Sunday, August 17, 2014

2-Day Melaka-thon

Dutch Square

On my way to Melaka…

I was under the impression that all budget airlines, including Cebu Pacific, will land in the KL Low Cost Carrier Terminal or LCCT. What I discovered when deplaning was that we arrived at the so called KLIA2 (obviously an acronym of KL International Airport Terminal 2), which is a very huge state of the art facility. It was known that the former KL LCCT was demolished to give way to the construction of this new airport. Duty free shops and other stalls were still open when I passed them by on my way to the immigration counters. I passed the immigration without a hitch; the gentleman only asked me how long will I stay in the country, and I said, “7 nights and 6 days”, then he stamped 14 days on my passport.

I just followed the signs to exit and as I reached the giant glass door to push it towards the parking public buses, I realized I have no Malaysian monies yet. I found the nearest Money Changer kiosk open and changed my USD380 to MYR1,128. I was actually hoping to change 1 USD to 3 MYR but as usual the forex inside the airport is way lower than in the “black” market.
I ran outside to board a bus but I noticed no signboards as to the routes these queuing buses will be taking. So I went back inside the airport lounge and found bus ticket counters standing side by side. I approached the one with Melaka 6:30am sign and the lady willingly gave me a seat for MYR35. I was hoping that an earlier trip to Melaka is available so that I will settle in Melaka early and recoup my sleeplessness. Just like everybody else around the passenger lounge, I took three empty chairs in one corner to lie down. Just the same, the crooked contours of the three chairs were discomforting and thus kept me awake.

A Famosa Ruins
When 6 o’clock struck, a commotion from my fellow commuters startled me. I went outside with them, queued at A1 bay, waiting for the just parked bus to open its doors. This bus parked at our assigned bay, so everyone like me expected this to be it. But it did not accept us. When I rechecked my ticket, it said Star Mart Bus, unlike the name of that parked bus. So I went back inside deciding to urinate while waiting. On my way out of the toilet, I noticed this so-called Capsule, a cozy corner that appeared to me like a wine bar. I grabbed a pamphlet, read it and realized that it was a room accommodation for short time nappers. Silly me to not check it out! I would have a nicer rest had I discovered it earlier. It was just a division away from where I laid down uncomfortably. Until next time, I concluded.

Finally the right bus parked at the right bay at exactly 6:30am and my journey towards southern Malaysia began. The Star Mart busliner have us all Melaka bound passengers boarded. Most of my seatmates are of Indian descent so it felt like I went to India. I knew they have this distinct smell but I actually surprised myself to have endured them. For two hours. And two hours was still short for me to gain sleep. The bus arrived at Melaka’s Sentral Station at 8:20am. Once disembarked, I scanned around the surroundings for possible room accommodations, remembering my travel strategy. Unfortunately, all I saw were shops selling RTWs and dry souvenirs, restaurants, food chains, and eateries. I needed some breakfast, so I approached one of the Malaysian eateries inside the bus terminal. I did not mind the other customers who daringly grabbed a plate and spooned their choice of rice and viands. I just stared at the food until one lady server asked me what I want for breakfast. I just did the pointing, she spooned them all to my plate. I then paid at the counter and ordered a coffee. She asked me, “Panas, Iced?” and I answered “Hot!”

I realized later that hot is panas in Malayo, the local dialect. I should keep it in mind then that every time I ordered a hot coffee I should tell the server “kopi panas”.

One Full Day in Melaka…

Panorama Bus No. 17
Now that I was full, I needed a place to stay and settle down, wash up, clean up. But that was still 9am and most room accommodations will be available at 2pm, especially for backpackers. I grabbed a yellow pamphlet, or is it brochure?, from an unmanned Information Booth inside the bus terminal about this Discovery Hostel, complete with instructions to get there. I found it very interesting because in the map, it quite close to Stadthuys where most heritage sites are located. It mentioned about taking Panorama Bus No. 17. I saw these busliners parking outside so I occupied a vacant seat around bays 8 and 9 and waited for Bus 17 to arrive, park or even pass by.

