An exciting destination that’s easily reached by car is the holy grail for those residing in Singapore. For some beach action, folks zip to the port in Mersing. For shopping, Kuala Lumpur is the place. For the countryside, it’s a road trip to Cameron Highlands. And, for history, it’s all about Malacca.
Having tried many of the above, and with the adventurous mother of my boyfriend stopping by for a short visit en route to Australia, we decided to get behind the wheel and whisk her to Malacca for a weekend. Not only is the town a wonderfully colourful UNESCO World Heritage site, you can get there in just a few hours.
Hiring a car
After lining up a suite at the best hotel in town – The Majestic Malacca – for our deserving guest, we next went on the lookout for an affordable and, if possible, environmentally friendly vehicle to hire for the trip. A quick Google search led me to Hertz and its Green Traveller Collection, which included the Peugeot 508 RXH HYbrid4.
In English? This attractive set of wheels (one of the few in production in the world) is a diesel-electric hybrid with extremely low carbon emissions, which essentially means a smooth drive and huge savings on fuel – plus, it’s kinder to the ozone layer. The four-wheel drive also comes with a flashy interior and panoramic sunroof, allowing passengers to sit back and do a spot of bird watching on the go (or star gazing, if it’s too dark for kites).
As we pulled away in the sexy Peugeot, Joe at Hertz bet us that we would make it there and back – that’s close to 500km – on half a tank of petrol. Um, surely not! We would soon find out.
Hitting the road
The trip to Malacca itself is a pretty straightforward drive. Tuas is the quietest checkpoint, so we hit it at 3pm on Friday to avoid peak hour. The drive-through immigration process is easy enough, but there are a couple of things to remember:
* Have your Employment or Dependent Pass handy, as well as your passport.
* It costs a few dollars to leave and enter Singapore, so make sure the vehicle’s cash card has sufficient credit (it comes with the rental).
* Make sure the petrol tank is three-quarters full before leaving Singapore (this is a legal requirement).
* Buy a freeway toll card at the first booth so you can use the “Touch’n’Go” lanes at the several toll points.
The route to Malacca is essentially one road along the West Coast (pretty jungle views, although none of the sea) and it’s almost impossible to muck up, particularly because your hire vehicle comes with satnav. Once you’re there, you’ll find that the town itself is quite large and spread out, but the part that counts the most – the heritage area – is fairly small and right in the centre.
Checking into the poshest joint in town
Around three and a half hours after setting off, we were pulling up to The Majestic Malacca – our haven for the next two days. A lavish private mansion in the 1920s, the hotel oozes history and glamour. From the original porcelain tiling and teakwood fittings to intricate artwork and authentic antiques, the building has been beautifully preserved to reflect the heritage that Malacca is famous for. While it’s been expanded to house 54 suites, you’d struggle to work out where the old architecture ends and the new part begins (although the pretty pool and fully equipped gym are a bit of a giveaway).
The bedrooms themselves are stunning – everything is in dark teak, with a plush four-poster bed, a chaise longue and a roll-top bath that ensures everyone feels like a Peranakan princess for the weekend (even you, lads).
Exploring the sights
The serenity of The Majestic Malacca is a much-needed contrast to the bustling streets outside. You can easily reach the heritage area by walking along the waterside, which is where most of the action is. Chinese junks and tour boats zip along (prepare to wave at multiple tourists!), chilled-out bars line the river, and string lights are all over the place. I adored the shophouses – each one decorated with a different design, often to reflect what’s being sold inside. Flowers, cakes, fishing scenes and more are colourfully slapped across entire buildings, creating an interesting, light-hearted effect as you stroll along.
Malacca’s significant history as a spice trading port began centuries ago with the arrival of a Sumatran prince. Through the years, the city has been dominated by foreign powers including the Portuguese, Dutch and British, each culture leaving its mark on the well-preserved town. How do I know all this? I took The Majestic Malacca’s walking tour, which wound through fascinating backstreets that we would never otherwise have found.
Most of the 600-year-old narrow pathways lead to Jonker Street. This is the main strip, packed with antique stores, food vendors and market stalls selling pretty much everything (case in point: I bought an antique lantern and then a bumblebee costume for my dog). One tip: do your “serious” shopping in the morning while Jonker is less busy, but return at night to experience it when it’s alive (and absolutely rammed).
Trying out the all-important grub
Our guide was also able to point out the best street eats – because that’s also what Malacca is famous for. It’s a real foodie town and, while certain vendors boast huge queues up the street, we enjoyed brilliant dim sum, curries, chicken rice and local cakes from whichever stall we opted for. (Being typical Brits, we wouldn’t have queued for an hour even if David Beckham was handing out the pork buns.)
For classy local food, we indulged in a wonderful spread at The Majestic’s own restaurant, The Mansion. The menu is finely tuned towards traditional Nyonya cuisine, which I found to be surprisingly refreshing. The hotel has avoided Westernising the menu and instead stuck to delicious local classics: zingy satay, simple, beautifully spiced noodle dishes, and light fish curries.
Soothing achy legs at the spa
Despite having just run a marathon (I try to squeeze this fact into every article), my calves were killing me after a full day of wandering around temples, markets and museums, so it was very necessary to enjoy a heavenly three-hour session at Spa Village Malacca. According to a yin-and-yang-based questionnaire, it was determined that I was in dire need of a “warming” Suam Suam Panas Experience. This involved me being wrapped in honey and palm sugar, rolled around in nutmeg rice and massaged with warm oils. I was also treated to a fermented tapioca face-mask and pandan-coconut hair-conditioning treatment. Sure, I may not have been conscious for the whole thing, but I can confidently recommend this to anyone and everyone.
Having been smothered in cake ingredients for hours, it was no shocker to discover that I was fairly hungry after my session at Spa Village Malacca. Time to squeeze in an afternoon tea? Always. With part-Malaysian and part-British treats and an array of tea options, the three of us had a wonderful time pretending to be civilised at The Majestic’s lounge before hopping back into the car.
The return leg
The trip back (we set off at 4pm on Sunday afternoon) was very quiet, with another smooth run down the highway and swift drive-through immigration. Tip for frugal drivers: stop at the petrol station a few kilometres before the Tuas checkpoint – you’re allowed to fill up before you cross the border. Having said that, Joe at Hertz was absolutely right: we’d started out with a full tank and returned to the Alexandra Road drop-off with just over half left. There was no need to fill up, despite seven hours of driving. Fortunately, Joe wasn’t there to gloat. We were able to cruise in, leave the keys with security and head home via taxi – arriving home from our fun, fulfilling weekend with plenty of time to force the dog into a bumblebee costume and take her out for a long, embarrassing walk.
Make it happen
Hiring a Peugeot 508 RXH HYbrid4 from Hertz Green Traveller Collection will cost $243 per day (including Malaysia usage) before taxes. There are, of course, smaller cars for hire at lower prices.
Suites at The Majestic Malacca start from $200 per night.
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