Malaysiaâ€™s first center was Melaka, which served as a key port for several groups of people. As with the rest of the country, it was colonized by Europeans and developed a unique mix of architecture as a result. Singapore was also a port town for much of its history. It was ruled by the British for several centuries and control returned to the Brits after Japanâ€™s World War II occupation. The city joined briefly with Malaysia before becoming independent in 1965.
Getting There and Around
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â We took a bus from George Town to Melaka. It took much longer than anticipated, leading to anxiety about reaching our hostel. Melaka has an affordable bus service, though stop names are not announced (we missed ours) and it is not reliable.
The bus between Melaka and Singapore was half the price of our other buses and crossing the border was easy. Singapore has a fabulous and inexpensive train system. Just donâ€™t eat or drink anything, or you will be fined.
Our return flights with China Eastern were very cheap, but they still came with a cost. We first had to stop in Wuxi where the customs officers were rude, then had an excruciatingly long layover in Qingdao. They have a McDonaldâ€™s and an over-priced cafe. Try to avoid long layovers here.
Where to Stay
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â In Melaka, we stayed at The Cardamom Hostel. The beds are a little uncomfortable and the bathroom situation was less than adequate, especially after one of the two had to be put out of service. Apparently, the resulting filth covering the floor was horrifying. The most concerning thing about the hostel is the padlocked gate with less than a 1:1 ratio of people:keys. This is a clear violation of fire safety. The location is pretty good, with several restaurants/hawker courts nearby, including a vegetarian one basically right outside the locked gate. The owner was very eager to give us a map with loads of suggestions for things to do and eat.
Blissful Loft in Singapore was one of my worst hostel experiences in all of my travels. Its only merit is itâ€™s conveniently located. I donâ€™t expect super comfortable beds. The outlets overheating my chargers (that are designed to handle varying voltages) was a little worrying. The ownerâ€™s constant upgrade offers were a little annoying. The worst part, though, is the lack of quiet hours, combined with the other (highly inconsiderate) people also staying in our room. The lights were left on until well past midnight and loud phone calls were being made at almost every hour. What infuriates me most about this is that THERE IS A COMMON ROOM! There is absolutely no reason to keep others awake. Most seemed sexist, too, but I digressâ€¦.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The tourist center in Melaka offers a half-day walking tour of the town for free every morning. Itâ€™s a great way to see the main attractions with some added information. For breakfast, we went to the nearby (and extremely popular) chicken and rice ball restaurant our hostelâ€™s owner recommended to us.
We also went to the museum dedicated to Zheng He, a Chinese ambassador in the 15th century who used Melaka as a port during his many expeditions. His story is fascinating and the museum has several interesting artifacts and stories to share with its visitors.
As is the rest of Malaysia, Melaka is quite diverse. One street houses a mosque, a Buddhist temple, and a Hindu temple (and a delicious coconut ice cream shop). The Hindu population danced several times on New Yearâ€™s Day and even had a parade. It was colorful, lively, and there was free food provided at its terminus.
For nightlife, there is a street littered with bars. It was overwhelmingly crowded on New Yearâ€™s Eve so we didnâ€™t get to experience much of it, but I imagine most other nights itâ€™s navigable. One marker of this street is the restaurant Geographer Cafe, whose fresh juices are yummy. I also greatly enjoyed just strolling along the river at night. The lights were beautiful and lent it an almost magical atmosphere.
Singapore also has a free guided walking tour Saturdays and Sundays put on by university students. They tell you about Singaporeâ€™s history first as a colony, then as an independent nation from 1965 onwards. Our guides were friendly and spoke on a personal level with everyone on the trip in addition to their tour spiel.
The Botanical Gardens are beautiful and offer a lot to be explored. My favorites included the evolution garden, the black swans, and the orchid garden (5S$ which is more than worthwhile). There is also a restaurant with generously portioned meals (consider splitting if you have a smaller appetite) and where we met two ridiculous dogs complete with their own doggy stroller.
What I loved most about Singapore was simply strolling around Marina Bay. Sights along here include Merlion Park, the Fullerton Hotel, free concerts, the Marina Bay Sands mall and hotel (three towers topped by a boat; how can you not get a kick out of that?), the Art-Science Museum, and the Helix Bridge, the worldâ€™s first (only?) double helix DNA-inspired bridge. Both nights we walked down it, there was a man playing a didgeridoo to a synth track, which gave the bridge an even more whimsical flair. Every night, the hotel plays several light shows. It is magical, and I recommend watching it from multiple locations.
Last Minute Points
-Â Â Â Â Â Â You could be fined for any number of things in Singapore. They take laws very seriously. Pay attention to signs and what locals do.
Melaka offers so many of the things that make Malaysia charming and can easily be visited with just a day or two. Singapore is one of my favorite places Iâ€™ve been. This August marks its 50th anniversary of becoming an independent nation, which would be an exciting (though perhaps also more expensive) time to visit.