Feeling the need to escape Singapore for the weekend but not keen on the cost or ordeal of a flight with kids? Why not harness your inner intrepid traveller and drive across the border to culturally rich old town Malacca?
Singapore is the perfect launching pad for family holidays around Asia. If you’ve blown your travel budget this year on a luxe bucket list escape but still have an acute case of wanderlust, don’t despair. UNESCO World Heritage listed Malacca, Malaysia as an ideal last-minute weekend escape from Singapore – it’s high on culture and fun and low on cost. And who doesn’t love an old-school road trip to Malaysia with kids (eye spy with my little eye anyone…?)
WHY GO AND HOW TO GET THERE
Sure Malacca doesn’t have the far-flung escape factor of say, the Maldives, but it is the sort of weekend sojourn that will make you feel like an intrepid traveller. Jump in the car, cross the causeway, and by the time your kids have tired of counting palms and motorbikes on the roadside, you’re there (if you’re lucky, in under three hours). Don’t listen to the fear mongerers – in the dozen or so times we’ve driven over the border we’ve never felt even remotely in danger. If you don’t have a car, a private transfer will set you back around $270, and the bus is an affordable $20 per person.
Like the rest of Malaysia, Malacca (Melaka in Malay) is a cultural melting pot, home to people of Malay, Chinese and Indian descent. But what makes this town so intriguing is its rich history as a fishing village and trading port, and the fact it’s been colonised over the years by Chinese, Portuguese, British and Japanese. The architecture is truly spectacular and largely intact (this town has more than earned its UNESCO World Heritage badge).
WHAT TO DO
Just visiting this fabulously cultural town is a huge feast for the senses. The age and stamina of your kids will determine how many of our top six kid-friendly Melaka activities you manage in a weekend. Don’t feel pressured to run yourselves ragged – just enjoy rambling the streets and admiring heritage buildings, murals and eclectic markets.
1. The Red Square
Grab a cab and head in to the Red Square to kick off your adventure (parking can be tricky). Otherwise known as the Stadthuys, this square is flanked by red buildings (including the beautiful Christ Church, circa 1753), small trinket stalls and rows of flower-bedecked trishaws.
2. Melaka River Cruise
Kids love boats – so squeeze in two-for-one by checking out the impressive replica Portuguese ship Flor De la Mar (near the Maritime Museum) before hopping aboard a Malacca River Cruise at Muara Jetty. For 45 minutes you’ll drift under bridges, by historic buildings, churches, traditional Malay villages and godowns (old warehouses). Don’t miss the vibrant mural on the corner of Jonker Street (pictured above). Psst: scenes from Sean Connery film Entrapment were filmed along this very stretch of water!
Cost: adults $6, kids $3.40, kids under 2 years are free
Jalan Laksamana, 75000 Melaka (next to Quayside Heritage Centre); www.melakarivercruise.my
3. Jonker Street
If you only manage one outing while in Malacca (we won’t judge), make it a stroll along Jonker Street. Also known as Antique Street, it’s the one-stop street for culture, art, shopping and eating! We headed there at 5pm on a Saturday and our kids adored the vibe of the bustling night market. We took our time leisurely exploring the charming boutiques, buying cute souvenirs and sampling local fare. Closed off to traffic, we easily managed the walk with two small children and a pram (although it can get quite busy). Make sure to treat the little ones to a Trishaw ride – it’s cheap and cheerful (and our girls bopped along to the Frozen theme music and neon flashing lights). Let it Go!
4. Melaka Menara Taming Sari
Absolutely guaranteed to be a hit with the young (and young at heart) is the Swiss revolving gyro tower that climbs 80 metres above the city. No other attraction in Malacca will offer you a 360-degree aerial view of key tourist spots (including St.Paul’s Hill, Independence Memorial Building, Samudra Museum, Dataran Pahlawan, Pulau Selat Mosque and Pulau Besar), and all in seven minutes flat!
Cost: Adults $7, kids (under 12) $5
Jalan Merdeka Banda Hilir, 75000 Melaka, Malaysia; www.menaratamingsari.com
“The Famous” former Portuguese fortress dates back to the 16th century, and is one of the oldest relics of European architecture in South East Asia. The small gatehouse is all that survives to this day, but is a lovely remnant of a bygone era.
6. Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum
For a glimpse into the fashionably opulent world of pre-world war II Malacca, don’t miss the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum. It comprises of three Peranakan terraced properties lovingly maintained by a Straits-born family for over four generations (the family now manage the museum). Kids can pick up a really cute activity pack for just $3 a pop too.