St. Francis Xavier
I waited about a long time so I went back inside the terminal and approached a local wearing red polo shirt that resembles that of the bus drivers I saw outside. I spoke in English so I guess that guy in red shirt did not understand me, and somebody from his group answered in his behalf. He was in police uniform, who pointed me to Bay Number 17. I understood then that bay numbers correspond to bus numbers. So  I did proceed to the pointed bay and saw Panorama Bus 17 filled with commuters coming. I told the driver as I stepped in “Stadthuys”, he answered “3 ringgits”. With about 50 pesos, I reached the Dutch Square where the Clock Tower, the Christ Church, the Victorian Windmill, the Stadthuys, and the colourful, flamboyant rickshaw scattered around. This was where my Melaka heritage tour kicked off.

I spent some time in photographing the square and everything touristy around, purportedly to kill time, until my bowels went moving… I needed to find this Discovery Hostel soon enough wishing that I can be accommodated ahead of 2pm usual check in time. Or even just to book the room for the night, use a toilet for the time being, and deposit my backpack while I consumed the waiting time strolling around. I rechecked the brochure and traced my way to its location.

On my way there, I passed by this covered walkway, as most Portuguese-influenced housing in Macau, and then I came out at the Saint Francis Xavier Church. This has significance to me because in my hometown in Anao-aon, Surigao del Norte, our patron saint is St. Francis Xavier. In fact, the new town name is San Francisco in honor of the patron saint, San Francisco Javier (the Spanish translation of his ame). When I read some marking there, it mentioned that St. Francis often lost his shoes, which we in my own parish also believe in this happenings. I entered and said a quick prayer, said thanks for the safe travel and the opportunity to meet him here.

Windmill around Dutch Square
I strolled a little farther from the church, along Lacsamana Street, and found this island centered by an intersection; the signage says Little India. I took pictures from the side of the church and noticed from the picture the painted sign “Discovery Café”. There was one more hostel adjacent to it, which name I can no longer remember, maybe because I was not interested upon inquiring that the room was pricier that the 40 to 50 ringgits budget. It was half past 10am when I approached the counter and entertained by an old Chinese man. Obviously he is fond of Filipinos whom he knew to be singers because he asked me if I could sing that night at their café bar. Obviously most guests in his family business (the hostel and the café with nightly live band) are Filipinos because he asked me in Tagalog words “ilang gabi?” I booked for one night and promised to extend should I find it necessary. He was too accommodating that he gave me a room that is already available that very minute. I paid MYR40 for the double occupancy bedroom, MYR2 for local tax, and MYR30 for the key deposit, which is refundable upon checkout. A Nepalese assisted me, I remembered asking for his first name but I cannot remember it. We climbed four storeys and he showed me the emergency stairs should I stayed outside beyond midnight, when the café and main entrance are already locked.

I unpacked only those stuffs I should need in 2 days, cleaned and showered, and took a nap. That supposed few minutes nap extended to a sound sleep until 3pm. I was too lazy to wake up but my stomach ached for food; I needed some late lunch or an afternoon snack. Dressed up for a walk, I climbed down, found a table in the café and ordered fries and juice. The heat of the sun is now bearable when I finished my snacks, so I decided to resume my walk tour of Melaka’s heritage. Scanning the map I asked from the café, I now knew the way to get to all important and well publicized tourist destinations.

The Revolving Tower

The Discovery Hostel is situated along the riverbank, so I walked the bank on my way back to the Dutch Square. I later discovered that the riverbank is lined with plenty of guesthouses and cafes on both sides, where some of them has put up umbrellas and chairs along the boulevard; some of them were still setting up in preparation for the nightly parties. I took more pictures of the Xavier Church and the Dutch Square, then proceeded to Stadthuys and more heritage buildings and museums standing side by side along Jalan Kota. Upon noticing a small entrance in my left side with an arrow saying “Bukit St. Paul”, I remembered reading in the map “St. Paul’s Ruins” and I thought about the similar named ruins in Macau, China. This may be some twin church ruins, considering that Macau and Melaka shared the same colonizers, the Portuguese. I pushed on walking further, thinking of going back for the hill and ruins. Then I reached the A Famosa crowded by tourists. It is said that the ruins, some kind of small stone bricked structure, was the remnants of the old fortress of the state. On to its front across the street is the Independence Memorial Building, to its right the Pahlawan Mall, and to its left the King’s Palace, which was closed that time. I noticed a series of stairs to its back, leading towards the St. Paul’s Church. Before climbing, I paused to read the erected plates of writings that account the Melaka’s history and heritage. It was quite a breath-catching climb, with a breathtaking vantage view of the city and the Melaka strait from atop. Well, the St. Paul’s Church Ruins here is no similar to that of Macau. It was a complete structure of a church with giant tombstones with figures and writings, accounting for its history and heritage. There was a curated façade, the patron saint’s statue in its front lawn, a belfry, and an unknown huge yet covered underground hole. I did not bother asking the tourists why they threw coins into this pit. Around the hill’s ground, I noticed few concrete tombs without tombstones; few tourists, may be residents, sat on them. So I quite doubt if they’re really burial tombs.

