Aaron’s Blog

Malaysian Buses: First Class Travel by Fridgidaire

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Your bus is awful.  Sorry, but it is.  It has 4 seats to a row, with chairs designed to fit only half of your rear, and that’s to say nothing of the fat guy next to you whose rear is spilling over from his seat into yours.  It has worn out, uncomfortable seats that incline a total of 1.27 degrees and don’t even have enough legroom for a double amputee.  Plus, it smells of some mixture of sweat, shame, and 1973.

Well get off of that Greyhound, my friend, and head to Malaysia, where bus travel is an art that has been perfected.  The business class buses, which cost maybe US$10 for about a 4 hours ride, are designed to please.  With the good buses having only 27 seats, this means 3 seats per row, and I’m not talking about deriere destructo seats.  The seats on the bus are wide and plush, recline to about a 45 degree angle, and offer plenty of legroom.  There are even executive buses that have entertainment systems in them, just like in modern aircraft.  It changes bus travel from a last, budget-mandated resort to an enjoyable experience.

Of course, the only problem is that the buses seem to run on freon, as they tend to be kept about as warm as an ice box.  When we asked the driver to cut the A/C, he did happily comply….for about 10 minutes, at which point he must have seen the ice in his glass melting and decided to turn the cooler back on.

Still, as long as you bundle up, buses are a great way to see Malaysia.  Some other companies could definitely learn a thing or two by a visit.  I’m looking at you Greyhound.

Why Melaka is Amazing

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On the river towards Xavier's Church

Sitting at the entry to the straights of Melaka.  this small town has had an enormous impact on the area and was a strategically important port for the Dutch, Portugese, and British (yes, Melaka got around).  It’s port saw trade from everyone in the world as swarthy captains went in search of valuable spices so they could make their fortunes back home.  Now, it has lost its strategic importance, but it’s heritage is still very much alive, and having been named a UNESCO World Heritage City in 2009, Melaka is ready to court visitors, and there are many reasons why you shouldn’t miss this beautiful little port city.

Tight Pocket of History

Canon and the Fort

Though it was never a metropolis, the importance of Melaka’s location meant that it was inhabited for a large period of history, including colonies of the Portugese, Dutch, and British.  It seems that one colonial power would hand the settlement over to whoever had the most guns floating outside the harbor.  This means that one can easily see relics and buildings from all of these different colonial powers, as well as the Malaysian Sultanate, all within a small area.  From the old, red church of the Dutch square, to the Sultan’s Palace, to St. Paul’s Hill overlooking the city, the sites show the variety of these different styles, all within about 10 minutes walking distance of each other.  Now that’s efficient sightseeing!

Food like Nowhere Else

Claypot Chicken and VeggiesPak Putra and the Best Tandoori Chicken EverNonya Spring Rolls

Due to the variety of different cultures that were all poured together in Melaka, there is a wealth of different, amazingly delicious food all to be had in this one spot.  On top of various dishes direct from other cultures, such as Indian, Chinese, and Thail, Melaka has its own specialty, known as Nyonya cuisine.  This is a mix of the traditional Malaysian cuisine with Chinese spices and cooking styles, and it offers up a whole new world of tastes.  We especially loved the Nyonya spring rolls, which are stuffed with meat and vegetables and wrapped in bean curd then fried.  The wrap and the stuffing go together perfectly, with a nice crisp outside and a firm but still softer inside.  Now if only we could find it near where we live…

Rock Bottom Prices

Vegetarian Food MenuMalaysia in general is a great place to travel economically, with prices significantly cheaper than even neighboring Thailand (except possibly for alcohol).  However, even within Malaysia, Melaka is especially affordable.  Our double room in the guest house was 40 Ringit, which works out to about $12 US per night for the room (or $6 US per person), and the place was clean and right on the river.  It even included a simple breakfast.  A lunch can easily be had for $1-2 US, with a more-than-enough dinner being $4-6.  Obviously this depends on the current exchange rate, but the prices are very reasonable.  On top of that, a number of the historic places are either free, or charge a fee on the order of $0.75 so you will have plenty of money left after the day of sightseeing to indulge at dinner (and even that won’t cost you much).  Then there is the Chinese night market which takes place every weekend, where there are bargains galore for all of the souvenir shoppers.  I even had one person cut the price of something after I’d already agreed to a higher price.  I’m not sure if he just didn’t understand how bargaining works, but I was happy for it nonetheless.

