The good part about Melaka is that almost 70% of the major attractions are within a 1km radius… you can walk to them and, more or less, do them all in 1 day.
I went to an RHB ATM and inserted my card. An attempt to withdraw MYR1350 (just under NZ$500) failed.
MYR1300 also failed. So did MYR1200 and MYR1100. I tried MYR1000, which is the amount that I successfully withdrew in Langkawi on several occasions, but that also failed.
I went to a MEPS ATM and tried everything again. They all failed.
In the end, I went up to the airport 3rd floor to a Maybank ATM. Maybank ATMs worked for me in Langkawi. My first attempt to withdraw MYR1000 was successful.
The MYR1000 transaction hit my NZ Bank Account as NZ$380.11 plus a NZ$5 ‘Foreign ATM Fee’. This made my ‘effective’ exchange rate MYR2.60=NZ$1.
A week later I returned to Maybank. I tried to withdraw MYR1300, MYR1200, and MYR1100 – all failed. It would seem that the maximum withdrawal is MYR1000 (or less than NZ$400).
For MYR60, I got a 2GB Mobile Data Plan top up for my Maxis HotLink at Kuala Lumpur airport. The top up lasts 1 month.
I already had this card from when I visited Langkawi and, even though my previous plan had expired nearly a month earlier, the card was able to be re-activated. The lady at the Maxis Shop helped me do all that.
Although Melaka does have a domestic airport only Malindo fly from there and they only go to 3 destinations (2 in Malaysia and 1 in Indonesia).
The bus network is substantial and connects Melaka directly with much of peninsular Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Kota Bharu as well as Singapore to the south.
Melaka does not have a train station.
The Bus Stop was easily found on Level 1 of the KLIA2 airport.
Pick up was 13:15. The trip took 2 hours and 15 minutes. I arrived at Melaka Sentral Bus Terminal at 15:30. From there it cost me MYR20 for a taxi to my hotel.
My HotLink internet connection was a bit ‘patchy’ on the bus and I frequently lost my signal. It was, also, poor at the Bus Terminal… but it came right once I got into the centre of town.
My objective in Melaka was to ‘experience’ what it is like living in the ‘charm’ of the UNESCO Heritage Old Town.
WHERE TO STAY:
The backpacker options are scattered in and around the traditional China Town, with a collection of less desirable, although sometimes cheaper, alternatives located at Taman Melaka Raya or Jalan Pm 1 through 9. Both are about 10 minutes walk from Jonker Walk.
The temptation is to stay in the Old Town where you get the river and some ‘Old Town atmosphere’.
This is what I tried to do but, I found that you get poor value for money along the river and immediately on or around Jonker Walk.
You get much better value for money if you go a block or two outside of these ‘hot spots’; you don’t really get anything out of being in these ‘hot spots’ anyway… other than more noise until later at night.
I had booked 1 night online in the Lavender Guesthouse (on Jalan Pm 3) in advance. Doing this allows me time to ‘check out’ the area without any pressure – and to pick a place to stay longer term.
The Lavender was cheap and cheerful – real Backpacker. The room was plain with Fan. The owner was helpful and friendly. The shared bathrooms were below par for GRANDPAckers.
I spent the afternoon walking around the area and the 1st evening and next morning researching accommodation options.
The previous evening, I had already discovered that a large bottle of Tiger Beer was MYR19 in a typical riverside cafe! This was nothing like the MYR3 / can (MYR6-7 equivalent per bottle) that I was getting on the ‘duty free’ island of Langkawi.
Getting any accommodation in the Old Town for MYR70 or less was not easy to do (I tend to use NZ$30 per night as my upper limit for GRANDPAcking accommodation). And, at that price, you were in Guesthouse territory.
Invariably, Guesthouses have shared bathroom facilities with few ‘en suite’ options unless you start paying MYR90 and over. The ‘shared bathroom’ facilities in these guesthouses are very basic and, usually, maintenance is required on them but left undone.
Anything along the riverside was 150-200% more expensive than equivalent accommodation in the peripheral streets.
Given the cost of beer, I decided to go ‘cheap’ on my accommodation. I’d rather have a couple of ‘cold ones’ at night than pay over the odds for a room that I’m only sleeping in (I’m out and about from 7:00 to 10:00 anyway).
I shortlisted a few options near Jonker Walk and checked them out.
Their ‘off the street’ price was MYR32 / night (which was cheaper than their discounted rate online). Later, the owner told me that they have to pay the on-line booking companies 17%… this is why you can, usually, get better prices walking in ‘off the street’.
I offered them MYR200 for 7 nights. We finally agreed MYR210. The price included a free tea or coffee between 9:00am and 10:30am. The staff were friendly and helpful. The rooms were plain with fan with average decor. The shared bathrooms were functional but required a bit of maintenance.
At that price, Kota Lodge was excellent value for money – and, no doubt, one of if not the cheapest places in the Old Town. I would recommend it to Backpackers.
I wouldn’t recommend anything that I found in this price range to GRANDPAckers.
You can rent bicycles but you cannot rent scooters. The latter proved to be my downfall as I rely heavily on a scooter to get me around to do my GRANDPAcking investigations.
Having said that, if I was ‘hamstrung’ without transport then a GRANDPAcking Retired Couple would also be ‘hamstrung’ and be unable to move around freely.
The buses within Melaka were not ‘noticable’ within the Old Town. Taxis are relatively expensive… so are the ‘tacky’ love bugs.