St. Paul's Church on top of a hill
From up the hill, I noticed a revolving tower few meters away from the Pahlawan Mall. It looked closer from where I was than it is presented in the map. I initially thought of skipping this, but not anymore, that would be my next destination. I hesitated to recheck my map because nobody among the crowd was checking any map or direction. I only consulted my map when I entered the Heritage Gallery Mall, where souvenir items come in different forms, sizes, designs, and of course, prices. I picked and paid for interesting designs of ref magnets, then crossed the walkway connecting the gallery to the Pahlawan Megamall. On to the right side, by the children’s park covered with trees, I saw the revolving tower climbing and rotating. I entered the Menara Taming Sari building, approached the counter and bought a pass for MYR20. It was a 5-minute experience up there, with better bird’s eye view of the whole city. I captured that experience in a 2-minute video.

Flor de la Mar

When I was rotating with the tower, I saw this very interesting design of a ship, perched on top of a concrete platform. Again, I did not bother rechecking my map again on this one because it appeared to be quite a distance from rest of the tourist spots. Since it looked so close to the revolving tower, I pushed on to check on it. I later found it to be the replica of a Portuguese ship within the compounds of the Marine Museum. Plenty of gallery exhibits, comprising of antique finds and life-size panorama, can be found inside for a MYR6 entry fee. It was adequately maintained, except for the toilets. Fortunately, the unmaintained toilets are located outside the replica ship; its messiness cannot directly taint the museum’s integrity. Up the tower also, I already noted that the boarding site for the Melaka River Cruise is just beside the Maritime Museum, fronting the Casa del Rio Hotel. After a short tour inside the Flor de la Mar, I headed to the boarding site right away. The river cruising cost me MYR15 and the whole ride took 40 minutes of our time – a perfect timing really as the sun was almost down. The journey towards the other end of the river cruise route was silent, perturbed only by the slapping of the speedboat on the small but many waves caused by afternoon winds and countering boats, and the ohs and ahs of the passengers reacting to the sprinkles of waters every time the boat’s front hull slapped the rolling waves. We passed by several interesting points such as the old watermills, the Hard Rock Café, the back of Discovery Hostel and Café, the settlements with artistically painted walls, the Pirates Theme Park, the uniquely designed bridges, and more. I specifically captured in video the point where Kampung Morten is located. It was only in our way back, when the voice over describing each interesting tourist points was played, that made it known that the said river village was the oldest and still existing in Melaka and named after a the Land Commissioner JF Morten in 1920s. I have witnessed the unique design of their houses, especially the pointed sides of its roofing.

The Melaka River Cruise ended just in time for the Jonker’s Walk experience that normally start at 6pm. This is a Guinness title holder activity in the city where business, dry market, leisure and tourism are brought to the Jonker Street. My walk tour resumed at the point where Hard Rock Café is located and I found Jonker Street a flea market where almost everything was displayed for sale, that is, from utility tools to personal apparels, from fried fish balls to barbecued chicken, from small souvenir items to large home decors. I ignored them all except for finger foods. I bought steamed siomai with spicy sauce and ate them while walking towards the other end of the known street. I noticed along the way some temples on one side, some more leisure parks on the other side, and an entertainment center at the peak point. I observed a performance of three old Chinese ladies singing a Chinese version of a familiar classic English song, which title I can no longer find and tune I cannot remember. I was again eating on my way back, this time I ordered a barbecued chicken, flushed it with Coca-cola, but I have not found any interesting dessert. I don’t know of the rice cake of unknown taste would count as dessert. On my way out, I was fascinated by the LED lighted, Hello Kitty-inspired rickshaws, so flamboyant and girlish!,  parked side by side at my starting point of the Jonker’s Walk, few meters away from Hard Rock Cafe.

