Melaka is a lovely place, and I wish that I could have done more there.
We had arrived the previous evening and taken a walk. On the way we saw loads of museums, shops, cafes and some attractions such as a river tour which I was looking forward to taking the next day. Unfortunately, the next day religious holiday and so nearly every place of interest was closed!
My ear had turned into a full on ball of fire during the evening and kept me up most of the night as well. I did eventually drop off sometime around 5am, but I was still in some pain as I did so. When I awoke, the whole side of my face felt tender and so my first action was to reach for the painkillers. I waited for them to kick in before venturing out and discovering just how much was closed for the day.
I walked for a while through streets that were more crowded than the previous day. Scores of tour buses, mainly carrying Chinese tour groups had arrived and deposited their occupants in the town.
At the risk of sounding like a future BNP member, I’ve pretty much reached my limit with Chinese tour groups. They are universally loud, and a large majority have no manners at all, pushing and shoving rather than waiting their turn. Walking directly into you rather than step around you and my particular favourite, walking directly in front of your camera to stand in front of you and take their own picture, rather than wait the 4 seconds for you to finish. That is of course excluding the classic staples such as the non-so-subtle photograph of standing next to the foreigner whilst pretending to be photographing something nearby (usually a wall), the spitting and the pointing and the shear noise that they produce.
They turn up like a plague sweeping all before them, pillaging their way through wherever it is, before piling back onto the bus and being replaced by the next group.
I’ve been in China, I know the tour groups aren’t a fair representation of the people there. But a month after leaving China I still have Chinese people just walk up and touch me without any thought at all and after 8 weeks its no longer amusing.
None of the locals in any of the other countries I’ve been to act like this. Oh, things are hectic in the queues and you get the occasional look as you of course stand out, but this tends to be followed by a big smile or friendly gesture if you happen to notice it.
Its difficult to describe the difference because it is just a feeling but one feels like curiosity and the other like you are being collected like a specimen.
Of course seeing as I’m going to be heading back North into Thailand and Vietnam in a few weeks, I can expect to see the number of tour groups increase rather than tail off.
One place that was open was the maritime museum. Part of this was a large Portuguese galleon that you could climb up onto and look around inside.
I know that I would not have made a good sailor, because after just a few minutes below decks I felt a pressing need to get back out into the open air. Then again, the ship probably didn’t have as much crew as there were tourists jammed into the hold.
I also went up on the revolving tower, which was functionally identical to the one in Sentosa. However, as the weather was excellent I finally got a decent view from an observation deck.
By this time my painkillers had worn off, and the sun was as hot as I can remember it being. So I decided to walk back to the hotel to recharge, refresh and re-medicate.
Later in the afternoon we went out for a tour of the town in Trishaws. These bicycle and sidecar combos are ubiquitous in Melaka. If you do not see the gaudily decorated bikes coming, you will hear them as many have huge sound systems attached and blare out everything from 60’s classics to Gangnam Style. At night they are illuminated with fairy lights and just look like fantastic fun.
We set out in a convoy, with my ‘puller’ Omar at the head. Omar looked to be in his 60’s and I could not help feel guilty as I watched him climb out of the saddle at the inclines. At one point he jumped off the bike and pushed us over a hill. When he was doing this I kept asking if he wanted me to get out and help push, but he kept refusing. At the top, said ‘its my job’, and ‘I’m strong, you sit back and relax’, and flexed his bicep. He wasn’t wrong. He may be getting on a bit, but he has build like a lightweight boxer and I don’t doubt he could run a marathon if he wanted to.
We visited two temples, one Taoist and one Buddhist both facing each other. Next door was a mosque with the three of them making up a single corner of a road. We were told that 28 separate religions practice in Melaka, all of them co-existing without issue.
They also took us to someones house to show us how a typical family lives.
It is simply a family that allows people to enter their home, look around and then leave a donation.
I’m not going to pretend that I did not find the situation incredibly awkward and wanted to leave as soon as possible. It wasn’t that is was not interesting, but because the whole thing felt incredibly intrusive. We rock up, knock on the door disturbing whatever it is they are doing, nose around their home and things whilst they stand to one side looking on, sign a book and chuck a couple of Ringet into the pot and then leave. I was just uncomfortable with it.
One moment that will stay with me is when someone asked if the noise of the rain on the roof was loud. This was slightly misunderstood and we then told that the roof cannot catch fire because it is asbestos! Again mistaking the shocked look on our faces as disbelieving, we were told how they used to use banana leaves, but they would catch fire if hit by by lightening. “So the government came and took the leaves away and give us asbestos roofs. For free!” This last part was said with such jubilation that not one of us said a thing. We just shared looks amongst ourselves.
We later finished off at Jonkers where the large market had been set up. This street was insanely crowded as everyone was funnelled between the market stalls. We made our way through the crowds to a side street where we stopped at a restaurant and had our dinner in the open air as the sun went down.
The next morning we left Melaka at 8am and caught another coach this time taking us out of Malaysia in into Singapore.
This was the finishing point for most of the group. Karol and I will be moving onto Indonesia and joining another group in Jakarta and travelling onto Bali.
We had one final meal together in Little India, before sharing a couple of drinks atop the hotel on their rooftop terrace.
Its a bit of a strange one for me, as I signed up to a trip that was from Bangkok to Bali and so had expected to remain with the same people – or at least the majority of them – for the whole way. I’m looking forward to Indonesia, but I’m a little apprehensive about having to go through all the introductions again, the change of group leader and of course seeing how the group dynamic works out. I know it’ll be fine, but it just feels like a hassle that I’d rather do without. It also means, that they’ll have been two days where I’ll have done nothing but travel, and since I have to cover my own expenses at both ends between the airport and the hotel, I just feel that it is bloody cheeky of Intrepid to sell it as a single tour, rather than the two separate ones that it plainly is.
The truth is that the adrenaline has well and truly worn off right now. The last week has seen me covering old ground, and with the exception of Melaka, I have not had that buzz that seeing a new place brings. Particularly when one of those places was Penang! Chuck in a couple of days when I’ve felt really ill because of the ear infection, a couple of huge travel days, the ever increasing heat and you end up with a nice recipe for fatigue.
Hopefully Indonesia will rekindle the fires a little. Although I confess to looking forward to mid November when I’m in Chiang Mai for more than 2 consecutive nights and not having to share a bedroom for a few lazy days.