the different spelling may confound some, what is really interesting is the city itself: everything that Malaysia is, or was, can be found in Melaka. Straits Chinese, Indians, Malays and the remnants of British and Dutch Colonialism all struggle for space on the crowded streets of the old town. Swirling around the outside of the old city is the “new” Melaka, the kind of Malay city that can be seen anywhere else in the country. While the new town has much to recommend itself (especially for the Malays living there), old Melaka is the real star of the show for the visitor, and is where Steph and I spent five days wandering the streets, eating the food, gazing at the buildings and trying to avoid the oppressive heat and humidity.
Some people say that in life you should follow your heart, but we say that when traveling, definitely go with your gut.
It is primarily in the pursuit of food that our first stop in Malaysia winds up being the sleepy town of Muar. Our first impressions of the town are, quite honestly, not great. Based on the rhapsodic praise in our not-so-trusty Lonely Planet, we have arrived expecting a town that not only knows how to eat but one that is also “languorously Malaysian in mood and with the feel of a bustling Chinatown.” Instead, we find a city with lethal traffic, but whose streets are otherwise largely deserted; stepping off the main drag, the vibe that greets us is just a hair more lively than somnambulant. I don’t think tumbleweed is indigenous to Malaysia, but rest assured that if it were, it would be completely at home blowing through Muar’s streets.
For such a small country, Singapore offers an astounding number of ways to enter and exit the country; if traveling to neighboring Malaysia, you can fly, drive a car, take a train, take a ferry boat, take a private bus, take a public bus, or even walk! Having taken our fair share of flights since arriving in Asia (the only country we hadn’t flown into thus far was China) and with a little money left on our transit cards, we decided to try for our cheapest international travel day to date and entered Malaysia using nothing but public transportation.