Cost: Adults $5, kids (5 to 12 years old) $3.50.
No. 48 & 50 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia; www.babanyonyamuseum.com
WHERE TO EAT
The Geographer Cafe
For a spot of family-friendly dining, perch outside at the Geographer Cafe. Centrally located in a heritage shop house in Chinatown, Old Malacca, it plates up simple local and Western fare (the plain aglio olio pasta was a hit with our fussy eater). Taste their award-winning curry ramen while you watch the comings and goings of the local marketplace. The cafe only has Eastern-style lavatories – which our little intrepid travellers delighted in learning to use!
Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia; www.geographer.com.my
Restoran Famosa Chicken Rice Ball
Makan at rustic local fave Restoran Famosa Chicken Rice Ball. It churns out Malacca’s take on Hainanese chicken rice: golf-ball size rice balls accompanied by tender chicken (flavoured with sauce and sesame oil). Add a hit of spice with pounded chilli for the adults, and you’ve got a quick and easy family feast. We also enjoyed checking out the vintage photos of old Malacca lining the walls as we waited for our grub.
28-30 Jalan Hang Kasturi, off Jonker Street (no website: this place thrives on word-of-mouth alone!)
For an authentic taste of delish Nonya Peranakan food head to Nancy’s Kitchen. It’s an enchanting family restaurant serving classics like the popiah spring roll, Peranakan chicken curry, otak-otak fish and Nonya laksa. And if you still have room after sampling from the extensive mains menu – squeeze in a sweet cendol dessert! This place also runs cooking classes, so if you’re looking for a fun family bonding sesh, give one a try!
13, 13-1, 13-2, Jalan KL 3/8, Taman Kota Laksamana, Seksyen 3, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia; www.eatatnancyskit.com
Melaka Street Food
Malaysia is the undisputed spiritual home of the satay, so you really must indulge in a dozen (or so) of these skewers at least once during your stay. Perfect for little fingers dining on the go, our kids can devour a plate in 10 minutes flat! Also more than living up to their hype are the crispy golden Portuguese egg tarts. Nom nom. If you’re feeling adventurous – dabble in the local delicacy of boiled siham and lala (cockles and clams). By far the biggest hit with the little people was the street ice cream vendors – three scoops for just $1!
WHERE TO STAY
Best for kid’ facilities: Novotel
Novotel is one of the newest hotels in Malacca, and it’s been designed with young families in mind. There’s a lovely kids’ playroom kitted out with toys, Lego, colouring-in kits plus movies and Apple Mac computers outside for parents to browse the net with coffee in hand. The rooms are fresh and the pillows fluffy – and two interconnecting rooms are large enough for a family of three (at a wallet-friendly $80 per room). The pool has a great kids’ playground with a slide into the pool. WEEEE!!!! Our kids are begging to go back…
Jalan Melaka Raya 2, 75000, Melaka, Malaysia; www.novotel.com
Best for the comforts of home: The Nature Bali Lodge Airbnb
Situated just a short hop skip and jump from the Red Square, Nature Bali Lodge is a superb choice if you’re travelling with two or more kiddos. It’s got all the mod-cons a busy family could want – spacious living room, great pool with water playground (and jacuzzi sunbeds for the parents) and well-appointed kitchen for those early morning Weetabix (there’s even an in-room highchair). We’re also digging the Balinese styling and wooden planked roof!
Rates: Three-bedroom apartment approx. $224 per night.
193 The [email protected] Melaka, Jalan Persisiran Bunga Raya, Jalan Persisiran Bunga Raya, 75100 Melaka, Malaysia; www.airbnb.com.sg
Best for old world charm: Majestic Hotel
Originally constructed by wealthy Chinese tycoon Leong Leong Man from imported materials (with no expense spared), the Majestic Hotel offers a luxe escape into the Malacca of yesteryear. Painstakingly restored in 2008, the small details in this classic white Peranakan two-storey mansion are what make it truly special – from the quiet library with original tiles and porcelain lamps, to the dining room with Straits settlement windows and sweeping river views. And if you manage a moment without the kids, unwind after a day of sightseeing in the transcendent spa village. Bliss!
Rates: approx. $400 per night for two rooms.
188 Jalan Bunga Raya 75100 Melaka, 75100, Malacca, Malaysia; www.majesticmalacca.com
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