WHERE TO EAT:
If you go down to the streets around the Lavender Guesthouse, you will find a small night market with hawker stalls.
The Hawker Centre is on the corner but, if you walk up this road away from the river, you will find some excellent value restaurants within about 100 metres… including a Chinese Restaurant that does MYR2.80 per plate Dim Sum and the Pak Putra Northern Indian & Pakistani Restaurant that is renowned for its tandoori.
However, the next time that I went, I had a Mutton Rogan Josh (MYR10) with plain Naan (MYR2) which wasn’t anywhere near as good value for money… so, stick with the tandoori chicken.
Something a bit fancier (like a mixed seafood Tom Yam Soup) will cost MYR7-8.
I like eggs on toast for breakfast – which you can’t easily get in Melaka. So, I did the next nearest thing… I used to go to Hari Aum (just 50m up the road from the Hawker Centre) and order 2 Roti Chanai (which they cook fresh), 2 fried eggs and a Kafi-O. That used to set me back MYR6.
There is one very popular place next to the Hard Rock Cafe. Some others can be found at the opposite end of Jonker Walk.
WHERE TO DRINK:
In the Hawker Centres and local cafes, a small iced water should cost MYR1.00-1.50, a large iced water MYR2.00-2.50, a can of soft drink (like coke) MYR2.00-2.50 a can of Tiger MYR8, and a large bottle of Tiger MYR14-15.
The owner of Lavender told me that the cheapest beers can be found in Little India (which you enter via Jalan Telenggong). I went looking but didn’t find anything.
In fact, finding a cafe or store that sells alcohol is not easy. The muslim ‘no alcohol’ code is fairly strictly adhered to and, to ensure so, there is a hefty tax throughout Malaysia to ensure that alcohol is very expensive relative to earnings and all other costs of living.
The Casa Del Rio does a glass of draft beer for MYR22 – you get 2 for 1 in their happy hour between 5pm and 9pm – there was no-one there when I was there… perhaps the prices had something to do with that.
Along Jonker Walk it gets even worse. Places like the Geographer charge MYR14 for a small beer, MYR17.50 for a House Wine, and MYR6.90 for a can of soft drink.
Others try and tempt you in with a bucket of 5 small beers for MYR55 in happy hour; at MYR11 a bottle, it’s not that great.
I checked out the 7/11 prices to see if it was worth putting a couple in the fridge back at my Guesthouse. It wasn’t. The prices in the 7/11s are not much different from the local cafes (at about MYR14.50-17.50 per large bottle).
On the opposite side of the river, prices start getting a bit more reasonable. In one cafe I had a small water (MYR2.50) and Mango Lassi (MYR9).
But, the truth is that Melaka doesn’t really have many nice places to have a drink; and, the places that it does have are over priced.
I found myself buying bottles of Rum from the local Supermarket (see ‘Shopping’, below). You can get 750ml spirits for as little as MYR20. A cheap bottle of Rum is about MYR28 – the same price as 2 large bottles of beer in a 7/11.
With over-priced bars and no ‘focal point’, it was very hard to meet people.
There was nowhere nice to sit and work / read / people-watch and while away the day.
The nightlife was for the young crowd. For us older folk, there was little to do but go to bed early.
Shopping is reasonable once you get away from Jonker Walk.
There are a couple of large Shopping Malls within walking distance of the Old Town. Two of which are Dataran Pahlawan and Mahkota Parade which are opposite each other on Jalan Merdeka. The latter has a Supermarket in the basement which has a ‘non Halal’ section where you can buy alcohol.
These Malls sell ‘label’ goods at fairly reasonable prices (much better than Langkawi anyway).
If you get into the streets about 3 blocks around the Old Town, you will find the local shops. Here you get the best prices with many ‘everyday’ clothes like T-shirts, shorts, and tops going for MYR5-10.
WHEN TO GO:
Monsoon Season is December to February and, again, from June to August.
March to May and September to November are the best times to go.
I kept the cost of my accommodation down so that I could fit a few ‘cold ones’ in within budget. But, in the end, I am not interested in LIVING somewhere where I cannot afford to have a few beers at night… Melaka was not for me.
Jonker Walk isn’t what I call a ‘focal point’… you can’t meet people there to chat and watch the world go by.
There isn’t something like a ‘central square’ of cafes that you can go to. Like, say, somewhere like Athens where you have the Plaka and within the Plaka little squares where people get together.
In the Old Town, there isn’t even a ‘street culture’ where cafe and bar chairs and tables spill out under awnings onto the pavements. The streets aren’t wide enough for it.
In the mornings, you see lots of us foreigners just wandering around trying to find somewhere nice to have breakfast. There isn’t anywhere (not at a reasonable price anyway)… so, you end up sitting inside some local cafe within 3 walls having a Malay breakfast (like a noodle soup or something with rice).
In a nutshell, I found Old Town Melaka to be boring and over-rated. I would only recommend a 2-3 day visit for Backpackers and GRANDPAckers alike – to do some sightseeing before promptly moving on.
On the POSITIVE side… with such cheap accommodation, no rental scooter, and buying rum (instead of beers)… my ‘cost of existence’ was about NZ$30-35 per day and my ‘cost of LIVING’ about NZ$40-45 / day.
I will not do a separate detailed GRANDPAcking costing for Melaka. I will combine ccosts with Penang and do a combined costing across the two at a later date.
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