Yesterday we were picked up at around 7 am for our drive to Melaka. Depending on traffic, Melaka is around an hour and fifteen minutes from KL. Our driver was a little late because there was a big traffic jam due to an accident, but once we got out of KL the roads were very good and we zipped right along. Drivers here tend to hedge their bets and drive ON the white lines of a multi-lane highway, instead of within them. I find this a bit un-nerving, but Lee says it's a common practice. Before too long we're in Melaka. This is a city in the southern part of Malaysia, on the coast. It was the first port settled by Westerners in Malaysia, and it's heritage includes Portugese, Dutch, British, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous Malay. It's really a melting pot!
We're staying at the Renaissance Hotel, a somewhat shabby 5 star establishment. The service is good, typically Asian, but the rooms are a bit worn at the seams, and the tap water is occasionally a bit brown. As long as I don't drink it, though it doesn't bother me.
Lee is working (that's why We're here) so I'm on my own. I'm scheduled for a guided tour of the city at 2 pm. Although probably not a necessity this turns out to be worthwhile. I get a good overview of what there is to see in Melaka, and I can go back later and poke around on my own. In a little less than three hours we see a lot of the city. We walk around the historic center of the city, seeing ancient mosques, Hindu and Chinese temples, antique shops and chicken rice stands. It's pretty hot so it's nice to have the air conditioned van to go back to periodically.
We look at the old Dutch government buildings and climb the little hill to the remains of the Dutch cathedral overlooking the city. I love the old grave markers leaning against the cathedral walls and lining the floors. It's seems strange to be walking on someone's grave, even if it is 500 years old. But little cats sleep on the tombs undisturbed so I guess it's okay for me to trod the stones.
A storm is blowing in and the weather cools off a bit. A couple of days ago in KL I heard thunder for what seemed like hours, and then it spattered rain for about 5 minutes. This time isn't very different. The sky darkened, the winds blow, and a light drizzle begins, and soon ends. It cools things off however, which is nice.
We visit a famous well, with hordes of Chinese tourists, since apparently this well features prominently in their mythology. The guides show us some rather dubious magical properties of the well's water, but I'm not impressed. I like the nearby Chinese cemetery with thousands of crumbling graves better.
Now this morning I really had a great time. I went on a bike tour in the countryside outside Melaka. It lasted about 4 hours and during that time we saw rubber plantations, palm oil plantations and rice paddies. We sampled padaman, and red and yellow rambutan straight from the trees. We smelled the leaves of pepper plants, curry plants, and tarragon. We saw rubber being harvested. We saw giant lizards and bright blue kingfishers. We pedaled through prosperous villages where the people make a good living from palm oil and rubber, and can grow just about any vegetable you can imagine. Our tour consisted of me and a bunch of 20-somethings of French, Dutch and Canadian persuasion. I had no trouble at all keeping up with the young folk!
I felt a little sorry for our guide. He was lots of fun and full of interesting facts and stories, but he is Malay and Muslim so he can't eat or drink during our 20k tour. And it's hot. He's definitely ready for a break by the end. He is an excellent example of the benefits of water for keeping up one's energy in a hot climate. After all, I haven't eaten anything since morning either, but I'm drinking lots of water, so I feel just fine.
I highly recommend this tour if you ever find yourself in Melaka:
Now here I sit by the hotel's beautiful rooftop pool. The water is not at all brown, so I think I'll be going in shortly. This evening Lee has to work so I'm hoping to get out of the hotel for some real Malaysian food, if I can find my way around without getting lost. We shall see!