The historic buildings of the Dutch town hall (Stadhuys) and Christchurch are centred around the town square. The pink/red wash on the outsides of these buildings are perhaps a bit overdone to ram home the historic nature of these buildings, which are actually quite old; the Stadhuys is about 350 years old whilst the church was built in 1752. Souvenir shops line the pavement along the wall of the Stadhuys where you can also pick up a cycle rickshaw, complete with gaudy flashing lights, for a tour of the town. The post office is usefully situated behind the Christ church with post boxes outside.
From the town square, it’s a short climb up steps to the top of Bukit St. Paul where the ruins of the church of St. Paul are found. There are really only the 4 remaining walls of a church that are open to the sky and a small tower. When we were there, a musician was playing which gave it an eerie feel as we wandered around looking at the gravestones of old Dutch sailors who had died of nasty tropical diseases.
Steps down the other side take you through to the old gate, the porta Santiago, the only remains of the fort that was situated here. After a cursory glance at the gate and the old cannon, we went to have a look at the cultural museum (muzium budaya) nearby. This is situated in a replica of a sultan’s palace, built of wood in the traditional Melaka style. Unfortunately they were about to close for lunch, but we were impressed by the architecture of the building set amidst a lush tropical garden.
We crossed the river into old Chinatown and had a lunch of laksa (a hot, spicy, and coconut-y noodle soup often served with shrimp and shredded chicken) at Nancy’s restaurant. We then set about exploring the Chinatown quarter of Melaka and I have to say that it was a really interesting area to wander around. Along all the windy streets there were lots of little interesting curio and antique shops, old Peranakan townhouses, some of which one could glimpse inside to see the ornate Chinese tiles, lanterns and carved wooden screens, "red shops" selling all manner of lucky red banners, offering tables, candles, joss sticks and firecrackers. One could happily spend days getting lost amongst the fascinating little alleyways of shops and beautiful houses. Dotted in amongst the streets, there were temples dedicated to the 3 main cultural groups of Malaysia, all within a few metres of each other.
There is a small Hindu temple dedicated to the elephant headed god Ganesh. After removing ones shoes, it’s very dark and cool inside the temple. Along the same street is an old Chinese temple, the Cheng Hoon Teng, dedicated to Quan Ying, the Goddess of Mercy. This temple contrasts with the Hindu temple in that it was very busy with lots of activity; people burning joss sticks, making offerings to the deceased and having their fortunes read by shaking fortune telling sticks. The Chinese temple has an amazing tiled roof with brightly-coloured Chinese dragons and other mythical creatures. Dragons also adorn the huge wooden doors of the main temple entrance. Vendors outside the temple sell joss sticks, fruit offerings, or if one is thirsty, crushed sugar cane to drink.
There are a few mosques in the area, of which we visited the Kampung Kling mosque, just down from the Hindu temple and the larger Masjid kampung Hulu mosque. Since the Friday afternoon prayers had just finished, these too were busy with people milling around. The mosques themselves were of an unusual style, particularly the square 7-tiered minaret based on the Sumatran design.
What I found interesting was that just along this one street lined with various temples of different faiths, was a microcosm of Malaysia with its many cultural streams existing side by side, old and new, each borrowing from each other and mixing in the melting pot. It represents how culturally rich and diverse Malaysia is.