Don't ever miss this Guinness World titleholder

Comparing the rickshaw seen during the day and at night
I occupied a table in Discovery Café when I got back to the hostel, the live duet band prepping the stage and about to start, ordered two beers and a serving of fries. These substituted the flopped dessert and appropriately close my city tour in Melaka, before calling the night’s off. It may be a long day, a long walk as a matter of fact, but an educational, experiential, and fitness perfect activity.

One Idle Day in Melaka…

I woke up too early, only to realize that it was Monday and my body clocks worked as I usually arise at 5am to prep for the office. To put to use my rash of adrenaline, I exited the hostel in the back door via the winding emergency stairs. I mistakenly pushed the door to the café bar and retreated when I heard a groan. I hurriedly open the back gate with the issued key, afraid that the owner will peek out and reprimand me for disturbing too early. I strolled on to new streets hoping to find more interesting spots less seen by tourists. I followed the road from the bridge beside the hostel away from Little India and back. I have found to be alone walking the street towards the end where intersection meets, and seen nothing interesting. So I walked my way back and followed the road to the other side entering the Little India. I started with the side street of Xavier Church and found the Golf Gallery building, and onwards was some green-painted mosque and a government office. That was when I located the Yellow Mansion hostel, my intended place of stay when I researched for the backpackers’ accommodations. I strolled on following the road passing the Yellow Mansion hostel and reached a public market. I finally found people awake and prepping for the day’s business. I walked on passing this market and reached another intersection where a glamorous mosque, Gurdwara Sahib Melaka, was standing on one side and an interesting landmark, Hang Li Poh Well, on the other.  After taking photos of these two interesting places, I made a turn to the market, bought a rice cake that looked like puto in the Philippines, only with pink or red dot on top, for my breakfast, and walked back to the hostel.

Hang Li Poh Well
I earned some sleep after that early morning walk and prepared to check out at 11am. I initially planned to have my brunch at the bus terminal and take the earliest trip to Penang. Having cleared from the hostel, I went to the Dutch Square to catch the Panorama Bus 17. It gave me a free tour as it crisscrossed around the city until we arrived at the Melaka Sentral Stesen (local term for central station). After the chicken rice lunch at another Malaysian eatery and a dessert of Durian McFlurry at the adjacent Mcdo, I carried my backpack to the bus ticket counters where kiosks crowd side by side and several men barking at approaching riders, asking for your destination, offering their bus companies, and assisting interested passengers. All ignored all the fixers and approached the ticket counters of bus lines that post Butterworth in their windows. All of them answered, “trips to Butterworth start at 9pm”. Gees! That meant I have to waste 9 hours in the bus terminal while waiting for the 9 o’clock ride. I chose the Matahari bus company and pre-booked a First Class seat for MYR60.

There was nothing else I could think of doing than staying at the bus terminal for 9 hours than spending it in the mall. Well, McDo food outlets have free wifi to pass the time but it would cost me some bucks for the snacks. It would be shameful to stand by there, use its wifi connection for free, and order nothing. I initially planned to buy more souvenirs and the pasalubongs once I got back to KL before I fly back to Manila but thought better of that. I prepared MYR100 for potential buying in Pahlawan Mall and Mahkota Mall. I approached the Luggage Deposit Counter I noticed yesterday, deposited my backpack for MYR2 and waited for the Panorama Bus 17 at bus bay 17.

I actually spent more than a hundred ringgits when I shopped at Pahlawan Mall for ladies apparels at Terranova shop which was on 70% off sale and men’s tees at Garage which was also on 50% off sale. I carefully chose women’s tops for my mother Dulcing, my sister En, our househelp Tatang, and my little niece Bella, and men’s shirts for my father Tantong, bro-in-law Jun, and partner Erick. So it took a while for me to finish shopping. I found a place in a KFC food outlet in Mahkota Mall, ordered an early dinner, used its free wifi, and pass the time until 6pm. This day initially seemed idle but I have found ways to enjoy it.

Back in the bus terminal at 7pm, I grabbed some bread from a bakery in one corner, settled in a waiting area and nibbled again. Guess the price of waiting is expensive for me since I need something to enjoy the passing of the time. This idle day in Melaka was so costly, way pricey, than the walk tour I did yesterday. I was scribbling this blog while feeding already full stomach. Then 9pm chimed and my journey towards northern Malaysia has begun.

Flor de la Mar and the Maritime Museum

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