Foreign with Touches of Home

While a lot of Melaka feels very foreign (to a US or Japanese visitor at least), there are still some touches of home for when you need to kill some home sickness.  After seeing the canons outside of a 300 year old fort, you can walk to the next street to get a Slurpee at the 7-11, or a breast at the local KFC.  On top of that, Melaka has two modern malls, which are perfect places to catch up on some commercialism and refill any supplies that you may need.  One of the malls is also a great place to visit if you want some more modern entertainment as it has a movie theater, karaoke, and even a roller disco!  In fact, we caught up on 5 movies while we were here since we were not able to satiate our inner film buffs earlier on our trip.  Plus, going on the previous point of price, the movie tickets were as low as 6 ringit, or $2.  It’s almost cheaper to fly to Malaysia and see the movies rather than spending the $20 per ticket in Japan.

Beautiful and Taken Care Of

Wheel and Bridge

Down the streets of Chinatown_1280_for_WebWhat is most impressive about Melaka is how well the city has been taken care of.  I don’t know if it’s the UNESCO money or if it has just had good governance for a long time, but many towns throughout the world could learn a lot about how to run a city by looking at Melaka.  First, the town is clean.  This is not something you see a lot in Southeast Asia, and places that see more tourists than Melaka do far worse.  They have also invested a lot of time and money to keep the city beautiful.  There are colored lights in the trees, giving a great ambiance to the walkways, the bridges are lit both on the sides and underneath, giving them a warm feel and showing off the architecture, and there is plenty of lighting on the streets so that you never feel unsafe.  Then there is the river walk.  The well-lit walkway follows the path of the river as it snakes its way through the city, creating an ideal path for visitors to see the area.  The historical areas are well looked after, and the modern areas are modernly clean.

Looking at Melaka, one begins to wonder what happens in places like Kuta on Bali in Indonesia, where they receive far more tourists than in Melaka, but seem to throw their money away in ways that do nothing to better the city or make it a nicer place to live or visit.  Melaka clearly takes great pride in showing off her beauty, and the people in charge have done a great deal to make sure that she can continue to do so.  It’s something a lot of other cities should use as an example, and something that you really shouldn’t miss while in Malaysia.

Food in Melaka: Pak Putra

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Curry at Pak Putra

Arriving in Melaka, Malaysia, the first piece of advice that the manager of the guesthouse had for us was to go to Pak Putra, and the man was not wrong.  Ranked on Trip Advisor as well, Pak Putra not only offers your standard Indian curry fare at very reasonable prices (7 ringit or about US$2), but they have the best tandoori chicken on the planet.  So juicy, you might as well be eating underwater, and so perfectly spiced that you are instantly transported to a Calcutta kitchen.  This is not to mention the fantastic spicy potato nan, which was something altogether new to me, yet fantstically wonderful. For a small sum, we ate like kings and filled our bellies on the delicious feast before us and left feeling happily stuffed.  If you go to Melaka, whatever you do, don’t miss out on this place.  It may not be fancy, but the food is first class and then some.

Pak Putra and the Best Tandoori Chicken Ever

St. Paul’s Hill in Melaka, Malaysia

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Through the Church Door

Overlooking the main historic area of Melaka is St. Paul’s Hill, an elevated position that looked over the former harbor.  Resting on the crest of the hill is St. Paul’s church, an old relic built by the dutch so that God above would hear the prayers of the colonists.  Now, the area is popular with tourists and with Malaysians taking wedding photos.  We saw at least 3 different couples doing a shoot in the short time we were there, and you can be sure that it’s one of the local photographers favorite haunts.

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Chinese Night Market in Melaka, Malaysia

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The Food Street at Sunset

A common string running through a large part of Southeast Asia is the existence of that frenetic beauty known as the night market.  It’s like entering a casino, where you might just happen upon that perfect souvenir, or the perfect pair of “Reybans” for $5, or you might just end up seeing 500 of the same Angry Birds T-shirt.  That being said, the market in Melaka was one of the better ones that we found in all of our journey through Asia.  It’s a great mix of products, souvenirs, and food, with some good finds to be found.

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