Cultural tourism

Melaka (Malacca) has been drawing the crowds for centuries, first as a trade centre and focal point for colonial power plays, now for its rich history and good food.

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This cosmopolitan trading port city lies midway between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and was known to the world long before either. Expanding Malay kingdoms, Indian, Chinese and Arab traders plus Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists have all left their mark, not only on the character-filled architecture and the distinctive cuisine, but in the blood that runs through the veins of Melaka’s people.

No shortage of colour. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
No shortage of colour. Photo: Sally Arnold

The city was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2008, which has encouraged restoration projects and a new wave of development: Outside of the historic area, land reclamation projects are expanding the city both upwards and outwards with multi-storey malls, hotels and new tourist attractions. But even when Melaka is bursting at the seams with weekend crowds, it’s easy to be cast under her spell, and the city remains a top spot on any Malaysian itinerary.

Melaka’s early story is mixed with myth and legend, first recoded in the romanticised Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) written in the 17th century and based on word of mouth accounts and folktales. Conflicting versions (more than 30 manuscripts) have seen historians argue until they are blue in the face ever since.

Plenty of understated charm. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
Plenty of understated charm. Photo: Sally Arnold

It begins with Parameswara, who hailed from Sumatra, a Hindu (or perhaps Buddhist) Prince of the once expansive, but then waning Srivijaya Empire. Feeling the push from the Javanese Majapahit Empire on one side and from the Siamese (Thai) Ayutthaya Kingdom on the other, in the 1390s he established a settlement on the island of Temasek (modern-day Singapore). The continuing pressures forced a move north where he founded the Sultanate of ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 1,400 words.)

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